How does Far-Eastern Umai at Oberoi Dubai fare?
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 Oberoi’s 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.
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.
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.
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?