Having heard so much about Marco Pierre White’s legendary eatery, Wheeler’s of St James’s in London, expectations were high when I booked a table at its sister restaurant in Dubai’s International Financial Centre.
From the get go, my dining companion and I weren’t disappointed. Our request for a “warm table” out of the gale-force chill of the air conditioning vents was well heeded and we were ushered to a snug banquette in a cosy corner of the beautifully designed restaurant.
Crisp, white linen tablecloths, richly hued marble and wood-panelled columns made for a visually pleasing environment. Particularly memorable, and in keeping with the menu’s aquatic theme, were the imposing chandeliers with twisting crystal tubes hanging down like jellyfish tentacles. Another feast for the eyes was the choice of sculptures and works of art dotted around the interior – namely the mermaid statuettes and sea-inspired oil paintings. The only slight mismatch with the sophisticated decor was the music, which was ever so slightly too loud and varied wildly from pumping Cuban beats to a crooning Jamie Cullum.
The menu is vast and based upon the traditional British fish and seafood restaurant which thrived in the heart of London in 1856. Classic starters such as obsiblue shrimp ceviche and mains of seafood platters sit well alongside modern European dishes such as lobster tortellini with roast chicken wings, as well as numerous vegetarian and meat options.
To start proceedings, I plumped for the Irish crab claws in garlic butter, which were nothing short of perfection. My companion struggled to finish the delicious, albeit generously portioned, marinated burrata and tomato tart with kalamata olives and rocket pesto.
Next, my curiosity was piqued by the house speciality of mussels marinière, served with French fries. An ample portion for two was dramatically delivered to the table in a Le Creuset pot and obligatory shiny silver ladle. The creamy sauce, while just a tad salty for my tastes, was nevertheless mopped up enthusiastically with the selection of bread delivered to our table.
What made the dish utterly memorable, however, was my crunching down upon a 3mm pearl hiding inside one of the mussel shells. Tear-drop shaped and iridescent white on one side; while hardly big enough to fashion into a pendant, the incident gave the waiters a giggle and me a reason to eat molluscs more often.
My friend was keen to try what was dubbed the “local fish of the day”, but turned out to be imported salmon as we were informed that the “chef was unhappy with the quality of the morning’s catch”. The dish was well executed and again sizeable, with a small selection of vegetables – although no hint of a lemon wedge.
Dessert split consensus and the recommended lemon tart had a disappointingly heavy cheesecake-like consistency and rather soggy base. It lacked the refreshing tang we craved and was impossible to finish after the two previous courses. On the flip side, the apple-blackberry and oat crumble with its moreishly sweet topping was packed with fruit and proved an absolute winner.
While the restaurant wasn’t especially busy for a Sunday night, the service was fantastic. Slick, polite and friendly, the attentive staff left us wanting for nothing – save for finger bowls and bigger dishes for the mussel shells. There was also no pushing of side dishes, extra water or digestifs, which so often accompanies a meal at Dubai’s top tables. Perfect for a business lunch or an elegant evening meal, Wheeler’s is a genuine treat for seafood fans. Booking is a must, as is collecting your complimentary copy of the menu from the maître d’ as you leave, to help you plan your return visit.
A meal for two at Wheeler’s of St James’s, in the Dubai International Financial Centre, costs Dh676, including service. For reservations, call 04 386 089 or visit www.wheelersdubai.com. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito
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