Asia Republic opened over the summer with minimum fuss and hype which, given the fact that the restaurant is located within the sprawling, not-exactly-subtle mini-metropolis that is Atlantis, The Palm, struck me as unusual, but also quite -refreshing.
The restaurant occupies a small, square space tucked away in a corner. A shiny black bar with five or six high stools runs along one wall and there are wooden canteen-style tables with benches in the middle of the room. Just outside, you’ll find a few more seating spots. The decor has a modern, minimalist Far Eastern feel to it, with lots of clean lines, large mirrors, light wood and bonsai trees dotted around.
The place is marketed as a casual pan-Asian eatery, with a tick-the-box menu (as seen at the hugely successful Noodle House chain) which is divided into sections: dim sum, appetisers, noodle soups, wok-fried noodles, specials, vegetables and rice. While there’s certainly a fair amount of choice, only five of the 30 savoury items are suitable for vegetarians, two of which are rice and one a mixed-vegetable dish, while spring rolls and mushroom dumplings complete the list. What’s particularly significant here is that there’s not one main course that is meat- and fish-free. After leaving the restaurant, I did spot a note at the bottom of the menu advising that additional vegetarian options are available on request, but such underrepresentation still seems strange.
Although we were greeted with a cheery hello when we walked in, once we sat down my friend and I were then left to our own devices for quite some time. We managed to steal a pen from a nearby table and set about marking the menu up. We were fine, but it would have been nice if someone had made their way over to check on us and explain the concept, however briefly. A little tray bearing three dips – chilli, hoisin and seafood sauce – arrived soon after we ordered and this was quickly followed by a plate bearing our Vietnamese lettuce cups. Ultimately these looked good, but were in fact disappointing: the chopped prawns were tough and rubbery, suggesting that they had been overcooked. The thin, dried white rice noodles, scattered over the top as garnish, were stale rather than crisp. The dish just lacked oomph.
Next to arrive were three large siew mai topped with tiny, pearly salmon roe. The dumpling skin was nice and thin and the texture of the filling was good – dense yet moist – but again, it was very bland. There was no hint of chopped spring onion, soy, garlic, ginger or sesame, just mundane under--seasoned minced chicken and prawn.
With the arrival of our main courses, the meal did take an upwards turn. Slices of roasted duck with crisp, bronzed skin came piled on a plate with a little pot of sweet, light plum sauce on the side. The meat could have done with being a touch more flavoursome, but nonetheless, it was an enjoyable dish.
The Korean barbecued beef served in a sizzling cast iron frying pan was superb. The succulent grilled meat contained just the right amount of flavourful fat and the intense sauce – smoky, sweet and salty all at once – was rightfully rich and really quite delicious. Kimchi added just the right amount of sharp freshness and chilli kick.
A side order of stir-fried mixed vegetables bought us a pleasant medley of crunchy bits and pieces – broccoli, baby corn, mushrooms, cauliflower and carrot – bound in a light soy and garlic dressing.
As you can see, our meal here was something of a mixed bag; one dish was outstanding and the others less so. For Atlantis’s in-house guests, this is a perfectly serviceable spot for refuelling. I’m just not convinced that Asia Republic should be viewed as anything more than that.
• A meal for two at Asia Republic, Atlantis, The Palm, costs Dh235, including service charge. The restaurant does not take reservations. For more information, call 04 426 2626 or visit www.atlantisthepalm.com. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito