You know you’ve been in Dubai far too long when you are unfazed by the thought of an après-ski alpine chalet restaurant in the middle of the Arabian desert. I was like, “Yeah – Dubai totally needs one of those.”
However, I’m going to be honest here; I’ve never been to an après-ski alpine chalet restaurant before. I’m a desert guy – the only skiing I’ve done was on a dry ski slope just outside Plymouth, so I have absolutely no frame of reference – all my preconceptions are from Google, magazines and strangely, James Bond films.
As our host took us to our table, we walked through a quiet bar area, with high tables, a DJ booth in a ski lift and old skis propped up against the bar counter. We were taken through the bar and into a small room which looked like a disused, converted sauna. I was expecting to be given some paper underwear and a towel.
However, it turned out to be a rather intimate dining room with wooden walls, white tablecloths, oil lamps and a faux fireplace. It was surprisingly atmospheric.
As we sat down, I realised that Publique has a particularly distinctive smell – It is hard to place, yet familiar and quite intriguing. I asked our server what the smell was – he burrowed his brow, wandered around the chalet with his nose in the air and informed us it was probably something the chef was preparing for tomorrow. I don’t think he knew either. It was an aroma of cheese and Scandinavian forests and kerosene and tobacco. Perhaps it was the smell of all alpine chalets, the world over.
The menu is a brasserie style menu with a few French dishes thrown in and lots of cheese. Think beef carpaccio, Caesar salad, pissaladiere and cheese for starters. Think cheese boards, sea bass, steaks, pizzas, burgers and cheese for mains. You get the idea.
The Serb was eyeing up the burgers as usual, but I decided to put my foot down. We were in an alpine chalet, for crying out loud, there was no way I was letting her miss the opportunity of a Raclette or a Pierrade. We didn’t travel all the way so she could have the burger – it was time for me to take a stand in that mountain chalet in the Souk Madinat.
So, she ordered a burger, and I went with the chicken Cordon Bleu because most of the specials are for two people and not suitable for a couple as divided as we were.
For appetizers, we ordered the dynamite shrimp and a pissaladiere, often described as the Provencal pizza, except it’s not because it has no tomato or cheese.
By international crustacean law, dynamite shrimp must be served in an oversized martini glass. OK, that’s probably not true, but it is the serving vessel of choice for many restaurants, including Publique. Our shrimp came with a large slice of chili as a warning garnish, in case we were unsure what the ‘dynamite’ in the name referred to. Despite being mayonnaise based, the sauce wasn’t as heavy or creamy as other places that serve this dish – it was quite light and fragrant and glistened under the restaurant lights. The shrimp were heavily battered which gave them a significant chew factor, but the flavour was spot on – enough heat to tingle without causing your cheeks to sweat.
We ordered the pissaladiere – a caramelized onion tart from Nice, made famous in Dubai by La Petite Maison. Publique’s was good – soft cooked onions; dark but without a hint of a burn and scattered soft black olives over a well-baked dough base. Typically, anchovies should bring the saltiness the dish is famous for, but they were missing from Publique’s. However, it was a good portion and held its flavour well.
Despite being olfactory challenged, our server was great – in fact the service overall was great – friendly, casual and professional. The staff certainly seemed comfortable around a ski chalet. Maybe they were genuine chalet professionals, working in Dubai during the off season and heading back to the Alps after the summer.
Our burger and chicken arrived and although nicely presented, I lamented the fact that we could have been having some delicious Raclette cheese or some hot stone cooking had The Serb and I been in a stronger relationship.
To rub salt in the wound, the table next to us ordered both the Raclette dish and a penne pasta cooked in a wheel of parmesan. I watched with jealousy and regret and tried to focus on my chicken.
The specialties looked great but came in quite punchy with the price. Although the pasta is served out of a large wheel of cheese and does contain fresh black truffle, at 125 dhs a pop, it’s still an expensive pasta in a cheese sauce.
I don’t really want to write about the Serb’s burger. However, she seemed to enjoy it, although she ended up eating it with a knife and fork because it kept falling apart. A good burger must have good structural integrity, but this one was far too sloppy and wet. A chef with a heavy hand on the sauce bottle I think. That’ll teach her.
Cordon Bleu cooking is often considered the very finest French cooking, from the most elite culinary institute in the world. I always find it funny that their most famous dish is effectively a posh Chicken Kiev.
Luckily, my chicken Cordon Bleu was excellent – the breading was perfect – dark gold and crunchy with some wonderful seasoning. The chicken itself was juicy and cooked well, with the strong, slightly sweet Comte cheese blending well with the garlic and rolled slices of ham. It was a simple dish but well executed. Unfortunately, the fries were a let-down – overcooked and dry on the inside.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Publique – it’s a friendly, accessible restaurant with a well thought out menu and some good execution. If you are in a loving, supportive relationship, I suggest you try the specials – otherwise the chicken Cordon Bleu is a good substitute.
Publique Restaurant and Bar
04 430 8550
Dinner for two – 277 AED