Ramadan is a difficult time for a restaurant reviewer. There are no new openings to speak of, and most venues forego their usual menus in favour of iftars. In this respect, the opening of the Asiana Hotel and its food and beverage outlets proved to be a blessing; I’ve had a new venue to visit each week, enough to tide me over until September breathes new life into the dormant scene.

My third visit to Deira in as many weeks was perhaps the most exciting. Having already enjoyed the hearty Korean offerings of Sonamu and been underwhelmed by Hanabi, I couldn’t wait to get to high-end Filipino outlet Lamesa. My past experiences of Filipino food have been wholly enjoyable (most notably at Grill Corner in Satwa) and I was looking forward to trying a high-end take on this hearty cuisine, which combines different culinary traditions of South-East Asia with a dash of European influence. Besides, high-end Filipino restaurants are hard to come by in Dubai (ie there aren’t any).

My excitement soon turned to confusion and, ultimately, disillusion. Having expected Filipino fine dining (the hotel had even called me earlier in the day to inform me of the dress code – no flip flops), I found myself standing in a room that looked suspiciously like a buffet restaurant. In fact, it was a buffet restaurant.

I’d been hoodwinked. But all was not lost – aside from the smattering of generic Asian dishes (sushi, fried rice, and sweet and sour prawns), Lamesa’s buffet focused predominantly on Filipino fare. My spirits were further lifted when the waiter told me a live band and Filipino comedians would perform once Ramadan was over. Lamesa might not have been the fine dining experience I was hoping for, but it had character in spades.

I set about the buffet with a spring in my step, ignoring the requisite cold meats and pickles, heading instead to the beef kare-kare. Though I claim to like Filipino food, I don’t claim to be an expert, so I was unaware that the yellow, curry-like sauce and cuts of meat that I piled onto my plate were a variation of oxtail stew. I wasn’t ready for the slippery, gristly texture of the tail and was unable to finish my ambitious portion. I felt as though I’d let myself down and put my lack of appetite down to cultural differences – I’m not saying the beef kare-kare was bad; it just wasn’t for me.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Having guiltily pushed my half-full plate of beef kare-kare to one side, I was still excited by the prospect of trying more exotic, unfamiliar Filipino fare. At the far end of the dining room was a long table featuring sizzling sisig and crispy pata, both Pinoy favourites. I soon learned that sisig, served on a sizzling hot plate, consisted of finely diced pieces of pork (namely the head and liver).

While I’m always game for eating weird and wonderful foods, my reaction to the sisig was similar to the kare-kare – I just couldn’t stomach the contrasting textures of liver, gristle and soft meat. I had more luck with the pata – crispy chunks of crackling accompanied by fleshy pieces of pork – because both taste and texture were more familiar. I did feel, however, that the meat had been unduly allowed to cool and the lukewarm chunks of flesh would have been far tastier had they been served hot.

I was in a quandary. I wasn’t particularly enjoying the Filipino offerings, but this didn’t mean they had been done badly. I was tempted to wander over to the Filipino family on a nearby table and ask for gastronomic advice. Yet rather than interrupt their meal, I decided instead to judge Lamesa on the strength of more familiar dishes, such as sweet and sour prawns (a token offering from China), sushi and pasta (which had somehow managed to sneak onto the menu). This didn’t bode well for the restaurant. In spite of the viscous sauce that smothered the prawns, the dish was, amazingly, neither sweet nor sour, but disconcertingly dull and flavourless. The sushi was equally terrible: sticky dull rice encircling an interior of browning avocado and violent pink crabstick pieces. Somehow, even the pasta, served at the ‘live cooking station’ (a couple of messy hobs) was done badly.

Despite an otherwise dreadful experience, Lamesa has a quirky character that I liked and, come September, I dare say it will be a fun place to visit when the affordable drinks deals flow and the live band plays. But unless you’re partial to the distinct taste and texture of Filipino cooking and have no aversion to terribly prepared Pan-Asian cuisine, I suggest you go for the experience rather than for the food.

The bill (for two)
2x set buffet
Dhs138 (price likely to increase to Dhs79 per person during September)
Total (excluding service) Dhs138