December 14, 2007

Three Meals in Dubai

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Had 3 reasonably good meals over 2 days in Dubai. They were all inside 5-star hotels on Jumeirah Beach, so naturally were not going to be on the cheap side. But contrary to reports I have read on the net, the food actually was not terrible. If anything, they were of reasonable quality, but unfortunately the prices charged usually warrant higher quality elsewhere. Therefore I think it's not that the absolute quality level of the food is poor; people are just disappointed that they didn't get what they paid for.

Al Muntaha, Burj Al Arab Hotel - Lunch on December 13

Was not seated at a table by the window, but still had a reasonable view of the Palm Jumeirah. This was fine as I'd just gotten off the seaplane and already had a spectacular view that morning.

Did not choose the set lunch and went a la carte instead. For starter I chose pan seared diver scallops, expecting them to be very fresh and sweet. I was not disappointed. I was served two large scallops, halved, along with the red roes in the plate. The scallops were sweet, seared to perfection, and the flavors came together well. The only shocker is that the plate was put in front of me much too quickly after I had ordered...which meant that it was already partially prepared when I ordered it.

My main course was steamed barramundi with a veloute of green peas. The large piece of flesh was very tender and juicy, completely covered in the green veloute and served over a bed of green asparagus and lumpfish caviar. Here again the flavors blended well together, and I was very happy by this point.

For dessert I chose the passion fruit souffle, which came in a rather large ramekin (for one person at least). It was pretty good, although I was reminded of the better passion fruit souffle at Plantane in Shanghai.

I did order a glass of Chablis to go with the scallops and the barramundi. Can't remember the producer but it was a village wine.

The decor was modern but a bit Disney-esque. I am reminded of Le Cirque 2000 in NY years ago, where the decor was a bit wacky and colorful. Of course the raison d'etre for the restaurant is the spectacular view, of Jumeirah Beach/Palm Jumeirah on one side, and of the new city skyscrapers and the World on the other (with the Jumeirah Beach Hotel just adjacent to the Burj on this side).

I take my coffee and petits fours at the bar, and enjoy the view of the city. Meanwhile I continue to snap away with my camera.

Overall, I think the food s fairly good. However, the pricing for this restaurant is comparable to some of the top restaurants in London and New York, while an appreciable gap remains in terms of quality, as well as service.

Tagine, One & Only Royal Mirage - Dinner on December 13
Looking at the name, it is immediately apparent that you are entering a Moroccan establishment. A bowl of dates, a traditional gesture of hospitality, rest on a small stand just inside the entrance, along with an empty plate for the pits as well as a stack of napkins. I grab a date and munch.

The decor is classically Moroccan. All the staff inside the restaurant are of Moroccan origin (a welcome change to the multinational staff we meet at other restaurants), and dressed in national garb with red tarbouches on their heads as well as babouches on their feet. The restaurant was pretty busy with only a couple of empty tables. However, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful (and knowledgeable), which is again a nice change.

I started with the Salade Marrakechia, a collection of small bowls each containin cauliflower; red beet root; a paste made from tomato, orange blossom water, honey and saffron; mashed chickpeas; and salad of tomatoes and cucumbers. The paste is especially interesting as it is sweet and is eaten with bread. By the time I run through these, I am already half full.

Next I ordered two main courses - way too much I had to have some variety. The tagine soussi, a lamb stew with onion, ginger and saffron, was delicious. I try to finish this as much as possible. The other main - the couscous bismak - is topped with prawns (both large and medium) and fish. It is among the best cousous I have ever had, but I had no hope of finishing it. I ask for it in a doggy bag.

I am already full, but am I going to walk out without having dessert? No way! The nice waiter suggests the kenaffa, overruling my original choice. Basically a mille-feuille made with vanilla cream, almonds and cinnamon, it is absolutely amazing. It is the perfect ending to a good meal.

I leave with a bloated tummy, a doggy bag in hand and my wallet intact.

Pierchic, Al Qasr - Dinner on December 14

This meal was always going to be about the setting and not the food. Built on top of a pier extending out from the beach, this was touted by Time Out as "one of the most romantic restaurants" since it has a view of the Burj at night.

The waiter makes a few suggestions, and since they match my tastes, I decide to take them. For starter I had the langoustines, served on a bed of salmon an scallop tartare with langoustine foam. This was well-executed and I find myself licking my lips for the foam.

For main course I had the halibut, which was pan-fried to perfection. I wash it all down with a glass of German kabinett riesling.
I'm pretty full at this point, so I pass on dessert and make my way back to the hotel.

One last word on the wine list: the Jumeirah group of hotels obviously spent some effort to stock the cellars of the hotels that they operate, so there are a number of trophy wines on the list. As one would expect in a fine-dining restaurant (if these could quality), and especially one located in Dubai, prices would not be on the cheap side. A bottle of '82 La Mission Haut Brion lists for AED 18,000, which is roughly 3.5-4x the current bonded price in London (and therefore not too unreasonable compared to what other restaurants would charge). The most expensive bottle is the '85 Petrus, which at AED 45,000 is about 10x the price in bond in London. Now THAT is excessive!

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