Caramel Restaurant & Lounge
A slick new after-hours bar makes Time Out proud to be grown-up 17 Reviews
The three-course business lunch at this DIFC spot gives guests a choice of signature dishes from the menu. Dhs89 Timings: 11am-3pm (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday)
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It’s easy to understand why some sweet-toothed patrons may find Caramel disappointing. Despite the name, it’s not a sugar-shack; instead it positions itself as a purring after-work lounge. The place is a Las Vegas export, and as such you’d expect something flashy and ostentatious. Defiantly eschewing the stereotype, Caramel is a sophisticated, low-lit, low-key affair with a long central bar that demands mingling. My date and I chose to eat on the outdoor terrace, which was walled with cool horizontal blinds and kitted out with matching stiff-if-sleek seating. It felt a little like eating inside a bento box, albeit one filled with greenery.
Dubai’s food scene can often feel overwrought; Caramel’s chilled-out approach made it a rare treat. The service was cooing without feeling strained, the interior was attractive without the use of gold or glitz, and the food was delectable without drowning in foie gras, caviar or truffles (although there was the occasional use of truffle oil). Take, for instance, my date’s starter: gently seasoned, dewy chicken mince served alongside neat little cups made from iceberg lettuce and a sultry plum sauce. This Korean-inspired dish was brilliantly simple and easy-going, the ingredients gelling like old university buddies.
My order of mini mango and lobster tacos was less neat, but more refreshing. The shellfish took on the characteristic of a well-made ceviche, thanks in part to a lime marinade, and a sprinkling of coriander added to the luscious zest of the dish. I soon learned the importance of cradling my hand underneath each taco – the filling seemed far too eager to leap out onto my lap (making me also realise that good napkins are vastly underappreciated).
Mains were less inventive, but no less worthy of praise. My date’s salmon was saturated in its own juices. A minor qualm: it was a touch oily (even for salmon). Still, it was fresh and saline and tasted as though it had swum directly onto the plate. Accentuating the fillet’s clean taste was a light white bean side.
I had opted for a rich and massive portion of lamb shank. The meat cowered under my cutlery and slid off the bone as if its fate were to dissolve on my tongue, alongside a comforting heap of lentil ragout.
In what surely must come as a shock to my colleagues, who were hoping Caramel would serve, well, some caramel, there were only three dessert options: apple crumble, chocolate fondant and sorbet. Assorted sorbet barely counts as a dessert, so my date and I ordered the two remaining options left to us. The crumble was a delightfully homely affair. It came served in a small cast-iron dish with a side of ice cream. No wheel reinvention here, just a delightfully cinnamon-fuelled concoction with a buttery topping. The ever-classic fondant was good, if predictable: the belly of the beast oozed dark chocolate and a scoop of mild cappuccino ice cream served the pudding well. I wouldn’t have objected to a tad more innovation from the pastry chef, but both desserts remained a treat to eat.
Aside from a long wait for the bill at the night’s end and a few frisky mosquitoes, our experience at Caramel was serene and lovely. It’s definitely an adult place: you’ll find no merry revellers here. But that’s what makes it so refreshing. It’s somewhere you can meet up with co-workers over a drink and a bar snack, or take a date for a home-style meal. It’s the type of place that makes us glad we’re not teenagers any more. Maturity never tasted so good.
The bill (for two)
1x Large bottle of water Dhs26
1x Lettuce cups Dhs60
1x Lobster tacos Dhs75
1x Salmon Dhs110
1x Lamb shank Dhs110
1x Chocolate fondant Dhs34
1x Crumble Dhs34
Municipality charge Dhs44.90
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