A maiden dining journey that is all style and no substance

Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - FooDiva

View from Maiden Shanghai’s rooftop terrace

A new homegrown Chinese restaurant, Maiden Shanghai at the Viceroy Palm Jumeirah, is a classic example of a Dubai restaurant that is all style and no substance.

It officially opened on the 4th May, but first piqued my interest in early April, when my Instagram timeline started to clutter with photos from ‘influencers’ and media personalities raving about their invited experience. It always worries me when captions shower praise only, with no sign of negativity. But it must be ready for review, surely, if so many people are being invited? So I make a dinner reservation for the 11th May.

My all style reference pays homage to a gorgeous and inviting interior that is far from traditional Chinese, but more colonial with a neutral yet warm colour palette. Think vintage-like chandeliers and decorative lanterns. Built on four levels; the first as we enter is the bar, which is too smokey to enjoy an aperitif. How I wish smoking laws would change here. Upstairs is a split-level roof terrace with beautiful panoramic views of the Dubai Marina skyline  – great for sundowners when the weather cools down. In the ‘basement’, down some steep (ladies, beware with high heels) but photogenic stairs (noted on an Instagram snap) is the dining room and a small lounge – an intimate, cosy space with sultry lighting. Maiden Shanghai, even when empty oozes atmosphere; something many restaurants struggle to achieve here.

We are shown to a table sandwiched between two others, yet only Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - Foodivaa couple of tables are occupied at this stage (filling up nicely later). I point to another, more private table with a column for company instead and we are ‘permitted’ to swop. This is a Dubai pet peeve of mine; restaurants like to save the ‘better’ tables for walk-in VIPs or, in this case, perhaps the invited elite.

The cocktail list, which we have to ask for, is one of Dubai’s most inspiring, with a carefully crafted selection boasting quirky names starting at AED60. It’s a shame the team does not actively sell it. I opt for a tequila (Herradura Reposado) concoction by the name of Five-clawed Dragon – with passion fruit, fresh lime, goji berries, and my all-time favourite cocktail ingredient, egg white. So good I order seconds. My dining companion chooses a bourbon-based Peking Sour, followed by the Nine-tailed Fox with gin – both excellent mixes. We ignore the prohibitively expensive wine list.

Our waiter explains that the menu takes inspiration from four types of Chinese cuisine – the most prolific is Cantonese (southern Guandong region), followed by Sichuan (west), as well as dishes from the cities of Shanghai and Beijing (think Peking duck priced at an extortionate AED580 for a whole duck, and AED380 for half). Instead of identifying the regional origins of each dish which would be educational, they are all mixed together in the menu engineering.

Salt and pepper squid - Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaTurnip puffs - Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - Foodiva

Kai lan and egg fried rice - Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaOur two starters from the hot section arrive pretty quickly. The salt and pepper squid whilst tender and punchy is more greasy than crispy. The turnip puffs with its crisp, shredded pastry and a sprinkling of sugar is the only star (and moreish) dish of the night. And subsequently our meal starts to go downhill, lacking any substance to reflect the stylish decor.

Stir-fried kai lan and egg fried rice are served as accompaniments to our two main courses which fail to arrive at the same time. Half an hour later, after we have eaten these two dishes, I complain not once, but twice, and only then is a mistake acknowledged, despite the fact that plenty of waiters are hanging round, ignoring us. The dishes eventually arrive. Braised chicken thigh with Tai Diao (rice) wine sauce is swimming with ginger, garlic and shallots, but we can count the morsels of chicken. Shocking considering the AED186 price tag. A steamed deboned snapper with black bean sauce, and an after-taste is the size of a quarter of a fillet – another pricey dish at AED180. Note, these are two of the cheapest mains on the menu.

Braised chicken thigh with Tai Diao wine sauce - Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaSteamed deboned snapper with black bean sauce - Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - Foodiva

Desserts - Maiden Shanghai - Dubai restaurants - FoodivaIt gets worse. There’s no dessert menu, we are told, because the kitchen is still fine tuning it, but they can serve some dessert specials. Why open if you’re not ready then? We are offered two on the house – a matcha tea tiramisu and a mandarin mousse exemplify Maiden Shanghai’s ‘fridge to table’ principle. The former inedible; the latter not bad, partly because we’re hungry.

Eventually the customer service recovery kicks in with one head waiter and, separately, the restaurant manager popping over to apologise profusely and acknowledge the mistakes, recognising the small portions and the over-priced dishes. Our food bill, but oddly bar one pricey AED70 (!) kai lan dish (we order a second to mop up our mains) is not charged. We pay for the cocktails – fair enough.

I post a snippet on social media (Instagram and Facebook) a couple of days later, as I normally do after reviewing restaurants – and this generates an influx of comments including one from Maiden Shanghai who respond in text-book fashion, pointing out that both the portion sizes and prices are being addressed.

Based on the current menu (and an estimate for the price of desserts), expect to pay a minimum of AED350 per person without alcohol, which makes Maiden Shanghai one of Dubai’s most expensive restaurants. Even though I think Dubai seriously needs to drop its restaurant prices to bring it on par with major global cities, in the meantime, if I have to pay top whack, I expect excellence across the whole dining experience. But at Maiden Shanghai, both food and service seriously disappoint. The only things going for it are the décor, atmosphere and cocktail list. A maiden dining journey that is all style and no substance.

It feels like we’re dining on a trial run. We leave disappointed…and hungry. I appreciate everyone makes mistakes, but when you see so many people raving about a restaurant online, it leaves a rather sour taste. What’s crystal clear is that Maiden Shanghai is not ready, yet the operators are forced to open, by the owners I expect, who are itching to see a return on investment. Well I hope this review acts as a reminder that such a short-sighted strategy simply does not work. Here’s to a poor 2 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.

Do you think restaurants should invite guests for dinner in exchange for social media coverage before officially opening?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 2
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16 Responses to “A maiden dining journey that is all style and no substance”

  1. Drina May 24, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I visited there last weekend,
    Strangely the same ordeal. The cocktail list was asked at least 3 times, from which I gathered that they probably haven’t printed enough. And guess what- they also have a Dim Sum menu- only found out about it coz I asked why there was only 1 dim sum on the main menu. No one mentioned a peep about dim sum before then.

    I loved the cocktails! inventive and the only saving grace.

    I thought the dim sums were pretty good- but ranging from 60aed and upwards for 3 dumplings is a tad pricey!!

    We ended up paying roughly 450aed per person for a couple dimsums, 1 main and a cocktail.

    • FooDiva May 24, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      Gosh Drina you think they would have learnt from my experience. You’re right about the dim sum menu. From what I can see online, they prefer to promote it for lunch only (presume you were there for dinner?). Yikes that’s expensive! Let’s hope they stick to their word and drop those prices pronto.

      • Drina May 25, 2017 at 9:46 am

        I was there for lunch! When asked for the menu, it sounded like it was burried in the deep corners of the restaurant as staff fumbled to get (perhaps the only) menu.
        Those prices are ridiculous! Did they say they were adjusting their price-point?

        • FooDiva May 25, 2017 at 11:05 am

          OMG that’s incredulous! Dim sum in China is a lunchtime affair and they didn’t promote the menu – what a lost opportunity 🙁 Yes they confirmed the prices were being reduced on social media (IG and FB) when I posted my first photo a couple of days later.

  2. Dave Reeder May 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Dhs 580 for a chicken dish? Someone is having a laugh… What always amazes me is that most Chinese food, like Indian food and, indeed, most South-East Asian food is cheap. It’s food for the masses created out of cheap and not always plentiful ingredients. The same, of course, for the cuisine of somewhere in Europe like Italy where only extravagant ingredients like truffles or high quality beef push the price up. It would perhaps be instructive to get a friendly chef on board and say, “Look these are the ingredients we had – what’s the food cost and what’s a reasonable mark-up?” Of course, in Dubai, all too often you’re paying for location…

    • FooDiva May 24, 2017 at 3:22 pm

      Spot on Dave. I struggled to keep the word count down in this review, but in my Instagram/ Facebook posts, I did allude to the fact that I can get better and cheaper Chinese take-away. It seems they spent more money on the interior, than the kitchen or the service – how very typical of Dubai.

  3. GA May 24, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Why am I not surprised? its all about money. Instagram is a good tool when used correctly the PR Companies are not evaluating the quality of the people they are inviting to these events. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that all of them don’t have a bit of savvy or a food background, or even a good palette for that matter. As long as they invite people purely based on how many fake or genuine follower they have they will continue to have this problem. On this occasion their little plan appears to have failed nicely, in one clear swoop from someone who does know what they are talking about.

    Well done Foodiva

    GA x

    • FooDiva May 24, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks GA. Valid point. The overriding issue with these freebie invites is that currently we have no disclosure laws here in the UAE, even though I understand the media council is being lobbied to implement these asap. So from a reader’s perspective, they don’t know if someone is on an invite, a sponsored post, or has genuinely paid for their meal. You and I can tell because we know who is posting and how they work, but the majority of readers are none the wiser – and that’s so unfair because they are being misled by the restaurants and their PRs. I live in hope that honesty is the best policy. x

  4. Matt Broderick May 24, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I loved reading this and I think you have the tone spot on – with enough positives in there to provide balance. I think we have had this conversation before; why do places like this not get the likes of you (or similar people) to come in and give a critical view in advance? If I opened a restaurant tomorrow, I would be paying you to test-drive my menu, for sure.

    Once the public realise who the ‘real’ critics are, they will also be able to identify which restaurants really are worth the trip. I would be raging if I spent that much money for that experience (as I was recently at a well-established venue). As you said, I hope these owners learn their lesson.

    Matt

    • FooDiva May 24, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Thank you Matt. Yes they should do that, as long as I can still go in anon! And provide feedback privately after. It’s a little like mystery shopper experiences, which sadly not many restaurants seem to invest in nowadays. On your second point, see my response to GA above. On a positive slant, I do have a loyal following, as does each of my guest reviewers, who do turn to us when deciding where to dine out. Long may that continue 🙂

  5. Caroline Rowe May 25, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Ouch! Sounds like the place has got it all wrong – pricing, the kitchen and most of all the service. I think the hotel is utterly beautiful, but I’ll stick to cocktails and dine elsewhere….

    • FooDiva May 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Agree on the hotel’s interior Caroline. The exterior doesn’t do it justice, but as soon as you walk in…oh my it took my breath away. They seem to have focused their investment in the decor instead of the kitchen and front of house. Maiden Shanghai’s rooftop will be a great sundowner spot when the weather cools down. They also have an Italian restaurant but I daren’t try it!

  6. Nour May 25, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I always appreciate your truthful dining experience! Looks are always deceiving in pictures!

    • FooDiva May 26, 2017 at 8:48 am

      Thanks Nour. I have come to the conclusion that a good Instagram photo usually equates to a negative dining experience! They say a picture tells a thousand words, but I’d rather read the thousand words 😉

  7. AJ May 30, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Wow!! ? Sounds pricey and pretty painful!! Glad that our “invite” must have been lost in the post…hopefully they will take you up on some of your constructive critique. A hotel that beautiful deserves the food to match!

    • FooDiva May 31, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Well I was hoping they would stick to their word AJ, and to start with, reduce their prices – but not as far as am aware! You’re right the property is gorgeous.

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