Abu Dhabi’s Venetian Village has become quite the dining destination. The Venetian inspired collection of restaurants situated on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton and close to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque may seem a little out of the way, but is so worth the effort.
Each of the six concepts in the Venetian Gothic inspired ‘village,’ offer something different but all have one thing in common, the opportunity for al fresco dining overlooking the still water of Khor Al Maqta. You may not have the stunning mosque views that are a significant draw on the other side of the water but the fine dining options here are far superior. Whether it’s Indian (Punjab Grill), traditional Emirati (Al Fanr), Japanese (Inakaya), Mediterranean (Todd English’s Olives) or Asian-inspired food mixed with cocktails and some of the best shisha in the city (BarFly). The Venetian Village has it all.
Over the course of the past year, we’ve eaten our way around the entire village except for one restaurant, Brasserie Flo. A concept originating in Paris in 1968 and offering traditional French classics in a welcoming atmosphere that feels like home. In the half decade since its inception, Brasserie Flo has spread from Europe to Asia and has now settled in Abu Dhabi.
The restaurant is smaller than expected and tastefully decorated in hues of cream. Simple and understated without feeling dated. Crisp white tablecloths and subtle metal work add a sense of sophistication and Brasserie Flo shows Abu Dhabi diners that a French restaurant doesn’t need to be boring (Entrecote Cafe de Paris please take note).
Much like the interiors, the food remains simple. Executive Chef Sebastien Pinson isn’t trying to redefine French cuisine, Instead he brings classic French dishes to Abu Dhabi that promte the flavours and ingridients over compicated plating. We begin with fresh bread and butter as we peruse the menu of French favourites. Recommendations are offered by restaurant manager Franck Mottais who guides us through the menu with such charm and enthusiasm that are selections seem almost effortless.
Appetisers include a French onion soup, oysters (flown in from France), snails and a foie gras terrine, all dishes that epitomise French cuisine. We opt for the Tartare de Boeuf served with a mixed green salad. In a change from the expected, the beef tartare is prepared table side from the selection of raw ingredients and with expectations subverted again, it’s done by the restaurant manager and not the chef. The tartare may be simply presented but the powerful flavour which has a fiery edge is welcomed.
Brasserie Flo’s seafood platters are one of their most popular sellers and become progressively larger depending on what’s included. Diners can expect lobster, crab and oysters piled high on a bed of gleaming ice. We select the Shrimp Tasting, serving 500g of mixed shrimps in their pink shells, with lemon, shallot vinegar, mayonnaise and rye bread. There’s little doubt it’s messy going but worth every ounce of effort, as the plump flesh of these shrimp is simply wonderful.
When it came to main courses we picked both steak and fish, but Chef Pinsonhad other plans for us. Live-cooking the Cailles Farcies at the table (flambeed quail, stuffed with chestnuts, served on top of parsnip puree with a foie gras sauce). It’s a dish of such distinct richness that we felt foolish for not selecting it ourselves. The Grilled Dover Soul with spinach and pommes Anna was a plate of perfect balance, from the delicate nature of the Soul, to the rustic potatoes and creamed spinach.
Our Chateaubriand Steak was the highlight. Served with broccolini and thick cut French fries, the medium rare flesh is cut from the thickest part of the beef and was wonderfully tender. Like the other dishes at Brasserie Flo, it’s simply presented with the focus placed firmly on the flavours of the plate. The sides and accompaniments are just as exciting as the protein, rather than being a secondary thought — this in itself makes dining at Brasserie Flo an absolute pleasure.
Desserts continue the theme of traditionalism with the likes of Paris-Brest, Eclairs, Tarte Tatin and a Vanilla Creme Brulee offered. Arabic inspiration appears in the form of a sticky date pudding but our eyes were firmly on the Crepe Suzette, a dish as French as they come, with crepes flambeed in Grand Marnier. The restaurant manager returns to prepare our dessert and amidst towers of flame and the smell of caramelising sugar, we can’t help but admire the interactivity of the Brasserie Flo experience. With much of the preparation done table side, diners are able to garner an understanding of what they’re eating and gain an greater appreciation of the dish in the process. I’m sure this methodology may prove problematic during a busy service, but on the quiet Tuesday night it’s magical.
We think Chef Pinson realised quite early on that we like to eat (and were throughly enjoying the food) so he treated us to two further desserts. Menage a Trois… Chocolates presents a trio of chocolates in a lava cake format, served with a creme fresh ice cream to cut through the sweetness of the dish. Finally, we indulged in macaroons but not to be the petit versions that we’re accustomed too. Instead, large macaroons appear on a slate, containing some interesting flavour combinations – strawberry tarragon, coconut yuzu, chocolate hazelnut, zesty lime and a salted caramel variant.
Brasserie Flo adds another impressive string to the Venetian Village’s bow. French fine dining is hard to come by in the capital, with some of the outlets being very questionable. Brasserie Flo has bucked the trend of soulless interiors and mediocre food, excelling in both areas and the interplay between the team comes across like one big family. With food this good and the relaxed feel of a French Brasserie, our next trip to dine at the Venetian Village is going to pose a very difficult decision…
We were invited to dine at Brasserie Flo. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Cover image used courtesy of Brasserie Flo.