Is Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera a tourist trap?

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera - Dubai restaurants - FooDivaChef Sean Connolly you might ask, as did I…who is he? I only came across this Yorkshire expat when I ate in one of his Sydney restaurants, The Morrison, a no-frills gastro-pub and oyster bar last December. He’s made his name in New Zealand and Australia through five restaurants and endless telly work – but he’s not a world-recognised name. So to hear that he was helming the flagship restaurant atop Dubai Opera caught me by surprise. That coupled with my low expectations (I envisaged an overrated tourist trap like Atmosphere that rides solely on location), didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. But I was pleasantly surprised from the moment I walked in on a Thursday evening.

First impressions always count, and ‘wow’ is what I uttered when faced with a large contemporary brasserie that was buzzing with activity despite the lack of diners. It got busier as the evening progressed. At just after 8pm, we had missed the pre-theatre crowd, but three different bars serving cocktails (the Pearl island bar is inspired by Sean’s signature oyster ingredient); raw seafood; and a grill created pockets of interest. It’s rare for restaurants to claim atmosphere when not particularly busy, but Sean Connolly’s ticks that box. When the rooftop terrace opens, you’ll get Burj Khalifa views. The DJ music was a little loud on arrival (a pet peeve), but as soon as we were seated, the volume was magically reduced, almost on cue, to a nostalgic, acoustic playlist that is apparently influenced by Sean’s youth.

The wine list is expensive with the cheapest bottle of red starting at well over AED400. We settled on a glass each of Australian Shiraz (Gamekeeper’s) for AED65 (near US$18). According to Vivino a bottle retails at half that price – just under US$9! Alcohol is heavily taxed here, but this mark-up is ludicrous, even by Dubai standards, so I hope Emaar reads this review and adjusts the pricing.

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera - prawn cocktail and duck liver parfait - Dubai restaurants - FooDivaThe menu describes itself simply as “steak and seafood” with a raw bar selection, oysters and sashimi included; starters; main courses; and grills. The prawn cocktail from the raw selection boasted three juicy tiger king prawns dressed with a gorgeous, smooth cocktail sauce atop a bed of crispy lettuce – a little tricky to mix together in the small bowl though. The duck liver parfait served in a jar from the ‘entrees’ was velvety smooth with a hint of sweetness from the jelly. Simply decadent smothered with salty butter on sour dough toast, and a side of pickled gherkins. So deliciously good, the waitress offered to bring us more toast to polish it off.

Onto mains, and a mammoth portion of fish and chips. The cod was encased in a beautiful crispy batter (apparently cooked in duck fat) that benefitted from seasoning with drizzles of malt vinegar and a squeeze of lemon. It sat on a bed of crushed minty peas, a much more refined version of traditional mushy peas. The chips disappointed though – I was hoping for double or triple fried, but these were undercooked and lacked a crispy texture.

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera - fish and chips - Dubai restaurants - FooDivaSean Connolly at Dubai Opera - fish and chips - Dubai restaurants - FooDiva

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera - grandma's carrots - Dubai restaurants - FooDivaA 3-point rack of tender Welsh lamb cutlets from the grill section was cooked pink as requested with the fat wonderfully caramelised – accompanied by a mild, textural mint sauce. Two side dishes – ‘grandma’s’ carrots and creamed spinach were probably some of the best I have ever tasted in a Dubai restaurant. The carrots in particular were so soft (far from al dente) oozing with lashings of butter, sea salt and fresh herbs.

We both struggled to choose from the dessert menu. There’s a choice of seven dishes (one of which is French cheese – hoorah!), but nothing appealed. I appreciate I don’t have a sweet tooth, but my dining companion does. A semi freddo; opera cake; cherry sorbet; trifle; panna cotta; and chocolate bark is hardly enticing. We settled on the latter, and what arrived was literally jagged slivers of dark chocolate, and separately, white chocolate, all baked with candied fruit and nuts. Gorgeous, but essentially a twist on petit fours that I begrudged paying AED50 for.

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera - chocolate bark - Dubai restaurants - FooDivaThe service from the outset was excellent – friendly, intuitive and casual in a good effortless manner. Just one quibble on the lack of menu knowledge – I tested two waiters on the species of fish (in the fish and chips), and only one was correct. The price point is high at AED400 per person without alcohol. You would do well to eat there before 7.30pm, ordering from the AED195 three course pre-theatre menu. Otherwise you are paying for the high profile location, but at least Sean Connolly manages, overall, to get the food right with simple, fuss-free, flavoursome dishes. Some rethinking from the pastry chef would help formulate a more compelling dessert selection. The atmosphere is a huge winner making it a restaurant that I will most definitely return to, even without a theatre booking. Thankfully, Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera shows no signs of being a tourist trap. Here’s to a 3.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.

What other restaurants combine a great location with atmosphere, good food and service? Are you familiar with Sean Connolly and his ventures?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

Chef Sean Connolly you might ask, as did I…who is he? I only came across this Yorkshire expat when I ate in one of his Sydney restaurants, The Morrison, a no-frills gastro-pub and oyster bar last December. He’s made his name in New Zealand and Australia through five restaurants and endless telly work – but he’s not a world-recognised name. So to hear that he was helming the flagship restaurant atop Dubai Opera caught me by surprise. Is @seanconnollydubai a tourist trap that rides solely on its location? Find out in my review now live (see link in profile) – and swipe for more photos of the food and interior. Are you familiar with Sean Connolly and his ventures? ??#foodivareviews #foodiva @chefseanconnolly

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FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3.5
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4 Responses to “Is Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera a tourist trap?”

  1. Jodie Reynolds September 28, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Hi Foodiva,

    Sean Connolly may not be an international name, yet, but he is an incredible chef!!!!!!

    He is a legend in Melbourne, Australia – every restaurant he creates is unique, exceptional and delicious!

    The old Dubai was about ‘FOLLOWING” & brand by association – ‘world recognised names and products, the new Dubai is about ‘LEADING’ ‘discovering new names and products’ both abroad and regionally.

    Sean Connolly’s food is divine – he makes real food for real people.

    His restaurant fitouts are contemporary and comfortable and invite people to share and enjoy not only the food but each others company.

    He is respectful of the produce he works with and creates a memorable dining experience that is worth sharing with others.

    I can’t wait to dine there.

    J.

    • FooDiva October 18, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Apologies for the late reply Jodie…your comment ended up in spam! Glad to hear you wax lyrical about Sean Connolly. He messaged me privately through FooDiva’s FB page to thank me for the constructive feedback. Not many chefs take the time to do so, especially busy travelling chefs! Did you manage to dine there?

  2. Christiane October 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Hello, just wanted to give you a quick feedback on our pre-theater dinner at Dubai opera last night. As you’ve already said, the place is wow, and once the weather cools down and you can sit on the terrace, the view from the open roof looking up to the Burj Khalifa is absolutely stunning. I ordered a three course pre-theater dinner and my husband ordered from the à la carte menu. My kingfish ceviche was delicious, the steamed sea bream and eggplant caponata a delight, and the lemon tart totally out of this world – the best I’ve ever eaten. My husband’s king crab soup was tasty, the crab linguini very creamy (maybe a bit too strong of a taste) , and a mouth watering panna cotta with passion fruit. The service was impeccable. We found the price for individual dishes on the menu on the very steep side (his total 340 dhs , but the pre-theater dinnner a great value for money (195dhs). And then you add the wines ! Would definitely go back for pre-theater!

    • FooDiva October 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      Ooh interesting you had a lemon tart Christiane. I wonder if that’s also now on the regular a la carte. Sean did take my dessert feedback into consideration, so I hope the choices have been tweaked 🙂

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