A hard act to follow?
Dubai; Stepping out of the lift on the 42nd floor, a swimming pool looms ahead. Where ARE we going? Thank goodness someone intercepts us and whisks us through a fire exit door, and then another one blasting ‘no photography’, and then…oh wow. We’re in another world, all dark and Victorian burlesque – think boudoir, sexy cabaret and Moulin Rouge. It’s more intimate than I expect.
We’re in The Act at the Shangri-La, one of Dubai’s string of new glammed up supper clubs as I call them. This one’s a Simon Hammerstein Las Vegas theatre club concept offering a first here, Peruvian cuisine. It’s the highest theatre in the world apparently, gosh we even beat Las Vegas. It’s the same peeps behind Blue Marlin in Ghantoot.
The hostess glides across and we follow her to our table a few steps up from the stage – yeah a banquette! Up above are private enclaves, who knows what goes on behind those drawn curtains. We’re mesmerised, almost speechless as we take in our surreal surroundings. It’s so good to be somewhere different. Our waiter who turns out to be Macedonian and hugely adorable, scores brownie points immediately by unearthing prosecco not on the wine list (Zonin – very reasonably priced for Dubai at AED 265). Given the wine list is pretty extortionate, he doesn’t even attempt to upsell, well done…for us not the owner.
He runs through the menu which is divided into a number of starter options from ceviches and tiraditos to enrollados and salads, mains and accompaniments, with the idea of share and share alike. Allow me to explain as our trio progresses through the meal.
Ceviche, made world-famous by Nobu who worked in Peru before setting up his own business is raw seafood marinated in citrus juices which helps cook it a tad. In our case we opt for the yellowfin tuna, which arrives diced – and in this case cured with aromatic citrus yuzu whose sweet mandarin undertones complement the robust chive, ginger and soya seasoning. I eat spoonful after spoonful, and could easily order another portion.
The tiradito resembles carpaccio and our slithers of tender octopus sit on a bed of olive sauce topped with spicy diced rocoto, a South American red capsicum species, and sprinkled with togarashi, a Japanese chilli spice infused with orange, sesame, ginger and seaweed that I discovered at Chez Sushi (incidentally supermarkets here do sell it – makes for a great rub on steamed fish or just sprinkled in a salad). Needless to say this is one hot and spicy dish.
The enrollado, basically Japanese sushi without the wasabi and soya accompaniments. Our combo has rolls of beef, seared chifa-style, a Peruvian take on wok-style frying, along with beef tartare and crispy potato – all on a bed of strongly smoked onion and tomato confit. I love the smoky antidote, but one of my fellow diners isn’t too keen – a subjective preference though.
Next up is a portion of prawns coated in quinoa and fried – personally I find the Argentine superfood quinoa bland and hugely over-rated, but this reincarnation makes for a moreishly good crispy coating with a sweet and tangy passion fruit and rocoto dip plus some baby violet potatoes.
The grilled seafood dish arrives on a sizzling platter, and given it’s a main course the portion is only marginally larger than our well-sized starters yet three times the price! The calamari in particular impresses with its slightly spiced and buttery texture. Accompanied by a portion of grilled ratte potatoes – soft and nutty.
My friend digs into a sorbet duo of maracuya passion fruit and pisco sour, whilst we settle for cocktails, in my case gloriously good and tangy Pisco Sour.
By that stage three hours and four performing acts later of which only one, the twisting acrobatic chica on the rope, is truly memorable. They would certainly benefit from adding a few more shows. Service is slick and knowledgeable, one of the best I’ve seen in Dubai. Whilst the Peruvian food is exquisite, the huge discrepancy in prices – our starters range from AED 100-170, and the main at AED 300 – makes for a very expensive meal. But then again with no cover charge, you’re paying for a theatre experience. Beware though make sure to exit at midnight, otherwise you’ll be whacked with a hefty AED 3,000 minimum table charge. And exit we did, just like Cinderella…to the hotel’s cosy Balcony Bar for cheese and port.
If what we are eating sets the standard for Peruvian cuisine in Dubai, then Coya when it opens next year at the new Four Seasons will have a hard act to follow. Here’s to a four out of five FooDiva knife rating.
Supper clubs can be defined in different ways. If you’re after a similar experience, everyone raves about the Music Hall at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and bizarrely in the same hotel, the soon-to-open original Supper Club. I can still remember eating salmon ceviche with a latex glove in the Amsterdam outpost. At the same time, the London trend of dinner parties at unusual and often underground locations is catching on here thanks to social concierge Lime & Tonic’s monthly secret supper clubs, as well as similar concepts by Restronaut and Dinner Club 57 – and these are home-grown affairs, a far cry from the international imports Dubai loves.
The Act Dubai is located at the Shangri-La on the Sheikh Z, 42nd floor – entrance at hotel rear. T; +971 (0) 52 8119900. Open Thursday and Sunday only from 9pm to 3pm. Licensed. Price per head without booze AED 290 – with two bottles of Prosecco and five cocktails AED 558 each.