x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Az.u.r holds the cure?

There's fun to be had at Az.u.r, it's called Mediterranean food roulette and it hits the mark meticulously.

Az.u.r, pronounced "as you are", says that 70 per cent of the food it serves is organic.
Az.u.r, pronounced "as you are", says that 70 per cent of the food it serves is organic.

There's fun to be had at Az.u.r restaurant. It's not just the name that's a merry old hoot (pronounced "as you are", which is either very annoying or actually rather clever, depending on whether or not you've had a frontal lobotomy), but there's another game that you can play right at your table. It's called Mediterranean organic food roulette. According to the restaurant, over 70 per cent of Az.u.r's food has been organically sourced. The "roulette factor" lies in the fact that you've no idea which food is organic and which food has been engineered with the aid of chemicals, unethical farming methods and teams of scientists bent on destroying the planet. So sit down, steel your resolve with a glass of naturally carbonised, low sodium, zero-nitrate mineral water, and let's play.

Before we start, I might emphasise that the odds are in your favour - 70 per cent is much better than zero per cent. It's just that Az.u.r's claims are so vague. Their "farm to fork" boast appears to have bypassed the cargo plane, which inevitably brought a good few containers' worth of possibly organic food to these fair shores. But at least they're trying, right? Which is probably more than you and I are doing to raise awareness of organic produce.

In the ambient glow of a swish, modern dining space, we sat in comfy leather seats overlooking an expansive open kitchen. Following a shaky explanation of the concept by our genial waitress, I'll admit that I scoffed at Az.u.r's sketchy premise. But I soon turned my attentions the warm, crisp homemade bread, scoffing it down with great fervour. I was delighted to see that the olive oil and balsamic vinegar could be self-administered via pipettes, which was the first time I'd handled such equipment since school chemistry lessons.

Though I was an abject failure at chemistry, I hoped to learn something about the range of Mediterranean cuisine on offer here, from Spain in the west to Lebanon in the east. The grilled halloumi starter hit the mark like a well-timed bullet. The neat layered package of dainty filo pastry and toasty grilled cheese was complemented with an exquisitely fresh vine-ripened plum tomato salad and a sweet white balsamic dressing. Across the table, the grilled courgette with herbs and goat's cheese resembled maki rolls, and while the flavour of the cheese was a little too bold, the tomato-infused olive oil went some way towards cutting through its richness. We were on course for having our mumbled gripes rammed down our throats - that is until we saw the fresh tabbouleh salad being made at our table.

My Lebanese dining partner winced at the procedure as if she were watching bypass surgery gone wrong. She almost swooned at the omission of bulghur wheat, which had been replaced with couscous; and the paucity of freshly chopped tomato and lemon juice almost had her floored. She was briefly revived by her paella, but after a taste I bemoaned the watery texture and the undercooked rice, which was a little too chalky. Nevertheless, it made amends with a gigantic tiger prawn and a good smattering of perfectly cooked clams, squid and mussels.

I demolished my roasted duck breast, which was full of gamy flavour, even if it was a little on the tough side. The accompanying tower of red onion tarte tatin with filo pastry added a range of alternative textures, and a sweetness that danced in harmony with the earthy fowl. From there, I tore through the sticky date pudding with glee, relishing in the silky butterscotch and thick clotted cream. Likewise, my companion enjoyed her strawberries and orange in balsamic reduction, which arrived with shards of crystallised sugar syrup and a jug of vanilla cream. She enjoyed it because the strawberries tasted like organic strawberries; juicy, sweet and pleasantly sharp - the way strawberries should taste, but all too often don't.

Were they organic? It would remain a mystery. But I suppose that's all part of the fun at Az.u.r. Harbour Hotel & Residence, Dubai Marina, 04 319 4000. Average price of a meal for two: Dh500-600.