Having eaten takeaway food from Royal Orchid, a Thai and Chinese restaurant on Dubai's Marina Walk, and enjoyed it, I thought it was time to pay the place a proper visit.
Like so many of the restaurants located along this stretch of the marina, Royal Orchid's outdoor terrace is a real boon. The smattering of expensive white yachts provides a nice backdrop and the market stalls selling jewellery and arts and crafts add colour. In fact, there's a certain holiday feel about the walk at this time of year, with children and adults alike soaking up the atmosphere until late into the night.
We decided to take full advantage of the weather and sat outside, as did almost every other customer that evening. Royal Orchid's Asian-style interior, with its light wood and bamboo, is attractive enough, but feels slightly characterless when empty.
Diners here are certainly not short on choice: the menu offers a vast selection of appetisers, dim sum, soups, seafood, poultry, meat and vegetable dishes as well as various noodles and rice. It was, in truth, probably a good thing that the list was so long, considering the length of time it took for a waiter to approach us and ask if we were ready to order. Perhaps he sensed our frustration; a bowl of prawn crackers arrived shortly after that.
Next up came a plate of som tam (green papaya) salad, which was enjoyable but a little wan looking and tasting. The papaya was, I think, slightly old, which meant that the salad lost its characteristic crunch and that the fruit wasn't able to soak up as much punchy sweet-sour flavour as it should.
On the other hand, a bowl of lemon and coriander soup with chicken was spot on. The clear hot broth was as delicate and cleansing as the name suggests, yet the stock had a real depth of flavour. A combination of lemon and ginger gave each mouthful a citrusy zing, the poached chicken was tender and the coriander kept things fresh. All in all, it was a well-executed dish.
Charcoal-grilled tiger prawns were one of the pricier main course options at Dh86, but they turned out to be a good choice. The plump prawn meat was sweet and vaguely nutty and although they perhaps could have been lifted from the grill just a few seconds earlier, they were ever so slightly chewy. The subtly smoky aftertaste was just right: easily detectable without overpowering everything else.
Sautéed kung pao tofu - a dish that I'd previously enjoyed very much - didn't quite live up to expectations this time. Tofu is undeniably bland and here the sauce didn't seem to have permeated the wobbly bean curd deeply enough. That said, when we drizzled a spoonful over a side order of crunchy stir-fried greens and added a little dried chilli, the sticky, salty concoction came into its own. However, I think that charging Dh41 for this dish is excessive.
While the meal wasn't perfect, Royal Orchid is a casual neighbourhood eatery serving decent dishes and for that reason I can see myself returning, or at least ordering takeaway from them again.
The service was frustrating to say the very least: while the waiters that looked after us were perfectly pleasant, they left us alone for long periods of time, didn't check back to see if we were enjoying the meal and took more than 10 minutes to bring us the bill, which made for an irritating end to the evening.
A meal for two at Royal Orchid, Marina Walk, Dubai, costs Dh321, including service charge. For reservations, call 04 367 4160. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito