It’s not every day that we get to dine in the presence of a three-star Michelin chef so when we were asked by Mövenpick Hotel Riyadh to grace the opening of their latest and finest French restaurant, Acacia by Pierre Gagnaire, I didn’t think twice about going. Master Chef Pierre Gagnaire is a renowned french culinary artiste who is known to be one of the movers of fusion cuisine in the last 30 years and Mövenpick Hotel Riyadh is honored to be the home to his lastest signature restaurant (of which there are 12 in the world).
I did not know what to expect as I have never tried authentic and refined French cooking before (apart from the pastries of Laduree, Paul and French Corner). All I’m used to reading and hearing about is how the best chefs in the world always aspire to train in Paris, France and how the French have a high regard of their cuisine. After tonight, I thought, the wonder will be over.
The group I was dining with were seated in a corner nearest to the entrance of the restaurant where an elegant ensemble of cream, gray and powder blue welcomed us in. We had a vantage view of the rest of the restaurant from there, where we could see the open kitchen bustling with staff and the Master Chef himself. It seems that we were one of the first few tables that were starting to get filled and all the chefs were busy preparing the five-course meal that we were about to savor.
Before service began, Ms. Sara from the Marketing Department of Mövenpick Hotel Riyadh informed me that the dinner will take two hours and as per etiquette, it would be preferable that we do not leave our tables until the last course was served. I don’t know about the rest of the table, but I was ecstatic to be fed by a Master Chef for two whole hours! Bring it on, s’il vous plait. 😉
A waiter poured us some drinks and brought some starter plates for us to try. Of course, the generous servings of freshly baked bread was a given but there were other savory pastries like sourdough bread and puff pastry with cheese. There was a delicious compound herb butter that went deliciously with the bread but I didn’t want to get too stuffed because as of that time, I still had 110 minutes towards the night’s gastronomical journey.
I socialized a bit with my fellow diners, one of them was a very cool gal named Roaa who talked to me about her interest in books and writing and a classy lady named Abeer who was a photographer. Meanwhile, I amused the rest of them with my newbie-status on SnapChat and how I figured out how to activate the animated videos.
The first course arrived and it was Foie Gras with Passion Fruit. Foie gras is a french delicacy famous for its rich texture and depth of flavor. The passion fruit sauce seems to have been transformed into a gelatinous product that served as a translucent vessel for the foie gras. The dish was garnished with some fresh Enokitake mushrooms that was, for me, indicative of the fusion flair that Chef Pierre is known for since these kind of mushrooms are usually found in Asian cuisine. There were sauteed beans underneath the passion fruit jelly that served as a textural element but overall, the buttery consistency of the foie gras was complemented by the sourness of the passion fruit jelly and the sauce drizzled over it (which I assume to be balsamic vinegar) added a sweet note to every bite.
The second dish was simply described to us by the waiter as Swordfish with Cream. It seemed like a very delicate dish to me at first glance. Upon peeking into it, I could see that it had mushrooms done two-ways: the one on the bottom of the dish was minced and the one underneath the lettuce was fresh, mandolin-sliced mushrooms – both of which provided different textures and flavor. The real stars of the dish however, was the fish and cream combination. The swordfish was light and well-seasoned while the cream was indulgent and scrumptious. By the end of the evening, all of us in the table agreed that this was the best plate of food we had for the night.
For the third and fourth course, we were served with chicken glazed with a peach sauce, stir-fried mushrooms and an avocado salsa on the side. It was accompanied with a vegetable chowder with curry. On its own, the chicken seems simple enough and truth be told, it wasn’t exactly mind-blowing. However, the vegetable dish was quite the opposite and I believe the gingery element to it stroke a familiar chord with the Saudi ladies in my table, commending it to have a similar dish in their culture.
At this point, we were all stuffed. I was tempted to stand up just to double check if I could still rise from my seat from what I’ve had so far. Interestingly enough, the food we had wasn’t exactly huge in serving and it was more of compact, composed dishes (as one would expect in fine dining establishments) but for some reason, I really felt full already. But no, we still had dessert left to enjoy. And when the waiter arrived and served this tiny round-cut of a brownie with a small drizzle of chocolate sauce, I joked with my fellow diners by saying, “Hmmm, I think the chef knew we must be so full by this time that he decided to just give us a small dessert.” The brownie was good but the sauce proved to be too sweet for me. Luckily, I had already placed an order for green tea by then and was hoping to wash down some of the strong sweetness that it brought to my tastebuds.
But after a few minutes, additional plates of dessert started to follow suit in our table. I was only halfway through my chocolate dessert when two more dessert plates arrived for each of us! The ladies laughed at me when I said, “Ok, ok, I take back what I said earlier. I think Chef Pierre wants us to enjoy more than just one dessert.” 😛
The second plate of dessert was a Coconut Cream with Pana Cotta. It had some bits of fruit in the cream, which I assume to be coconut and possibly, of another fruit I couldn’t distinguish but what was evident to me was the sour notes slicing through my palates. The pana cotta was mildly sweet but was slowly melting into the rest of the coconut cream.
The third dessert plate had to be my favorite one of them all. It was a layer of crushed hazelnuts with a cream filling, resting on top of pickled pears (or apples, I couldn’t remember) with raspberry sauce on the side. I remember thinking how the taste of it was so reminiscent of a macaron from Laduree and the raspberry sauce’s tang balances the sweetness from the cream and pickled fruit.
Finally our tea arrived and by this time, I was sure that this would be the punctuation mark to conclude our lovely dinner. But wait…another plate was approaching! And in true-love-of-pastry fashion, on it were morsels of even more french desserts. Oooh la la la. Who was I to complain? Like I said, fine dinners like these don’t come every day so I continued on to happily indulge much to my delight.
While I was aware that Chef Pierre was extremely busy attending to the guests’ meals, I was pleased to see that he takes the time to approach the diners to ask them how they found their food and what nots. It seems like he is quite down to earth and carries a great big smile with him as he went to our table and was more than willing to take photos with us. How cool is that?
By the end of the evening, I couldn’t help but contemplate on how the food was created from an artistic point of view; on how quality trumps quantity, even when it comes to food. The preparations were obviously exquisite and thought-through with a succinct nod to the ingredients’ strengths and how it will balance with each other within the dish. In our every day life, of course we don’t always eat at fine dining restaurants and more often than not, our main goal is to simply nourish our bodies. But with certain experiences like these, it makes you realize that food can be an art form too and that just as poetry are words said well, we also need to experience food that is done well.
As of writing, the menu is said to change every week and rates can be inquired upon reservation. For more information, please contact Mövenpick Hotel Riyadh in their details below:
Mövenpick Hotel Riyadh