Cocktail Kitchen – no reservations?
I have mixed feelings when I ring a licensed restaurant in Dubai to book a table (for six) and they do not take reservations – “you can just pop by and there should be enough seating.” We are dining at newly opened Cocktail Kitchen with its “Mediterranean-inspired menu” on a Friday evening. Tucked away in the basement of the Armada Bluebay Hotel in JLT along with popular hangouts Mythos and Nola, valet parking is not free, which is highly irritating.
The corridor entrance is not particularly attractive but the restaurant becomes more appealing as it opens up to an extensive bar and different seating areas. First in view is a small mixology bar with a large collection of Vermouth that, we are told, will be used for group lessons. A large enclosed smoking area has the feel of a glass atrium, and as we walk along the non-smoking bar (a welcome perk), we see clusters of tables on the right, culminating with seating around a kitchen counter. In the corner, there is a intimate private bar for small gatherings that boasts an extensive collection of tonics. A good choice of music, played at the right volume creates an ambience which is eclectic, yet relaxing.
The pleasant maitre-d’ explains that the no reservations policy is working well and attracts a large number of diners who live in and around JLT that either want to enjoy a drink with a nice meal, or simply try the “new age” drinks with some nibbles. He says that Dubai has caught up with the gin and tonic revolution a few years late, and that they want to bring the vermouth spritz trend here early.
The nibble before you dribble section of the menu presents a short selection of pre-drinks appetisers. The stuffed piquillo peppers with smoked mackerel and chives brings on the strong flavour of shredded smoked mackerel tempered down by the labneh. The fig and blue cheese bruschetta has a rich taste – the fig and honey balancing the blue cheese, whilst the thyme and rosemary gives some explosive favours – so much so, we immediately order seconds. Off menu, we are served an exquisite presentation of marinated green and black olives presented with labneh, and a delicate reindeer horn-shaped pretzel laced with sesame seeds.
I struggle to graduate from my regular wine and spirits palate but have to give these so-called new age drinks a try. I let our friendly waitress decide – she chooses the not a shred of saffron (vermouth spritz) for me. Always a sceptic of cocktails, I do acknowledge that this drink is indeed refreshing. She patiently maps the liquor and flavour preferences of our group (including non-alcoholic options for the designated driver) and mixes up fun names like no school like old school, someone that I yuzu you know and get to the back of the q. Everyone praises the presentation and the taste.
The grilled squid starter is served with the trunk separated from the tentacles, and an exotic presentation of violet potato textures, parsley puree, and a lemon bagna cauda sauce from Piedmont in Italy that gives it that elusive umami flavour. A little bit of everything tingles my senses as I bite into the soft, but a little chewy, grilled squid.
The tender, perfectly seared scallops melt in my mouth with the pea puree, roasted fennel and sweet saffron sauce giving character. We go for seconds with the burrata truffle, another well balanced dish – a generous serving of creamy burrata perched on a bed of marinated vegetables, with sun dried tomato pesto and toasted sourdough on the side.
The wine list, though short, is carefully chosen, with a number of organic wines. We order a bottle of the full bodied South African Luck Bug Laibach.
For mains, the Josper seafood platter is a tightly woven plate of grilled seafood – the mussels and prawns more prominent with a salsa verde, tapenade and cut capers peeping from between the seafood. The roasted sea bass appears more pan-seared than roasted, and tastes comforting with a tangy chunky puttanesca sauce. Our waitress suggests the arrosticini d’Abruzzo as a must try dish, but it disappoints. Resembling an Italian lamb satay fusion with a rosemary marinade and the Catalan pan con tomate, the flavours simply don’t marry well and we struggle to finish the plate. The Josper steak is an excellent case of tender and juicy meat cooked medium and lightly seasoned, but a mushroom and red wine sauce, alongside lentils stuffed in an onion ring do not make for the right accompaniments.
For my vegetarian wife, the waitress offers an off menu lasagna (the veggie options on the menu are very limited) that is quite a stunner. Rich with sauce, sun dried tomatoes and basil leaves, the Med flavours burst in my mouth as I dig into the cheesy layers. Onto desserts, a chocolate smoked berry semifredo is average, but the tiramisu, and a poached pear with saffron and chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream are winners.
Cocktail Kitchen has a buzzing vibe and is the perfect choice for a refreshing tipple and overall, high quality food. Service is off the charts. Expect to pay a reasonable AED 200 a head for three courses without alcohol. I therefore surrender my prejudice on no reservations dining and eagerly plan to return. With all this in mind, I give Cocktail Kitchen a high four out of five FooDiva knife rating.
Have you had winning dining experiences at licensed restaurants that do not take reservations?
Until next time,
Who is FooDiva’s guest reviewer? AK works as an investment banker in Dubai and is an avid gastronaut who thinks that a day without a good meal is a day wasted. He has travelled the world exploring culinary delights including a treasured dinner at El Bulli.
— FooDiva SamanthaWood (@FooDivaWorld) March 7, 2016