x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A special setting, but the main event lacks season at 101

Restaurant Review The out-of-the-way location is stunning, but the disappointing food at 101 at The One & Only The Palm lets it down.

The 101 restaurant at the One & Only Hotel The Palm in Dubai. Courtesy One and Only Hotel
The 101 restaurant at the One & Only Hotel The Palm in Dubai. Courtesy One and Only Hotel

The evening began well. When I booked dinner at 101, a restaurant at the One & Only The Palm, I was told that if we wanted, we could catch a boat there from the hotel's sister hotel, the One & Only Royal Mirage. This is exactly what we did, and it was lovely.

There's no denying that the location is a little bit special. The restaurant is situated at the end of a jetty, right by the resort's private marina and it has an outdoor deck, which offers great views of the coast and skyline. However, it matters not whether you choose to drive up the trunk of the Palm and all the way back down the West Crescent, before jumping in a buggy to be taken along the jetty, or if you catch the boat as we did: reaching this place still requires a bit of an effort. The standard of food, however, is not reflective of this.

The menu is concise, which is no bad thing, and it has a distinctly Mediterranean slant - gazpacho, tuna Niçoise, carpaccio, veal alla Milanese and a number of seafood dishes all feature.

My friend had the vitello tonnato to start. Although the slow-cooked, thinly sliced veal was just about flavoursome enough, there was little evidence of the creamy tuna dressing that is so characteristic of the dish, which struck me as odd. Anomalies such as this, we were soon to realise, would punctuate the whole meal.

My spring onions with Provola cheese did not bear the hallmarks of time spent in the Josper grill (a hybrid between an oven and a charcoal broiler/barbecue grill), as the menu had suggested. Instead of being roasted and slightly crisp, they had a wet, slimy texture. They were pleasantly crunchy, however, and the creamy cheese livened the dish up, with its deeply smoky, yet smooth, milky flavour.

While there was nothing particularly impressive about the starters, hackles weren't quite raised yet. The arrival of our main courses put an end to that. The lamb tagine was a very poor, altogether half-hearted attempt at the north African dish. When a tagine lid is lifted, the smell of spices should fill the air - saffron, ginger, cinnamon, cumin. The slow-cooked meat should be tender, with pieces of dried fruit (apricot, prune, raisins, or dates) adding sweetness; there should be braised vegetables infused with the flavour of the aromatic sauce and a sprinkling of nuts to add texture. 101's version featured none of the above. Fatty, slightly tough pieces of lamb were covered with a thin, bland gravy and little else.

Bad as this was, it wasn't quite as disappointing as my roasted Dublin Bay prawns (langoustine), which, despite this not being mentioned on the menu, were served whole: head, tail and shell on. This does make a difference to the dining experience for the customer and should be flagged at the time of ordering; not everyone wants to spend their meal cracking open shellfish, after all. It's also worth noting that we had to request a finger bowl which, given the nature of the dish, seemed absurd.

The langoustines had been sliced in half lengthways, meaning that they are charging Dh290 for three (and a side dish of under-seasoned tomato risotto). I'd like to say that this was the most shocking thing about the dish, but the lack of meat and the extent to which it had been overcooked (borderline mush) put paid to that.

When our plates were cleared and the waiter asked if we had enjoyed our meal, we explained - politely - that no, we hadn't. He apologised profusely and alerted the manager to the problem. Later on in the evening, when we asked for the bill, the two dishes had been removed.

Although the situation was handled well, this is really not the point. Bar the chocolate tart that we had for dessert, which was very good - delicate, crisp pastry with a soft, rich, not overpoweringly sweet filling - we had issues with every single other dish. Unless we were unlucky enough to choose the only four dud items on the menu, this suggests that there is a problem with the food being served here.

There is no denying that 101 has a stunning location. But this shouldn't mean that the kitchen can get away with serving food that is mediocre at its very best, particularly when the cost of an average main course hovers around the Dh150 mark.

A meal for two at 101, in the One & Only, The Palm, would cost around Dh550 inclusive of service charge. Both our main courses were deducted from the bill, so we paid Dh260. For reservations call 04 440 1030. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito