x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Food does not match Thipthara at The Palace's setting

The setting is spectacular, but Thiptara at The Palace does not quite match the five-star image and prices.

The tables at Thiptara look out on to the Burj Dubai lake, offering stunning views of the fountains and lights near the Burj Khalifa.
The tables at Thiptara look out on to the Burj Dubai lake, offering stunning views of the fountains and lights near the Burj Khalifa.

I came away from my meal at Thiptara, the Thai restaurant at The Palace - The Old Town, feeling disappointed. It strikes me as unjust when a restaurant charges five-star prices and simply doesn't deliver on the food front.

"But you have to admit, the setting was spectacular," my dining companion ventured. And yes, Thiptara ("magic on the water") is located in faultless surroundings overlooking the Burj Dubai lake; fire torches cast trails of light out over the shimmering water and when the fountain strikes up, the view is hard to beat.

Does this make it acceptable then that the standard of food never really ventured beyond the distinctly average? Should we pacify ourselves with the thought that we're paying (pretty heftily) for the backdrop rather than anything else?

I don't hold with this opinion, and would much prefer to eat in a restaurant where the food is so good than it distracts from a lacklustre setting, rather than the other way around.

We began with the Thiptara selection platter. A glass noodle salad was clean, delicate and refreshing, with lime, ginger and chilli helping to bring the transparent noodles to life. Spring rolls, on the other hand, were a heavy-handed affair; the pastry was thick and chewy and masked the taste of the filling. Chicken and beef satay skewers were a safe rendition of a classic; the meat was well-cooked and the sauce familiar.

My main course of roasted and marinated duck with red Thai curry and lychees was served on the bone, in a simple, rustic fashion. Because of this, I assumed the meat had been slow-cooked and would practically disintegrate when prodded with a knife. It didn't, and the pieces of duck turned out to be quite dry. On the whole though, the dish was pleasant to eat with the occasional mouthful of lychee providing a nice burst of perfumed fruity flavour.

My companion's seafood with baby egg plant and Thai basil arrived in a bowl piled high with mussels, squid, scallops and prawns. It looked a treat. The seafood was fresh and tender, but unfortunately, the accompanying sauce (which we were told was spicy when we ordered) was actually very sweet. This was a shame and meant that she struggled to finish the dish.

Fortunately, the desserts went some way towards improving our rapidly plummeting mood. My friend was thrilled to see ta-ko haew (water chestnuts and coconut custard, presented in pandan-leaf boxes) on the menu. This dessert fuses together sweet, salty, creamy flavours and Thiptara's version was pronounced to be just right. Although my banana fritter lacked a certain crispness in the batter, the coconut ice cream that was served on the side was lovely.

I'm not suggesting that the food at Thiptara was bad, it's just that at no point did it give cause for delight. If I had eaten the very same meal at one of the more upmarket Thai outlets in Dubai Mall, I would have cheerfully handed over Dh200 when paying the bill. What irks me in this instance is that Thiptara advertises itself as a fine-dining restaurant and the total came to almost three times that.

Thiptara, The Palace - The Old Town, Dubai. For reservations call 04 428 7961. A meal for two, not including service, costs Dh552. Reviews are conducted anonymously and meals are paid for by The National.