Shanghai Chic at the Ibn Battuta Gate hotel presented a couple of hits but too many misses.
It might not be entirely fair, but when the location of a restaurant is slightly obscure and an effort has to be made to reach it, expectations are heightened. To impress, it needs to raise the bar, fire on all cylinders and offer something beyond the ordinary.
This is particularly true of a city such as Dubai: not only are people often loath to travel far for their food, but thanks to the sheer number of restaurants, if there isn't something particularly memorable about a dining experience, then a return visit is unlikely.
Which brings me to Shanghai Chic, the Chinese restaurant in the Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, which, despite some expansion in Jebel Ali, still feels as if it is on the periphery of Dubai. I had a passable meal there last week, which veered from the pretty decent to the pretty poor and will be remembered mostly for its mediocrity. I can't say that I will be rushing to go back.
The menu offers a mix of both Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes, with a choice of traditional dim sum and hot and cold appetisers, as well as soups and broths to start. The main course options include a selection of "market-fresh" seafood (steamed or wok-fried) served in a variety of sauces, three barbecued dishes and sections dedicated to meat and poultry, vegetables and bean curd, rice and noodles.
We fared quite well to begin with. A bowl of small, toothsome frogs' legs were crisp and crunchy on the outside, pleasantly chewy in the centre and well seasoned with chilli-salt and black pepper - good nibbling fodder. The same couldn't really be said for a portion of chicken and spring-onion pancakes, though: the filling was flavourful, with a herby, vinegary kick, but the pastry was too thick and undercooked in parts, meaning that it quickly turned soggy.
A main course of baked cod fillet with Shanghai rose-tea sauce was elegantly presented and really quite lovely. Although dark and caramelised on the outside, the tranche of fish was sweet and succulent and flaked into silky pieces when prodded with a knife. The rich, honeyed, dark brown glaze reminded me of the miso-marinated black cod at high-end Japanese restaurants such as Zuma and Nobu, and although not quite as praise-worthy, this was still a well-executed dish, which made it all the more disappointing that my friend's roast sesame chicken was so poor.
In contrast to the thoughtfully presented cod dish, the chicken had been hacked into thick pieces and piled on to a serving plate, seemingly with abandon. If the chef was intent on ensuring that the skin was crisp and golden then he certainly succeeded, but at the cost of the taste and texture of the meat, which had been overcooked and was therefore dry, tough and bland. The chicken was served with a mango salad and a spring-onion dressing, but there was nowhere near enough of this. A side order of egg-fried rice had suffered the same fate as the chicken: the grains of rice were soft and mushy, rather than tender.
For dessert, I had the deep-fried ice cream: the lightly battered outer shell was warm and crisp, but the ice cream itself was rock solid and had obviously spent some time in the deep freezer. While I appreciate that you don't want the ice cream to melt in the fryer, and therefore it has to be hard, there should be a middle ground - this was practically impenetrable, unpleasantly icy and lacking in flavour because of it. My friend's sesame rice dumplings were served in a zesty, cleansing ginger broth, which proved to be the highlight of the dish. The dumplings themselves had a rubbery texture and the sesame paste was quite overpowering.
This restaurant may well have the potential to improve, but at the moment it is not making the best of itself and our meal featured too many inconsistencies to be truly enjoyable.
A meal for two at Shanghai Chic, Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate costs Dh470 including service. For reservations call 04 444 5613. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito