Those with a penchant for high-end Japanese food are well catered for in Dubai. A visit to any of the three big hitters (Okku, Nobu and Zuma) will provide spanking fresh sashimi, dumplings steamed just so and black cod to swoon over. But what about those occasions when you're not in the mood for splashing cash or donning your glad rags in order to get a sushi fix?
Creekside, the restaurant in the Sheraton Dubai Creek, seems to be known as an unpretentious, reasonably priced place to enjoy some decent Japanese food. To an extent, this reputation is warranted.
The nightly all-you-can-eat buffet costs Dh175 per person (there's no à la carte option). As our waiter walked us around the room, explaining the different sections, it soon became clear that lack of choice wasn't going to be a problem.
We began at the salad counter. Now, it doesn't matter how pretty the display is, there is something disconcerting - desolate, even - about first viewing a vast array of pre-prepared dishes and then surveying a not particularly busy restaurant. Where does all that leftover food go? Pondering this, we avoided the more tired looking offerings (and there were a fair few) and tucked into a small, cold beef salad, which was actually rather nice (slightly chewy strips of meat and slithers of tomato and onion, brought to life with splashes of fish sauce) and a few slices of fresh-tasting seared tuna, which was served with a sweet mango salsa.
The trick to getting the most out of the tempura section was, we discovered (after taking our lead from another diner), to be assertive. Don't settle for the selection of cooked goods that are being kept warm, but perhaps losing their crispness under the heated lights. Instead, pick out your raw prawns (or vegetables, or squid) and ask the chef behind the counter to cook them for you - then you're likely to be rewarded (as we were) with tender shrimp wrapped in a very light, very crunchy batter.
A visit to the teppanyaki grill was also rewarding. We made our selections from the variety of different raw ingredients that were on display, then the chef fired up his grill with considerable enthusiasm, tossed ingredients about with even more glee and a few minutes later presented us with a very tasty dish featuring smoky, tender beef and vegetables that were all the better for still being crunchy and filled with goodness.
The counter displaying large pans of pre-cooked "main course" options was utterly uninspiring, though. One dish, merely titled "beef", tasted old and staid; stir-fried rice looked appealing, but had obviously been hanging around for rather a long time; and little chicken dumplings turned to mush in the mouth - and not in a good way. The presence of Thai green curry just served to confuse things further. Not surprisingly, this section was the one that was visited least often by guests, the freshness and buzz coming from the BBQ and grill areas being far more appealing.
This is something that the restaurant should take note of. There is no need for the number of dishes on the menu to far outnumber the diners, after all. Certain parts of our meal were good, but others were undeniably below par, which brings the average down somewhat. At Creekside they would do well to hone their menu: cut the salad section right down (keep the favourites and do away with whatever doesn't sell), focus on the sushi and sashimi, and make more of their very good live cooking stations.
There's good reason why the phrase "quality, not quantity" is a cliché.
Our meal at Creekside, Sheraton Dubai Creek cost Dh385 (the buffet is Dh175 per person), not including service. For reservations call 04 228 1111. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.