If you’re in any way associated with the Burj Al Arab you’re already under immense pressure to live up to the hotel’s 7-star status. Should you be one of the many well-dressed doormen, one of those gold iPads that you get when you book into a suite or even just one of the comfy sofas in the afternoon tea lounge – you need to be amazing – at all times!
So, imagine the pressure if you’re Nathan Outlaw, a chef with two Michelin stars, and your new playground is the aquarium-style restaurant that is the jewel in the crown of this hotel…the heat is on, both metaphorically and literally.
And there’s another reason that Nathan Outlaw needs to do well: the food at Al Mahara hasn’t always been able to live up to the standard of the incredible interior. I’ve eaten at Al Mahara twice before and I’ve always enjoyed it, but the number of oohs and aahs that the fish swimming past the table got far outweighed those received by the plates of food put in front of us. The food wasn’t bad at all, there just was no wow. In fact I can’t even remember what I ate those two times.
So, can Nathan Outlaw change things around for Al Mahara? What can he offer that can compare to the joy of seeing a stingray floating past your seat? Well, the good news is he’s matched like for like. If there’s amazing seafood swimming in the walls there appears to be equally impressive seafood to match it on the menu.
The restaurant is offering a four-course dinner without drinks for AED 650 (around £140) or a signature tasting menu for AED 850 (£185). Yes, you’re paying for the setting and the fact you’re in the Burj Al Arab, but with so many good places to eat in Dubai now…that doesn’t cut it anymore, so the food needs to be excellent. The good news is: it is.
For starters we chose the Seared Raw Yellow Fin Tuna with Pickled Ginger Carrots, Onions and Chilli. The Tuna is a generous portion for a starter and falls apart gently when cut, it’s delicate on the tongue rather than in any way rubbery and the accompaniments give it a tangy ceviche style taste which is delicious.
For the second of our four course dinner we opted to share the huge Hand Dived Scallops with Hazelnut Butter and Watercress Cream and the Lobster Risotto with Orange, Basil and Spring Onions. The scallops melted in the mouth, they were so perfected cooked and the hazelnuts added a deliciously contrasting crunch. The risotto was a chunky and creamy plate of hearty but refined food with a flavoursome and tender bit of lobster on the top.
Then it was time for the mains, and if you’re a seafood lover then you’ll be delighted that there’s the options of cod, turbot or Dover sole, fancy a change then there’s duck breast or a celeriac risotto with truffle. I went for the Baked Cod with Carpet Shell Clams and Green Sauce Butter, (with a side of courgettes for an extra £6.50) and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. The taste of the cod was as elegantly mild as the taste of the clams and sauce was strong and rich, perfectly balancing one another as it fell apart in the mouth. It was by far the best dish of the night…until we got to dessert and ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding, Clotted Cream and Stuffed Dates.
I’m not a big fan of dates but this dish was a knock out. The pudding was rich and sticky with a sweet taste that was moorish rather than overpowering, The sponge was airy but packed tight with flavour all at the same time. Then the whole thing was covered in a chocolate sauce - heaven! I could have eaten about four of these…even after the other three courses!
So, how much better was the food? Well, I barely noticed my surroundings. On my last visit I had studied the fish so hard, I’d even named most of them after the members of my friends and family they most resembled, this time I don’t think I more than glanced into the giant tank.
I think Nathan Outlaw has put the food well and truly where it should be…at the forefront of your mind. Enjoying dinner should always be a sensory experience…now it’s one for the tastebuds not just the eyes.