The steakhouse at Dubai's Desert Palm boutique hotel is Rare. The fact that the words Dubai and boutique hotel should appear in the same sentence is even rarer. The city isn't exactly renowned for its intimate and understated retreats. And although the Desert Palm occupies a slightly out-of-town location (in regrettable proximity to a sewage treatment plant, I might add), it nevertheless goes some way towards filling the void.
Our visit to Rare revealed another thing in criminally short supply: punters. Perhaps word has yet to get out that Dubai has a new steakhouse at a boutique hotel on Al Awir road (you know, next to the sewage works). But that merely afforded us more space in which to appreciate the modern finishes and subtle elegance of this cool and sophisticated restaurant. While a sultry remix of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Corcovado sauntered out of the speakers, we began to enjoy the quiet night and stars that sparkled above the darkened polo pitch outside.
Such languidness was obliterated by the amuse bouches. The lively tomato tartare with creamy green beans might also have passed for a miniature salsa, but whatever its name, it was enough to prick the palate in anticipation of the starters. I took delivery of a gloriously creamy and masterfully cooked lobster pancake, bejewelled with salmon roe and glistening with truffled carrot emulsion. It was delicious and gone in moments. Meanwhile, my dining partner rebuffed the chef's handiwork in favour of some of nature's finest creations: half a dozen Fine de Claire supreme oysters. Not only had they been well shucked, but the slightly tart vinaigrette complemented the beautifully fleshy and salty molluscs admirably.
Since Rare makes a big play of its beech oven grill and steaks cooked over a wood fire, we decided to put the beef to the test. In a city seemingly awash with Japanese cuts of pampered meat, we were intrigued to pitch the merits of the wagyu sirloin against an ordinary, common or garden, Australian organic fillet. The satisfyingly marbled and tender wagyu steak was excellent beside a handful of sautéed wild mushrooms, a sprinkling of rocket leaves and a sterling Béarnaise sauce. But the stunningly juicy and yielding fillet steak stole the show from the significantly more expensive wagyu. It was accompanied by some agreeably crunchy butter-braised asparagus and a few slender fingers of salsify, a parsnip-like root. Much to our delight, the highlights at Rare were becoming increasingly frequent.
The service had been uniformly good throughout the evening, except for a lingering gap between each course. We shuddered to think what delays a full restaurant might suffer, but hoped the desserts would be well worth the wait. I lorded it up with the Valrhona Grand Cru manjuri 64 per cent, while my partner slummed it with rhubarb and apple crumble. My extravagantly posh pudding showcased a slab of bittersweet slow-baked chocolate cake that would have been brought crashing back down to earth with lashings of thick custard. Instead, there were honey-glazed figs and chocolate toffee crisps on the side. My partner's dessert offered more stodge than crumble.
We decided to take coffee on the outdoor terrace, and concluded that this was indeed one of the most serene and secluded spots in the city. You should give it a try, but prepare yourselves. Your return visits to Rare may become anything but.
Desert Palm, Al Awir Road, Dubai 04 323 8888. Average price of a meal for two: Dh800-900.