Zeta – is it solely location, location, location?

Zeta - The Address Downtown DubaiThe hospitality industry’s long-standing mantra ‘location, location, location’ (which incidentally some argue is now passé) is one portion of the dining experience that Dubai’s first (I think) outdoor-only licensed restaurant gets right. Newly opened Zeta is perched on prime real estate – The Address Downtown Dubai’s expanded pool terrace, overlooking Burj Khalifa and the dancing, musical fountains.

An al fresco nocturnal setting coupled with a pretty booked out restaurant makes for a romantic yet buzzy ambiance. But how do the other aspects of our experience fare?

We are seated on tables a little lower than normal, with ridiculously comfy armchairs in direct view of the fountains (pictured here). Initially I have seating envy for the regular tables right by the railing, but be warned whenever the fountains kick off, there’s a rush for photographs ruining any chance of a tête-à-tête soirée. So I am glad we stay put.

The website claims Zeta, a home-grown concept (not to be confused with its namesake celeb-haunt bar in London) offers Asian fusion, but one look at the menu and the dishes are definitely more modern Japanese with the odd peppering of French and Peruvian fare. As my date points out, the white font on black background is a challenge to read in dimmed lighting, and he has good vision. Zeta is open for lunch too by the way. Sushi, sashimi, salads, soups, tartares and chilled seafood make up the majority of the starters, whilst the main course selection focuses on hot seafood and meaty grills.

One of two appetisers arrives first, but oddly our waitress does not mention that dishes will be served as and when they’re ready – something a recent, controversial review by The Man in the White Hat discusses. Was there a delay or is that Zeta’s serving style? I don’t know.

Zeta at The Address Downtown Dubai - foodAnyhow if you eat with me, you always share, so we ravenously tuck into one of Zeta’s signature sushi maki rolls, the ‘Fountain’ – shrimp tempura, cucumber and cream cheese, wrapped in Wagyu beef and drizzled with teriyaki sauce. A wonderful mix of textures, and ever so moreish – but the beef is overcooked and not as lightly seared as it should be. Our second starter arrives whilst we’re half way through numero uno. The Japanese fried chicken karaage dish is Japan’s healthy answer to KFC, with morsels of chicken lightly fried in oil. Addictively good. A side of shredded cabbage is overpowered by too generous a dousing of spiced yuzu.

Our mains are indeed served at the same time. A Japanese restaurant’s black cod dish is always a good litmus test, and the version here is, like Nobu’s original, marinated in miso, but it’s over-seasoned and not flaky. A tangy yuzu emulsion works well to offset the fish’ saltiness. The grilled lamb chops (Korean-inspired says the menu) are succulent and served medium to rare, with a spiced BBQ sauce. A side dish of baked sweet potato is a little undercooked and rather unusually comes sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon which does not appeal to either of us, but that’s a personal preference. The baby bok choy is steamed perfectly al dente with a seriously good kick of paprika.

I always struggle with desserts on any Far-Eastern or Asian menu. There’s hardly ever anything to tempt me, but I accept that’s just me perhaps. Or do you too? So my date opts for a layer of coffee jelly with mango sago and roasted pineapple. I must admit I do relish the creamy roe-like texture of the sago pudding, whilst he happily scoops up the rest.

Whilst service is swift, our waitress is a tad too attentive. There’s also a little bit of a language barrier which leads us to repeating ourselves, but despite that, she certainly knows her dishes and ingredients. For what is essentially a semi-casual dining experience, at AED342 per person without alcohol, Zeta does not come cheap – but you’re paying for the location.

That brings me back to the crux of my review. Overall the food at Zeta is average with some dishes faring better than others, and the service needs fine tuning, but the wow factor comes with the setting and ambiance. And it’s these last two components that would draw me back in. I’ve discussed this balance in the past, but location and atmosphere are, in my opinion, just as important as food and service in a top-end (i.e. licensed with alcohol) restaurant experience. To put it in perspective, on the flip side, when you’re paying top whack, it’s not enough for just the food to impress. After all, you’re unlikely to return if the restaurant has serious service issues, lacks atmosphere and sits in an undesirable locale. So Zeta, what you lose out in food and the odd service glitch, you make up for with location and atmosphere – here’s to a 3 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.

When dining in a top-end restaurant, how much value do you attribute to location and atmosphere, versus food and service? Have you come across any other outdoor-only licensed restaurants in Dubai? Incidentally there are plans I hear, to enclose Zeta during the steamy summer months.

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3
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17 Responses to “Zeta – is it solely location, location, location?”

  1. Dave Reeder November 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

    To me, location is the least important aspect of a good restaurant experience. On my numerous trips to Paris, it’s the out of the way bistros, unfashionably located in the outer banliues, that are the most interesting. Focusing on tyne food, the service and a rough but comfortable ambience, they really hit the spots. If you go for location and eat on the Champs d’Elysee, then you’ll be poorly fed and ripped off. The same is pretty much the true for me of Dubai. Yes, it’s fun at times to eat in somewhere stylish, but my go to restaurant for years has been Sanobar, an out of the way fish joint in Sharjah! Do I want fountains and skyscrapers when I’m dining? Not really – I prefer toy focus on the food and leave the sightseeing to the times when I’m out for a relaxing drink or three.

    • FooDiva November 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      I would say those hidden spots in belle Paris are actually well located and charismatic Dave. I agree though, steer well away from the Champs Elysee – but Downtown Dubai whilst attracting tourists is also hugely residential, a business district and a local hangout. Take Cut in the same hotel, and Rivington Grill in Souk Al Bahar – both excellent restaurants ticking all the boxes. The issue we have in Dubai is these wonderful off-the-beaten-track restaurants (like Sanobar which I must admit I’ve not visited) don’t serve alcohol like the spots you enjoy in Paris. Maybe that one day will change 🙂

  2. Garry W November 4, 2014 at 11:08 am

    The question of location is a good one. My experience is that you often find that you are charged ‘far too much extra’ for the privilege of being in a good location and that the dining experience does not compare with other restaurants. Good food will always shine through and attract the right people regardless of the location – but sometimes it needs ‘creative marketing’ to get the reputation established if it is an ‘off beat’ location.

    • FooDiva November 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Zeta clearly charges a premium for the location Garry, and yes you’re right it’s no excuse for mediocrity in food. I think the issue at hand here is as long as food is of a reasonable standard, would you return because the location and atmosphere wows you? It’s a hypothetical question 😉

  3. JayEim November 4, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for your review.

    Your reviews are saving me a lot of money to avoid such places.

    I am afraid I agree with Dave Reeder that a restaurant first call is food and not l’ambiance or atmos. It is the skills of the Chef and his team to deliver simple good to outstanding food.

    I remember there was a desolate fish joint long time ago in Sharjah which served the best fish, I wonder whether the name is Sanobar, in which case please do not review 😉

    Having said that, I am still looking forward for your review on a “Cle” as verbal reviews are coming fast and strong.
    Please have the Man in the White Hat sharpen his quills and blacken his ink.
    BTW, Ishita never got back to us on the Michelin issue!

    Thank you

    • FooDiva November 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks Jay for your constant and valid feedback 🙂 See my response to Dave as well. I like to give new restaurants a little time to settle in. One of my guest reviewers (sadly not Mr White Hat) has just reviewed Cle, so stay tuned 😉 What Michelin issue are you referring to? Cheers as always.

  4. Platetrotter November 4, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Unfortunately I think restaurants with a great location get away with the sins of mediocre food and patchy service more often than they should. Unfortunate too that this is unlikely to change as great-location restaurants generally kill two birds with one stone for anyone visiting a city or entertaining guests.

    • FooDiva November 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      A great location is no excuse for mediocrity in food I agree Radhina. The question like I raised in my response to Garry is – as long as food is of a reasonably good standard would you return for the wow location and atmosphere?

  5. Kelly November 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Quality of food and service are the first priority for me. Good ambiance and location follow and will then make the dining experience a special one.

    • FooDiva November 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Interesting Kelly. Would you dine at restaurant that was consistently empty despite its good food and service? Sadly there are plenty that are.

  6. IshitaUnblogged November 4, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    We loved Zeta – then again, its for the ambiance and the service from a guy who hails from the same region as we do (no partiality, promise). For me, an ambiance does add the *wow* factor, but if the food disappoints, then it becomes more difficult to recover. We were seated by the railing – still I got up to take pictures – exactly the type you mentioned! A few of the dishes I had tasted before in Fazarish. Do try the crunchy king prawn in kafir lime and the chocolate brownie with raspberry sorbet for desserts. And the spicy Thai Bellini – that’s a killer!

    • FooDiva November 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      There was plenty on the menu to entice me to return – will give your dishes a try next time Ishita. Must admit they made a damn good Bloody Mary! Did you see Jay’s comment above about Michelin?…

      • IshitaUnblogged November 5, 2014 at 7:15 pm

        Jay obviously knew where to leave his comments to get the promptest answer from me. I also wanted to add something here. When it is street food, small shacks or restaurants with distinct character, food overpowers everything else in those restaurants. Example – Bu Qtair or many little restaurants in China towns all over the world. Even in London, I found a lot of them like that. But when it comes to a pricey restaurant, yes… ambiance is as important as the food. Did you not like the food in Rang Mahal when you did your first review? It was the ambiance that you had commented on. Dave mentions Sanobar – its different category altogether – it doesn’t matter how shabby or small or uncomfortable or inaccessible these places are, people will return for the food. The moment a joint becomes expensive, I refuse to pay only for good food or only for good ambiance – I dole out for both. My expectation and requirement changes with place.

        • FooDiva November 9, 2014 at 8:41 am

          Couldn’t agree more Ishita. The parameters change when it’s a cheap and cheerful joint – at these places it’s definitely just about the food.

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