x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Fish fit for compliments

If there is a better location for eating good seafood in Dubai than Flooka, I am yet to find it.

An array of stunningly fresh seafood at Flooka.
An array of stunningly fresh seafood at Flooka.

There's something therapeutic, wholesome and invigorating about eating fish and seafood beside the sea. To begin with, it's better than eating burgers next to a cattle shed. The smell is infinitely more appetising and each mouthful isn't heralded by a chorus of mooing. Rather, the sea air is fresh and redolent with heady saline notes, and the sound of the crashing waves serves as a constant reminder that what you are eating has come from a mysterious part of our planet that remains largely unexplored. When your dining partner nips off to powder her nose, you can ponder the bigger questions as the surf breaks magnificently in the distance and another flake of soft white fish curls into your mouth. Questions like: is Flooka the best place to eat fish al fresco in Dubai?

The Lebanese seafood restaurant at Dubai Marina Beach Resort has a stylish and contemporary interior, which is laid out in smooth lines of pine decking, tasteful nautical flourishes and gaping windows. There are more panes peering into an industrious kitchen, which itself overlooks a bountiful fish market, abundant with fresh and appetising specimens on mounds of glistening crushed ice. But it's the outdoor terrace that makes Flooka special. The pine lines continue through the restaurant to a split-level balcony that commands unspoilt views of the Arabian Gulf lapping an, albeit man-made, cove. Fruity puffs of shisha smoke occasionally drift through the air, but the clean, refreshing aromas of sea air and seafood are still prevalent on this serene seaside perch.

As the waves washed against the shore, we chose a raft of Mediterranean seafood mezze that landed at the table in a fleet of plates and bowls. Of course, there was the inevitable thick, creamy hummus, doused in rich, nutty olive oil and decorated with whole chickpeas to smear onto Flooka's alarmingly good freshly-baked and fastidiously crisp flatbread. Folds of the bread were used to scoop up the tabbouleh, which was beautifully perky and sprinkled with just enough lemon juice to complement the fish. I started with the bizri, or small whole whitebait, dredged in flour and deep-fried to a state of fragile crunchiness. They were especially good when doused in the accompanying tahini sauce with lemon, added to a clump of tabbouleh, wrapped up in flatbread and dunked into the hummus.

The makanek samak, which looked to all intents and purposes like little fun-size lamb sausages, were in actual fact made from fish. They were no less flavoursome, however, than their meaty counterparts, especially in their intensely lemony butter sauce. For something with a little more bite, we tried the fish rakakat, which were little more than crispy spring rolls with the occasional fragment of fish inside. The stuffed filo pastries were less successful than the traditional cheese version, yet they offered something a little different. Along similar lines, the kafta samak meshwi was a fish version of the grilled minced lamb dish. They were suitably moist and tender, and pleasantly imbued with delicate suggestions of fish, yet they were lurking underneath a scattering of lamentably soggy French fries. Fortunately, the batata harra, or cubed potatoes fried with cayenne pepper among other spices and herbs were far more firm, golden brown and possessed delightfully prickly undertones.

The healthy outdoor vibe and lively sea air compelled us to keep it light, so instead of lumbering towards the fish market with an already-full stomach and loading up on monstrous hammour the size of nuclear submarines, we stuck to the mezze. And we rounded it off with the dish of the night. The sabbidej bil haber, or squid in ink, was as black as the depths of the ocean, and ridiculously messy. It left unsightly marks all over the table, and made a disaster zone of every plate it graced, yet it was unfathomably delicious. The soft white flesh of the squid shone through the murky ink like a glinting moon in a mouthful of midnight - even if it did turn our teeth a rather unattractive shade of charcoal.

Flooka's dessert menu is limited. It's as if they know that you're here for the fish - and sweet fish pastries have yet to be deemed an acceptable crossover dish. There's a fruit salad, a "funky monkey" banana ice cream and a special chef's dessert called "flookiyet", which takes the form of Lebanese clotted cream with a sprinkling of pulverised nuts and sugar. But we'd lingered lazily over the mezze, and now we were in the mood to kick back and savour the setting. If there is a better location for eating seafood in Dubai, I am yet to find it. But I'm prepared to wonder a while more on Flooka's moonlit balcony, as the mystery rolls with the waves.

Flooka,Dubai Marina Beach Resort, 04 346 1111. Average price of a meal for two Dh350-400.