Can Picante spice up the Portuguese restaurant scene in Dubai?

Picante Interior

Photo credit to Picante

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.

Sauteed clamsSauteed shrimpsPiri piri chickenPortuguese steakChoose your steak knifeCustard tarts

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; 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 🙂

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3
Reserve with RoundMenu
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11 Responses to “Can Picante spice up the Portuguese restaurant scene in Dubai?”

  1. GA June 5, 2013 at 9:41 am

    It sounds like I ate at a different restaurant, their signature cataplanet is one the best dishes I have had in months. I find all the food is for sharing though, order a selection stick in it the middle and share. We were there a few weeks back for the Saturday brunch and had a huge plate of sardines 🙂

    • FooDiva June 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      The food was fabulous at the tasting GA seafood cataplana included but they were geared up for food bloggers and our critical taste buds. Unfortunately the food last weekend didn’t match up. Glad they brought out the sardines for the brunch, perhaps it’s a special every now and again.

  2. Johan Z June 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

    It seems that despite the promising ‘pre-start’ things have not turned out as they should have done. Let’s hope they take the comments on board and fine tune their operation so that it can take its place among the best in Dubai – especially as Dubai is crying out for good Portuguese restaurants.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Quite Johan. I do so want this restaurant to succeed, especially given MPW’s Titanic nearby has just closed down a year into operation.

  3. dave reeder June 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

    When I interviewed the chef last year, he was insistent that all produce was going to be imported from Portugal – he’s from the Algarve, by the way. I understand that this has changed, which might explain some quality issues. However, I can’t help but feel that this part of Dubai not on most people’s food radar – the closure of Titanic in nearby Melia is further evidence. Apart from top Greek choice Elia, the only decent food in this part of town is Indian, which makes sense given the local demographic. And I just l;earned that old school expat favourite bar The Old Vic in the Ramada has been transformed into a Belgian-style bar – I wish that luck…

    Grilled sardines with oil and lemon – magical! But you can’t put much of a mark-up pn those, can you? Probably best eaten water-side…

    • FooDiva June 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm

      We met the chef Dave at the tasting but like with many restaurants here they impress at these blogger/ media events when they want the publicity, but sadly don’t always deliver for paying diners. I think location is certainly an issue, but Elia (and I know am biased) does very well – mind you the hotel is partly Greek-owned which helps bring the right clientele in. True about the sardine mark-up but prices of some dishes are very reasonable bordering on cheap.

  4. Mr. B June 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Hey FooDiva,

    I agree with your comments. A disappointing experience but the company was great!


    • FooDiva June 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Thanks Mr B for your discerning taste buds 😉 I think I will add company as one of my reviewing criteria! x

  5. nadia June 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Based on the review, AED 340 per person seems expensive. But perhaps that was the point of seeking honest opinion on the dishes before the menu was finalised. I haven’t tried Portuguese food before, but I’d like to start with grilled sardines with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon.

    Thanks for the honest review!

  6. Picante June 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Many thanks for the feedback Samantha, we’re sorry to hear that you were disappointed. We’ve shared your comments with Chef so that he can look into this. We are planning to introduce a new range of Portuguese wines after Ramadan and hope that you will be back again to try these, as well as the sardines which are now available for our family brunch every Saturday.

    • FooDiva June 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      I really appreciate you reading my review and taking the comments on board. Yes I gather sardines are available as a special for brunch. Is there not enough consistent supply to add them to the regular menu especially as they are so in season now? Thanks for sharing your feedback.

I’d love to receive your feedback, so feel free to comment any time.