Pierre Gagnaire – Reflets and Choix

Les Grande Desserts de Pierre Gagnaire
Les Grand Desserts de Pierre Gagnaire

I’ve had this dessert at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire some 4 times, and every time I finish it I am tempted to stand on my table and do the can-can. After having eaten my way through many of the dessert menus in the city as well as having raided almost every single local patisserie, I have finally found my little patch of dessert heaven – it’s really a shame I’ve made it to the party this late. The beauty with the spread pictured above is that it changes some 4 to 5 times a year (the same applies to all the other dessert items on the menu) and so it’s only a matter of time until you’ve experienced almost every single trick in the book. Dessert will sadly never taste the same again!!!

A quick teaser before the dessert you see above...
A quick teaser before the dessert you see above…

Another item not to be missed on the dessert menu is the souffle.  Some say that French is the language of love, but I would argue that if you wish to become fluent in the true language of love, then you need only strike up a conversation with this heartrendingly beautiful siren…

If this be the food of love, then go on...be a devil!!!
If this be the food of love, then go on…be a devil!!!
And Reflet's interiors are quite the fitting theatre for such a performance...I don't know, but there is something about the melange of pink and purple that I find terribly titillating!
And Reflet’s interiors are quite the fitting theatre for such a performance…I don’t know, but there is something about this melange of pink and purple that I find terribly titillating!

It’s real a shame for all you hopeless romantics out there (and even for Reflets) that Gariguette strawberries are not in season during the month of February. I’ve had many souffles at various restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and I’ve even dabbled with a few recipes at home but always find these “cakes” to be full of “hot air”. They’re pretty easy to make inasmuch as the technique required is straightforward, but the only word to describe most of my attempts at home is ‘meh’. The ones served at many local restaurants are very small and uneventful. But most of the ones at Reflets suffer from no such problems – they are big, and bold, and packed with flavour and are accompanied by a mesmerizing array of dainty confections, and cakes and palate cleansers in typical Gagnaire style that by the time you are done, you are just about ready to swoon. I mean just take a look at this imposing beauty of a blackcurrant souffle…

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I’ve had the strawberry, vanilla, blackcurrant, chocolate, and caramel souffles at Reflets, and enjoyed the first 2 the most. The chocolate is not as aggressive as I would like it to be, but then as someone who devours some half a kilo of couverture out of hand on a weekly basis, my palate is so far removed from what the average diner is expecting that I may either be too difficult to please, or simply not the best judge of this. Still, it’s the little plates on the side and the other flourishes (such as fruit compotes and / or scoops of ice-cream or sorbet that are placed on top) that make me order it every time I go there…

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Choix

When announcements were first made about Choix’s opening, I hadn’t yet sampled chef Gagnaire’s cuisine, but assumed from what I’d read in various articles and reviews that he was very experimental and cutting-edge. So I half expected that Choix would be a dessert lounge / bar in the vein of Espai Sucre in Barcelona (reviewed here and here), or Dessance in Paris (reviewed here), or even Room4Dessert in Bali (reviewed here). I had read bits and bobs about the restaurant-cum-cafe-cum-patisserie in local websites but did not see any compelling reason to go because the media coverage at the time of launch was too focused on the chef and his 3 Michelin stars – we were not told what Choix had to offer over and above what was already being served locally at French imports such as Fauchon and La Duree, nor was there any indication of the sheer breadth of the offerings which one may almost be tempted to say was extensive to a fault. Perhaps the assumption being made was that the chef’s name was all that was needed to get people to walk through the door.

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Social media, as usual, were of no help either. Instagramers (at least those I have the misfortune of stumbling across online) are far too busy snapping photos of what can only be described as baby food, and one thus can’t help but wonder why the UAE has one of the highest rates of type-2 diabetes in the world (this argument runs the risk of chasing itself around in circles, but I suppose that’s what makes it so much fun). I mean, if you’re going to be reckless with your health, you may as well do it in style. I sadly don’t have many good shots of the pastries (many of mine are poorly lit, and I can be terribly vain) but there’s so much to like here…

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Once you try these guimauves (French for marshmallows), you'll probably never want to eat the rubber sold at the supermarkets ever again...
Once you try these guimauves (French for marshmallows), you’ll probably never want to eat the rubber sold at the supermarkets ever again…
I'm not one for afternoon teas, but this was pretty respectable, and the savoury items were as good as the sweet, if not better...
I’m not one for afternoon teas, but this was pretty respectable, and the savoury items were as good as the sweet, if not better…
One of the best steak tartares in Dubai!
Love the presentation of this steak tartare

And if you don’t have a sweet tooth, it really doesn’t matter, as Choix is as much a cafe-cum-casual dining restaurant as it is a patisserie, so there’s something for everyone, including the health-conscious. I’ve eaten my way through most of the menu, and can say that’s it’s the surprising little twists and turns in some of the dishes that make them so much fun – try the vegetarian croque monsieur, or the spicy steak tartare (from Gagnaire’s Sketch in Mayfair) pictured above, or the ravioli bathing in a lemon-grass infused mussels cream, or even simple things like the roast beef sandwich with onion ‘marmalade’, and you’ll see what I mean. I would strongly recommend the bento box for the more adventurous and I specifically mean the first version which is no longer served at the restaurant (and yes this is a hint, Choix, if you are reading this). Chef Gagnaire seems to have quite the eye for talent, as Rodolphe Tronc, the head pastry chef at both Reflets and Choix, possesses levels of artistry and flair that are rare among local pastry chefs.

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If I was asked to critique Choix, I could probably present a dissertation on the subject – I have dined in almost every single patisserie / bakery / cake shop in Dubai and have literally tried almost each and every single item on sale at each of the establishments to the point that I could probably write the manual. And although I am not about to bore you with any of this, I am curious to know how the quality of the pastries at Choix compares to that which is on offer at higher-end patisseries in Paris? The Choix concept is not restricted to patisserie, but if this establishment were to open in Paris, would Parisians not be inclined to make such comparisons? I really wish I could answer this question but I have not been to Paris in over 25 years, and so haven’t a clue. In Dubai, meaningful comparisons can only be made with Fauchon, La Duree, Angelina, and perhaps the soon to open Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck.

I have yet to try the Salam Dubai cake you see in the display above...but I'm sure I'll get there eventually...
I have yet to try the Salam Dubai cake you see in the display above…but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually…

I visited Choix during Ramadan last year because I was curious to see whether or not the restaurant dared to rewrite the rule book when it came to predictable Middle Eastern fare served during the holy month. Sadly, most of what was served in the bento box consisted of safe mezzeh options, some of which were given the odd twist, though nothing that pushed the envelope. With various local establishments attempting to rewrite Middle Eastern cuisine (more about one of these in a later article), I expected Choix to attempt the same – it was the large ostentatiously purple drapes at the entrance that imbued the venue with an almost 1001 Arabian Nights fairy-tale dreaminess…

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…that I half expected them to reveal Scheherazade sitting by the throne of some pot-bellied sultan as she regaled him with tall tales about Dubai’s best desserts and pastry chefs. But alas, my hopes were dashed as I drowned in a sea of mediocrity. Choix may have its imperfections, but given that it is one year old, perhaps these can be forgiven. In Dubai, one can’t help but notice the disparity between the quality of the food (especially the ingredients) served at hotels and that which is served at the malls or elsewhere. And although Choix’s location at the Intercontinental does not solve this problem, at least this is one of a handful of casual, non-licensed eateries that manages to be fresh and exciting without taking itself (or your wallet) too seriously.

Missy Heartbreaker here is one to try if and when she next makes an appearance at Reflets! (Note: This is a GIF animation - if you are unable to view it, then right-click it, and launch it manually.)
Miss Strawberry Fields Forever here is one to try if and when she next makes an appearance at Reflets!
My lighting set up results in the white balance going out of whack quite often. Compared to the shot at the top of the page, the colours in this one are warmer and more true-to-life. But I prefer the composition of the first. I have placed this one here for the benefit of the pastry chef.
My lighting set up results in the white balance going out of whack quite often. Compared to the shot at the top of the page, the colours in this one are warmer and more true-to-life. But I prefer the composition of the first.

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