Unpretentious, cheerful, handily located and offering a reasonably priced, generally successful and largely French menu, Le Beaujolais is, without a doubt, one of downtown Abu Dhabi's best options for quality dining without putting undue stress on long-suffering plastic. OK, it's in a hotel, which usually has my credit cards howling with alarm as I walk through the door, but the Novotel, on Hamdan Street, is more cosy than ritzy. Although - don't say I didn't warn you - the neighbourhood can be a tad on the raucous side if you're dining late.
The menu at Le Beaujolais contains, as the establishment's name implies, a wide selection of French staples. Nothing too fancy - which suits me just fine; give me primary flavours, proper kitchen techniques and no-nonsense sauces any day - and with a couple of curve balls in the shape of shepherd's pie and fish and chips to appeal to expatriate or visiting Brits who happen by. We were there on a recent Thursday evening; there were few tables available in the spacious but pleasantly intimate restaurant when we arrived around 8.30, and within half an hour there wasn't a seat to be had - testimony to Le Beaujolais' well-deserved popularity.
We started with a couple of classic French dishes - escargots Bourgogne and baked French onion soup. I suspect we were influenced in our choice of appetiser by the plate of quite spectacular warm, crusty bread that arrived within minutes of our being seated; before long, we were both using the bread as accompaniments to the snails and the soup. My companion's soup, a veritable cauldron of piping hot, delicately flavoured broth redolent with sauteéd onions and topped with a generous slab of melted Emmenthal cheese, was excellent. If I were to carp, I'd have to say the onions could have been a little more caramelised to add a hint of sweetness.
My start to the evening was equally successful: six plump and tender snails lathered in a sauce that consisted largely of olive oil and finely chopped parsley. A little more garlic and a little more butter wouldn't have gone amiss, and a lot more garlic would have been even better, but it was a dish I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly when it was aided and abetted by that wonderful, and rapidly disappearing, bread, which was replenished, without our asking, as soon as it became apparent reinforcements would be appreciated.
Which is as good a place as any to talk about the service: attentive, friendly, efficient and with an abundance of warm smiles. What more could you ask? For main courses, we were tempted by two of France's most celebrated dishes, coq au vin and boeuf Bourguignon, but my companion eventually decided to try the grilled lamb chops, while I yielded to our waitress's enthusiastic endorsement of the roast leg of duck.
The lamb was beyond reproach - I don't think I've ever tasted better. The three good-sized chops were cooked to split-second perfection, pink, juicy, tender and gently seasoned to enhance, rather than overpower, the primary flavour. Rather than a sauce, the meat was accompanied by a couple of small mounds of parsley-butter on the side. It was a nice touch, but the chops were so good on their own we agreed it was unnecessary. The accompanying vegetable ratatouille - peppers, courgette, onion and garlic in a tomato-based sauce - was also excellent.
My duck, I'm afraid, was somewhat less successful. It was a large leg, to be sure - any bigger and it could have been a prop in a Flintstones movie. But, after spending perhaps five minutes too long in the oven, it has to be said it was also a rather stringy and rather dry large leg. Unlike the lamb, the duck cried out for a sauce to give it some sort of moisture content; to be fair, none was advertised, but it would have been welcome nonetheless. The simple vegetables that accompanied the dish, sauteéd potatoes along with a medley of green beans, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, were tasty and properly cooked.
We split a dessert, the raspberry crème brûlée, and it was very, very good: a rich, but not cloying, custard, lightly coated with caramelised sugar and topped with two or three raspberries to add a bit of a tang. Le Beaujolais, Novotel, Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi, 02 633 3555, extension 2835. Our reviewer's meal for two cost Dh312.11 without beverages. Restaurants are reviewed incognito and the meals are paid for by The National.