Cairo-born US Chef Michael Mina’s self-monikered brasserie strikes perfect balance between business and bonhomie
Being a hippy at heart, I normally get nervous when surrounded by a lot of suits, especially when the serving staff are better dressed than you. But the new MINA Brasserie at the Four Seasons Hotel, DIFC, creates a relaxing ambience, even if there are more suits than a fire sale at Moss Bros here.
Replacing Firebird, Chef Michael Mina’s second dip into the fickle Middle East market looks promising, and it’s a far more suitable concept for the area than overpriced burgers (sorry, Firebird), his first concept at the Four Seasons.
There seemed to be more staff than guests. At one point there are four members of staff hovering around our table, like mother birds feeding the babies. However, they are friendly and a joy to communicate with. Having said that, there were a few hiccups…read on.
First impression is a resounding wow factor. This is a bright, cool, modern classic. There’s marble, brass and comfy seats. Plants add a touch of warmth, and we feel like we are truly in a European brasserie.
The beautiful and beautifully-groomed staff hail from all over the world, we discover, like an F&B version of a Benetton ad. As the restaurant fills up, we realise this new addition to the DIFC restaurant roster is already proving popular with the local crowd.
We jump in and order from two special menus – one vegan – good to see – and one the special signature lunch menu with carnists in mind.
The vegan menu has a number of dishes, but we opted for the eggplant (aubergine) tart, which proved to be a choice we felt suitably smug about. It was delicious, a crispy tortilla base topped with stewed peppers and sliced eggplant with balsamic vinegar. We wanted more, and would come back for this dish.
Vegetable chips were another starter choice, and disappointed. Served greasy, the menu suggested they came with a duo of dips – hummus and smashed avocado, which justified the price of AED35 a little. The dips never arrived.
When we asked for them, there was confusion, and we were told the chips didn’t, in fact, come with dips. The confusion continued, with a beautifully presented glass cone filled with smashed avocado arriving halfway through our mains.
Bread offered pre-meal also arrived as we started our mains. The hummus remains in limbo somewhere between the kitchen and our table, like the couch in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
The third starter was a triumphant tuna tartare, (lifted from the Firebird menu, we believe, and a Mina signature dish) mixed with confidence in front of our very eyes, and with a satisfying spectrum of flavours – spicy, but not too spicy. The raw fish was mixed with chopped pine nuts, garlic, mint, and sesame-habanero chilli oil. The server asked what our favourite shape was, then schooled the mixed tartare into that shape. We regretted blurting ‘triangle’ and not ‘dodecahedron’.
Mains swiftly followed, with the vegan choice a tasty Asian veg stir-fry, which, while satisfying, disappointed in terms of creative cooking, and in terms of the AED94 price tag. The dish was literally a serving of vegetables in a soy-dominated sauce, served with a bucket of white rice large enough for a family of four.
The meat main course – smoked beef short ribs – arrived in its own smoke-filled dome, as if it was arriving from another dimension, with flavours that were deep, rich and satisfying. Smoked for four hours, and braised for four hours, the smoke flavour was there, but didn’t dominate. A slice of king trumpet mushroom atop the cow caught the vegan’s eye. Served on a bed of squash puree, with cherry tomato confit and ‘smashed’ potato, the vegan also wondered why the non-meat main courses were limited to risotto, falafel, stir fry or pasta.
Desserts were triumphant, with vegan sorbets rounding off a decent meal, but again, the meat-eaters banana tarte tatin was off the scale in terms of taste and balance of flavours.
We lingered at the outside bar for a coffee, taking advantage of the pleasant weather. The barman assured us the outside area will have cooling in summer – it seems a shame to lose such a lovely space. The bar is the current place to be in DIFC after hours, with a range of signature cocktails – but we would recommend coming here for some great food.
While offering a separate menu for vegans is a great idea, we wish as much imagination was put into non-meat offerings as the meat offerings.
Our lunch wasn’t cheap – nearly touching the AED 700 mark, without alcohol, but we felt satiated, and interested to return. The most expensive dish was the short ribs at AED128, the cheapest the sorbet at AED19.35. A bottle of water is AED35.24, and no local or tap water was offered.
Overall, Michael Mina has tapped into a great formula for a DIFC venue. A light lunch, a huge lunch, a mid-morning or afternoon coffee, or a lengthy evening party can all rub shoulders here without seeming out of place. It’s rare to find a place where people are as comfortable having quick coffee or a glass of grape as they are indulging in a seven-course feast, but we think we’ve found it here.
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