Les Dangereux review: Abu Dhabi restaurant takes stuffiness out of French fine dining

The chefs are pushing the limits of technique while trying to identify the emirate's palate

The so-called GTOAT (greatest tiramisu of all time) is served with dry ice for dramatic flair at Les Dangereux. Juman Jarallah / The National
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I’m always a little wary of fine-dining experiences. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see how chefs can manipulate ingredients in unexpected ways, but on the other, there have been times I was served a series of bites that, at the end of the night, left me wondering what I should have for dinner.

You will have no such experience at Les Dangereux, which had me taking deep breaths and shifting in my seat hoping to find room in my stomach for one more bite.

The flagship concept from White Hospitality, Les Dangereux takes a refreshingly relaxed approach to French fine dining, turning familiar dishes on their head and challenging diners with a new experience.

With chefs James Kim and Llorenc Sagarra at the helm, the restaurant is throwing out the rule book, ignoring trends and instead focusing on what the chefs think the people of Abu Dhabi, in all their diversity, want to eat. It is a simple concept but one that is also, as they say, “quite dangerous”.

Where to sit and what to expect

Dining at Les Dangereux feels like getting dinner and a show. Diners have a view out on to Mamsha Saadiyat, where they can watch people go by and waves lap over, arguably, Abu Dhabi’s most beautiful beach.

The open-kitchen layout also allows guests to see the chefs bent over stations, delicately placing herbs down leaf by leaf to construct beautifully plated dishes.

Fine-dining restaurants can feel stuffy and unwelcoming, but Les Dangereux takes a more casual approach. The restaurant still feels luxurious, opting for white marble tables instead of typical tablecloths, as well as banquette sofa-style seating. The interior features touches of Art Deco with curved mirrors and gold accents that are disrupted by a ceiling-to-floor screen displaying the colourful and graphic works of Takashi Murakami.

Also taking any potential snootiness out of the restaurant is the punchy playlist, featuring Lil Wayne, Drake and Nina Simone among others.

When I visit Les Dangereux with my dining partner – a friend who was making her third trip to the restaurant in a month – chef Kim tells us the plan is for the restaurant to spill out on to the boardwalk in the winter months.

Outdoor diners will be served French brasserie cuisine, while those sat inside will be offered the fine-dining experience.

The menu

Les Dangereux offers four options for dining – a la carte, bar bites, a set menu of 12 courses and an abridged version of eight courses.

My friend and I sample the 12-course menu, which is sectioned into three parts. It begins with “bites”, punctuated by a bread course, then progresses to three mains and three desserts.

The menu is frequently tweaked by the chefs, who add and change courses depending on diner feedback and seasonal produce, some of which comes from a farm in Abu Dhabi.

With names such as “butter, octopus and oud”, dish descriptions are deliberately minimalistic, encouraging guests to trust the culinary journey. For example, carpaccio, cryptically described as a “non-disclosure agreement” features a mysterious ingredient that diners are encouraged to try to identify. I won’t spoil it, but the reveal is a testament to the chefs’ ability to manipulate the texture of ingredients and the profound impact of context on a dish's perception.

Each menu item also comes with a detailed backstory, personally delivered by the server – a part of fine dining I really enjoy.

Among the dishes, my personal favourite is the “egg,” a seemingly simple soft-boiled egg. Within the perfectly sliced eggshell, however, is chawanmushi, a Japanese savoury steamed custard, enhanced with bottarga, Parmesan and maple syrup. This small yet intricate creation manages to be both deeply satisfying and remarkably light.

The salmon and beef come in close second. The salmon is perfectly cooked with a coral pink gradient following its darkened crisp skin. It is served with a bouquet of herbs wrapped with a perilla leaf. Topped with edible flowers, the beautifully wrapped bouquet wouldn’t be out of place at a wedding. It is served with two sauces, though could easily have been eaten without, the salmon still juicy and almost buttery.

The octopus, grilled and served with spots of pureed celeriac, sambal and black garlic, is my least favourite dish – but only because I tend to struggle with its texture.

The dessert portion of the menu begins on your feet. We are invited to visit the kitchen to meet some of the staff and learn about the different workstations. Afterwards, we are served a small glass of cold coffee with beans sourced from Brazil and a biscuit. That same coffee is served in a decadent tiramisu, ambitiously called GTOAT (greatest tiramisu of all time), back at the table.

The coffee is very strong and leans almost sour, but it is cut though with a thick layer of mascarpone cheese.

My favourite dessert is the churro, deep-fried and served in a spiral alongside Chantilly cream and dulce de leche. It is gently laced with oud and frankincense, but does not taste at all like a perfume.

For a few of the dishes, I find I liked the idea more than the execution. For example, the lamb sando, which is presented in a way to be eaten in thirds with each bite offering a different experience. The first third is topped with caviar, the second is sat in an oyster emulsion and the final bite is all about the flavour of the seasoned lamb. The idea is intriguing and, while I enjoyed the experience of eating it, the lamb on my visit is a little bland.

Given the price of the tasting menu, that is quite disappointing. However, the chefs are constantly making tweaks and changes to the menu in response to diner feedback, so here's hoping.

The price point is a factor to consider when dining at Les Dangereux, and it's subjective whether the experience justifies the cost. Nevertheless, for those who appreciate fine dining and have the means to indulge, it's an experience I would recommend.

A chat with the chef

A conversation with chef Kim reveals his commitment to longevity and an approach that prioritises authenticity over fleeting trends. In Abu Dhabi’s rapidly evolving food scene, his focus is to develop enduring culinary offerings while catering to the emirate’s diverse population. This will involve trial and error.

“We trying to discover what that palate is supposed to be for Abu Dhabi,” he says. “We are a team that is trying to do our own thing – not for own ego, but because someone had to.”

Chef Kim says he was exposed to cooking at a very young age. His mother was a TV celebrity chef in South Korea before they immigrated to the US. With about a decade of experience in fine-dining kitchens in New York City, he brings a wealth of knowledge and creativity to Abu Dhabi. His mission is to experiment and strip away the conventions of fine dining that are no longer relevant.

He also hopes to encourage a wider movement in the emirate for restaurants to work more closely with local farms, as Les Dangereux does.

Chef Llorenc, from Barcelona, comes from a family of farmers, giving him a greater appreciation for the relationship between the land and our food. Trained at Joviat School in Barcelona, he went on to work in French restaurants including a two-Michelin-starred restaurant.

For Les Dangereux, he hopes to generate a “local gastronomy … with an eye to creativity and haute cuisine”.

The chefs set challenges for themselves such as using as many local ingredients as possible and pushing the boundaries of technique.

“We have good allies who offer us good and local produce, that is for us the biggest challenge,” said Chef Llorenc.

“We usually go to the fish market in Abu Dhabi, use local oysters and vegetables from our garden … maybe that's our biggest addition [to the emirate’s food scene].”

Price point and contact details

The 12-course tasting menu costs Dh1,000, while the eight-course alternative menu, known as the “short voyage” is Dh600.

The a la carte menu includes dishes that cost between Dh45 for a goat milk and honey dessert to Dh321 for a Wagyu dish. There is also a Bar bites menu that offer “treats for one”, priced between Dh32 for a grilled oyster and Dh225 for scallop and caviar.

Les Dangereux is open between 6pm and midnight every day. Reservations can be made online through SevenRooms or by calling 050 977 2774.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant.

Updated: October 28, 2023, 11:19 AM