Couqley has a great reputation in its homeland of Lebanon. It is the go-to place for accessible French bistro cuisine. Unsurprisingly, and like most things Lebanese, Couqley has made its way to the shores of Dubai, staking its mark at the Movenpick Hotel in JLT.
New restaurant, Couqley in JLT opens up into a deceptively large space, once you enter through the doors. There is an “outdoor” indoor dining area that benefits from instant charm thanks to the overhanging greenery and garden wall. Once through the double doors, mosaic tiled floors and wood paneled walls greet you as your tall, attractive hostess guides you to your table.
The large dining room is cleverly split into different areas, so you don’t feel like you are in a cavernous French dining barracks. The lights are inspired by the elegant Paris Metro, specifically Cité station on line 4, (for the train spotters out there), and there is a wonderful red brick railway arch and is home to an intimate booth table. In the back is what looks like a private dining room, in the form of a paneled library.
Several mirrors have bright yellow art deco back lights, which was rather startling and counter-productive for an intimate, cozy French bistro. The trouble with yellow is that as a colour, it is non-emotional and very analytical. Studies have been done – it’s a colour that comes from the head, not the heart. That’s why legal pads are yellow. Food is all about emotion and heart and in my opinion, they would benefit from softening this up a little. However, I understand it has served them well in their original restaurant so perhaps I know nothing.
Couqley has only just opened their doors, so the place is very new and you sense that in the dining room. I think what I missed was a little character – a French bistro needs to be able to tell a few stories, have a few character marks in the tables, a couple of cracked tiles near the kitchen pass, a few scratches on the bar counter. When I was a kid and got brand new trainers, I would spend the first week scuffing them up, so they didn’t look so new. Couqley needs scuffing up.
The menu is classic French bistro fare – it is as if Le Petite Maison and Pauls had a love child. And because we were in a French restaurant, the Serb immediately ordered the Burrata, an Italian dish. I held up my end of the bargain and ordered the onion soup gratinee. Viva La France.
The onion soup arrived piping hot, with a generous layer of melted Emmental cheese on a piece of baguette. The Latin word Suppa means ‘bread soaked in broth’ and is the reason why the French onion soup has the bread slice in it and why many kinds of soup are adorned with croutons. Couqley’s soup was earthy, strong and had that lingering sweetness that comes from the caramelized onions.
The Burrata was a little watery once the mozzarella shell was broken, although the bed of marinated vegetables were excellent.
We both went for beef, but that was because we were feeling rather unadventurous. The menu flaunts such dishes as crab cakes, Moules Frites, Duck Confit, grilled salmon and others, so they obviously cater for less boring diners too. They also have a rather tasty beverage menu with some very affordable bottles of grape.
The filet boeuf arrived with a potato gratin. The gratin was rich, creamy and with a good bite to the potato. However, it could have done with some extra seasoning; salt and maybe a pinch of nutmeg or something. The filet of beef was ordered medium well but arrived horribly undercooked. I think the chef cooked it over the flare of three matches and then put it on the plate. We obviously sent it back. It was then held over a Bic lighter for an additional two seconds and returned to our table. I obviously exaggerate, but in such a competitive market, it’s a school boy error to undercook a steak. Twice. On the other hand, it’s an undercooked steak – it’s not the end of the world and in all fairness, despite the temperature of the meat, the quality was very good.
My steak frites were exceptional, much to my glee and the Serb’s jealousy. The meat was cooked perfectly, and submerged in a generous pool of decadent signature sauce. Their secret sauce was creamy, rich and probably butter based (If it tastes good, it’s probably got butter in). It was almost as good as the original Café De Paris sauce it was inspired from. The French fries were clean, crispy and delicious once soggy with sauce.
Their espresso was a disaster – cold, flat and it wouldn’t have been out of place in a motorway service station vending machine. But I’m not so worried about that – that’s an easy fix, to be honest, and wouldn’t deter me from returning.
So here you have the magic of Dubai, all in one place. You have a Lebanese company operating a classic French bistro in a Swiss hotel in Dubai. That’s the future of Dubai’s authenticity, in my opinion.
The Couqley has a good future ahead of them. If they can tidy up a few food issues, and bring a little character to the interior, they will have a very successful restaurant on their hands. My suggestion is to swing by for a casual meal, an affordable bottle of plonk and make sure you scuff it up a little while you’re there.