Is Shimmers On The Beach more than just the setting?
When I shortlist Dubai restaurants to review, I typically prioritise based on one or more of the following qualities. A concept that is home-grown (even though I love my celeb chef interactions); an interesting cuisine or cooking style; a chef who has moved from a restaurant I rate highly; or at this time of year, an al fresco location. In this case, Shimmers at Mina A’Salam ticks all these boxes, but in particular the last two.
The restaurant recently re-opened boasting an all-white new look right on the beach, sand included should you wish, with Burj Al Arab views. At the stove is chef Ilias who jumped ship from Greek restaurant Elia. He’s also cooked chez moi. Thankfully he stays in the kitchen so I manage to retain my anonymity.
The menu he has created is, unsurprisingly given his pedigree, Mediterranean, fusing Greek ingredients in many dishes – a marriage not prevalent in Dubai – and at first glance, suits the beachside location. The menus itself are backlit, helpful for night-time viewing. I’ve not spotted this feature elsewhere in Dubai, so brownie points for Shimmers here. Mind you, this clever idea does not extend to the wine and cocktail list.
Three out of four starters (for our party of four) impress. Sadly it’s my choice of chicken livers that disappoints. Marinated in oxymeli (a traditional Greek wine and honey mix), and tossed with sweet garlic croutons, slow-roasted onions and lemon essence, the chicken livers are over-cooked, instead of delicately seared. A semi-cured tuna ceviche with avocado and a tomato vinaigrette, along with a dish of seared diver scallops with sliced pear in an orange, ginger and lemongrass sauce are both top notch in flavour, texture and presentation. I also enjoy the roasted cabbage dolma stuffed with ground beef and lamb, but I would prefer a little more intensity to the avgolemono (a classic Greek egg and lemon sauce). Here he lightens it with yoghurt, which is unecessary.
As for main courses, an organic spinach barley risotto sprinkled with semi-dried cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and pine nuts is a feast for all senses. Gorgeous colours and wonderful, well balanced flavours. Chef Ilias puts a spin on a traditional slow-cooked beef stifado using veal cheeks instead, and for some added texture throws in some teeny spiced fetta fritters – a wonderfully hearty dish. An Irish lamb rump, served on an eggplant and potato puree in a tomato, star anise and orange sauce is another rich choice. On the other hand, my black cod is feather light and sits on a bed of mash potato with samphire. A Greek twist sees him add dollops of taramosalata, but am not convinced that contrast of sweet and salty flavours works here. A couple of side orders of char-grilled vegetables, and braised asparagus are on point, but inessential, so don’t feel you have to order accompaniments – the veggie component in the mains are generous enough.
Our two contrasting desserts are well executed. The warm loukoumades (mini doughnut balls) drizzled with date honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon are moreish and not too sweet, enhanced by an exquisite yoghurt ice cream. If you love decadent desserts, then the jar of coffee mousse, layered with lemon meringue, lychees and blueberries, and served with elderflower ice cream is one helluva rich and sweet ending.
Chicken livers aside, our other dishes impress, but some are very heavy and a little fussy, in contrast to my perception of light, simple, Mediterranean fare in a coastal setting. There’s plenty of choice on the menu though to keep all types of tummies happy. Just keep that in mind when selecting your dishes.
There are some awkward lapses in service that I would credit to lost in translation. At times the service is slow, with the starters taking a long time to arrive. I expect that’s because Shimmers is packed out on a Thursday evening. On the upside, the team is highly perceptive and pick up on a belated birthday greeting, presenting me with a small cake at the end – a lovely surprise.
The setting and atmosphere at Shimmers is unbeatable. With both restaurant and lounge seating, the latter easily rivals the Jetty at One & Only Royal Mirage. And the food far outweighs it. Expect to pay AED300 per person for three courses (excluding alcohol), which is relatively reasonable for a five-star hotel location.
You’ll have to try Shimmers before the sizzling summer sets in though, as the al fresco-only setting come June will close for dinner, and only remain open for lunch (in swimmers I expect). Not many restaurants in Dubai manage to serve up tasty, intriguing and well-priced fare in an excellent location, with a wonderful, relaxed vibe – which Shimmers manages to conquer. Its only major disappointment are the service glitches, so for now, here’s to a 3.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.
What do you look for when deciding where to dine out?
— FooDiva (@FooDivaWorld) April 19, 2016