Eating in the exposed outdoors in Dubai mid-summer is usually unfathomable – but Café Belge is unique in that it provides al fresco dining overlooking the peaceful Sunken Gardens, protected from both the heat and aggressive air-conditioning. Indulging diners with an ethos of “let us take care of it” – from drink suggestions to the carefully thought-out menu – this is a refined, intimate brunch where your only decision is the pace.
The crisp 1920s Brussels-inspired décor is white with brass details, tall ceilings, and high-backed couches or small tables. With an airy, subdued elegance, the ambiance resonates through the service and menu, meeting expectations of luxury hotel fine dining. Three brunch packages – non-alcoholic, basic and premium with Laurent Perrier Brut – feature multiple sharing dishes brought simultaneously to the table for each of the four courses. The awareness of the entirety of each course is a benefit towards understanding how to best pace your afternoon. The staff are mindful of this, and while discreetly attentive, it is worth noting this is a brunch best enjoyed by those who prefer a more hands-off service style, lest service be misinterpreted as on the leisurely, or forgotten, side.
Chef de Cuisine Manuel Olveira, who joined Café Belge three months ago, has made significant improvements upon the previous menu by creating a cohesive palette. Following the large French-imported seafood platter featuring lobster, snails, a variety of shrimps and mussels, six starters are brought after a subtle prompt to the servers. Each flows seamlessly to the next – smoked salmon with beetroot mayonnaise, Herring caviar and blinis (a few more wouldn’t hurt) texturally plays well with the beef carpaccio with foie gras and truffle dressing, which in turn picks up on the notes of the truffle oil drizzled over the light, creamy roasted asparagus and cauliflower espuma. Presented with two stalks of fresh asparagus, the simple but flavourful approach adds impressive gravitas to the recent cauliflower rage, and unexpectedly is one of the most thoroughly indulgent parts of the meal, belying its “side dish” connotation. The creaminess is built upon by another table favourite: the hand-cut beef tartar. For the meat-averse, the warm roasted beetroot with brie and thyme honey shares a sweeter palette with the quinoa salad with endive, walnuts and papaya – a cooling but less inspiring option.
The main dishes, Olveira explained, bring Café Belge back to its seafood roots via Belgian classic moules marinière with thickly cut frites and mayonnaise, seared seabass on top of a scene-stealing rich leek and mushroom ragout, and a roasted seasonable vegetable gratin that, given the season, was thoughtfully executed with a lighter touch. A recent move to reinvigorate the diner experience with more interactive floor service, Olveira carved the 48-hour braised short ribs in situ. While the meat was tender and beautifully cooked, the disappointing lack of seasoning stood out, if only because the others were so on point.
The brunch ended on as high of a note as it started with the individually portioned desserts. A refreshing influx of berries – atop panna cotta, in raspberry crème brûlée, and garnishing a brownie with vanilla ice cream – proved as satisfying to the pronounced sweet tooth of half the table as it did to those opting for a less sugary finish.
Far away from crowds and the hustle of buffets, Café Belge has a recognisable culinary take brought to the fore by Olveira, forming a perfectly cohesive menu for an experience that doesn’t need the break or palette cleanse that so many other brunches do. While the new season in September will reveal more surprises, in the meanwhile, Café Belge can be relied upon for a luxe brunch, or sooner yet, on 21 July, visit for the Belgian National Day celebration, complete with complimentary mussels and waffles.