Does Novikov deserve the hype or not?

Novikov Dubai - Dubai restaurantsWhen a friend suggests we dine at Novikov in the Sheraton Grand Hotel my heart sinks. Despite the hype, it’s one Dubai restaurant opening I’ve not been looking forward to. Why would you want to eat in a Russian-named restaurant that serves Far-Eastern food? The owner is Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov and the concept has been imported from London and Moscow to Dubai by Russian-owned Bulldozer Group who also operate Toko and Sass Cafe. To be precise the PR blurb states that the menu spans Japan, China and South-East Asia. Just to confuse matters, the London and Moscow outposts also boast Italian menus. I’ve always enjoyed my time eating in Russia, both in Moscow where my parents lived, and St Petersburg on a more recent visit. So with such strong Russian ownership and management, I would much prefer to dine on Russian food, especially as it’s an untapped market here. Furthermore, I recall reading restaurant critic Jay Rayner’s review of Novikov London in The Guardian a few years ago that went viral – have a good giggle here.

Anyhow my job demands I try new restaurants with an open mind whether my perception of them is good or bad, and so I make a reservation for Friday night. When the email confirmation stipulates a two and a half hour slot for an 8.30pm booking my heart sinks even deeper. But not as frustratingly deep as when the hostess approaches us at the bar at 8.20pm where we are sipping a delightful Ferrari Brut aperitif (an Italian spumante I tasted this summer in Italy produced with the champagne method – just as decent and much more affordable than French champagne) to tell us: “I hear you would like to move to your table.” Me: No we don’t, we’d like to finish our drinks. Our booking is at 8.30pm. Hostess: You do realise the table is only booked for one and a half hours.

That makes me double check the email confirmation only to find she is wrong. Without wanting to spoil the evening for my dining companions I decide to keep quiet and wait to see if we are kicked off our table. Ten minutes later, on the dot, she escorts us to the dining room, where thanks to a round table my frustration dissipates.

The L-shaped restaurant seats a staggering 280, but the impressive, welcoming design steers away from the vastness with granite walls, cracked stone, dark leather, and mammoth crimson globe-like chandeliers. The dimmed lighting, a well-selected playlist and a packed restaurant all help create a wonderful vibe.

The menu is as mammoth as the restaurant, with many dishes priced so ludicrously high, unless you’re on an expense account, you are forced into ordering the ‘cheaper’ siblings which is what we pretty much do. The starters, i.e. appetisers, sashimi, sushi, salads, dim sum and tempura range from AED50 to 540 – with main course grills and wok dishes at AED80 to 650 (the odd veggie dish is slightly cheaper). At the far end of the dining room, there’s a huge fish market where you can choose your own seafood at a displayed ‘market price’, along with hanging Peking ducks. A quick comparison check of the menu on the London website shows that most dishes, but interestingly not all, are more expensive here in Dubai. Expect to pay for three courses a bare minimum of AED400 and upwards per person, without alcohol, making Novikov one of Dubai’s most expensive restaurants, if not the most expensive and on a par with Pierre Gagnaire’s Reflets and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Dining Room. The Ferrari Brut is reasonably priced though at AED500 per bottle. So how does our food fare and is it worth the price tag?

Novikov Dubai - Far Eastern foodToasted edamame and salted Spanish padron peppers make for novel nibbles whilst perusing the menu. From our choice of appetisers, a dim sum of black cod rolled in a denser version of fried shredded filo pastry and served with a mango dip impresses with its creativity, flavour and textural balance, whilst the prawn tempura is excellent…but you can can find good (and cheaper) tempura in many restaurants, Japanese take-away included. A crab and avocado salad arrives as a tower of tartare, but is a little bland. A tuna tartare seriously disappoints mainly because it is mashed at the table, making my niece’s baby food look positively delicious – whilst the nigiri sushi and sashimi, even the decadent otoro, the supreme fattiest of tuna bellies, is much more buttery elsewhere. Perhaps because Novikov’s is sourced from Spain not Japan?

For our main courses, a steamed sea bass fillet with ginger and soya, and wok-fried Szechuan prawns are well executed, but the latter should have more of a kick to match the ‘three chilli’ rating on the menu. Sadly the razor clams with coriander and garlic also lack punch, but more importantly, lack meat, with barely a sliver of clam on each shell. The grilled miso baby chicken never arrives, despite our waitress highly recommending this dish. Is it so delicious that it goes walkies? I don’t mention a word and neither do they notice (thankfully we are not charged for it). On that same note, service is mostly unattentive where we are having to chase for our order to be taken, and for more spumante to be poured. In ironic contrast, they are quick to upsell more bottles.

Despite our mini feast, my dining companions are hungry and turn to a couple of desserts which I taste – a twist on banoffee with miso, and a chocolate fondant. Again good but nothing wow. And that really exemplifies our whole meal. Bar the tuna tartare and the razor clams (two out of 13 dishes), I can’t fault the food but there’s nothing remarkable on that menu to draw me back in a heartbeat. And there should be for such a hefty price. I would return to the bar though for the eclectic and electric atmosphere…and the Ferrari Brut. Topped off by lacklustre and smug service, and with so much excellent choice in Dubai’s Far-Eastern restaurant segment, if I am going out for a slap-up meal, I would rather take my hard-earned money elsewhere. With this in mind, I am giving Novikov a 2.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating. Looks like my perception is right.

Or have you had a different experience? What are your thoughts on Novikov Dubai, or even London and Moscow?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 2.5
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20 Responses to “Does Novikov deserve the hype or not?”

  1. JayEim September 8, 2015 at 11:12 am

    LoL. Oh so predictable.

    I luv Noviblink………not necessarily as a restaurant but more as a Hall of Mirrors.

    That’s what it is, the Hall of Mirrors, the same way as most other restaurants with the Ohh so famous Chefs who are never behind the cauldrons and devise their fare with “Cooking by the Numbers”……which you condone that already.

    Noviblink is in fact the epitomy of Dubai restaurants and takes pride in leading all other restaurants as the Master Hall of Mirrors restaurant.

    Where else do you have the highest concentration of Red Loubous per square inch?
    Where else do you have the highest concentration of Beau Toxic per square inch?
    Where else do you have the highest concentration of Eau de Gutter per square inch?
    Where else do you have the highest concentration of Bit Coins per square inch?

    Novoblnk is indeed our Hall of Mirrors and we luv it.

    As for food??? They serve food as well?………I did not have any!…….nobody ever tell me anything!

    • FooDiva September 8, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      Rolling with laughter Jay :)) They may need to seek your rebranding advice once the hype dies down…Noviblink has a nice ring to it. It really was a restaurant for the ‘beautiful’ and ‘surgically enhanced’ crowd of Dubai. Having said that, I do wish them well and hope they can prove us wrong.

  2. Ziad Zaaarour September 8, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Could not be more on the dot.
    The Bulldozer group has a knack for getting good concepts on the ground but never able to manage them with their snug “We are exclusive” attitude.
    My one and last experience at Novikof was one of sultry staff, ordinary food and owners 2 tables down gorging on food.
    I have better places to go to where food is cheaper, better and where i am treated like a customer.

    • FooDiva September 8, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Thanks Ziad. They also have a habit of investing in experienced staff for the first year only and then letting them go because they are too expensive. Mind you a little more charm and less arrogance amongst the staff at Novikov would help from the outset.

  3. Abbas Lalljee September 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Hi FooDiva,
    My only comment is about the tuna. Japan ports the vast majority of their bluefin tuna from the Pacific and Mediterranean. They particularly prize tuna from Spain. Each tuna is a different beast and hence can have subtle differences in flavour unlike say prawns which all taste relatively generic.

    • FooDiva September 8, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      Oh I see Abbas, interesting, thanks for enlightening me. I had some wonderful, super succulent otoro at Tomo last week (from Japan I was told) even though I believe they do also import from Spain at times.

  4. GA September 8, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Another one doomed to restaurant heaven, in 12 months time it will be Novikov who? the idea that these restaurants think they can blatantly rip people off with their over priced food is getting ridiculously out of hand. As for serving Asian food in a Russian restaurant? plain odd. Great review.

    • FooDiva September 8, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      More like restaurant hell GA 😉 The problem is there will always be an unsophisticated customer in Dubai who loves to frequent restaurants like this. These are not true lovers of good food and the overall dining experience, but simply people that like to be seen at the ‘it’ place in town.

      • GA September 8, 2015 at 3:54 pm

        I say let them get on with IT 🙂

  5. Garry W September 8, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Interesting review – I agree that with a very Russian sounding name one would expect Russian Food. Something like the quality of Café Pushkin in Moscow. As you mentioned the Novikov restaurants in Moscow and London I checked them out on Trip Advisor and the comments in both cities are not dissimilar to your experience. In Moscow it is rated in position 1’467 out of 11’799 eateries and London is rated in position 2’443 out of 18’691 eateries – this means that neither of these restaurants is in the top ten percent of the ‘best’ restaurants in their respective cities. It will be interesting to see if the Dubai restaurant can reverse this trend?

    • FooDiva September 10, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Interesting Garry. I personally never use Tripadvisor for any recommendations. It is so easy to manipulate with the operators (both hotels and restaurants) rallying feedback amongst friends and family that it paints a fake picture. As for Russian restaurants, Conrad (down the road from Novikov) is opening a Russian restaurant soon – I believe replacing the doomed Marco Pierre White’s grill. I hope it’s well executed and they manage to challenge perceptions of Russian food.

  6. The Man in the White Hat September 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    It’s a Londongrad concept, dahlinks; what would we seriously expect?

    I know plenty of lovely Russians (including the one I’m married to), but the triumph of crassly over the top style over anything even remotely resembling substance is a standard trope for a certain subset of Russians, including a certain subset of Russian emigres.

    You need to be seen spending obscene amounts of cash in the new ‘it’ place run by your compatriots, dahlinks; whether it’s actually any good is irrelevant.

    • FooDiva September 13, 2015 at 9:58 am

      I was fascinated Mr White Hat that Novikov didn’t seem to have any Russians dining there that night…but instead lots of the usual ‘beautiful’ crowd who frequent these newbies just to show off their Loubies. The tumbling ruble must be keeping them away…I wonder how the London outpost is faring.

  7. Yiannis September 11, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Dear Foodiva, you have really outdone yourself this time, and for a generous soul like yourself, this is serious stuff, although your initial paragraph tends to prepare one for the worse. Personally I was switched off as soon as you mentioned the time slot.

    [Rant mode on].

    To me, restaurants, hotels, guests houses, fast food joints are all about HOSPITALITY. Which means the primary purpose (well OK the primary purpose is to make a return on investment but the SECOND…) is to welcome your guests, make them feel comfortable, give them a memorable experience etc. When I invite guests in my home, I don’t kick them out after a set time period. Even the ones that do the “Armeniki visita” if you know what I mean. So how much worse for a CUSTOMER that is paying for the privilege.

    I find it totally abhorrent that these outlets can’t make sufficient profits from good efficient management that they need to artificially turn the tables over in this manner. What next? Should we be paying by the square metre per minute? Do you know what I call places like this? CAFETERIAS. Get in, eat fast, get out.

    I furthermore am totally amazed how the Dubai glitterati who normally feel so entitled actually accept to be treated as if they are standing in a school lunch queue. A testament to hype I suppose. So I refuse to go to any such place. Period. Because for me, the food turns to tasteless mush in an environment that is unwelcoming.

    • FooDiva September 13, 2015 at 10:08 am

      Thank you Yiannis. Oddly I loved writing this review more than dining there! Your observations are spot on. Unless the service shines, there’s no point in returning even if the food is of a reasonably good quality. Incidentally the following night I dined at Wox in the Grand Hyatt – a cheap and cheerful Far-Eastern joint that is ALWAYS packed (incidentally a favourite haunt of many chefs here). I was with the same friend and we both commented on the contrast in both service and food. For Dhs175 per person WITH wine you have a wonderful meal with excellent, switched-on service. Places like that have survived for years and will continue to. Let’s see if Novikov realises it needs to change its attitude.

      • Zoe February 11, 2016 at 12:09 pm

        Awesome review Foodiva, a great read and definitely confirms my speculations about this one. Thanks for sharing the Wox recommendation I’ll have to add it to the must-visit list!

        • FooDiva February 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm

          Thanks Zoe. Yes do try Wox. Guaranteed you won’t be disappointed 🙂

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