Is Jason Atherton’s Marina Social the new favourite in town?

Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsTo much relief, my disappointment with imported concepts and chain restaurants in Dubai turned out to be short lived. It took a friendly hostess, a stroll through the modern, chic and urban-style venue and a bite into warm goat cheese churros to make me realise that chef Jason Atherton’s newly opened British-Mediterranean restaurant Marina Social at the Intercontinental Dubai Marina eclipses its Michelin-starred London sibling, Social Eating House, where I had a pleasant yet somewhat pompous dinner in June. The seventh in a string of ‘Social’ restaurants and the first in the Middle East, Marina Social ticked many boxes and restored my faith in transplanted concepts.

Our evening started with a warm welcome by our hostess who, while showing us to our table, introduced the ‘Social’ sharing concept and explained the meaning behind the spectacular wooden statues overlooking the entrance. Our chirpy waiter took over, described all dishes as “amazing” yet still explained various menu items diligently. Upon his recommendation (and a naughty upselling technique), we ordered three starters and three mains – which, unless you’re extremely hungry, was a lot for two people – so stick to a three-course meal.

Creative, playful and perfectly executed, our three starters were delicious. The deep-fried yet light and airy goat cheese churros were wonderfully gooey when dipped in a truffle honey sauce. The signature burrata creatively pumped INSIDE a firm Italian beef tomato, mixed with a caper-infused tomato tartar and drizzled at the table with balsamic, was creamy and moreish. My favourite was the Alaskan king crab; zingy, fresh and texturally perfect; the unusual marriage of soft crab, crunchy green apple, peanuts, coriander and pickled cauliflower was delicate and exquisite.

Goats cheese churros - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsTomato and burrata - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsAlaskan king crab - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsSmoked Boston lobster - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsSquab pigeon - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsChar-grilled veal chop - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsLemon bergamot - Marina Social - Dubai restaurantsPeanut chocolate bar - Marina Social - Dubai restaurants

Our mains were equally creative and tasty. The smoked Boston lobster, quirkily presented in a wooden gift box and opened at our table, was tender and packed with flavour (and smoke) thanks to a warm lemon butter sauce. It arrived with a side salad of warm potatoes and crunchy lobster tempura – delicious on its own. A long and unexplained thirty-minute wait separated us from our two other mains; the squab pigeon and the chargrilled veal chop. Our disappointment was quickly forgotten though. Reminiscent of Qbara’s ingenious fusions, our main courses presented unique flavour profiles (as an aside but interestingly chef Colin Clague who opened Q’bara, since moving on to Jean-Georges Vongerichten, worked for Jason Atherton in Singapore). The pigeon was served with a subtle chestnut and onion purée, al dente Brussels sprouts, and a mix of pumpkin seeds and oats. A fresh salsa verde, an invigorating lemon gelée and crunchy hazelnuts accompanied the perfectly cooked veal chop. Earthy and hearty, both were sublime.

We ended our meal with two desserts and a selection of homemade treats from Marina Social’s candy trolley, another playful touch. A deconstructed lemon sponge cake with a bergamot, verbena and lemon ice cream was delightful and refreshing. The flavours of a chocolate and peanut bar with a scoop of banana ice cream was reminiscent of a Snickers-meets-banoffee concoction, and was equally palatable. The perfect end to a great meal.

On a Tuesday night, Marina Social was packed and buzzing. The atmosphere was friendly, inviting, casual and as one would expect, very social. Staff were well-trained and attentive – however the unexplained long wait between mains needs to be addressed. If you were to order the quantities we did (but there really is no need given generous portions), expect to pay a ridiculously hefty AED520 per person for a total of eight dishes without alcohol. But stick to three courses each, and the bill becomes much more reasonable at AED360 (including a pricy lobster).

Marina Social is a great addition to the Dubai Marina dining scene – exquisite, creative and playful dishes, a modern venue, good music, casual vibes and a wonderful terrace for the ‘winter’ season. It definitely exceeded my expectations and topped my London ‘Social’ experience, so I think it’s about to become my new favourite restaurant in town. The only niggle as I mentioned is the one service issue, and the obvious upselling. So all in all, I am giving Marina Social a four out of five FooDiva knife rating.

Tell me, have you tried any of Jason Atherton’s restaurants around the world? How do they compare with Dubai’s Marina Social?

Till next time!

SJ

Who is FooDiva’s guest reviewer SJ? By day, she is a professor of political science. By night, she shares her cooking, travelling and dining out adventures on Instagram here.

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 4
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    British, Dubai, Dubai Marina, Hotels, Licensed, Location, Mediterranean, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants

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11 Responses to “Is Jason Atherton’s Marina Social the new favourite in town?”

  1. Krysia November 4, 2015 at 10:29 am

    I’ve been a couple of times and absolutely loved it. It’s so great to have something like this here in Dubai. Something a bit cooler and more interesting. My absolute favourites were the Feta Salad and the Burrata Tomato. On our first visit we were blown away for the starters – the goats cheese churros were divine. However, felt the mains lacked as much imagination. The second time I visited we just chose from the starters and flat breads which was perfectly adequate and had everyone raving again.
    We intend to try the chefs ‘Feed Me’ option next time we go.

    • SJ November 4, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Hi Krysia, thanks for the recommendations! I agree with you, the starters are more playful than the mains which seemed a bit more “classic” but they were still very tasty. I didn’t get a chance to try the flatbreads or the pasta options so these will be on my list for my next visit!

  2. Garry W November 5, 2015 at 10:51 am

    I am a great lover ‘of all things’ burrata so will put Marina Social on my ‘must try’ list as your description makes me want to go asap. Thanks for the heads up…..

    • SJ November 5, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      Not only is the burrata’s presentation very original but it’s also delicious on its own! Highly recommend it!

  3. JayEim November 5, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    LoL.

    Thank you for your review.

    I almost spilled my coffee and chocked on my laughter when reading the Arabic version of the menu.

    I think I will recommend Jason Atherton for the Thurber Prize 2016.

    Sunchoke is not Artichoke
    Yellow Fin Tuna is not Blue Fin Tuna
    And they take Sweetbreads translation to a whole new level
    et j’en passe………………….etc

    Reading the Arabic version further made me want to throw up.
    Is it so very difficult to do an English translation to Arabic! It never cease to amaze me at the neglect they throw at the Arabic language.

    As for the Lord Byron translation, it is a completely different Arabic text and meaning. Does anyone besides me bother to read their blurb?

    This is not only poor translation but food menu miss representation which is legally sanctioned by law.

    Well at least they have a very reasonable price for a Petrus at 80k only……… served without a table cloth on the horizon. Which reminds me that the tables and chairs suck.

    I am also not sharing my Petrus with anyone, but that is easy as anyway I cannot afford it and the 80k will do nicely to start up my fast food joint. Remember the name: 34-25-34

    ???? Oh lets drink, a drink, a drink. To Billy the king, the king, the king…….

    • SJ November 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      I didn’t even pay attention to the Arabic translation! My Arabic is a little rusty so I tend to stick to English menu versions. But if it’s inaccurate then as you say, something needs to be done to correct the mistakes and offer more clarity to diners. I’ll pay more attention to Arabic translations next time!

  4. IshitaUnblogged November 5, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Since I haven’t eaten in Social elsewhere, I was keen to know how Marina Social fares compared to the others. I can go back many times for the Burrito itself! Lovely writing – and good to see a four out of five Foodiva rating for a new restaurant dotting the Dubai dining scene.

    • SJ November 5, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Thank you! 🙂 I liked it more than Social Eating House. The service in London wasn’t friendly or welcoming. The vibe was a little pompous too. The food was good but not as creative as Marina Social. I also heard that the other “Social” restaurants in London are not that great so I think the Dubai one is set to become the new favourite. I would have given it a higher score if it weren’t for the long wait but it’s a service mistake I couldn’t overlook!

  5. Ayushi January 8, 2016 at 7:58 am

    I absolutely love the Social Wine and Tapas Bar i London (where I spend half the year!) and so will put Atherton’s Dubai venture on my list for when I visit the city next week 🙂 Would you by any chance remember if the menu is fairly vegetarian friendly? Thanks! Ayushi x

    • FooDiva January 9, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      It’s very veggie-friendly Ayushi. Check out Sumati’s blog http://www.veggiebuzz.com she has covered Marina Social. Another restaurant I tried recently for pleasure (not yet reviewed on the site) is Tomas Reger’s Intersect by Lexus at DIFC whose starters are hugely veggie. If you need some dining inspiration you may find this round-up useful 🙂 http://www.foodiva.net/2015/12/foodivas-35-favourite-dubai-restaurants/

      • Ayushi January 12, 2016 at 9:27 am

        Thank you! I did find your round-up – it’s GOLD. Have been to a few already (love La Serre) and added plenty more to my list including Tomo and Qbara 🙂 Will check out Intersect by Lexus too! Thanks again for the tips xx

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