My original plan was to conduct a social experiment with a potential foodie truth: is it possible to wrap up lunch (on a weekday, of course) within 45 minutes? French diner Bistro Des Arts is offering a competitively-priced set lunch-menu on weekdays – you can opt for the two-course one (salad/soup + main) or the three-course one (starter/soup + main + dessert) – so I decided to sample the fare and figure if I could be on deadline.
Well, didn’t quite work out that way. For one, it took me a while to soak in the atmospherics. Bistro Des Arts overhangs the Dubai Marina waterfront, and you see the well-heeled new Dubai traipsers – and tourists – flocking here on cool afternoons, to get up-close to the picture-perfect settings: sparkling lagoon-like waters, floating (and tethered) yachts, brisk walkways – all punctuated by tony eateries.
There’s nothing glitzy about Bistro Des Arts. It’s refreshingly cosy. And rustic. You could well be in somewhere in the French countryside, not in maximum city Dubai.
The al fresco area – where we plonked ourselves down – gives you incredible views of the Marina, while retaining a quaintly shabby chic aura. A bicycle occupies pride of place. The table settings don’t follow a pattern. There are ceiling fans.
Inside, it’s more like a lovely homestead where one gathers to indulge in joie de vivre – amid domestic-style props and décor. I took some time taking photos, and shaking my head in wonder.
It was also a pleasure to meet the staff – all of who come equipped with impeccable accents. By the time I got over all of that, I was beaten down by half an hour.
I then spent a few minutes WhatsApping some friends about how utterly charming this place was and how its sense of je ne sais quoi was so unbeatably French.
I was excited at the prospect of a set meal. Usually, reviews call for “the more, the merrier” menu. I, for one, get more and more confused as I sink into a haze of too many flavours.
Here, I could actually focus and relish my meal. No distractions or problems of plenty.
I started out with the Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Honey Dressing and Hazelnuts. The molten cheese came on a bed of toasted bread; absolutely delicious. The honey and hazelnuts took turns in imparting sweetness and nuttiness to the tartness of the fromage de chèvre, while the accompanying greens gave it that raw detail.
Next up was the Roasted Salmon with Green Beans. Simple and elegant. The salmon was perfectly done, no fuss or flourish, the crunch of the green beans complementing the softness of the fish.
My luncheon companion – who conveniently turns vegetarian now and then, and was in that singular frame of palate that day – asked for “veg” options. She was not even a tad disappointed. There was the Potato, Leek and Truffle Soup to set the tone. I had a few spoons as well. Thickly-textured, rich, the croutons deliciously biting, this was almost a meal by itself – accompanied by a warm pat of crusty, fresh-baked bread. She also dug into the Arts of Penne, with some help from me: penne pasta, creamy sauce and a mild lashing of truffle. The truffle, as usual, was the star, single-handedly elevating a ubiquitous enough offering to heightened stature. The highlight of the pasta presentation was the Parmesan bowl in which it was cooked in front of us. Nothing fancy, just an old-fashioned trick to ensure nothing escapes the cheese dressing.
For dessert, we split the Pain Perdu – or French toast. I hate to use the word “standout” for an overall standout-ish meal, but this was kind of the icing on the cake. Soft, creamy, a lot like a very nuanced bread-and-butter pudding, smattering of berries to add in the tang, and a scoop of light cream on the side (I realise a scoop of ice-cream could have half-killed the sheer joy of tasting this, so thumbs up for not overdoing the number!). Special mention of the presentation: not overdone, just beautifully styled (not stylised). It sets the tone for the food, doesn’t overwhelm.
As we sipped coffee at the end, I reckoned I’d failed in my social experiment. The lunch had, leisurely, lapped up a timeshare of one-and-a-half hours, but hey, this was a French affair. C’est la vie.
JUST FRENCH IT!
Now, unlike French fries – that are not actually French in origin – French toast is from France. Pain Perdu. ‘Pain’ is, of course, French for bread; ‘Perdu’ means “lost”. so stale slices (which can’t be had otherwise) are given a fillip: they are dipped in milk for a bit, then in beaten egg mixed with a dash of sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, then fried lightly with butter. Have it with honey or maple syrup or whipped cream.
But you can experiment big-time with French toast!
I remember we made French toasts at home. as a kid, it was one of my favourite breakfast foods. But they used to be savoury: the batter was made with beaten eggs, a splash of milk, salt, and, at times, chopped onions, tomatoes and green chillis. Bread slices would then be dunked into it, and fried. Served with ketchup. Brilliant.
The photo above is of the winsome Pain Perdu we had at Bistro Des Arts.
What we liked: The cosy setting, the food, the service
What we didn’t like: Not a quick service restaurant!
Dishes to die for: The Warm Goat Cheese Salad, the Roasted Salmon, and the Pain Perdu