The Palm's Barça Club serves up some flavoursome fare, but its Catalonian theme isn't fully realised.
Barça Club: It's plainly not Spain
Before I start, I'd like to clear up one thing. Anybody expecting to see a replica of the European Cup, grainy monochrome photographs of a permed, pre-cheeseburger Diego Maradona, or a glass display case exhibiting a pair of Lionel Messi's Adidas football boots is going to be sorely disappointed by Barça Club. Everybody else will be mildly relieved by the fact that it is not a theme restaurant paying homage to the Catalan football team, FC Barcelona. Even Dubai isn't ready for that. Having said that, though, we didn't know if Dubai was ready for The Palm, Jumeirah, but its fronds are now inhabited by super-rich fans of unlikely land reclamation projects, and its crescent plays host to the gaudier-than-thou Atlantis hotel.
Barça Club occupies a spot on The Palm's trunk (yes, that's the bit in the middle that connects the "island" to the land), and is tucked away beneath one of the shoreline apartment buildings. Its underground location, and the fact that there were very few people there, made the place feel a bit like a secret for those in the know. The Barça link was demonstrated more in the Gaudi-style mosaics and the pictures of bullrings than by the menu, which only offered a handful of Spanish dishes. And on this occasion, two of them - the lamb caldereta and the seafood zarzuela - were unavailable. To compensate, there were a few token "Mediterranean" dishes such as beef bourguignon from France, Italian baked cannelloni and spanakopita from Greece up for grabs.
Determined to pursue the so far rather tenuous Spanish theme, I opted for the albondigas, or Spanish meatballs, which arrived after an invigorating and superb amuse bouche of sweet melon and yellow bell pepper gazpacho. The freshly ground Angus beef spheres with onions, apple and garlic were browned nicely on the outside, pink in the middle and beautifully tender. Meanwhile, my companion was enjoying the chilli mushrooms, which mixed a melange of wild fungi - apparently including oyster, meadow, black forest and girolle varieties - with mild pepper, garlic and parsley, to recreate the smoky flavours of a woodland barbecue.
Since it was one of the few Spanish main courses available, my dining partner insisted on having the paella - even though I suspected it was likely to be a mistake. I've yet to sample a satisfactory paella in the Middle East, and this disappointing hillock of seafood and rice wasn't about to change that. The rice was overcooked and annoyingly soft. The huge tiger prawn was as dry as a nil-nil draw at the Nou Camp. And the mussels possessed beards as big as Fidel Castro's. Yes, I know he wasn't Spanish, but neither was this dish.
It made me glad that I'd opted for an Italian-influenced main course of sea bream on a bed of homemade pesto papardelle. The fish was moist, flaky and flavoursome and the pasta was pert with a balanced herby flavour. The marinated vegetables side order featured sweet red and yellow peppers, meaty button mushrooms and grilled carrot slices cooled in an olive oil and garlic dressing. We added sautéed rosemary garlic potatoes to the mix, and were pleased by the agreeably peppery flavour.
Although Barça Club has been open for more than two months now, we were told there were still only two dessert options available: the tiramisu and the cheeseboard. So make that one dessert option. The traditionally Italian sweet might have been fine if it hadn't been as moist and marshy as a waterlogged football pitch. The cheeseboard was a marked improvement on the wishy-washy tiramisu, with a decent selection of Brie, Parmesan and blue cheese among others, beside some crackers, strawberries and a scattering of walnuts. It was a pleasant way to end, but at Dh85 an expensive one.
If Barça Club had the courage of its convictions, it would ditch the catch-all Mediterranean standards on its menu and concentrate on Spanish food. It could conceivably carve out a reputation as a cool tapas bar with one or two authentic main courses and a changing list of daily specials that would bring a true taste of Catalonia to Dubai. As it stands, the restaurant is as confused as you might be if you went to watch FC Barcelona play football, and they started playing pétanque instead, followed by a spot of Greek wrestling.
Al Nabaa' (04 439 3547), Shoreline Apartment Building 10, The Palm, Jumeirah. Average price of a meal for two Dh500-550. email@example.com