Last month, Dubai went wild as Michelin Starred chef, Greg Malouf, launched his first restaurant in the UAE. Unlocking the experience of contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine to its eagerly awaiting audience, Clé (meaning “key” in French) swung its doors open to the public on 13th October. This followed a rather glitzy and star-studded opening night, two days earlier, with none other than the youngest Kardashian sister, Khloe, walking the red carpet (well it was black, actually!), as well as Paris and Nicky Hilton and renowned supermodels Irina Shayk and Victoria Secret’s model Alessandra Ambrosio. It was one of the most talked about openings in Dubai… So following in these celebrities footsteps, off I trot to downtown Dubai, more than just a little excited to see what all the fuss was about.
On entering the new restaurant, situated in All Fattan Currency house, I instantly thought “this is chic”! The interiors are primarily black with beautiful lighting and subtle displays of art and sculptures. There is a luxurious lounge bar on either side of the main restaurant, one offering diners a more relaxed approach to their evening, and the other available to rent for larger groups with restaurant seating, bar and access to the balcony.
There was also a VIP room (which seats 50) for those wishing for a bit more privacy, decorated to the same effect, except for what I can only describe as stunning dandelion chandeliers, which hung at different levels and were glittering in a variety of sizes – perfection! The outdoor terrace had literally just opened that week for alfresco dining, offering a sneak peek view of Burj Khalifa, with normal dining tables but also sunbeds to lounge on if you felt like you really needed to be horizontal. Well let’s be honest mamas, after a full day with the kids, I wouldn’t say no!
We were seated at our table and started the evening with a signature cocktail (always a lovely treat on date night!), whilst the waiter kindly took us through the popular and must try dishes. For starter we chose 3 dishes from the extensive mezze list to share. The Persian soft herb salad was beautifully arranged around a circular dish and featured salty haloumi cheese, offset by sweet black figs, gratings of fragrant fennel and garnished with bright orange edible flowers.
The salmon kibbeh nayee was much lighter than a normal kibbeh nayee would be and was served with crème fraiche, tarragon and slices of onion naan. In my mind it was the Middle East’s version of smoked salmon bilini’s, a British favourite of mine, and it was totally divine! We also tried Malouf’s lamb and rice stuffed vine leaves, which my other half scoffed down with a smile on his face (muttering “Finally! This is how you do it”), as well as some delicious marinated olives with feta, and warm Arabic bread. All in all ladies, a pretty spectacular start to our meal.
At this point, I embraced a rather needed food break and was lucky enough to meet the man of the moment himself; Greg Malouf, was totally charming and polite as I tried to sneakily grab 5 minutes of his precious time. Born in Melbourne of Lebanese parents, Greg is probably most widely known for taking the helm in the kitchen at MoMo down under. He won the restaurant many awards under his reign before deciding he wanted to return to the Middle East to focus his cooking on his Lebanese heritage. He explained to me that although he is committed to progressive cuisine and enjoys adding a modern twist to his Middle Eastern dishes, he remains dedicated to retaining the integrity of each traditional dish. What a relief! This was literally music to my husband’s ears, who is Syrian/Lebanese and craves his mothers conventional cooking! He also showed me his 3 impressive cookbooks written with his wife- yay mamas we can even create these dishes at home– well we can try at least…
On to the mains… We opted for the red snapper with crust and the French chicken, which came as a little package and was duly unwrapped at our table. First the paper came off, then the bread was folded back and finally the glistening chicken with chickpeas, spinach and raisins was unveiled. Both of these dishes were so tasty and worked perfectly with our sides of spring tabbouleh and fennel and young carrots. The chicken was definitely my favourite with the perfect balance of flavours. I would certainly choose that again!
I was told to save space for dessert and needless to say I was definitely pleased that I had followed orders. I must admit that I always find Middle Eastern sweets a matter of taste, so I was apprehensive at first to find out if I had chosen well. As I put the first the first spoon of my dessert into my mouth, I smiled to myself and breathed a sign of relief. This was really rather special. The passion fruit curd tart was accompanied by a saffron orange jelly, and was just flawless. The tastes and textures really worked well and the dish was topped off with a wafer in the shape of a camel (Cute!).
My husband ordered the Mahallabia, and here is where I struggle. He absolutely loved the layered Lebanese dessert with apricot on the bottom, milk pudding in the middle and topped with blackberries. I had a little taste and it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I could certainly see how others would like this decadent little pud. On the side was a nightingale nest, a cousin sweet of Baklava, which was nutty and sticky. Delish!
Clé is literally the hottest new restaurant in Dubai. Having spent a lot of my time in the Middle East, and my husband being from the area, we can definitely both vouch that the eatery offers the best in modern Middle Eastern cuisine, whilst respecting the traditions of their dishes. You can enjoy good honest food, of the highest caliber, and all in a fun, lively and atmospheric setting. What’s more, the prices are very affordable which is always such a lovely surprise, especially since you are eating Michelin star food.
We will definitely be returning to Clé soon, especially since we hear that Cirque Eloize who performed on the opening night, will start up again mid November, offering contemporary circus arts to entertain throughout your evening. Book it in mamas – you wont regret it!
Clé, Podium Level, Al Fattan Currency House, DIFC, (+971) (0) 43 525 150, www.cle-dubai.com