Redefining brunch

New menus, new service and new attitude: hotels re-create the time-honoured classic.

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By  Shilpa Mathai Published  July 20, 2004

|~||~||~|Weekend brunch is receiving a makeover from many food and beverage directors. Some of these changes include new recipes that keep dishes simple, yet full of flavour, while others put a new spin on old dishes. And when it comes to presentation, rather than lavish, self-service spreads, hotels like the Hilton Dubai Creek are serving multi-course, sit-down meals. The hotel’s à la carte brunch with ‘free flow bubbly’ at Glasshouse is a favourite with those who prefer to enjoy brunch in seated, rather than buffet, style and comfort. The menu, priced at Dhs120 per head with unlimited tea, coffee, fresh juices and champagne, is designed to offer guests a variety of items. For the first course, guests can sample salads and appetizers followed by a selection of main courses such as confit leg of chicken with root vegetable purée, summer vegetables & Madiera sauce or salmon fish cake with baby spinach and herb velouté. Desserts are served in the same format. Dubai’s Fairmont hotel also does a champagne brunch and according to Stefan Soennichsen, executive assistant manager, F & B, the brunch is booked eight weeks in advance and reservations have already come in for December and January 2005. “Our brunch is the most elaborate in Dubai,” says Soennichsen. “Besides free flow of Moet et Chandon champagne, the selection of food is impeccable. We have about 45 different items including a seafood and crustacean buffet that includes seven different kinds of oysters from all over the world. We have a chocolate buffet and Arabian, European and boulangerie stations besides the normal standard omelette and eggs station, oriental station, dimsum station, tempura and tepanayaki station.” The brunch is offered every Friday and does about 240 covers. Earlier the hotel had a brunch in its all day dining restaurant, which was mainly utilised by hotel guests; since the move to the Spectrum On One restaurant and the launch of its champagne brunch, its guest list has broadened and 90% of its clientele are now Dubai residents and guests from other hotels. The ability to deliver a wow factor continues to grab, and keep, customers. Whether it is through a theme that caters to the local crowd or a new way of serving an old favourite, Soennichsen says guests will remember distinctive elements, and come back for more. The InterContinental Dubai has transformed its brunch into what it terms an ‘international food fiesta’. According to F&B director Stefan Tornau, the buffet is endless and serves over 170 dishes in addition to six live cooking stations. “To wander around this food festival is an experience itself as you move from one outlet to another. You can choose from Italian food at La Moda restaurant, Japanese at Minato restaurant, Persian at Shabestan, seafood at The Fish Market, and traditional British at The Pub. The choice of where to sit is endless,” he explains. The hotel does around 400-500 covers every Friday. Tornau says one of the determinants of a successful brunch programme is the attention the hotel gives to families. Special attention to children provides a competitive edge. “I think Friday is certainly a big family day,” he says. “You are going to miss a lot of people if you try and have brunch just directed toward adults.” Children are measured by height using a set of child-sized doors at the InterCon on Fridays and the price each child pays for their meals depends on how tall they are. Children below one metre get to eat for free. The rest are charged according to three different rates. Besides a balloon and a gift on arrival, children have a range of entertainment options from video games to a play area, a magician, popcorn and cotton candy and even a mini soccer table. They can also get their faces painted and are entertained by a live band. The hotel puts out a child-sized buffet where kids can help themselves or be helped by one of the many helpful staff in brightly decorated colours. The buffet itself is placed on low tables to help the children reach it. Mini chafing dishes are filled with kid-friendly food such as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chicken fingers. “It was a niche idea at the time we started and is very popular,” says Tornau. “Parents appreciate the fact that they can come here and relax and have a comfortable brunch without worrying too much if the kid gets bored after half an hour. This way, guests can spend more time talking with friends and family.” While there are restaurants that are child friendly, Tornau believes children are never really catered to. “This creates a level of frustration for the parents, and an unpleasant experience for the children,” he says. “We want the entire family to enjoy while they are here.” Besides the focus on kids and food quality, Tornau says it is important to maintain an element of distinction. The InterCon prides itself on its food selection, unlike other city brunches that serve straightforward international British cuisine or outlet specific food. The hotel alters its menu taking into account seasonal variations and current dining trends. Jean-Pierre Trabut, general manager of Le Meridien Abu Dhabi says a brunch menu needs to be fairly constant, but as chefs change over time and introduce their own styles, that adds variety to the menu. The hotel has been serving a brunch every Friday for the past three to four years and attracts a mainly expatriate clientele. Brunch at Le Meridien Abu Dhabi also includes entertainment for the kids with games and a bouncy castle. “We target as wide an audience as possible,” says Trabut. “There is no specific segmentation. There are more families than couples and single people, but in terms of nationalities our appeal is very broad. Le Meridien is sometimes seen as destination for the French community, but we are by no means restricted to that.” Kitchen staff must work the brunch in a different manner. Chef David Hammonds of The Fairmont Dubai says the brunch is more challenging, operationally, in the kitchen. The menu requires a lot of preparation and the kitchen starts working on a brunch two or three days ahead. “There is more finessing that goes into the dishes now,” he says. “Since we are doing things à la minute, customers are getting a better product.” Chef Hammonds says The Fairmont serves food in small chaffing dishes so that only small quantities of food are kept standing at any time. There is constant cooking of fresh food and as the Spectrum features open kitchens, guests can see their food being cooked. The restaurant features a Japanese, Thai, Indian, European and Chinese kitchens and guests can go from one station to the other selecting food. “In the Chinese and Thai kitchens we have four cooks and in the Japanese kitchen we have three line chefs working the brunch,” he adds. Going from a buffet to an a la carte menu reduces labour in the kitchen during a brunch. Chef Hammonds says that The Fairmont is considering launching an a la carte brunch at its Exchange Grill in the future. “The advantage, of course, is that the guest gets a personalised plate as per his choice and food is not kept standing on the buffet. Maybe the desert and appetisers can be a buffet and the main course plated and served on tray so guests gets two choices.” All the hotels agree that brunch increases F & B revenues. By catering to a specific clientele and depending on the concept of the outlet that is hosting the brunch, hotels are going all out to woo guests. Food is the key, but the second most important thing is atmosphere. “Everyone does a champagne brunch; you have to do something else to stay competitive,” says a hotelier in Dubai. “People are wowed by things they don’t see every day.”||**||

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