Image from wikipedia; amateur annotations my own.
Dubai is a shopaholic's paradise, and those with the resources may splurge to their hearts' content on designer fashion wear, beautifully crafted jewellery from the gold souks, and - my personal favourite - edible goodies from various gourmet food stores. Truth be told, my own relatively modest 'resources' restricted my splurges to the edible variety; think of how many bars of camel milk chocolate one can buy for the price of a Louis Vuitton bag!
The Burj Al Arab
Designed to resemble the sail of a ship, the Burj Al Arab is described as a "7-star hotel", and is the 4th tallest hotel in the world. Room prices apparently vary from $1000 to $27000 per night. Egads! For that amount of money, I'd rather book myself into a couple of degustation dinners. And still have enough left over to buy a cat. I've always wanted a cat.
The very cool, futuristic roof design of Al Muntaha restaurant
I was delighted to find out that we would be celebrating a family member's birthday at Al Muntaha, one of the restaurants in the hotel. Not only would I have the opportunity to check out the hotel's interior design, I would also get to enjoy a 6-course degustation dinner while suspended 200m above the Persian Gulf.
Complimentary bread basket
Soon after we were seated, our server brought over two bread baskets and pats of salted and unsalted butter.
Unsalted butter on left, salted on right
The bread wasn't amazing, but I ate loads of it anyway. I've always harboured the irrational fear that I would starve while dining at a fine restaurant, because of the legendary tiny portions. As it turned out, we left the restaurant feeling comfortably stuffed. I needn't have worried - the portion sizes were reasonable, and the food was so rich that a little went a long way!
I didn't note down what the three elements of the amuse-bouche was, but I think the soup was pumpkin, and the stuff in the spoon is cucumber salad. No idea about the middle one.
Yellow fin tuna tartare, wasabi, confit ginger, soy & coriander, dashi broth
Our server, who was very friendly and had a nice, soothing voice, acquired a copy of the degustation menu for me to keep as a souvenir. I can therefore describe the rest of the meal in better detail. The picture above shows our first proper course for the degustation. The tartare tasted exactly the way it's described. The dashi broth reminded me of those packet miso soups. Sorry.
The tuna tartare
Seeing the next course on the menu had me buzzing with anticipation even before they'd brought out the dish.
Escalope of Foie Gras, wild mushroom fazzoletti, winter truffle emulsion
I won't pretend that I understood half the words in its description, but FOIE GRAS and TRUFFLE jumped out at me. It's like a foodie wet dream come true, yes? I admit that my excitement was partly due to the hype and 'aura of chicness' surrounding foie gras and truffle, but there was a large part of me that was genuinely interested in tasting the two ingredients. Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to describe my first bite of the foie gras as "transcendental", it did cause this euphoric feeling that could best be likened to the first time I ate butter on its own. It was like, 'wow, I didn't know so much flavour could be concentrated into such a small package!' Sadly, only that euphoric feeling has stayed with me; I have already forgotten the taste and scent of both the foie gras and the truffle :'(
Seared Norwegian scallop, declinaison of Topinambourg, aged balsamic
The scallops were well-cooked, the artichoke ("Topinambourg") puree tasted interesting, and the concentrated drizzles of balsamic vinegar balanced out the fattiness of the scallops. I liked it.
Grilled Angus beef fillet, pea puree, beetroot fondant, pomme puree beef jus
This was the last of our savoury courses. I felt assured by this point that I was not going to starve from eating a degustation meal ;) The beef was very tender; a bit too soft, I thought. Possibly cooked sous vide beforehand?
Brillat savarin sorbet, poached quince, star anise sabayon, candied ginger
I had no idea what this dessert would taste like. It looked like some sort of panna cotta, so I was pleasantly surprised when my first spoonful tasted like blue cheese! I found out later that brillat-savarin is a type of cheese - a triple cream brie, to be exact. This dish has inspired me to incorporate savoury cheeses into my future desserts.
Winter fruit & balsamic compote, chocolate & raspberry chantilly
This was our second dessert course, and final course for the degustation. This dish was visually stunning, but left me uninspired taste-wise. The pairing of (what tasted like) chocolate-coated fruit cake and raspberry sorbet was not ideal.
The restaurant also kindly gave us a cake to celebrate our family member's birthday. We had it for lunch the next day :D
Over all, this was an experience to be treasured. The food was undoubtedly delicious, just slightly unmemorable. Perhaps I set my standards too high? Did I go into the degustation with unrealistic expectations in my head, because I had read about so many other degustation meals with far more breath-taking dishes? Watching the documentary ' el Bulli: The Last Waltz' on the plane probably hadn't helped either ;) Still, I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to dine in such an environment.