When it comes to gastronomy, the 19th century certainly doesn’t spring to mind. This wasn’t a time when people cooked for a hobby; rather, people ate out of necessity, and dishes, in the West at least, included things like broth, boiled turkey, pheasants and ox palate.
But then the rich started to flaunt their money and host extravagant dinners where eating became about more than sustenance.
All of a sudden, three-course meals were introduced, French cuisine became fashionable and afternoon tea made its debut in dedicated tea rooms.
All in all, people began to see food as a form of art rather than just an item for consumption – and that’s exactly how 1868 Restaurant Café and Gallery was inspired.
Aiming to combine food and art, the villa-based restaurant features an eclectic and cosy dining room and terrace as well as a spacious art studio.
Much of the décor, from the plant pots to the artwork, is homemade and no two chairs are the same, adding to the eccentric artsy feel.
The menu is a hodgepodge of dishes with everything from hot and cold mezze to pizza, pasta, sandwiches, roast meats and sweets.
It’s often a worrying sign when a restaurant combines so many cuisines, but in this case the chefs certainly prove their chops.
The small falafel bites are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside with a herby kick from the sumac, while the cheese sambusek proves to be less oily than is typical with a fluffy pocket of pastry encasing slightly salty melted cheese.
The penne arrabbiata could rival an Italian restaurant’s. The al dente pasta is coated in just the right amount of sauce that’s slightly tangy and slightly sweet, though it could do with a tiny bit more chilli to add a punch.
The baked chicken kiev comes breaded and stuffed with a spinach and ricotta mixture. The meat is tender and the filling balances well with the accompanying tomato sauce and creamy mashed potato.
Then there’s dessert. Ignoring the chocolate ice cream – a strange accompaniment to a classic dessert, in our opinion – we sink our spoons into the rich slice of sticky toffee pudding. The warm date cake is moist with strips of the dried fruit and a rich, butterscotch sauce, making for a dessert that would rival my mother’s – just don’t tell her.
With a casual and homey atmosphere coupled with good food, this restaurant is proving that food is designed to be enjoyed.
Need to know:
Location: 1868 Restaurant Café and Gallery, opposite Al Raha
Gardens gate 14
We say: Good food in an eclectic and artsy atmosphere
Cost: AED 220 for two
Opening times: Daily 7am-11.30pm
Contact: 02 553 1868, 1868uae.com
WORDS Rachael Perrett