Gypsy Chef’s exclusive dining experience at the Grill Counter is a thing of simple culinary wonder. And you need to get a seat before he leaves town
The hearty meat served up at Rare steakhouse on Dubai’s Desert Palm is worth travelling for
Dubai does steakhouses very well. In the heart of the city, the emirate’s meateries jostle and elbow each other for prime real estate, often boasting sprawling cityscape views. Within each meaty palace, the fumes of sizzling beef billow from the kitchen, with an abundance of variously aged cuts there for the choosing and chewing.
To say the layout is formulaic is to do a disservice to the array of top-class steak restaurants in the city. But you know what you’re going to get in the majority of cases.
Rare restaurant is, ironically, as its name suggests, something of a rarity and stands out in contrast to the glitzy urban setting of Downtown and New Dubai.
And if you don’t mind travelling a bit further afield for a relaxing escape from the city for an unfussy approach to gourmet fare, this place is well worth the trek beyond Dragon Mart. It upholds the American food critic Mary Fisher’s sentiment that, “First we eat, then we do everything else.”
Code of London
As a signal of Rare’s culinary intentions, Fisher’s words are printed on the menu, and they ring true throughout the meal: the food is the focus.
The cowhide and horse saddle décor outside the restaurant, zany black and white portraits that line the Desert Palm walkway, views of the adjacent polo field and the restaurant’s open kitchen with the wood-fire grill blazing away are the little details that help to create an ambient setting. But it’s the food that takes centre stage.
Take the stand-out amuse-bouche as an example: bruschetta. Seriously? It’s just bruschetta, what could be “stand-out” about tomatoes on bread? Well, for a start Rare doesn’t use toms. Instead, they chop up mouth-wateringly juicy figs and lay them on goat’s cheese spread over lightly toasted baguette slices, and glaze the whole lot in Mānuka honey. The flavours harmonise: the sweetness of the fig sings against the creamy goat’s cheese and the honey adds a final layer of sweetness to the palate that isn’t too sickly.
Move onto the beef tartare. It’s a classic which, if you follow the general script, you won’t go wrong with.
But Rare ad-libs a bit, using Ranger’s Valley tenderloin and preserved lemons to create something both classically tartare with its succulent, egg-doused red meat, but also something with an artisanal twist with tangy notes of citrus fizzing away on the palate, all of which is complemented with the herb-caper dressing that accents the beef beautifully.
If tartare is not for you, the seared divers scallops are also a delight. Presented on a charred leek purée and dusted with fennel shavings, these are scallops that are meaty, juicy and bursting with delicious flavour.
But the real star of the show is, unsurprisingly, the 450-day-aged Wagyu tenderloin. I was mortified recently when I was told “one steak is basically the same as the next steak”. Hands to face gasp.
Now, if you’re also under this most fallacious of gastronomic impressions, you need to try Rare’s tenderloin — medium rare, naturally — with the black peppercorn and caramel sauce.
Yes, it looks like your standard tenderloin, no surprises there. But the flavours dress it up in a new look, and produce a beautifully balanced feel and taste. The sticky sweetness of the caramel seeps into the succulent meat and turns each bite into a too-short-lived meat lover’s dream.
It’s not complicated. It’s not fussy. It’s not extravagant. But it’s excellent, moreish fare; well worth the extended journey out to the far-flung Dubai Desert Palm.
“First we eat, then we do everything else.”
The one occasion where Rare does get a little fancy footed is with dessert. A deconstructed tiramisu, while hitting the traditional notes of foamy, creamy coffee contrasted to a bitter biscuit base, I’m still of the persuasion that tiramisu should be left alone — left constructed in all its traditional rectangular structured glory. Sometimes, just as the mains suggests here, classic fare is best left classic and constructed. There are some houses you don’t need to take apart to rebuild.
Debonair’s resident epicurean dines at Flavio Briatore’s Crazy Fish, where things get lemony
The recently reopened avant-garde restaurant in The Address Downtown offers a deconstructed take on the classics