By Olivier Robinson www.timeoutdubai.com
Preconceptions are difficult to shift when reviewing restaurants, and the bigger the hype, the bigger the temptation to take a place down. I appreciate there’s an element of megalomania to this, but when the world’s highest restaurant opens to unprecedented fanfare, insists on taking your credit card details when you book and punctuates its name with a full stop for no apparent reason, the knives are out.
On my visit, matters weren’t helped by the fact that getting to the venue proved to be so complicated. How can a restaurant in the world’s tallest building be so difficult to find? Luckily, my date (the only woman in the taxi, thus the only one willing to ask for directions) guided us past the guards, through the barriers, and to the restaurant’s dedicated entrance at the foot of the Burj.
Once we got out of the taxi, things became a lot more straightforward, as gracious staff clad in black (very Bond) guided us to the lift. I had expected the gimmicks to start here – maybe some sort of rocket blast-off, complete with countdown – but there was nothing of the sort, just a frighteningly smooth, swift and silent ascent to the 123rd floor. Even when we stepped out of the lift there was very little for me to scoff at, other than the irony that guests actually reach the entrance to the world’s highest restaurant by descending a staircase to the 122nd floor. Here you can turn left for The Lounge or right for The Grill.
I was expecting Burj Al Arab-esque tack, but instead found At.mosphere’s grill restaurant to be a most handsome venue: with its polished wood panels, crisp white tablecloths, glittering glassware and low lighting, it would look good anywhere, be it on the first floor or the 122nd. As it happens, its elevated location provides a spectacular view: to see Dubai lit up at night is a sight to behold.
Prior to my visit, I’d interviewed head chef Dwayne Cheer over the phone. He’d said that he hoped guests would remember At.mosphere for the food rather than views, but as I sat there gazing out over the city, it was clear he had his work cut out.
With only eight starters to choose from (no bad thing; I have the attention span of a pug), it didn’t take long to order – my date went for diver scallops with ricotta dumplings, while I opted for the wagyu carpaccio. Both dishes arrived in good time, though there was an awkward moment when the waiter took back my date’s dish because she wasn’t at the table, having nipped out to the bathroom. The sentiment was right – he didn’t want the scallops to go cold – but he should have waited for my date to return before serving both dishes in unison. Her scallops soon returned when she arrived back at the table, but neither of our dishes was given any explanation by the waiter. These are minor quibbles, I admit, though this little episode suggests the service still needs fine-tuning.
That said, our beautifully presented starters were simple enough in premise and didn’t need too much introduction. My date’s scallops were accompanied by plump ricotta dumplings, vibrant chorizo and confit tomato. Each component complemented the other in both taste and texture, the juicy, soft scallops contrasting nicely with the rich chorizo. My dish comprised three pink patches of wagyu carpaccio, embellished with artichoke hearts, heirloom tomatoes and a pea purée. It looked fantastic, though I found the carpaccio left an acerbic tingle on the roof of my mouth. My date, however, disagreed, and the two of us shared a mutual appreciation of the artistry of the dish, which was given substance by the fresh, flavoursome artichokes and tomatoes.
Mains were even simpler in design than the starters. The Grill, as its name suggests, focuses on seafood and steaks, the latter prepared in a Josper: a Spanish charcoal oven that cooks meat in a matter of minutes. My date chose the 200g Rangers Valley tenderloin, while I opted for something that had been taken considerably longer to prepare – the slow-cooked barbecue beef short-rib (I’d been informed by the maître d’ that it had been cooking for 22 hours). I’ve never been wholly convinced by beef ribs, but these proved to be fantastic – flavourful, wickedly fatty and almost ethereal in the way they fell apart beneath my fork. My date’s tenderloin was of top quality, and she seemed content with her choice. I could see why – the Josper oven had given it real body – though after stealing a forkful, I concluded it wasn’t the most tender cut of meat I’d sampled in the city.
We shared dessert, a gianduja chocolate mousse with bitter chocolate sorbet and caramelised hazelnut. As with all that preceded it, the dessert’s presentation was flawless, the hazelnut adding drama to the dish’s overall aesthetic. Appearances were a telling indication of taste – the rich mousse was offset perfectly by the sorbet.
I was unsure whether I was pleased or disappointed that At.mosphere didn’t turn out to be the over-hyped monster I was expecting. On one hand I didn’t have the perverse pleasure of ripping into the place, but on the other I had a thoroughly enjoyable meal in a magnificent setting. The downsides? Well, there’s no need for any altitude-related puns on the menu – the prices speak for themselves.
The bill (for two)
1x Diver scallops Dhs145
1x Air-dried wagyu beef Dhs140
1x Beef short rib Dhs240
1x Tenderloin 200g Dhs300
1x Gianduja Dhs75
1x Still water Dhs25
Total (excluding service) Dhs925