A typical Dubai brunch is truly something to behold. Vast landscapes of global cuisine winding through multiple restaurants, entire rooms turned into huge galleries of chocolate or cheese, and the whole experience frequently coming to an end with a conga around the crêpe station.
Boca is anything but typical. In fact, it’s an award-winner, taking home the gong for Best European at the Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards back in February, thanks to its stunning cuisine and vibrant evening atmosphere. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that brunch, available Friday and Saturday and termed the “weekend feast” doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the Boca experience. This brunch is indeed a feast, though.
On arrival, the popular DIFC restaurant is pretty quiet, with just two other tables of diners, both opting to sit on the outdoor terrace – or, as Boca prefers to call it, the Olive Tree Garden. As the interiors are comfortable, stylish and a little warmer on a cool day, we opt for a table indoors, where there’s a quiet, oddly juxtaposed – but not unwelcome – musical backdrop of ’90s rap and hip-hop.
A small menu on the table reveals the brunch’s contents (which change regularly), but it takes some coaxing of the waiter to get a full explanation of how Boca’s feast actually works. It turns out the dishes are brought to the table as a series of sharing courses. Of the three beverage packages (soft, selected and bubbly), it’s worth noting that the house beverages include only one variety of hops, but at least there are a small number of thoughtfully assembled mixed drinks that more than make up for the lack of hoppy options.
First to arrive at the table is a slate of rich, creamy, crumbly foie gras served with a home-made preserve and brioche. It’s swiftly followed by an artfully presented plate bearing bite-sized cyclinders of seared tuna loin, interspersed with seaweed – which turns out to be a little overpowering for the subtle fish. Next, we’re served a squash soup. Though tasty, it’s not a small portion, and it doesn’t quite feel like a brunch food, particularly when trailing a generous round of starters. It’s a theme that runs throughout – despite good pacing, interesting variety and expert cooking, the dishes don’t really work for a huge feast.
Of the next course, the deconstructed lasagne is the most anticipated and ultimately a winner on the table. Sheets of fresh pasta fold around blobs of creamy mascarpone, fresh peas and mint, all dressed with a touch of olive oil. It’s simple, beautiful and our new favourite thing – or at least, for the next hour. A large vessel of guinea fowl and smoky, almost Tex-Mex-y beans passes without inviting more than an exploratory mouthful, and is quickly forgotten as soon as dessert is set down. This is where Boca is stashing its sense of play. Looking like a small tropical island, this is the mothership of meal endings, hosting such delicious lifeforms as soft mango ice-cream, crisp-topped, coconutty crème brûlée, miniature lemon meringue tarts and what can only be a bank-busting variety and volume of exotic fresh fruits. It’s sizeable enough to boast its own gravitational pull, and despite groaning stomachs, we’re unable to pull ourselves out of spoon-wielding orbit.
While the dessert almost justifies the price tag alone, this doesn’t feel like brunch in the classic Dubai sense. It’s not just missing the punters, but the playfulness. It is constantly evolving though, so there is a chance it will find its way soon enough.
Fri-Sat noon-5pm (feast served any three hours between). Dhs295 (soft drinks), Dhs395 (selected beverages), Dhs550 (bubbly). Gate Village 6, DIFC (04 323 183304 323 1833).
The bottom line
It’s brunch, Jim, but not as we know it.