Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A foodie in the UAE: Belgian Beer Cafe

On Friday, Sam and I spent date night at the Belgian Beer Cafe (Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi), an eatery which has been on our "to-try" list for over a year. We actually attempted it several weeks ago on a lovely, uncharacteristically cool evening, but made a last-minute switch to the Italian place next door because the Belgian place doesn't serve food outside; even in the winter months, what a shame!

On the patio you can enjoy a broad array of Belgian ales on tap and munch on tiny bowls of mixed nuts whilst overlooking the yachts in the marina, but if you require further sustenance you'll have to sit inside, where the view from a window seat is reduced by a brightly-lit hallway and a wheelchair ramp. This weekend was pleasant enough that we opted to imbibe pre-dinner Leffes (blond for me, brunette for Sam) outside before heading inside for the main event.

Oof, apologies for the grainy photos - we cannot wait to purchase a new camera!
View of the marina from the patio

By the time we were seated inside our stomachs were grumbling, so we were thankful for the complimentary brown and white rolls, served to us in a paper sack, apparently a Belgian tradition. The closest I've ever been to Belgium is Paris, so I won't attempt to comment on authenticity in this post, but my impression of the bread was, well, unremarkable. If it hadn't been for the unique presentation I would not have remembered eating it (and this after only one beer).

Speaking of which, we ordered another round of drinks. I switched to Shiraz (the ever-reliable Rosemount Estate) in anticipation of steak frites, and Sam experimented with a beer we had never heard of before, Kwak, which in fact looked a little like a science experiment served in a glass beaker held upright by a wooden scaffold. It was deliciously rich yet refreshing, and a recommended pairing for pork, which the menu has in abundance (Muslims beware!).

Good Christians that we are, we were tickled by all of the pork offerings, as they are rare to find in UAE establishments, even in hotels where they are allowed. (Hotel breakfast buffets nearly always serve veal bacon, a sad, jerky-like substitute which is not worth the effort or calories). Sam, again feeling adventurous, and with a bit of prodding from me, I admit, ordered pork belly and black pudding (a mouthwatering delicacy that I encountered while in France), to be served with grilled potatoes and apple mash. We're not big shellfish eaters anyway, but mussels are out of season, so we were not even tempted to order the most traditional of Belgian meals.

"Steak frites" also wasn't offered on the menu, at least not in the format I was expecting, so I went with a close second - strip steak, grilled medium rare, with a side of fries and a green salad. My steak arrived perfectly cooked and tender, but sadly lacking in flavor. The bowl of green peppercorn sauce served on the side merely drowned what little beef flavor there was, so I left it on the side and stuck with healthy doses from the salt and pepper shakers. I wasn't able to confirm but would be willing to wager the beef was Australian. No offense to Aussies, but their cows are no match for ours! (love the wine, though).

The frites were a centerpiece of the table and of the meal, Sam and I fighting over every last one. They were cut thick and crispy outside with fluffy potato centers; neither too dry nor too greasy and well-seasoned, they didn't even require the side of mayonnaise (yet who are we to buck tradition?).

Sam's meal was rather unfortunate. The pork belly was dried out and even burned in spots, with little flavor to speak of, nothing like the tender morsels I've had in the past. The black pudding, too, did not even slightly resemble the dish I'd had in Paris, either in taste or in form. This looked rather like horse droppings, I'm very sorry to have to report. Easy-going Sam ate pretty much every bite anyway, but he paid for it much later that night with an incident, far less dramatic but still reminiscent of our recent trip to Beirut. We suspect there was something less than fresh about his meal.

Even accounting for the shoddy camera work, can you say unappetizing?

We were having a fun date though and weren't ready to leave, so we ordered a chocolate mousse to share. My expectations weren't very high, but I was pleasantly surprised with the dessert. It was understated and tasted as it should, with just the right amount of cream to warrant the name mousse while retaining a clean  Belgian chocolate flavor.

Overall, our impression was mixed. We're glad to have satisfied our curiosity, but given the high prices and questionable pork dish, as well as the oddly-mixed atmosphere (80's pop music piped through the restaurant completely clashed with the wood paneling and brass fixtures that were desperately crying for whimsical accordion), the Belgian Beer Cafe has been permanently crossed off our list. Unless they manage to find a way to serve fries to beer-drinkers on the patio - now that would be worth a return trip!

1 comment:

  1. I shall be staying away from the pork belly, but definitely giving the Belgian Beer Cafe a go tomorrow nite :-)

    Thanks for the review! Bring on the LEFFE ...