Food meets art in Fouquet's menu inspired by Louvre's Stories of Paper exhibition

We take a walk around the latest Louvre Abu Dhabi show, and try the menu that accompanies and symbolises it

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Fouquet's, the French institution that’s been serving patrons on the corner of the Champs-Elysees and Avenue George V, Paris, since 1899, opened an outlet at Louvre Abu Dhabi in February 2020.

Like its big sister, the Abu Dhabi branch is overseen by chef Pierre Gagnaire. As part of the museum’s latest exhibition, Stories of Paper, the restaurant’s executive chef, Balveer Balkissoon, has conceptualised a menu devised to enhance the visitor experience.

What to expect and where to sit

There’s a romantic feel to this restaurant, not least because it sits under the spectacular perforated dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi. The colour scheme is minimalistic, with off-white rugs and bright white walls with a black stripe painted through them. Red seats and curtains add a sense of sophistication and recall the famed awnings of the Paris venue.

There are elaborate, ornate chandeliers and tables tucked away in little nooks for a cosy, private setting. Tables through the middle of the space offer a brighter feel, and small table lamps add atmosphere and character. Weather-permitting, the terrace, with a view of the dome and the water is a great spot.

The menu

The asparagus and black rice leaf appetiser from Fouquet's Abu Dhabi alongside a Joseon dynasty outfit on display in the Stories of Paper exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Fouquet's Abu Dhabi; Pawan Singh / The National

The three-course Stories of Paper set menu aims to portray how the material can be represented and symbolised in food. The appetiser — green asparagus with lemon whipped cream, puffed black rice leaf and blood orange reduction — tastes as light as paper. The delicate asparagus has just the right amount of bite, while the whipped cream is airy with a balanced flavour that delivers only the slightest hint of lemon.

The dish calls to mind a piece that explores the use of paper to craft traditional dress in Korea during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Sheets of the material were twisted to create cords that were woven into garments, shoes, hats and other accessories in a technique called noyeokgae. The individual cords remind me of the asparagus spears, and if these cords were deconstructed, you’d be left with the light flakes of puffed black rice scattered on top of the dish.

The main course is a pigeon pastilla. It comes wrapped in lighter-than-paper sheets of filo and is served with vibrant spring vegetables and a delicious pigeon jus. The thin golden crust of each layer of the pie is topped with a delicate sheet of edible rice paper, adorned with the museum’s logo.

Dessert is Fouquet’s signature vanilla millefeuille, with its seemingly infinite paper-thin layers of golden pastry.

The millefeuille dessert at Fouquet’s is reminiscent of the 'Butterfly Katagami' artwork on display in the Stories of Paper exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

The thick, creamy vanilla custard stuffed between those numerous caramelised sheets of puff pastry is a memorable end to this culinary voyage. It evokes images of the Butterfly Katagami artwork.

It’s made of “Mulberry fibre paper permeated with persimmon juice, cut and laid on a thread weft”. Such stencils were used to dye and print patterns on to fabric and the intricately cut-out butterflies remind me of the delicate and painstaking process of making the multitude of layers in the millefeuille. The flakes created as I bite into the dessert make me think about all those butterflies fluttering out at me.

Standout dish

The pigeon pastille calls to mind 'Blind Time IV (Drawing with Davidson)' by Robert Morris, left, and 'Dictionary' by Hassan Sharif, both on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

The pigeon pastilla main course stands out for the intricacy and depth of flavour in the dish. Asian flavours abound in this dish, perhaps in honour of paper’s Chinese origins — we learn that paper has been used in China since at least the second century BC.

There is a depth of flavour to this dish that calls to mind two artworks in the exhibition. The stewed meat and sauce remind me of the Blind Time IV (Drawing with Davidson) artwork by Robert Morris. The piece was made in less than 15 seconds while the artist was blindfolded.

There’s a lot to unpack in the work. It’s multi-layered, steeped in metaphor, and even the materials used — powdered graphite and oil — are deep and rich. The outcome is wholly unexpected; from looking at the work, you couldn’t tell it was made in such a short space of time or without sight.

Balkissoon says the whole idea of this menu is to evoke the unexpected. He tells me that to create the surprising flavours in this dish, raisins and corn are used in the sauce to balance the strong taste of the meat.

Shreds of refreshingly light seasonal vegetables, including carrots, white asparagus and fresh herbs, top the dish, and the sensation of these in your mouth is like a handful of shredded paper being dropped from a great height. This part of the meal reminds me of Emirati artist Hassan Sharif’s almost four-metre-tall installation Dictionary.

The work comprises what must be thousands of dictionary pages glued to pieces of rope that are draped in a conical structure resembling a shaggy Christmas tree. The pages and words all falling over one another is what I think about as these vegetables tumble about as I chew.

If you’re not a big game bird fan, the slices of pigeon breast that top the dish may not be to your taste, but the dark meat stew and sauce are powerful.

A chat with the chef

Mauritian executive chef Balkissoon has been working in kitchens for 22 years, 12 of these being in the UAE. He began his career in big resorts — Yas Viceroy, Sheraton and Movenpick. He has been working at Fouquet’s for the past two and a half years, having seen it through its launch. This menu, he says, was an interesting one to conceptualise.

“When we think about paper, we think thin, flaky and crisp; thin layers of sheets, and we had to see how we could represent paper in food.

“Having an exhibition with paper is something unique, so we’ve also used different uncommon products,” he explains.

“Pigeon is rare and not usually served here. And having cream with blood orange in the starter and crisp rice on top, is also very different.”

Overall, though, he says, the dishes stay true to the venue’s Parisian roots. “The menu represents the original Fouquet’s. We’ve kept the typical French taste, keeping in touch with our concept," he says.

“We work with seasonal products, but under chef Pierre Gagnaire, what I’ve learnt is to give the fresh product you are using the proper value. Don’t try to work too much with it, let people have the real taste of the products.”

And that, this menu certainly does.

Price point and contact information

The Stories of Paper menu costs Dh290 per person and is available at Fouquet’s, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, until July 24. Bookings can be made on 02 205 4200, via WhatsApp on 050 699 6781 or by emailing contact-fouquets-abudhabi@groupebarriere.com

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: June 30, 2022, 1:23 PM
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