Walking into Hotel Cartagena is like entering a vast indoor rainforest (although less clammy, and with less wildlife than The Green Planet).
There’s more foliage than you can shake a palm tree at and the décor is louder than your dad’s dodgiest Hawaiian shirt. And we love it. It’s vibrant, it’s fun and all that jungle-esque design is very on-trend right now (hello, recent arrivals OPA and Mama Zonia).
The flamboyant Latino restaurant is housed where short-lived Mediterranean restaurant Morah once was, occupying the 72nd and 73rd floors of JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.
But aside from the physical space and the spiral staircase, it’s unrecognisable. Gone without a trace are the muted pastels and laid-back interiors.
What remains, however, are the stunning 360-degree panoramic views out across the city. It’s undeniable – Hotel Cartagena has some of the best views in Dubai.
However, like many before it, the restaurant seems to have fallen on the side of food complacency – letting the vistas rather than the flavours do the talking.
Brunch kicks off at a sociable 1.30pm and on our visit it’s buzzing, without being full. When we first tried to book we were unable to secure a space for a couple of weeks, however, so perhaps the fuss surrounding the opening has died down. Either way, the vibe is upbeat and we’re lucky enough to score a window table. The views are mesmorising, even by daylight, and it’s a top spot to bring visitors too – just be ready to pick their jaws off the floor and deal with an unending “where’s that?/What’s that?/Which direction is?” series of questions.
Service is, as we’ve experienced here in the past, on the slow side, and neither the brunch or packages are explained. But at Dhs495 for house beverages, including sparkling, the prices aren’t as sky-high as the setting, which is welcome.
Sadly the food isn’t as impressive as the location. It’s not terrible, but not as tasty as we’d hope for such a venue.
Brunch kicks off with guac and tropical root chips, followed by delicious, petite mushroom and cheese empanadas, which are delicately flavoured and not at all greasy. The ropa vieja ones, stuffed with braised beef cheek and chipotle, are a little rich for our taste, but quirky curls of sweetcorn, dusted with shavings of manchego are lipsmackingly moreish.
Sushi’s up next – some spicy tuna rolls and mixed mushroom maki – but it’s all very average. The sea bass ceviche and tuna poke aren’t worth writing home (or here) about, either, and we file the fish dishes into a “must try harder” category.
Mains are an improvement – overly fatty braised short rib aside – as lamb chops are perfectly cooked, tender and delicious. The tasty Trinidadian chicken comes with a delightfully tangy guava barbecue sauce.
Throughout the afternoon the vibe is upbeat and fun, and dancers decked out in bright colours and full plumage entertain brunchgoers with their moves.
The stars of the culinary show are the desserts – which are presented in a golden bird cage. It’s kitsch, it’s cute and it houses some super-tasty puds, the highlight being a passion fruit tres leches cakes.
The theme and décor are on point, the price isn’t going to make you keel over and the food is fine. With a few tweaks, however, this could be a brunch to return to time and again – and it is visitor season, after all.
Dhs295 (soft drinks), Dhs395 (house beverages). 1.30pm-4.30pm. JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Business Bay (04 560 1799).
WHAT IS IT...
An upbeat Latino brunch
For the cracking views