ABUJA: Fine Dining in a Casual Space at Hélène's
Hélène's Food Co., a gourmet restaurant run by Chef Emeka, is tucked away in the industrial district of Jahi amidst other shopping complexes and housing estates. It’s not a location where you'd expect to find an upscale gastronomical experience. I definitely didn’t expect to find an alumni of Le Cordon Bleu (Paris) either. The building itself was quite nondescript with a certain emptiness that I knew I would not be comfortable with after dark.
On the inside, it’s a different story. It looks like my home. Well, my home if I execute my vision board.
The space is open-plan style with an actual built in kitchen. “Homey” rather than “upscale” springs to mind. There was a comfy-looking settee, which I was offered because my friend was running late.
I loved the cute yellow dinner plates on the already-set table, but the crockery and cutlery were about 50% short of what a fine-dining dinner table requires. I quickly reset my expectations for the evening while the earnest staff fetched me complimentary water and the menu.
(Ed Note: Hélène's is more bistro than fine dining)
The prices aren’t listed on the menu and I think it is deliberate, lest potential customers have a heart attack on an empty stomach.
My friend and I got the duck starter from the March Dinner Menu - Helene’s refreshes the menu monthly. I opted for the fish for my main and my friend ordered the chicken. A complimentary slice of sourdough bread was served while I waited for my starter. It certainly wasn’t sourdough and it didn’t come warm, but I ate it because I was hungry and the butter made it all better.
The drink menu at Helene’s is severely limited, but I guess that’s not the point of Hélène's. I wanted some orange juice, but they had run out so I had to settle for water.
As each meal came out, it was immediately obvious that they were prepared with the utmost care, which justified the wait time. The presentation and the taste were five-star. The cauliflower puree in my duck starter melted on my tongue and left a party of flavours in my mouth.
Even without a trace of chilli in any of their dishes, everything was not only delightful but served on warm plates.
The wait staff were not loitering in that annoying way they do at some restaurants but each time I caught the waiter’s eye, he came bouncing towards me energetically like an eager-to-please puppy.
We chose to share one dessert, the mango sorbet, and it was certainly the piece de resistance.
(Ed Note: Chef Emeka graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris with a Grande Diplome in Cuisine and Patisserie)
Perfectly sculpted frozen pureed mango balls married well with the coconut and lime flavours. I suspect that the sponge was made a day or two in advance as it was neither warm nor fluffy.
(Ed Note: There’s no hard and fast rule on sponge cake temperature)
An inspection of the restroom facilities led me to a foul stench from the men’s stall. I was glad I visited after my meal because the odour was enough to put me off. I expected more of a powder room but I got a lavatory.
When I saw the bill, I was shocked!
Forty-five thousand naira for two starters, two mains, one dessert and some drinks was a bit much. The food was certainly impressive but to justify those prices, Chef Emeka must upgrade the space, facilities and service to match the quality of the food.
The March Dinner Menu - N20,000