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Fri 16 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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A Ritzy affair

La Baie, Ritz-Cartlon Damian Reilly discovered a pre-Christmas dinner treat on National Day at the Ritz-Carlton.

La Baie, Ritz-Cartlon Damian Reilly discovered a pre-Christmas dinner treat on National Day at the Ritz-Carlton.

There's something strange about the Ritz-Carlton as I enter it on National Day. No black/green/red colours here; the entire building is decorated with Christmas ornaments.

A tree is set up in the middle of the hall and golden Christmas balls sparkle in the hotel's fine dining restaurant ‘La Baie'. Dimmed lights flatter the interior's yellow tones. It's all so cosy that my eyes automatically search for a non-existent chimney.

A table in the corner of the balcony is reserved for me and three male friends. It has a magnificent view of the sea and the hotel's palm trees. We're the only guests, together with a group of English businessmen and women holding up their wine glasses for a toast.

Three waiters surround our table to give us the menus and another one comes over to attach small, portable lights to them. My friends, all of them restaurant managers, are clearly stunned by this technology.

One of them tries to bend it as if it's a plastic mini-snake. Another is slapping his own wrist with the head. And the third is trying to find out where they're made, so he can order them for his place.

I'm the only one using it to read the menu. ‘La Baie is named after a maritime city in Canada, where the Rivière meets the bay of Ha! Ha!', says the introduction.

Apparently, it's a popular place for fishermen and the menu is a reflection of that. Lobster, grouper, escargots and other rare delicacies are all listed.

We order the five-course menu after Chef Umit, a short, Turkish man wearing glasses, recommends it to us. The miniature lamppost comes in handy to identify each carefully placed object when the first course arrives. The plate is designed nicely. Umit has a degree in architecture, we're told.

The food consists of vanilla goat cheese in the shape of a tart with toast, a caramelised fig and lollo rosso lettuce on the side. We're also brought fresh, warm bread with tapenade and butter.

I'm pleasantly surprised by the softness and sweet aroma of the cheese, but the crispy fig lacks a strong taste. My friends disagree. Perhaps it was my sweet tooth doing the talking.

Next is a dish with two circles on it. They're sea scallops, explains the waitress. The top one is covered with caviar and the bottom one has a tiny fried egg on it.

A mild sauce covers the bottom - a wonderful change from the typical garlic and coriander marinade usually accompanying the fried sea creatures.

While Dani, who is sitting to my right, is grilling the staff about their Italian restaurant's concept, what looks like an abstract painting by Mondriaan is placed in front of me.

Bottom left is a piece of grouper, top right a cherry tomato, and to the far right a mixture of mashed potato and herbs in the shape of paint squeezed out of a tube.

"It's overcooked," cries out George. Dani immediately disagrees. "It's grilled, so it's supposed to be crispy." I concur; the fish's taste is unusual, but mouth-watering. The mashed potato, on the other hand, is a bit less appetizing. The herbs are too dominant in the mixture.

Then comes the plate that is especially appealing to the guys, for it has meat on it. The Black Angus beef is amazingly tender and topped by an even softer piece of foie gras. Dani loves it. The potato croquette with fried spinach next to it, which looks like a little hamburger, is lovely too.

But the best dish, in my opinion, is the one made up of the least rare ingredients. The chef's creativity really shines through in the dessert made up of chocolate éclairs sprinkled with mashed cookies and coconut ice cream.

The latter tastes more of alcohol than the exotic fruit, but it's a wonderful combination together with the chocolate flavour.

Dani tells me about the best way to consume the éclairs - by placing them in their entirety in the mouth. I try it with one. The crust breaks and the warm, melted chocolate flows out to caresses my tongue.

We wash the food down with pots of tea. A sieve catches the fresh chamomile flowers and the scent of is very soothing. We ask for the bill (which is slightly over 2000 AED) and head outside, feeling that tonight's dinner was as much of a treat as the yearly Christmas dinner.

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