Review: Indochine, DIFC, Dubai: The Decor & Service Delight
Indochine: Dubai’s Vietnamese DIFC Dining
Indochine, DIFC Gate Precinct Building 3, Level 2, Dubai International Finance Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, +97142089333, http://www.indochinedxb.com/, 2 people, 10 dishes, 1 bottle red wine, 2 coffees: AED1235 (excluding service) (US$336, £257, €285)
Written by Liam Collens / Other food reviews are available.
Indochine Dubai delivers the promise of high-end decor in DIFC with a French Vietnamese menu. Yet, is the food as good as the dining room?
Beautifully designed dining room and bar area
Exceptional, engaged and knowledgeable staff
Crispy eggplant and charred corn sides are odes to vegetarian eating
Some dishes are unseasoned, underwhelming and lack the signature punch of Indochinese cooking
Reservations are a MUST and book well in advance
Introducing Indochine's decor-forward dining
You want to have a photo here. The tropical modern decor delivers fabric armchairs, terracotta-stained walls, dense foliage and a centrepiece bar reminiscent of Hemingway’s Havana or Shanghai’s Bund, in its glory days. You want to be caught slumped casually against the honeyed wooden bar nursing a whisky-laced 1984 (AED85) like a scene in James Bond’s Dr No. Maybe you will complete the look with a linen #OOTD just for the occasion.
You want to come to Indochine for a canter through its 11 strong cocktails from the eponymous Indochine Martini to the Bardot or Lulu May.
I muffle my name to confirm the reservation and bow towards the direction of a temperature gun, I am handed like a baton over to someone else who escorts me to the outside terrace where a separate waiter team looks after me for the rest of the night. This reminds me of the booking experience where I spoke to no less than four people by email before the reservation was confirmed.
Indochine's terrace and service
As our starters arrive, the star is really Anthony, our server. My dining partner is vegetarian and allergic to certain dairy so a comprehensive understanding of a menu is not just cute, it is essential. She is the same dining partner from Paper Fig, Masti brunch and Dubai’s Pani Puri reviews. Anthony is deeply knowledgeable about the dishes and dances through the menu steering us away from unwise dietary choices. Anthony, like the rest of the Indochine service we encounter, is spritely and engaging. He demonstrates more charm and character than the pomelo salad with miso soy dressing he brought to our table (AED46, US$13, £10, €11).
Indochine's Vietnamese food and menu
Indochine delivers some excellent dishes. Indochine’s forty dish menu includes nine vegan or vegetarian dishes inching close to a quarter of the savoury menu items. The crispy eggplant with spiced caramel with chilli and scallions is a sticky lacquered aubergine spear crusted with a shattering crunch coating (AED48, US$13, £10, €11). It is the kind of lick the plate good with a purr of spice and aromatics that forced us to order a second portion. Yes, it is that good and more evidence that vegetarian food is some of the best food out there right now.
The charred corn with sriracha butter, coconut milk and scallions is a bowl of comfort food in the spirit of a refined creamed corn (AED40, US$11, £8, €9). It pairs well with my dining partner’s shallow bowled Ca Ri Chay Vietnamese vegetable curry with sweet potato perfumed with kaffir and lemongrass and slick with mouth-pleasing coconut milk (AED88, US$23, £18, €20).
Indochinese food, including Vietnamese food, is known for its balance of sweet, sour, spice, crunch and aromatics. I would like Indochine to realize this across more of the dishes we tried through the menu. My view of the dishes is that 70% of the work is done but the gap between good and great is evident. The good news is that simple adjustments will make all the difference. I suspect many diners will not be as troubled as I am by these gaps.
The Vegetable Summer Rolls are light, fresh and crunchy but do not elevate above a crudité bundled snuggly in a Vietnamese rice paper roll. Dragging the rolls through their accompanying pool of cashew hoisin sauce detracts from the light freshness of the roll. The cashew hoisin sauce is too heavy and better paired with a more resilient ingredient like meat or oyster mushrooms. These pretty sliced rolls beg for a soaking in a bright acidic, fish-sauce spiked nouc cham. This would make all the difference.
This is a consistent issue with the earlier mentioned pomelo salad. This is one of my favourite go-to Indochinese dishes rich with a contrast of fiery chilli, palm sugar, salted peanuts and pungent fish sauce. Indochine’s pomelo salad is far more restrained and deflating.
Our curiously titled Morning Glory vegetable side dish with crispy garlic and chilli oil is a robust green vegetable dish for people like me that love iron-rich green vegetable side dishes (AED40, US$11, £8, €9). The kitchen could be braver with the seasoning and garlic to introduce some crunch with crispy petals of garlic chips. This much green vegetable can take a lot of seasoning and ferocious garlic. I would love maybe a fried duck egg on top for a non-vegan version.
Lastly, the amok cambodgien is a steamed sea bream in banana leaf, coconut lemongrass custard, chilli sauce, scallions and ginger (AED125, US$34, £26, €29). A tumble of herbage arrives crowned on a bowl of banana leaf. You peel back this herby hedge to reveal a silver beautifully steamed sea bream. This is capable cooking delivered with ability but, again, it feels underseasoned and the lack of acid here is palpable. It is a delicate dish where you do not want to overwhelm the fish but a broth or touch of acid would elevate it further and celebrate the aromatics that otherwise feel muted.
Our dessert is a tale of joy and woe. A scoop of calammansi sorbet is a palate-cleansing delight (AED20, US$5, £4, €5). A sweet humm of citrus rinses the mouth but generously leaves a mandarin-like sweetness behind so it feels like a treat.
The coconut matcha shortcrust achieves a beautiful crisp crust (AED55, US$15, £11, €13). Yet, the matcha is undetectable among the layers of coconut and, oddly, features blueberries. I would order this dessert again.
Overall Indochine is enjoyable and certainly head dives into the promise of delivering an opulent, exotic vibe and food to support. The menu is admirably priced with most dishes comfortably below AED100 each save for 10 dishes between AED105 and a punchy AED 410 (US$112, £85, €94). Our bill would be AED710 if it was not for the bottle of George Buboeuf Fleurie topping up AED525 to the bill (AED525 is US$143, £109, €121; AED710 is US$193, £148, €163).
Indochine’s menu structure allows you to graze through a number of dishes while keeping an eye on the tab. Calling Indochine low priced is a stretch too far but – in a pricey part of town – it certainly offers diners a price point not usually available in DIFC.
Would I Return to Indochine?
Indochine offers me an opportunity to come back to Mrs EatGoSee for a smart date night sipping cocktails and grazing incidentally through the food menu. There is a sense of occasion about Indochine that is undeniable. As someone that deeply loves South East Asian food and has the good fortune to travel there regularly, Indochine still leaves me wanting some of those tell-tale signature elements from Vietnamese dining. This is a view based on nostalgia curated at a time when travel back to this region seems unclear at best.
Some of the dishes remind me of buying a car. There is the car model that has everything and epitomises the driving experience: the cornering, the comfort, the roar of the engine. Other models may compromise on features and, while it still looks like that model car, it may not fulfil the driver in the same way because the joy is not there. The question you need to ask yourself is whether the compromise is worth the experience at all.
The good news is that it would take very little for the current menu to round that corner. I heartily encourage the kitchen to throw the gloves off and just dive into realising the very best version of some dishes with abandon.
Who Should Come To Indochine?
People who love decor and tropical modern furnishings. Classy date night seekers wanting to nurse freshly-made cocktails and mocktails or a wide variety of wine by the glass and bottle. Fans of Indochinese foods looking for familiar dishes of the region. DIFC fans looking for another restaurant to explore.