Ossiano: sum and substance
If you're sick and tired of restaurant reviews that bang on about the critic's private life or the "funny" thing that happened on the way to the restaurant, then keep reading. My meal at the Michelin-starred Catalan chef Santi Santamaria's Ossiano restaurant at The Atlantis hotel was so outrageously expensive that any waffle about the maître d's eyebrows or the colour of the menus would simply waste space and represent pitiful value for money. Which is why I'm dedicating the majority of this review to the food itself.
I will tell you that Ossiano is a very striking restaurant, full of fantastical flourishes, swirling pillars like freshly licked ice creams and the gaping panes of the hotel's impressive aquarium. And it was with a background of gliding stingrays that we received our amuse bouches of sweet duck ham on crisp bread, hamachi (or young yellow tail) seafood roll in filo pastry, a smoky aubergine tartlet and a smooth cube of smoked salmon speckled with black sesame seeds. They were followed by a sprightly palate cleanser of pineapple chutney, parsnip and pomelo purée glistening like molten gold before we chose some dainty puffs of olive and seaweed bread.
The chef's menu began with a flourish as two beautifully chubby Gillardeau oysters arrived: one with a traditional dressing of lemon and pepper, the other with the delicate aniseed hint of a fennel vinaigrette. Next, the warm stuffed "tonino" tomato with an escalibada salad of peppers and aubergine was garnished with an onion compote, which released a torrent of sweet and smoky flavours. It was followed by an expertly seared chunk of Mediterranean red mullet, seasonally laden with two firm spears of green asparagus and doused in a warm cream of asparagus soup. We weren't even halfway through the menu.
After an uncomfortably long wait, we received the spiny lobster "a la plancha", which was covered in light breadcrumbs next to some pert green fava beans and yet more chunky green asparagus. The meat was by no means soft and yielding, but it was rich with vivid seafood flavours. The waiter told us it was monkfish, then came back to rectify his mistake a minute or two after we'd realised it. The monkfish did follow, however, in a firm hunk of moist flesh with a soft artichoke barigoule and one of the tastiest grilled king prawns I've eaten in the Middle East. The combination of the pure white fish, the pale green vegetables and the sturdy pink prawn was surely the dish of the night. But there was more to come.
It was announced as the main course, although it felt like the final part in a trilogy of main courses. Considering the amount of food we'd already eaten, the confit of baby lamb was more than ample. But it was so fragile, tender, dewy and flavoursome that it was impossible to leave a single shred behind. Underneath it crouched several wilted endive leaves and a small crop of sauce-sodden morel mushrooms that detonated on the palate like landmines under a moist and woody forest floor. It was comfort food designed to help you through a European winter, but a thousand Arabian summers wouldn't have stopped me from savouring every last morsel.
Another delay ensued before we were presented with the first of our desserts. It was a cluster of chopped sautéed strawberries in a mint infusion shining like rubies under a slowly melting scoop of honey ice cream on a tiny crown of soused fried bread, or "torrija". It was good, but not as good as the dessert that followed. The Manjari chocolate souffle was as light and airy as a cocoa-dusted sylph, yet flushed with bittersweet chocolate hints. It came with a "crema Catalana" ice cream, which was characterised by a crisp sheet of caramelised sugar like the Catalan forerunner to the French crème brûlée.
Finally, a presentation tray of colourful and intricate petits fours was brought to the table, but we were so full we couldn't even entertain the idea of a nibble. Instead we sipped strong, full-bodied shots of espresso in an attempt to stave off the inevitable food coma. As we savoured the last of our coffee, our memories were full of the colours, aromas, flavours and textures of a stunning variety of high-quality ingredients. But we could also remember the often slow and rambling service, which made the evening drag a little longer than necessary.
Frankly, as we were paying the princely sum of Dh950 each, my dining partner and I felt like we deserved a little better. Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, 04 426 2626. Chef's menu: Dh950 per person.
Updated: May 27, 2009 04:00 AM