“C’est ça — the difference is the rocket,” Pierre Gagnaire smiles as I sample the second iteration of a new dessert at his rebooted Dubai venue, Pierre’s Bistro & Bar, whose opening party was on March 28.
Earlier in the afternoon, pastry chef Jean-Francois Le Luherne had brought out a Meringua Tarta, an Italian-style citrus meringue pie that had been recreated in the three-Michelin style.
There were already eight different processes on the plate, including sponge, biscuit, sorbet, fresh, marinated and confit fruit, the meringue itself and two citrus jellies, lemon and orange. The entire plate was finished with olive oil, herbs and aloe vera — but a tiny taste and Gagnaire shoots right up. He has an animated discussion — in French, naturellement — with his chefs, about herbs, coriander and rocket.
They hustle off to the kitchen, and 10 minutes later, there’s a new plate in front of me, as a battery of chefs stands back to see what I think. It looks identical — except for a smattering of green on the top. Right away, it’s fresher and more appealing, but I taste the difference at once: there’s a mild sharpness, even a bitterness that rubs up against the sweet and citrus notes, making each flavour sing.
That such a minute variation should have such a big impact shouldn’t surprise fans of Gagnaire’s work, who have had to wait more than a year for the new restaurant to open. Pierre’s Bistro & Bar replaces Reflets, the intimate fine-dining restaurant that was quite easily one of Dubai’s best (it was thrice voted as such in a magazine poll; 79 per cent of 396 TripAdvisor reviews rate it Excellent). It ran for seven years at the same venue, closing last spring for a refresh and refurb.
The result is a trendier, less forbidding venue that seems better equipped to handle the influx of Michelin-brushed celebrity openings across a city that doesn’t seem to have an appetite large enough to accommodate them all.
“The new bistro is totally different, totally new, more light in spirit, and less formal. We have no tablecloths, but we have nice cutlery, Hermes-quality,” Gagnaire says.
“It’s not like before, one plate with all the satellites [side dishes], so it’ll be one plate bien composé, elegant but still creative, because it’s my name, my style.
“It’s a bistro, but it’s a restaurant, eh!”
With 115 seats indoors and outdoors, including a lounge area, the new venue will be helmed by Mathieu Balbino, a young chef from Carcassonne who has spent several years with Paul Bocuse in Lyon and Orlando. “He is talented, has a good story and we are confident with him,” says Gagnaire, who’s known for paying the same meticulous attention to staff training as he does to the food.
There are actually more staff in the kitchen than previously, says Francois-Xavier Simon, Gagnaire’s lieutenant charged with research and development.
Simon explains how you’ll find the bistro classics on the menu but they’ve all been given the superstar chef’s signature treatment (we’ll do a taste test within the next couple of weeks, so stand by for our full review).
The beef tartare, a classic in any Parisian corner bistro, besides featuring multiple processes, will be elevated with lashings of Oscietra caviar, while Gillardeau oysters come topped with vinegar granita and shavings of confit shallots. I’m particularly intrigued by the burrata rosé — it’s an ice-cream paired with gorgonzola cheese and tomato soup.
“We are very fond of that one,” Gagnaire says of the burrata, “don’t give the recipe to [Gordon] Ramsay!”