Outlet 360: Cafe Palmier's take on all-day dining

We look at the refurbished Cafe Palmier at Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi
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Chefs are willing to create bespoke dishes for guests.
Chefs are willing to create bespoke dishes for guests.

Café Palmier at Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi hopes to redefine the concept of all-day dining restaurants at hotels.

Front of house
“It’s very fresh, made in the moment — from pan to plate as we refer to it. It steers away from the typical all-day dining restaurants, which are all about buffets, chafing dishes, bulk amounts of food. We don’t have any chafing dishes in the restaurant. It’s all in the moment, which allows us to improve the quality,” explains Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi deputy GM Daniel Van Der Heijden.

Part of the 20-year old capital city hotel’s recent refurbishment, the restaurant, previously called L’Opera, was unveiled with a brand new look in October 2013. Gone are the dull brown couches and heavy furniture.

Instead, the new restaurant, designed by LW Design, features floor-to-ceiling windows, marble countertops, an open kitchen, bright, airy furnishing, and can accommodate up to 170 guests.

Explaining the new look, Heijden says: “The design, the colours, the tables, the chairs... I would say it’s all very modern, but at the same time it’s so cleverly designed because it’s so comfortable. It’s had a lived-in feeling since the very first day.”

“The colours — browns, creams, yellows; you’ve got chocolate colours. You’ve got a lot of fresh greenery and plants in there. It’s a very cosy place to dine, in general,” he adds.

The restaurant’s open kitchen serves as the centre of attention, and according to Heijden, has become quite a talking point.

“The way the open kitchen is designed, it’s like a kitchen at home — it’s got the pots and pans hanging everywhere, you’ve got the island and countertops, which gives it a very homely feeling,” explains Heijden.

According to him, what sets the restaurant apart from others in the industry is the level of interaction guests enjoy with chefs.

“Part of the success of Café Palmier so early on is due to the fact that you see it as soon as you walk into the lobby. Visibly, as soon as people walk in, they see what’s going on and all the action, see the chefs, they interact right away, they see what’s on offer, and they stay,” he explains.

And it’s not just the live kitchen that draws in clients. Heijden says the team spent a great deal of time focusing on every aspect of the restaurant: from the music, to the furniture, and to table accessories and kitchen equipment. The effort seems to have paid off, with Heijden constantly fielding calls from other restaurants.

“The amount of feedback I get from people in the industry asking for suppliers of our glasses and, table set ups, and all these other things... I’m usually answering at least one call or email per day,” he says.

“We were a hotel in need of a refurb and it’s nice to know that people are watching us and paying attention and coming to check us out,” he adds.

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Back of house
While Heijden was busy working on the look and feel of the restaurant, executive chef Justin Galea and executive sous chef Sudhanshu Nirmal were hard at work creating an F&B concept that matched the updated look and feel of Café Palmier.

“The idea of this restaurant is all about interaction. The way we saw it was that it’s a theatre and the chefs are the trained professionals who are going to display their art. That was the whole concept of the menu and it all just started falling in place,” explains Nirmal.

“What we’ve done with Palmier is broken the mould of all-day dining. We’ve redesigned and reinvented it into something new. Something that says gone are the days when chefs stay in their corner and cook. Now, the chefs take orders from the guests, the chefs go to the table, and who can better explain a dish than the person who has actually cooked your dinner?”

According to Heijden “there is literally not a back area in Café Palmier. 90% of all the food preparation is done in the front and things are cooked fresh and brought directly to the table”.

The theatricality of the open kitchen is a key element of the restaurant’s design and ties in with the pan to plate concept.

Galea explains: “Any chef that tells you they are not theatrical is a liar because you give a chef any opportunity and they’ll be on show. If you look at the nature and design of Café Palmier, it’s a theatre. Every chef is on show. And like a live performance, it’s great to get interaction. So I like to make sure that all my chefs are going to their tables with dishes.”

The menu at Café Palmier focuses on modern European food, with classic Italian and French touches, “but it’s done in a different manner entirely, so that’s where our creativity comes in. We’ve taken these authentic dishes and tweaked them to the current trends in the market, and even beyond to a certain extent,” explains Nirmal.

He further says the menu will change at least three times a year, depending on the seasonality of produce available, while the menu rotation will change every two to three weeks, taking into consideration guest feedback.

The open kitchen, interaction with chefs, and fresh food also gives the team a chance to create ‘bespoke’ dishes — a concept Galea played a lead role in implementing.

“One of my favourite words in cuisine is bespoke. I love creating bespoke dishes for guests. It allows you to be creative, it allows you to be theatrical, and it breaks the mould of all-day dining. No longer are you confined to just what’s in front of you or what’s on the menu. It allows cooks to be creative and theatrical. So when we say all-day dining, yes it is, but not in the traditional sense,” he states.

Café Palmier has also launched an interactive brunch concept called Fizz Factory Royale, which targets families through its playful ambience and entertainment element. Neighbouring outlet Wheat is also part of the weekly brunch, serving as the dessert counter for the day, while also hosting pizza and cookie-making workshops for children.

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