Restaurant Review: French fancies are aplenty at La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie

We try out La Serre, a dazzling white bistro and boulangerie in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa.

The perceived importance of French cuisine seems to make a new Gallic heavyweight on any international culinary scene feel less of a mere opening and more of a bona fide event. Unfair pressure, maybe, but things aren't entirely straightforward at La Serre – a dazzling white bistro and boulangerie in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa. The bistro menu is billed as "French-Mediterranean", rather than solely French, encompassing a wider range of more southerly inspired dishes, without a frog's leg or escargot in sight.
It's hard not to be impressed by La Serre's nascent popularity – there were only two evening dining slots (early and late) available when we called to reserve. And there was no chance of an early seating when we arrived 20 or so minutes before our booking. Indeed, it was after more than half an hour perched at the bar that we were led to our table a few metres away.
While marrying commercial and diner demands is a tricky balance, it's difficult not to feel a little packed in at La Serre. Privacy seemed low on the agenda: our table for two was so close to the adjacent couple that we could probably have high-fived our fellow diners. And the passing people traffic, seated at the corner of the dining area, was slightly distracting. The compensation was an unobstructed view of the bustling open kitchen. We also admired the cute family-sized tables, sectioned off by folded-back doors in the approximate style of countryside château window shutters.
Our waiter emphased the "brut" (raw) starters, so we shared the fines tranches de saumon mariné (spicy marinated salmon with orange) and fines tranches de St Jacques Loch Fyne (thinly sliced Loch Fyne scallop, marinated in sumac and lime). The carpaccio of scallop, a new dish, was the pick, not least as it smartly eschewed the fine-dining overabundance of such molluscs in fuller form, and rendered perfect by the tang of accompanying cranberry. We also picked a third starter, due to the relatively modest helpings – the crevettes grillées (grilled marinated prawns in garlic and rosemary, with toasted sourdough bread) were a welcome addition.
The first impression of the linguini au homard (lobster linguini) was that a restaurant had finally refused to cheap out on crustacean meat, with two generous morsels atop a wiry pasta mass. Delving into the depths revealed a somewhat sparser catch, sadly, but that was the only complaint. The bar grillé (grilled sea bass) made an unfussy impact, meanwhile, even if Dh220 might demand a trifle more pizzazz. Green beans materialised in place of the sides that we'd selected, however, making one waiter's feat of taking our entire order by memory a tad less impressive, but the mix-up was resolved in eye-blink time. And it's easier to forgive thanks to the serving staff's mother-country accents – it's infinitely more gratifying to hear a menu read aloud in the language of love.
The most initially perplexing dessert choice was French toast. This wasn't just any French toast, however: instead, sweet replaced savoury with a moreish bread-and-butter-pudding-style consistency beneath an enamel-melting crispy caramelised-sugar crust. It felt remiss not to try a more traditional crème brûlée, too, which was kept simple and satisfying.
La Serre, then, is a different, less formal experience to the multiple-award-winning, standard-setting likes of La Petite Maison in Dubai and Bord Eau in Abu Dhabi. Its food isn't quite equal to such a benchmark – a Frenchmark? – and yet remains far from affordable. But there's something alluring here, for sure. Would it be too much of a cop out to call it je ne sais quoi?
• A meal for two at La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie, Vida Downtown, Dubai, costs Dh981. For reservations, call 04 428 6969. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito
aworkman@thenational.ae