Rockfish: location, location and only location

View of Burj Al Arab from Rockfish - Dubai restaurants - Foodiva

The view from Rockfish

Rockfish, a “Mediterranean seafood” restaurant in the new Jumeirah Al Naseem is a classic example of a restaurant in Dubai that relies solely on a dashing location to attract mainly tourists.

The setting is a little set back from the beach, with Burj Al Arab towering above. Gorgeous by day and night. Rockfish’s main dining area boasts French windows that open out to a terraced deck, and a few low-level tables for sundowners. For an 8.30pm booking on a Thursday, we can pretty much pick our al fresco table, but the restaurant fills up by the end of our meal.

The menu starts off with a compelling ‘crudo’ raw seafood section, which in this case is essentially ceviche-cum-tiradito; moving onto salads and one appetiser; a couple of soups; oysters and a seafood platter; main courses; and three sharing dishes. It’s compact yet diverse to give diners enough choice.

A foccacia-style bread basket, which takes a while to rock up, in fact just before our first starter, is completely stale – what a waste of carbs. The ahi tuna crudo that arrives next is diced and mixed with a salsa verde and delicious whole caper berries. The tuna is soft and succulent, with a well balanced, exquisite dressing. It’s the only dish of the night that is well executed. On the other hand, our second starter, a tiger prawn crudo mixed with diced avocado, shredded green apple and red radish has an off-putting sour after taste.

Ahi tuna crudo - Rockfish - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaTiger prawn crudo - Rockfish - Dubai restaurants - Foodiva

Mixed seafood grill - Rockfish - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaOnto mains, a seafood mixed grill arrives with pomfret fillet, prawns, scallops and calamari – under-seasoned and forgettable. The accompanying tahini sauce is so watered down, it leaves a sesame residue. A small bowl of wild rice is pretty bland. Given Rockfish prides itself on serving “Mediterranean seafood” (according to its website), why not offer a display of fresh fish that diners can choose to have grilled, with a dash of olive oil and lemon dressing?

I order the red snapper tagine with braised fennel, peppers, Taggiasca olives and preserved lemon, partly because I am a sucker for anything Moroccan, but I also hope to be wowed by a mini earthenware tagine presentation, but oh no, it is served in classic white crockery. Why, oh why?! The menu may as well read ‘stew’. The local red snapper is so over-cooked it has curled and is completely chewy – in contrast to the undercooked potatoes. I doubt this dish is made as a tagine, but instead, each ingredient is cooked separately and tossed together at the last minute.

Red snapper tagine - Rockfish - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaExotic citrus pavlova - Rockfish - Dubai restaurants - Foodiva

With a sour taste, literally and metaphorically, I begrudgingly order a dessert to share for the sake of reviewing. The exotic citrus pavlova arrives as a stale meringue shell surrounded by diced compressed pineapple and a kumquat compote. When I crack open the meringue, I find some rather dry lemon curd with no sign of any whipped cream or the gooey centre that distinguishes a pavlova. It’s a dessert that is clearly prepped well in advance, and simply plated at the time of serving. So underwhelming.

The cocktail list has some interesting concoctions – my twist on a margarita with date honey and a sumac-salted rim is excellent, but expensive (starting price of AED65) – as is the Champagne and wine list.

Service is Rockfish’ one redeeming feature, and apart from a long delay with our starters, is efficient, friendly and knowledgeable. If you order the cheapest dishes, expect to pay a minimum of AED255, but on average, you’re looking at AED300 for three courses per person, which is on the high side.

Rockfish with its five-star location has the potential to mimic its neighbour and sibling Shimmers, but, bar one dish, the quality, execution, flavour and presentation of the food is poor. It looks like Jumeirah, with its vast spread of F&B, is only interested in targeting holidaymakers who will dine at most of its restaurants just once. The old hotelier mantra of ‘location, location, location’ is certainly important, but not at the expense of the food. This also brings up another argument that perhaps hoteliers should stick to running rooms and get the experts, i.e restaurateurs, to develop and operate restaurants. By all means, go to Rockfish for a sundowner cocktail, but eat at your peril. Here’s to a 2.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.

Do you think hotels would benefit by leasing out their outlets to home-grown restaurant groups and/ or imported brands? What al fresco restaurants with good food do you enjoy frequenting?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 2.5
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25 Responses to “Rockfish: location, location and only location”

  1. Dave Reeder February 6, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    And does nobody at Jumeirah do their research? Rockfish is the name of an established and successful chain of sustainable seafood restaurants in the West of England, involving Chef Mitch Tonks. If there is a link, then this sounds like a miscalculation; if not, then someone has slipped up. Why not just go old school and specialise in fish and chips? Ideal holiday food…

    • FooDiva February 7, 2017 at 11:51 am

      I guess they don’t do research Dave! The UK folks probably didn’t trademark Rockfish here. Agh, how I wish you could get fish and chips with vino on the beach. D&A at JBH does it though…not on the sand though.

      • Sally - My Custard Pie February 9, 2017 at 3:30 pm

        Hear, hear – good fish and chips with a reasonably priced bottle of white on the beach would be heaven.

  2. GA February 6, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you about outlets relying on their amazing location but not coming up with the goods when it comes to the actual food that is served. It is one of the main reasons I don’t visit any of them, apart from D&A and its amazing little terrace that has been in my heart for the last 18 years. Good food, good locations, good pricing structure. Run by a real manager with a proven track record in the food industry.

    That is not a tagine 😉

    Thanks for sharing.

    • FooDiva February 7, 2017 at 11:54 am

      It’s sad to see but I am finding more often than not, that the restaurants with a fab location are a let-down GA. The Atlantic at Souk Al Bahar is another disappointing one (review yet to go live). A safer bet is to choose restaurants with offputting locations, where they really have to focus on the food, otherwise no one would turn up! I haven’t tried D&A in a while, but I should make the effort to return.

      • Bee February 9, 2017 at 12:32 pm

        Have you tried Couqley in JLT, the absolute antidote to the overpriced 5* hotel restaurants. No location to speak off but a great atmosphere, well priced food and a couple of very decent bottles of wine for 89 dhs!! during 6-8 pm every day. We were there on a Tuesday night and the place was almost full. Ordered a bottle of very decent Merlot with some tasty little bites (homemade fois gras, strak tartare) and steak frites x2 for mains. Less than 500 dhs for two and a really well executed meal.

  3. GA February 7, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Often some of the best food I have eaten here is found in obscure back streets or buildings. Look forward to The Atlantic, had friends who went to their brunch and said it was good. You know my love affair of all things seafood! Thanks

  4. Dave Reeder February 9, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Thinking about your question concerning restauranteurs versus hotel managers running F&B outlets, I think the specific nature of the Dubai market has skewed the options over the years. If I think of two of my favourite places – Giorgio Locatelli’s in London and Pierre Gagnaire’s flagship outlet in Paris, both are located in hotels but you’d never know it. Separate entrances and identities for a start… In Dubai, most hotels are desperate to keep guests on the property to maximise the potential revenue and so, as we’ve seen over many years, they resort to gimmicks, to ‘everything for everybody’ F&B options and a drive for quantity over quality. It would be interesting to hear from you and your readers just how many of Dubai’s hotel-based restaurants would survive as complete standalones in the city, given a change (obviously) in the licensing laws. The reality, I think, is that the market is over-saturated with dining options and most residents, I think, fall into a comfortable routine of the same handful of places – I know I did. Of course, I was fortunate enough to work on magazines that covered the world of F&B so I was able, mostly free of charge, to try all sorts of places but I returned again and again as a paying customer where the focus was on great food and atmosphere and no gimmicks – I’m not going to single them all out, but I’m talking of outlets like The Ivy and Bice Mare… I believe Dubai needs more home-grown concepts – though I’m aware of the irony of just having singled out two imported brands! And, more than anything, it needs to be more adventurous in its food offerings. How many nation’s cuisines are just not represented in the city? An obvious example is Russia – lots of tourists from there but the only place I can think of is a cafe on Bank Street…

    • The Man in the White Hat February 9, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Dave, Mrs White Hat is Russian, and there are plenty of Russian (including Russian-oriented Central Asian) restaurants in Dubai if you know where to look; they just tend to be off the radar for westerners. There’s a substantial Russian expat community in Dubai (and a spacious Russian Orthodox church up the road in Sharjah), so it’s not just tourists that are being catered to. Oddly enough, given the Russian love of vodka, a lot of the Russian restaurants aren’t licenced – the Central Asian ones tend to be cheap and cheerful, though often serving up good food (we were fond of Uchkuduk opposite the Royal Meridien) – but between Tchaikovksy in the Marina and Suvuroff in JBR, for example, a range of markets is catered to. And your bling-craving oligarch (which definitely doesn’t describe Mrs White Hat) looking to munch on a side of sturgeon caviar can always rock up to the Tsar Imperial Brunch at the Vesna Restaurant and Lounge in the Conrad Dubai.

      As to your broader point about how many restaurants would survive outside of Dubai hotels… they clearly wouldn’t. There are roughly 2 million people in Dubai, but the percentage of the resident population that will want to eat in a licenced hotel restaurant is fairly small; it clearly won’t include your average South Asian labourer, and nationals tend to only go to the trendier high-end licenced venues in limited numbers (and obviously won’t be drinking). So much of the licenced restaurant trade is utterly dependent on tourists to remain in any way viable. Outside of the core tourist zones, DIFC has some very good licenced restaurants, but it’s often a ghost town at night; it’s a mystery to me how most of those restaurants can survive.

      • FooDiva February 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm

        So glad you pitched in with the Russian restaurants Mr White Hat. Now that Dubai has granted Russians visa-free entry, I expect we’ll see a few more pop up! Just on your point re DIFC, even La Petite Maison and Zuma which have been consistently busy since their openings, are now suffering, so we know the market is struggling.

    • FooDiva February 9, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      That’s my exact point Dave. I don’t think restaurants like this one would survive outside a hotel environment – unless they make some drastic changes quickly – which perhaps given the hotel GM emailed me to indicate that, perhaps they will. It was mostly packed with tourists.

      I do think the market is saturated and will become even more so by 2020 if the openings schedule continues as predicted (total of 19,000 outlets). Completely agree we need more new home-grown licensed concepts, but I actually think we have every cuisine under the sun represented here and what is lacking is a new Q’bara – a modern take on Middle Eastern cuisine with booze. That’s what residents and tourists should be seeking when in Dubai. When in France, you crave French food, not Japanese…or Russian. So it should be the same here…we should be showcasing food from this region.

      By the way The Ivy has closed down 🙁 Bice Mare is still going, but they tried to change it to a tapas-like concept which didn’t work so I understand they have reverted back to traditional white tablecloth dining.

  5. Sally - My Custard Pie February 9, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    The problem with leasing is that the hotel usually levies a fee on all f&b so these are more expensive. If they came to fairer agreement I’d be in favour

    • FooDiva February 9, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Sally, do you mean the menu prices are more expensive in leased out hotel restaurants, versus hotel managed outlets? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. The restaurants at Grosvenor House and JW Marriott Marquis are two examples of a mix of hotel-managed and third party concepts, but the pricing is similar (excluding the all day dining restaurant), in fact more competitive at the leased out restaurants! I do think wine lists are more expensive though as they are having to buy their alcohol through the hotel which means a double mark up for the consumer 🙁

      • Sally - My Custard Pie February 9, 2017 at 4:35 pm

        It’s the alcohol primarily – this is very evident at the Jumeirah vs non Jumeirah outlets in Madinat

        • FooDiva February 9, 2017 at 4:36 pm

          And Souk Al Bahar outlets (versus the Palace hotel)!

  6. JayEim February 9, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Hang on a cotton pickin minute.

    I like hotel restaurants. They are very entertaining as reading their menus is hilarious.

    On the positive side, I learn languages and food appellations.

    I did not know that “taggiasca olives.” are simply black olives! Who cares from where they come from unless a certificate of provenance and bill of lading is included.

    I did not know that Portulak is in fact Purslane or in our lingo Bakleh…..Dohhhhh!

    They also invent new words soon to be approved by the Académie Goncourt, such as “Sautéed”.

    Nevermind that “Moule Marinière” Moules should be plural unless they are serving one single Moule!

    and “Pastéis” is a tart all da way from Portugal thank you very much. Now I know what to order when in Portugal.

    I think all is very entertaining and I guess some people are ready to pay for it.

    At least you eat their fodder with a rictus on your face.

    Yeahhh, Google Rictus bruv 😉

    • FooDiva February 11, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Good to have you back Jay :))

  7. Chef and Steward February 9, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    Yikes!

    Looks like all the attention is paid on the appearance of the food as well and not the taste. A bit like all the obsessively highlighting and contouring in the beauty blogging business these days. Happy the GM has promised to overhaul.

    • FooDiva February 11, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Am not sure presentation played a role in the so-called ‘tagine’! But yes, the other dishes were well presented. Let’s see how it fares once some changes are made.

  8. FoodSheikh February 10, 2017 at 9:03 am

    I think the challenge with hotel run F&B is this – The success of restaurants rely so heavily on the consistent drive and commitment of the team, especially the management team. This is a long term strategy (not just the three-month honeymoon post opening) that involves marrying the team with the culture or DNA of the space. The key word here is ownership.

    Successful restaurants, like Zuma, LPM, The Maine or Nola & Mythos have committed, loyal investors and management that “own” their operations. There is a significant difference in how an F&B director, who is eyeing the next post or promotion views the hotel’s restaurants and how an investor or manager/owner, who is eyeing his or her financial responsibilities to the team, views his or her restaurant. Huge difference. Bigly. And it shows .

    Gosh, I’m exhausted. I’m going to lie down now.

    • FooDiva February 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      Indeed very true Food Sheikh, and why I feel restaurateurs tend to get it right, more so than hoteliers. Even though they often cock it up too! Having said that, there are a few hotel run restaurants, (with some from Jumeirah too) that do get it right. In both cases, the ownership and passion has to filter through from the GM to the F&B director to the restaurant manager – plus the exec chef to chef de cuisine and so on. That’s the only way restaurants will succeed. I might go for a snooze now 😉

  9. Josh February 15, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Sam, spot on… What I wouldn’t give for a half decent site with a half decent deal so I could serve the public at a half decent price.. It would be a win for all, but the folks with the real estate don’t ever see it…. I’ve had conversations, no one see’s the long game in this country..

    • FooDiva February 16, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks Josh. Interesting about the long term vision, and a sign that Dubai’s restaurant scene is very fickle perhaps? I guess it’s ultimately about finding the right investors that believe in your vision and can convince the real estate guys – don’t give up 🙂

      • Josh February 16, 2017 at 5:12 pm

        Long vision is about skin in the game for me, that is left to too few in my opinion… If rents where reasonable, it would be a game changer…

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