Thanks to a minimum spend request of Dh450 per person, I knew, even before I had stepped into the sleek, high-speed lift, ready to be whooshed up to the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, that dinner at At.mosphere Grill, the world's highest restaurant, was going to be expensive. What I'd also expected, though, was that it would impress.
And yes, the floor-to-ceiling windows offer jaw-dropping views of Dubai. But as for the rest of the room - all plush red hues and carpeted floors - it's really not that special. Through luck alone, we were given a window table. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the diners at the back of the room; they were paying the same prices as us, but without the view to compensate for it.
When you're paying this amount of money to dine in the tallest building in the world, expectations are immediately raised; unfortunately, here they were simply not met.
A starter of roasted river trout featured a notably small square of moist fish with crispy skin perched on a mound of corn and crab salad (succotash). This was served with what the menu (and our waiter, when I questioned him) claimed to be a sweetcorn velouté (sauce). Due to its orangey-red colour and tomatoey flavour, we found this rather hard to believe. There was so much of this thin sauce that it overpowered every other ingredient and meant that I had to sip it with a spoon, as if eating soup.
Roasted foie gras (again small) was as smooth and rich as it should be. However, we couldn't detect even a hint of smoke in the apparently smoked spelt risotto. Apart from being very sweet, it lacked flavour. Both the starters as well as our desserts were decorated with gold leaf, which adds absolutely nothing to a dish but ostentatiousness.
Considering the Dh240 price tag, my friend's chicken main course was startlingly simple: a roasted chicken drumstick, resting on a piece of battered out chicken breast, with a slick of pea purée, a couple of pieces of salsify (a root vegetable, also known as oyster plant) and a few slivers of radish. There was no sense of imagination, inspiration or pizzazz - just ingredients on a plate, cooked and put together in a manner well within the capabilities of the home cook.
My New Zealand tenderloin (Dh300 for 200g) was presented with exactly the same garnish as the chicken, which strikes me as rather lazy. The meat was cooked medium, when I had specifically asked for it rare and although flavoursome, it certainly wasn't the best steak I've eaten in Dubai.
A mushroom essence sauce had plenty of rich flavour and the Désirée potato purée was smooth and buttery. The two other side orders were disappointing, however. Baby corn with lime and chilli lacked freshness and vibrancy. As for the portion of green beans, the small bowl was less than a third full and the beans were limp, grey and tired looking. All the colour had been stewed out of them and they were quite clearly the last of a batch.
We sent the dish back and the replacement only added to the sense of injury: a full bowl of bright green beans, cooked al dente.
Additional side dishes cost Dh40 each and for a chef to serve a tiny portion of overcooked, discoloured vegetable shows not only a lack of respect for the customers, but also a lack of pride in his or her work.
Cherries with almond paste and pistachio ice cream didn't feel like a complete dish - there was nothing to tie it all together, just ice cream and fruit on a plate. The cherries were supposed to have been roasted on the Josper grill (a hybrid between an oven and a charcoal broiler/barbecue grill), but they were neither warm nor bursting with fruity juice. Rectangles of Jivera chocolate mousse with thyme ice cream were presented prettily enough but rather than being light and airy, the mousse had a strange set texture, reminiscent of baked cheesecake.
Needless to say, I was utterly disappointed with dinner at At.mosphere. The food lacks originality, ambition and finesse and is vastly overpriced. I don't think that I have ever had a meal with such a lack of correlation between the cost and the food on the plate; a gap that can and must be narrowed. I signed for the bill feeling very much like we'd been taken advantage of. I sincerely hope the restaurant's shortcomings are addressed, because the view is too stunning to miss out on.
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