x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Switching it up

It's in a shopping mall but this Dubai eatery is where striking design meets fine dining.

Swithc offers a thoroughly credible dining experience - in a shopping mall.
Swithc offers a thoroughly credible dining experience - in a shopping mall.

This review is about a restaurant in a shopping mall. But wait. Before you hastily cast this newspaper into the nearest bin (or put a house brick through your computer screen), you should know that Switch is no ordinary restaurant. To begin with it looks different - very different. That's because it was conceived and realised by the flamboyant designer Karim Rashid, who has this to say about his Dubai Mall project: "I wanted Switch to be a strong, symmetrical, soft organic womblike space composed of a continuous, undulating wall that wraps around the entire restaurant." See, I told you it was different.

On entering the said womblike space, with its wavy white plastic perimeter and pink-cushioned plastic chairs (aptly named "sensual" by Rashid), the glare of banality that usually blights my shopping mall jaunts seemed gradually to drift away. It reminded me of the Korova Milk Bar in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (sans the female mannequins), and it offered me a curious sensation, that I'd somehow been cocooned in a futuristic pleasure-pod set adrift in some distant galaxy. Trouble was, if I chose to glance either side of me, I could still see the mall at each end of the narrow restaurant - and the people passing by could see inside.

Many of them would alter their course, as if magnetically drawn by the arresting decor, before grinning or even laughing, shaking their heads and then continuing on their way. It was as if they couldn't quite work out what Switch was: a trendy furniture shop selling one particular type of pink plastic chair, or an exhibition of contemporary design by an artist with a wobbly wall fixation? Indeed, since there was barely a soul inside, it didn't really look like a restaurant. It seemed far too conceptual and symmetrically perfect to be tainted by anything as earthy and vulgar as food.

But, even though it's in a shopping mall, and despite it resembling a womb floating in space, I can personally vouch that Switch is a restaurant - and a surprisingly good one at that. Once we'd dispensed with the formality of breads and dips, I received my sesame-seared tuna starter, which was just as meticulously constructed as the restaurant itself. The large, beautifully rare and peppery piece of fish was carefully stacked upon wilted baby spinach leaves, decorated with shredded spring onion for added texture, and skillfully dressed with a zesty lime and chilli dressing. My friend's spicy Thai-style duck soup with coconut wasn't as striking, but what it lacked in visual presence it made up for with fresh, light and invigorating flavours.

Then came the three-tomato salad, and although I could only count two hues of cherry tomato (red and yellow), the flavours were vivid, the accompanying slices of buffalo mozzarella were pert and creamy, and the drizzled pesto was lively, although the rocket salad was a shade overdressed. The blackened fillet of salmon was a little dry, overcooked and altogether a less impressive piece of fish than the extraordinary seared tuna starter. It came with a nest of green leaves (rocket, coriander, lettuce), a creamy lime sauce with a kick and a couple of cheesy croutons which seemed quite superfluous, especially in a restaurant where everything has its place.

As the gently pulsing light changed from cool blue, to purple, to soft red, we decided to grab a green tea each and share the sticky toffee pudding. The sponge was large, firm, moist and drenched in dibs (date syrup), with a smidgen of cinnamon ice cream melting in its warmth. It certainly hit the spot, but it seemed almost too rustic and robust in such elegant and conceptually aware surrounds as this.

The executive chef Thomas Schmid has created a menu of mainly Mediterranean dishes, which crosses into fusion territory with occasional forays into North America and South East Asia. Along with the Arabic script on the ceiling, the dates in the sticky toffee pudding were a reminder that we were in the Middle East and not some ultra-trendy corner of Europe. But occasionally the food stepped out of synch with the flowing contemporary design, causing the whole effect to jar slightly. Too often, it feels like a restaurant that was conceived from the designer's point of view rather than the chef's. With some refinement however, the menu might more closely complement the feel of Switch, but until then it remains a thoroughly different dining experience - albeit in a shopping mall.

Dubai Mall, 04 339 91131. Average cost of a meal for two people Dh250-300.