It was entirely my fault, but when the taxi dropped me deep in the heart of The Palace, I lost my way. I assumed that the first venue I encountered – an exotic, romantic-looking café, with carpeted sofas and shisha-smoking guests spilling out into the night, directly under the gaze of the Burj Khalifa – was the new Palace Café. Realising my error, I soon ended up on an unintentional detour, trying to find my way back out of the palm tree, fountain and fake-lake sprawl of the hotel’s ground.
When I finally found the Palace Café, it offered an outdoor setting almost as atmospheric as the other venue, yet with only about a yard and a half of the Burj in sight (if I craned my neck), and it faced directly onto the busy main road.
So I’ll sit inside, I thought. However, on entering the wonderfully cool and clean white marble room (which offers the odd tasteful nod to Arabian aesthetics), it was almost empty. Everyone had gone outside
and taken the atmosphere with them. Odd, I thought, to open such an outdoor-focused restaurant in the run-up to summer.
Yet I needn’t have worried: the noise of the road became a silent hush as my attention was drawn to the food. Among the classic mezze and a few European-style mains, several unusual and creative dishes jumped out. The trio of moutabbal (carrot, courgette and beetroot) was a triumph in its simplicity: fresh, distinct vegetable flavours (unaccustomed in this context) provided a delicious twist, and I was soon wondering how I would make it myself at home.
The lobster falafel was also a success, offering a nice range of textures. It was a good dish, but I wonder whether it would have been just as good with a less ostentatious choice of seafood.
The more humble invention of lemongrass chicken shawarma brought me back to earth and, again, delight. With no scrimping on the lemongrass, the flavour was strong, vibrant and alive, the crisp vegetables adding a layer of freshness.
While the café’s outdoor area isn’t licensed, it boasts a long list of mocktails and other non-alcoholic concoctions. I opted for a delicious, refreshing and delicately sweet combination of watermelon, cucumber and coriander.
Unfortunately, the only thing that ruined the experience was the service. It was just too nice: there were too many repeated inquiries into my progress and pleasure with the meal, sometimes from the same person. It was well meant, but everyone tried just a little too hard. Eventually, I put this down to the anxiety of a new opening, but they needn’t have worried.
Then came the awkward moment when a friendly and kind-mannered waiter asked my name and where I worked. Anonymity is vital to my job, so sorry, Malik – I lied.
The bill (for one)
1x Mocktail Dhs25
1x Lobster falafel Dhs48
1x Trio of moutabbal Dhs40
1x Chicken shawarma Dhs55
Total (excluding service) Dhs168