Time Out vists restaurants anonymously and pays for meals.
Think of a word to describe Dubai and chances are the first adjective that springs to mind won't be ‘sensuous'. The virulent capitalism on steroids that courses through the veins of our desert domicile may make for plenty of excitement, but it leaves little scope for easing down a gear, psychologically ‘dimming the lights' and letting nature run its course.
As such, a visit to somewhere as down tempo as The Exchange Grill is one to be treasured. This is no two-bit steakhouse churning out uniform hunks of meat for the masses. It's a slow-burn beef epiphany that caresses the palate into raptures with a smooth adeptness reminiscent of a 70s soul loverman (together with meat rather than gold medallions). Having arrived alone and a little aloof after a wearying midweek, I probably wasn't the easiest nut to crack, but the restaurant was ready with a guerrilla charm offensive destined to blitz my crabby defenses.
First I was deposited into a deep leather chair that was the very essence of ergonomic ecstasy. An amuse bouche of Olympian-sized curls of lightly fried sweet potatoes with a sour cream dip and separate mounds of mushroom and onion powder pulverised my increasingly pliant senses further. And, by the time my unfailingly courteous waiter had guided me through the menu and deposited a large glass of Chilean red in front of me, I was putty in the restaurant's hands.
Despite having been impressed by some early moves, however, I was not about to give myself freely without a fight. ‘So what if they can do personal service and pre-meal fripperies', I said to myself. ‘Most steak restaurants are as multi-faceted as a compilation tape of Westlife B-sides'. No sooner had this last slather of internal resistance flashed through my mind than I was presented with a starter of Blue Swimmer crab-cakes with pineapple and vanilla relish and a tarragon mustard aioli.
For a moment I had cause to believe that my ‘style over substance' hunch might have been correct - the trio of crispy bread-crumbed cylinders on my plate resembled a tarted-up collection of pre-packaged potato croquettes. As every suitor knows, looks aren't everything, and the way the fruity accompaniment worked with the rich, sweet flavours of the chunky crabmeat moved me willingly from first base to the verge of something more meaningful.
By this time, there was an air of inevitability about the whole situation: they knew they had me, and I was ready to be had. My waiter tried to cool things off by urging me to have a brief break between courses and handing me a newspaper, but it was clear that all was left were the formalities. And they duly arrived, in the shape of a majestic 10oz filet mignon.
The cut of aged Angus meat - utterly sublime and delicately tender yet full of flavour - was given another nudge towards the upper extremities of the stratosphere by a quartet of sauces, including a buttery béarnaise and a selection of Dijon mustards. It may be pretentious to wax overly lyrical about a slice of cow, but the steak at The Exchange Grill had me grasping for superlatives as I rolled towards the elevator lobby.
The bill (for two)
1x Blue Swimmer crab cakes Dhs90
1x 10oz Angus Filet Mignon Dhs215
1x large glass of Chilean Red Dhs54
1x San Pellegrino Dhs22
Total(excluding service) Dhs381
Exchange Grill, Fairmont Dubai (04 311 5999). Open 7pm-12 midnight daily. All major credit cards accepted. Average price of a meal for two with a glass of house wine Dhs600-700.
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