We want to love Asado, with its all-too-elusive impeccable service. The décor, too, does an authentic impression of an Argentine steakhouse: brick walls drenched generously in a snug glow (and a view of Burj Khalifa doesn’t hurt). However it falls at the final hurdle, where good but not great food comes at a hefty price. There’s an array of bona fide Argentine beef available, and Asado takes pains to explain traditional methods of cooking it. The staff are well-versed in the cuisine and offer personable conversation. Starters maintain the promise: ceviche is appropriately zingy and portions are liberal, while king crab and pumpkin soup proves thickly luxurious. More disappointing are the mains. Discerning carnivores will find the cuts satisfying more than sublime; tender, but not brimming with flavour. For the price we're paying we want sublime.
The Palace, Old Town (04 428 7888).
This fine steakhouse on the uppermost floor of Jumeirah Beach Hotel is so dedicated to creating its South American sass that a pair of tango dancers accompanies your meal, whether you like it or not. The warmth of its Argentine dark woods and reds extends to the staff, who are friendly, just the right kind of attentive and well-versed in the menu – essential here, as there a few items that go unexplained, (would a rookie know what cassava is without asking, for example? It’s fried yucca). The usual chorizo and empanadas are safe bets for starters, although a cheese fondue packed with chili makes for a rewarding risk. Mains straddle the line between ‘good’ and ‘great’. The Argentine tenderloin is an acceptably tender cut, but doesn’t hit the high notes of the sublime steaks we’ve sampled in Argentina itself; still, it’s among the better moments for meat-lovers in Dubai. Sides veer away from the steakhouse’s standard fries and onion rings into more traditional territory, such as creamy mash with fava beans and suitably crunchy cassava. Unexpectedly, where La Parilla really excels is the fish – the best meal we sampled here was a sweetly nuanced light hunk of seabass, paired with a silky pumpkin mash. You’ll pay the price for a good meal here, but avoid the wagyu and it’s actually one of the more reasonable swish joints around town.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 348 0000).
The rather sedate atmosphere, lack of customers and formal setting of this restaurant sadly don’t exactly scream out ‘Latin America’. The décor is impressive; dark wood tables encircle a dramatic central staircase that dominates the room. Pleasingly, the concise and lively menu is very much Latino. Despite finding the usual Central American suspects of tacos and burritos, this restaurant goes beyond the Latin American cliché. The tapas concept with many of the starters works well. We recommend the trio of Argentine empanadas: sweetcorn, lamb and beef. As for your mains, you can choose from parrilladas or combination mixed grills, some reasonably priced wagyu, or be adventurous and opt for a speciality dish, such as the Patagonian-style lamb (highly recommended). The meat is consistently good, and the presentation flawless. Be prepared for epic portion sizes though! Unfortunately, the swift service is let down by less-than-knowledgeable waiters, although we can’t rate the sommelier highly enough. There’s no questioning Latino House’s culinary credentials – what a shame then, it just needs South American soul.
Al Murooj Rotana (04 321 1111).
When it comes to Mexican restaurants, many places usually serve sub-standard fare, where you expect some greasy fast food option slapped onto a plate. This is where cool bar-restaurant Loca differs. Start with the house guacamole, which the waiter makes right in front of you and can adjust with a varying degree of spice, according to your taste. Their huge baskets of light, crunchy nachos, which are miles away from the heavy cardboard affair you find in UAE cinemas, are the things to dive into. For something more substantial, the seafood fajitas are another great option, with the lobster cooked to perfection. Perch on high stools and at large wooden tables amongst glass feature walls filled with empty bottles and take in the modern, exposed brick work and brushed steel decor, or watch the silent black n' white movies screened on the walls – this is a modern Mexican bar, where you’re just as likely to find dressed-up girls sipping the bar’s signature mixed drinks as much as a bunch of lads tucking into one of the midweek ribs n’ drinks deals. With the portions large and the menu extensive, Loca offers plenty of choice, whether you’re after a tasty bar nibble or a more stomach-lining affair.
Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa (04 346 1111).
Newcomers to Dubai will find Malecon a refreshing change from the overly-opulent norm, with its copious images of Che Guevara, Cuban cigars and vintage posters. Those who’ve been here a while will know it for its extreme air-conditioning, poor acoustics and extortionate meal prices. However, following a recent visit, we found some impressive renovations (the big bar has been shifted to the side of the room, leaving more space at the centre) that seem to have made a difference on the general, dare we say it, feng shui of the place. As an in-house band plays alongside you, take a seat in the allocated ‘restaurant area’ of the bar and dig into the gigantic steaks, fresh fish dishes (we particularly liked the hammour wrapped in banana leaf) as well as tacos and soups. While we still think we’d prefer to come here for a drink and a skit of salsa, dining here is becoming an increasingly
Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa, Jumeirah (04 346 1111).
Maria Bonita’s' independent air, its bright and colourful décor, slightly battered Mexican finishes and extended alfresco seating area give it promise. Could this be another little out-of-the-way treasure, like Thai restaurant Smiling BKK, you wonder, as you pick a pew. The service is the first indication that this might not be the case. The servers seem a little tired, a little bored, and we soon realise that’s the feeling underlying the entire restaurant. An impressive number of variations on Mexican cuisine are included on the menu: enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, non-alcoholic magheritas and more. On arrival, each is served up in vast portions, yet the food is so greasy and heavy it’s nigh on impossible to finish a whole dish, and much easier to give up and go within an hour or so. Maria Bonita’s: pick up the pace and you’ll become a neighbourhood gem once more – and then maybe you can reopen the fast-food spin-off located in Media City, currently closed, with a sad poncho covering the till.
Umm Al Sheif Street, Jumeirah (04 395 5576).
Maya: This upmarket Mexican is a mission to find, but it’s a mission worth accomplishing: walk the winding paths through Le Royal Méridien’s gardens and myriad pool bars and you’ll eventually stumble upon the elegant Maya – its crisp white interior being your first clue that this ain’t no ordinary Mexican. It’s sophistication over sombreros, whilst the tacos are packed with lobster, not beef, and a starter of peppers stuffed with scallops and cheese, smothered in a thick, heavenly black bean sauce, sends people into raptures. Maya is also one of the few places brave enough to serve mole pablano – chicken in chocolate sauce, essentially – and the rendition of the dish is a delight, sneaking in just enough fire to balance the sweetness of swathes of sinfully dark cocoa. Although you might expect red meat to be the must-order at any South American eatery, (althoughwe were underwhelmed by the slightly dry short rib), but the menu here is far too exciting to stick to the usual suspects, and we’d advise you explore. Efficient service and prices that provide a light punch to the wallet over a full-scale knockout ensure that Maya is among our favourite spots for some Latin flavour in Dubai, it's easily one of the most exciting and dining experiences you'll find in the city.
Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa (04 399 5555).
Pachanga not only serves up juicy, succulent meat, but does so with personality. You can even burn off the beef with a salsa lesson if you're there on a Wednesday. If hip shimmying is not your thing, we advise you enjoy one of its churrasco nights instead. Settle into the warm, pleasantly buzzing restaurant, with atmosphere provided by live Spanish songs and good conversation, and enjoy a complimentary mixed drink. The starter buffet is where you first realise you’re going to need to be rolled out the door for your Dhs175. Next to light salads and fresh prawn cocktail and smoked salmon sit trays of melt-in-the-mouth barbecued beef ribs, succulent pork belly and spicy pork sausage. It’s a meat-lovers’ dream. As soon as you get back to the table, the staff ply you with bread, chips, mushrooms, amuse-bouches and more. It’s tempting to gorge yourself there and then, but you should hold out as the next round is skewers of steak, sawn off onto your plate and accompanied with mustard and pepper sauces. There is a dessert buffet too, complete with a the standard requesite white and milk chocolate fountain, cakes and fruit. Although it’s not exactly cheap, this is one of the best value dinner deals in town.
Hilton Dubai Jumeirah (04 399 1111).