I have just been transported back to Melbourne, circa 1995. I am sitting on plush ribbed velvet in a jockey-owned restaurant. There is deep red carpet, white linen, a balsamic/olive oil combo bottle, and a waitress looming over me with a titanic-sized pepper mill. But then again, if it was 1995 Melbourne, she would be slathered in uppity attitude, yet winking suggestively while leaning in close to whisper: “would you like a grind?”… Dubai waitresses really have NO idea how to get a good tip.
Melbournites know they are world fashion leaders (forget Paris, New York, Milan, etc.). The rest of the planet is so far behind that by the time they have caught up, converse boots, novelty handbags and otherwise an entirely black ensemble is pretty much the norm (male or female). No, when I say “Fashion Leaders” I’m talking about culture and habits, architecture and cuisine.has moved two steps ahead, and in the case of Dubai, about 45. I’m not talking about clothing- Melbournites are part Goth, part Tree-hugger, part Vivienne Westwood on acid – pale skinned, hairy legs under paisley tights,
Melbourne released the chains of difficult and expensive liquor licensing somewhere the early 1990s, and as a result boutique cafes, bars and restaurants opened up nearly every 10 meters. Probably half of them were owned, managed and designed by people under 30, and suddenly Melbourne had a chic and self-sustaining bar culture that rivalled anywhere in Europe. (Yes, the industry was mainly propped up by the bar workers themselves)
|The Croft Institute – my old haunt|
We were drinking $15 Australian Viognier before the US or UK had even figured out it was that amazing grape variety that could be found in astronomically priced Condreiu. We were muddling ginger and lime for Muddy Moscow Mules while cocktail parties, or listening to a jukebox and getting chucked out of dark and smelly pubs at midnight.still sipped tired Cosmopolitans. We invented the babychino, house-smoked our salmon, went out on dates for breakfast, re-introduced flocked wallpaper, cantilevered rooftop swimming pools, cordoned off large tracts for inner-city communal veggie gardens, threw epic fringe festivals, protested and beat the infiltration of poker machines in defense of the garage band (at least for a while) and named our lane-ways after iconic Aussie rock bands, all while Londoners were still eating cheese cubes and pimento olives at dining-room
So when I sit back in this slightly phallic chair and cast my eye over what used to be fashionable in Melbourne, I wonder for a moment why the place is so packed. But there’s no mystery – it was fashionable in Melbourne because the formula works, as does the food (more on that shortly). The reason Melbourne moved on was because everybody was doing it, and with all fashion, once it is commonplace, it’s tired. But here in , I haven’t found similar. Not commonplace = not tired = still workable. I mean who doesn’t like a comfortable restaurant with a busy atmosphere serving decent Italian food?
The place is not perfect – the chairs are a little rude-looking as mentioned, and the bench seating has a wave-shaped back rest, which reduces depth in places and gets the gripe of the over-bottomed like me. The staff at the small prep area are wearing red bandanas and look like sushi chefs (it’s an Italian restaurant). I found the menu a little limiting – most of the food is quite rich, and I struggled to select. When booking we were restricted to an out by 9:30 or in at 9:30 sitting, not quite what I had expected for a Marco Pierre White restaurant.
Saying that, The food I receive is flawless. Not stupendously good, not unique, not groundbreaking, but flawless in the sense that I can find nothing wrong with it. The beef for my carpaccio is super-fine, deep red with very little marbling, non-stringy, and simply accompanied but needing little else. The risotto al dente and oozing happily in my wide soup plate, just the way I like it; the way all risotto should be if prepared to order. The winelist is not great, but adequate, and although not cheap, also not ridiculous, and there are enough options so we could sip by the glass rather than splitting a bottle.
Service is swift and methodical. The floor is managed well, with waiters, runners and bar staff all doing what they are supposed to do in a perfect amount of time. Drinks arrive cold, and food hot. No flair, but I’d prefer my drink in three minutes if the alternative is ten minutes with a lap-dance. This efficient is service is very rare for Dubai, and so a happy surprise for me (I am also known as “She who cannot be pleased” by my husband).
Suddenly I am finished, and we are surprised to see that the clock reads only 8:45. Plenty of time for dessert, but as with two courses waiting in line to be pushed down and processed, we opt for a digestive. It was good to see that they have the crew capability to get you in and out in two hours – it usually takes that long to get coffee and cake in Dubai – and so I forgive the restrictive timing.
The bill arrives when asked, and considering began with champagne, it seems cheap. Then we realise they hadn’t added the champagne. We “ummm…” and “ahhhh…” a little before admitting it to the waitress, and she both apologizes and thanks us for our honesty. Then she returns with another charging for only one glass instead of the two we had drunk, but as my husband so eloquently puts it, “I’m all for honesty, but I’m not going to wipe their bums for them.”
The other great pleasure is to see that although this restaurant is over two years old, it is still succeeding. Sure, it’s brash, formulaic, and is booking system shows an enormous amount of egotism, but I would most definitely return, just as it seems everybody else does. Especially as long as they are giving out free glasses of Moët. Because it reminds me of home, when I was young and beautiful and waiting tables with naughty-looking monster pepper grinders. But this time I am on the receiving end, and I like it. And waiters, if you want some lessons in “sassy”, you know who to call…
Frankie’s is at Oasis Tower, facing the beach at JBR.
Tel: 04- 399 4311