In danger of becoming both biased and ensconced inside the walls of The Madinat during the summer season, I have managed to get a little further afield, to check out what is arguably the real competition for The Madinat: Souk Al Bahar.
It still seems a long way wherever you live, to get to the Souk Al Bahar (unless you bought in Downtown of course) and hopefully The Metro may help here.
But arriving in a taxi, it seems to take ages to actually get to the Souk once you have come off Sheikh Zayed Road.
I am sure it will be great when all finished, so please Emaar, hurry up and get rid of the endless red and white traffic cones which seem to be multiplying everywhere.
Once in the Souk, it seems daft not to try out at least more than one location.
We headed first to Cru, a new wine-bar on the ground floor.
It was around 8pm on a Tuesday night and worryingly there were only two other people in the bar.
This didn’t help liven the atmosphere — and nor did the selection of songs blasting out from the system; Queen mostly, if I recall correctly! (I personally like Queen and thought Freddie was excellent, but I’m not sure it wsets the right tone in a wine bar!)
The bar itself seemed OK, but the quality of the back bar is lacking — it looks like it was put together in a hurry.
It doesn’t help the customer view wines or spirits, or give the impression that this is a serious wine place, as corners seem to have been cut. Who knows, maybe it will eventually turn into a regular bar!
Sadly, also not working was the help-yourself pouring system, which was a pity — particularly as the wines by the glass are a little limited on the menu, especially as three of the eighteen were not available.
In addition to this, there was a special offer for a glass of Möet at AED 95 (US $26) advertised on the bar. Nice idea, but it did make me wonder how far down sales of Möet are this year.
Möet is really ‘The Non-Vintage Champagne’, the one everyone else benchmarks against in terms of price and quality. Their sales are likely to therefore suffer more than most as people cut back.
The wine list itself is concise and they have done well to cover most bases with a tight range of around 170 wines, the only real lack being just four rosé wines to choose from.
It is difficult to source from around the world with this number only and although there is a predominately French bias, the selection has been put together well, just lacking anything really exciting or different.
The French bias is really towards Margaux — and fair play, in a wine bar called Cru, they have all five First Growth and Premiere Cru Reds from the 1855 Classification (the four originals plus the promoted Mouton Rothschild), as well as Château d’Yquem to complete the line up.
However the vintages were not specified in the wine list, which is a serious omission!
So, on to the tasting: after our first four selections were not available (including the very nice Montgras from Chile — is this still available in Dubai?) and with an unhelpful member of staff who didn’t make one suggestion, we eventually managed to buy another Chilean: the Cabernet Sauvignon from Montes.
I keep thinking on wine lists in Dubai how good value the Chilean offering normally is and the Montes here was offered at AED 185. (US $50) a bottle.
I haven’t always been a fan of Montes, as too often their wines here lacked the freshness and elegance tasted elsewhere.
But whether it’s stock rotation or the use of refrigerated containers in the transportation, something has changed for the better and this wine from the Colchagua Valley was good quality Cabernet.
Aged in American oak, the wine has the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon marks of cassis, black cherries and strawberry flavours, with just a hint of chocolate, combining with the firm tannins which may suggest that the wine could keep and improve for a couple more years under the right conditions.
As nice as the wine was, be warned! As Robbie Williams started to annoy on the speakers, we asked for the bill rather than a second bottle of wine.
It doesn’t mention it on the wine list, but Cru will charge you 10% municipality fee and 10% service charge onto the wine list price afterwards.
That has to be wrong, as you think you are paying AED 185 (US $50) but end up paying AED 222 (US $60).
As with the out-of-stocks, the barman didn’t seem to care much about this overcharge, so it was definitely time to leave!
Would Margaux be better? Just around the corner, it has a very nicely laid out library-bar tucked away in a corner of the restaurant.
It is a lovely little hideaway and would be perfect if you could sit at the bar, but sadly there are no stools available.
The wine list is extensive and the staff are attentive, making a number of suggestions from the 21 pages of wines to choose from.
We chose the Kanonkop Kadette 2008 at AED 290 (US $79) — no horrible surprises with un-mentioned price additions when we paid either.
Kanonkop is next to Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. Their vision is to be seen as the Premier Cru of the South African wine world — quite an ambition!
The Kadette is their second wine, so it gives a hint of these grand dreams without a price tag to match.
The wine was taken out of the lovely storage fridges at the end of the bar, but was a little too cold really and took a while to open up.
Once it did, I thought the wine was an interesting twist on the classic Bordeaux blend and this is because it is actually dominated by Pinotage along with the three Bordeaux varieties.
That blend gives it a more earthy character, but not rustic, as the Bordeaux varieties gives the wine generous cassis, black cherry and raspberry, backed up with soft ripe tannins, which really came through by the time we were getting to the end of the bottle.
After that it was time to go, and with a gift of a wine pourer each from the helpful barman, we went happily on our way.