Is Forty Four Bistro worth a meal?
A French acquaintance mentions that a Belgian-owned French bistro has opened in the Warwick hotel on the Sheikh Zayed. And it’s not one I have heard of. I do love reviewing restaurants that open quietly without much PR fanfare. She raves about the authenticity of the food, but forewarns me of the lacklustre décor. And she is right – on both counts. Forty Four Bistro on the 44th floor of the Warwick hotel has stunning skyline views of DIFC and beyond, but the thoughtless interior resembles a hotchpotch of tables scattered in a meeting room.
It’s not particularly busy on a Thursday evening so we pick a table by the window, in the non-smoking area. I am not asked on booking whether I would prefer smoking (near the bar), or non, so until the team rectifies this issue, be sure to stipulate.
The menu is largely traditional French, and large in choice, bearing many similarities to Bistro Des Arts, but swopping the latter’s Brittany focus with a smattering of Belgian and broader European dishes, like the boulettes Liegoise that I order for a starter. Strictly speaking these are meatballs the size of tennis balls that originate from the Belgian city of Liège, but here they arrive as four mini balls – the traditional fruity meat gravy, substituted with a chunky tomato sauce. There isn’t enough to mop it up though, making for a rather dry texture. Our second starter is a stronger offering – a Maldivian tuna carpaccio with a dash of olive oil and lemon juice – just a touch of searing brings out the delicate ‘meaty’ flavour of the fish.
A papillote of sea bream is exquisite – baked to flaky perfection, on a bed of juicy, al dente julienne strips of vegetables. A side dish of spinach has a touch too much cream, whilst the al dente steamed broccoli and the stewed ratatouille are on point. But the star dish of the night is the steak tartare – with the beef hand-cut and the seasoning well balanced – one to rival Bistro des Arts’ concoction. The accompanying chunky chips here are double fried, in a meat fat of some kind, with a crispy coating and are ultra mushy inside. Arguably the Belgians know their fries better than the French 😉
Two out of five desserts are, surprisingly, not available. One waiter tells us that they will be removed from the menu, whilst another explains that it’s because the pastry chef is off duty. And one of them, naturally, is the dessert I crave – a tarte tatin – so sadly they miss out on us trying their desserts.
Forty Four’s wine list is exceptional with a damn good selection of well-priced wines (champagnes included), which rather unusually but welcoming, is divided into grape varietals, rather than by country. Carafe options are also available.
Apart from the dessert glitch and one waiter who can’t answer my menu questions and has to refer to his colleague, service is otherwise authoritative. It’s also good to see the owner working the room, checking in on every table, including a delightful conversation with a child at the neighbouring table over what type of dish he would like prepared. I am also pretty sure it’s the owner that took my telephone booking.
But the drab décor makes for no atmosphere, and this really is what lets Forty Four down. I am not sure if the venue has been refurbished from the previous grill restaurant, but if it has, it does not show. A little investment in sprucing the space up, would go a long way in attracting more diners – especially given the restaurant wraps round the whole floor with 360 degree skyline views. For now, whilst the food is, overall, well executed; the service relatively good; and the price point at AED 235 per person for three courses (excluding alcohol) reasonable, these factors are not enough to encourage me to return in a hurry – unless I happen to be in the vicinity. Looks like my acquaintance is right. Until the interior changes for the better bringing some much-needed ambience, here’s to an average three out of five FooDiva knife rating.
For a licensed restaurant, how important is the décor and atmosphere for you?
— FooDiva SamanthaWood (@FooDivaWorld) February 22, 2016