Can Picante spice up the Portuguese restaurant scene in Dubai?
I had high hopes for Picante, one of two new Portuguese restaurants to open in Dubai this year. High hopes because Dubai desperately needs a decent Portuguese – who remembers Da Gama at Century Village? Well best forgotten even though it’s still open. Portuguese is one cuisine hugely under-represented here. Secondly, I’ve been privy to a tasting in the kitchen where as a small group of food bloggers, we were invited to give an honest opinion on the dishes BEFORE the menu was finalised. Now I don’t know many restaurants here that go to such lengths when developing their menus.
Anyhow, a few months later, our party of four weaves its way through Bur Dubai’s Thursday night traffic arriving late around 9ish to find Picante rather empty, bar a handful of tables. On the plus side, we pretty much get to pick our table. It’s a beautiful balmy evening, but the outdoor pool area overlooks a brick wall, so sadly we settle inside which has a little more vibrancy. Taverna-style rustic wooden tables and chairs, bright ceramic tiles and mock shutters create a quaint and homely feel.
The chef de cuisine is Portuguese and he’s helming the stove in the show kitchen. Whilst we peruse the overwhelmingly large menu, I order a portion of dates wrapped with beef bacon (no pork licence here) which sadly is the first disappointment of the evening. The bacon is burnt making it tough, chewy and tasteless. Pre-prepared am sure as they arrive pretty pronto. The wine list is small and not very inventive, but we taste a Portuguese red which is too tart, and settle for a Chilean Merlot (followed by an Australian Shiraz Cabernet) – as well as a Pinot Grigio for my white wine drinking friend.
Remembering my star dish from the tasting, I start with sautéed clams, which arrive as a huge main course portion – perhaps because my friend orders the same dish as a main? They are drowning in a little too much olive oil (do we detect a tad of butter too?) but the garlic, lemon and coriander sauce makes for moreish bread mopping. On that note, the bread is baked in-house and it’s damn good. The sautéed shrimps with garlic, piri piri and coriander (two orders) is a similar dish but a spiced up version. As an aside, click here if you’d like to know how to distinguish between a prawn and a shrimp. The sautéed mushrooms with thyme, olive oil and garlic is served like a tartare which my friend relishes.
For mains I try the signature Portuguese dish, charcoal-grilled chicken marinated in a spicy red chilli-based piri piri sauce. Sadly the chicken is bony and the meat stringy, making it messy and awkward to eat. The accompanying chunky chips are good enough – crispy on the outside and soft within. The beef and clams marinated with red pepper paste resembles the clams dish, but with the addition of beef cubes. The fried beef steak with a light mushroom sauce is topped with crispy beef bacon, fried egg and crisp-style potatoes, freshly cooked – heart attack on a plate I reckon…but you do get to choose your own steak knife ;). All dishes are a little too oily disguising the true flavours.
The highlight I am told is the traditional Portuguese sweet ending, egg custard in puff pastry, which my dining companions wholeheartedly salute. Whilst the odd dish may impress and the portions are huge, the food is pretty average with no wow factor. I am surprised to not see sardines feature given their popularity in Portugal. My sole foodie memory of an Algarve holiday many moons ago is a simple dish of grilled sardines with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon. And they are available locally from the fish market. Perhaps focus on fewer dishes and get these right?
Service is friendly and accommodating without being over the top, but it’s a shame not to even see one Portuguese waiter, whereas the Portugal Genuine Piri Piri restaurant at the nearby Seaview hotel has plenty (so say our chatty neighbouring table). I have a 50% voucher which makes the bill very reasonable, but otherwise if you’re not on a deal, you’re looking at AED 340 per head for three courses with vino. RoundMenu offers a 20% discount, and the table next to us is on a Groupon deal so do shop around.
Picante has tremendous potential despite its location (after all the Indian restaurant Antique Bazaar in the same hotel is a goodie), but the menu requires refining and the atmosphere spicing up before FooDiva returns. Here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.
Picante is located at the Four Points Sheraton in Bur Dubai on Bank Street. T; +971 4 3977444. E; email@example.com Open daily for lunch and dinner. Price per person AED 340 including wine. Licensed.
Have you dined at any of these Portuguese restaurants? How did they fare?
Enjoy the long weekend folks 🙂