x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hukama, Dubai

A restaurant's tasting menu should encapsulate everything that's great about its chef's food. Unfortunately, the only thing that came close to blowing me away at Hukama was the wind.

Hukama's views of the Burj Dubai are unrivalled.
Hukama's views of the Burj Dubai are unrivalled.

First came the wind, then a shower of rainwater followed by a blustery march of semi-drenched diners, hunched and in single file. A storm had suddenly battered the terrace at Hukama, and as the door was flung open to give shelter to the bedraggled few, it also allowed the cruel elements to introduce themselves to those inside the dining room. The rain said hello by spattering the back of my head, while the wind dispensed with such social pleasantries by blowing my dining partner's hair all over the place. Although this new contemporary Chinese restaurant has one of the city's best terrace views of the Burj Dubai, we had decided to stay indoors to pre-empt the dreadful weather. What we didn't expect was the weather to turn up at our table.

Luckily, we could still see the rain-soaked skyscraper through a gaping window overlooking the terrace, and the dark-wooden design touches and calming mood music inside the restaurant soon helped to bring some warmth to the proceedings. Such conditions were ideal for browsing the menu, but we hoped that Chef Hew Choong Yew would cook up a storm of his own with an 11-course tasting menu. An amuse-bouche of steamed turnip cake provided a tasty prelude to the chef's showcase presentation. The tasting menu began with a flourish, as three courses materialised at once. The "old fashioned" Shanghai-style honey glaze tuna offered slices of expertly cooked rare fish with sesame seeds and crisp salad leaves. Next to it were wonton dumplings stuffed with an indecipherable mush of seafood and bamboo, which crouched apologetically underneath a strange and overpowering concoction of spicy soya-infused crushed ice. Gladly, the seared goose liver with sugar-cured glutinous red dates and cinnamon apple saved the starter selection, with a wonderful combination of sweet and meaty flavours, not to mention a few slices of fresh celery to cut through them.

Soon a sorbet of Kaffir lime arrived in a solid ice cone, but the mint- and citrus-flavoured palate cleanser was a shade too sweet and a bit too large. The mains began with a forgettable seafood soup that smothered another lacklustre seafood dumpling (this time including spinach) in a thick, golden broth with pak choi, carrot and mushrooms. Unimpressed, we were keen to hurry along to the next course of oven-baked halibut with asparagus. It arrived resembling black cod miso, yet the halibut was a little too dry, despite the ruddy, fruity sauce and the moist green vegetables. This was followed by a huge king prawn deluged in thick and spicy bean paste dotted with granules of minced beef. The sauce was good, but the prawn had been overcooked, rendering the flesh hard and difficult to remove from the shell without causing a shower of bean paste. Seven courses in, and we were hoping Hew was saving his best until last. But when the next three courses arrived on the same long plate, we were underwhelmed. The sautéed chicken with mango and bell peppers was introduced as "strip-loin" by our charming yet misinformed waitress. The chicken was unremarkable despite a lively sweet-and-sour sauce, and the peppers were limp next to a crunchy vermicelli bird's nest. Moving along, there was an odd-looking dish consisting of a ring of winter melon doused in an unattractive sauce of poached black pea shoots, duck eggs and garlic. It did little to excite, yet it did add vital moisture to the overly dry vegetarian fried rice with greens and spicy black fungus mushrooms.

The final course offered a marked improvement. The black sesame ice cream was beautifully textured and flavoursome, while the accompanying light vanilla cream mouse was gloriously soft in contrast to the crumbly shortbread biscuit. It was a good note to end on, but it was too little too late. With its splashy contemporary interior and breathtaking views, Hukama is a beautiful place. However, a restaurant's tasting menu should encapsulate everything that's great about its chef's food - it should delight, surprise, inspire and excite. Unfortunately, the only thing that came close to blowing me away at Hukama was the wind.

The Address, Downtown Burj Dubai, 04 436 8888. Eleven-course tasting menu is Dh588 per person; eight-course tasting menu is Dh488.