How does Far-Eastern Umai at Oberoi Dubai fare?

Umai - Oberoi Dubai

Umai – Oberoi Dubai

On a high, literally, from cocktails at Dubai’s new sexy rooftop bar Iris, we head downstairs for dinner with two restaurants in mind. First, Ananta, the Oberois Indian but it’s eerily quiet with no sense of place. Surely an Indian hotel chain should get its national restaurant right. Anyhow more on that later. In despair we head to Umai, the Far-Eastern number and here at least, a handful of tables are occupied, even though the lighting would benefit from dimming. No need to book in advance for sure.

There’s two kitchens – the main action is glassed off and lined with sake bottles – whilst an open-plan kitchen brings sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki dining to the fore, but with no diners gracing these counters, the rather austere-looking space is a little redundant.

Once seated at an elevated table overlooking the teppan section, a tea mistress greets us with a complimentary pouring of green tea from these wonderfully, piercingly long spouts. The menu marries modern Japanese with Cantonese, dim sum included, and the odd Korean dish. Given friend and moi had munched on a few sharing plates at Iris, we opt for a selection of small dishes to share.Tea mistress

First up, wontons in crisped to perfection fried filo pastry and stuffed with minced shrimp on dollops of chilli mayo – there’s a reason it’s called dynamite for its spicy kick. Divine bundles of love.

We adore the quirky cigar-shaped shrimp spring rolls – chilli mayo dip again though. A little more creativity with the sauces wouldn’t go amiss.

When ordering the barbequed duck buns, I expect char siu bao, those fluffy and gooey bready delights, but instead these clam-shaped open buns arrive with carved duck and slithers of cucumber and scallions – sans the hoi sin sauce. Despite my initial disappointment, it makes for a winning dim sum choice.

We polish off the moreishy good deep fried soft shell crab pronto – can we have more than three please? Talking of which, aside from the four wontons all other bites are served in trios.

Shrimp wontonsShrimp spring rollsBBQ duck bunsDeep fried soft shell crab

The finale and piece de resistance, the one and only, scrummy Japanese street food dish – okonomiyaki – an eggy pancake with shredded cabbage, topped with mayo and smokey bonito fish flakes. A heavy dish, but so sublime I wish we had ordered this first to really relish the intense mix of textures and flavours. Would make a great hangover cure. Okonomiyaki

Firmly full, we digest throughout our meal with a white peony tea – unlimited refills at AED30 for two. Our Chinese waiter is an absolute delight – knowledgeable, assured, and with a good dose of humour.

Whilst the food is exquisite, from presentation to taste, and offers good value for money (see new box-out below) coupled with efficient service, the restaurant’s lacklustre utilitarian décor and zero atmosphere for a National Day weekend lets Umai down. Is it because Dubai hoteliers struggle to create successful restaurant concepts, best left to restaurateur experts – think DIFC and Souk Al Bahar? One hotel operator here is redefining its traditional F&B (food & beverage) department to R&B, not the musical genre, but Restaurants & Bars. A move perhaps to give dining in hotels a more strategic focus, and to develop restaurants into brands. Certainly a topic that warrants its own post.

With competition in Dubai very hot on the Far-Eastern front, I would rather enjoy my dinner in a beautiful, buzzing restaurant. After all, dining out should be a wonderful, fully-rounded experience encompassing more than just great food, so sadly Umai I won’t be returning in a hurry. But I will go back to Iris, which incidentally is managed by a Beirut operator. Here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating, but note am being generous.

How important is a restaurant’s design and atmosphere to your dining experience?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

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15 Responses to “How does Far-Eastern Umai at Oberoi Dubai fare?”

  1. GA December 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Interesting you raise this as it is a discussion I have often with people, dining is about the entire experience. Take for example Smiling BKK, it gets nominated for awards for its food which in all fairness is good, not fantastic but good. As a dining experience it is poor, the machine guns they have to attract the sombre faced waiters added zero to the entire experience. I didn’t rate it at all. Then take a venue at Souk Al Bahar, the good is average but due to the surroundings and decor the experience is fantastic. The decor of a restaurant can sometimes make it or break it for me, remember our discussion re Shang Thai? I guess it is all about colour ;)

    • FooDiva December 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      I am actually beginning to think that surroundings and atmosphere are not just equally important but more significant than food in creating a wow experience. As you rightly say, food only has to be good not wow. Take Rivington Grill at Souk Al Bahar for instance – the food is good, wholesome and well prepared but nothing exceptional – yet the service, ambience and location are wow. Plus the price is reasonable. Voila…a success story. As for BKK (the original location) I don’t rate its food, service or atmosphere…but the concept is quirky. Agh yes Shang Thai…no atmosphere and tacky decor…and I do love a bit of lime ;) Appreciate your detailed feedback GA :)

      • GA December 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

        Lime is always good :) For me it is always the entire experience, the day my friend and I sat outside that Beach House place eating fish and chips we will remember, not for for the food so much as the location and the total experience. Then you have little places like Hungry Tiger where the decor is nothing but the food is outstandingly good so you forget about the surroundings. It has to be the total experience :)

  2. Pinay Flying High December 10, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Very good point raised. I have always loved dining in Souk al Bahar and Madinat Jumeirah but it never crossed my mind that it’s mainly because of the surroundings and the ambiance more than anything else which makes or break my dining experience. The okonomiyaki sounds interesting though, I might try it.

    • FooDiva December 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks, it’s always on my mind! Good point – Madinat Jumeirah souk and waterfront is another example of a location or rather a dining destination in itself that although attached to hotels can be accessed separately. You really must try okonomiyaki – the Japanese at the JW Marriott Marquis also has it on its menu.

  3. Johann Z December 10, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Food sounds very appetising – shame about the atmosphere but Oberoi
    with all their experience should be able to address this so that they can
    create a real ‘wow’ for a dining experience. It will be interesting to see
    how the R&B concept will develop in hotels. Great review as always

  4. FooDiva December 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I hope they will Johann. Even though I didn’t eat in Ananta, we walked out because there was no atmosphere, and that should be its signature restaurant. If Oberoi can’t get an Indian restaurant right, then who can? A standalone restaurant operator? Perhaps that should be my next review ;) I too am intrigued by the R&B concept, and hopefully this other hotel operator will deliver on their promise. I’ll be watching! Thanks for your comment as always.

  5. IshitaUnblogged December 10, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I believe in the Oberoi Group, not because its got an Indian passport. The number of Oberoi properties and restaurants I’ve visited over the years must be more than the number of non-Oberoi rerstaurants I’ve visited in India and outside India alike! Sad that FooDiva had to be generous to give Umai 3 stars. Quite obviously the day when we visited Umai, it was very different with Chef Jeff Ramsey’s molecular gastronmy twist to Japanese Tapas menu. We were transfixed on him. Enjoyed thoroughly but then that’s not a ‘let’s all go out and eat’ kind of an affair. More like an ‘experience’ for those who are really culinary oriented. Good thing is, the Oberoi brand is known for service and Chef Dirk seems to be very approachable. Hope they pay heed to your feedback.

    Agreed, atmosphere makes or breaks a place. And I was literally blown away in Iris!

    • FooDiva December 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      I must admit from my experience with Oberoi in India with Mumbai and the stunner overlooking the Taj Mahal, I was impressed with their ‘sense of place’ Ishita. But can’t say the Egyptian or Mauritian properties left any lasting memories though. I think clearly when they have guest chefs in town, especially Jeff Ramsay’s dinner which was so well priced, or special all-you-can-eat deals then the crowd comes in creating a buzz and takes away from the rather drab decor. I like the direction Chef Dirk is taking with the food, but sadly that’s not enough – perhaps he’s in the wrong hotel. Anyway let’s see what transpires!

      • IshitaUnblogged December 12, 2013 at 12:18 am

        Your comment will set the head hunters on the run for Chef Dirk. Nice on the part of the hotel to take your feedback on board. Maybe, its like Indian Cricket – the team plays marvelously on the home turf!

  6. Bryony Gammon (Director of Communications at The Oberoi, Dubai) December 10, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Thank you for your feedback, Samantha. As a brand new hotel, we welcome comments from all our guests and we are continuing to refine our culinary offerings based on this feedback. We are glad you enjoyed the food and service at Umai and we agree that the ambience is a crucial part of the dining experience. With live entertainment, the open kitchens, interactive experiences – guests are welcome to try their hand at sushi rolling and tricks at the teppanyaki grill – and the skills of Crystal, our kung fu tea master, we hope that all our guests will enjoy a memorable experience at all of our signature restaurants. We have taken on board your comments about the lighting and we will be reviewing this with our team.

    You must have caught us on a quiet night but do come back and try our new Thursday Tapas Supper at Umai or the Friday Tapas Brunch at Nine7One soon. We can promise that you will enjoy the lively atmosphere, as well as warm service and great food! We are gearing up for a fabulous festive season with special events in all our signature restaurants as well as gingerbread making classes for children, festive hampers and home-made take-away turkeys plus an ‘Old Hollywood Glam’ party at Iris and a poolside party at The Oberoi, Dubai on New Year’s Eve. As you know, we have stunning views of the Burj Khalifa from the hotel without all the crowds. We hope to welcome you back to The Oberoi, Dubai soon.

    • FooDiva December 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Delighted you’ve taken the time to comment Bryony thank you. I do hope the hotel will be able to make some changes so customers who prefer to dine out on a la carte, rather than all-inclusive or set menu deals will also enjoy a memorable, vibrant dining experience. As for Iris, that view is a stunner and I’ll be back for sure. Have a wonderful festive season :)

  7. Kelly December 10, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    My experience of Oberoi is a most pleasant one from our days in Mauritius. Such a lovely property. I am looking forward to visiting Oberoi Dubai on my next visit. I must say that the reaction and comments of Oberoi staff to this review is such a positive sign for the improvement of the services of the hotel. All the best to them and well done for this review Foodiva.

    • FooDiva December 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Thanks Kelly. I too am glad the hotel has taken the constructive feedback on board with a view to addressing the operation. Hopefully before your next visit! Anyhow, the rooftop venue Iris will go on to my updated Dubai bucket list so you should definitely pop in.

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