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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Restaurant review: Maine Oyster Bar & Grill ticks all the boxes

We skipped the signature oysters at this hidden gem and were not disappointed by the high-quality selection of starters and mains.
Maine Oyster Bar & Grill. Courtesy Maine Oyster Bar & Grill
Maine Oyster Bar & Grill. Courtesy Maine Oyster Bar & Grill

With restaurants opening at the almost unbelievable rate of four a day in Dubai, it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. If you’re growing tired of high-end, glitzy restaurant openings that seem to get more than their fair share of attention, you might leap for joy when you discover a restaurant serving up something different.

Maine Oyster Bar & Grill in the DoubleTree by Hilton in JBR is one of those restaurants.

Situated at the hotel’s loading dock, Maine is difficult to find, which adds to the feeling that you have discovered a hidden gem. Walk through the doors and you find yourself in the midst of a chic, vibrant, unpretentious venue that ups your cool factor just by being there. The crowd, a mostly young to middle-aged professional crew, seems a smart, sophisticated bunch – not the type who live to see and be seen.

Both the bar and the dining room are lively and full on a Thursday evening. We sit near the entrance – a good spot to take it all in.

Maine is inspired by the classic New England seaside restaurants that Northeast Americans know so well. The owners describe it as a cross between an American brasserie and a ­European bistro – an accurate description.

It is clean and bright, with decor awash in a mix of brick and brass, leather and wood. The ample outdoor terrace is inviting, offering a view of the hotel garden and pool.

The servers are straightforward and serious, but not overly chatty or friendly. They don’t offer recommendations or explanations unless asked. The menu is concise, with a varied selection of cold and hot starters, a handful of steaks, a selection of mains that will please most palates, shellfish and a raw bar that includes five varieties of rather pricey oysters (a dozen will cost you between Dh200 and Dh375).

I wanted to know what the chefs could do so we skipped the oysters, despite the restaurant’s name. For starters, we opted for scallop ceviche, and shrimp and grits. The ceviche was nicely presented on a large shell set atop a bed of crushed ice. It was a tasty mix of meaty, lime-soaked ­scallop chunks, jalapeño, red onion and fresh coriander.

I was surprised to see shrimp and grits served as a starter, as it usually comes as a big, hearty main. This small plate had three tail-on, colossal shrimp (the menu says two) on a heap of popcorn grits. Although it was swimming in too much lemon butter, this was excellent – I almost ordered a second round.

I glanced around and noticed that the plates on every table were being picked clean. I was not the only one enjoying the food, it seems.

As good as the starters were, the main stole my heart. My halibut was a flaky mass of goodness, complete with crispy skin. It was served on a mound of smashed potatoes mixed with peas and beef bacon and then, much to the delight of my taste buds, smothered in a classic, creamy French Béarnaise sauce.

The only miss of the night was the mussels, a recommendation by the waiter when we asked. The generously filled pot of moules marinières (mariner-style mussels) were soaked in a classic garlic sauce with fresh parsley.

They looked beautiful, but looks can be deceiving. Ours had such an off-putting flavour that we could barely hide our disappointment. Was it just an off night or do these mussels always taste this bad? We won’t be ordering them again to find out.

Rarely is a side dish so impressive that it deserves its own paragraph, but the charred Brussels sprouts were astoundingly good. When they are charred in an ­ultra-hot pan – the way they should be cooked, in my opinion – any bitterness or offensive cabbage flavour disappears and you’re left with the sweet, crispy, nutty morsels we were served. These were hard to resist and I would ­return just for another taste.

The dessert list is a mix of the usual suspects. We opted for the crème brûlée (a massive serving) and the sticky toffee pudding. Neither disappointed – both were excellent versions of classic desserts and a tasty end to our meal.

The chic yet laid-back vibe is enough to keep Maine buzzing, but the food alone merits repeat visits. Save for the oysters, its prices are not as offensive as many competitors. I’ve added Maine to my (very) short list of restaurants in Dubai that are worth going out of my way for.

Our meal for two at Maine Oyster Bar & Grill, DoubleTree by Hilton, JBR, Dubai cost Dh565. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito. For more information, call 04 457 6719.

sjohnson@thenational.ae

Updated: October 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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