Let’s not beat around the bush. Everything about the Friday brunch at Ají is stunning. Its outdoor seating space that overlooks the beach is the best place to experience it on clement days, while indoors is spacious and has a funky, yet classy feel to it, owing to the edgy drawings adorning the walls, deep colour palette of green statement walls, dark woods and comfy leather banquettes.
We arrive eagerly (and hungry, which pays off), just as the clock strikes 12, and we’re shown to our table by welcoming staff who seem keen to please. It’s not busy, and while it fills up a little as the afternoon draws on, it’s still nowhere near as packed as its neighbour, but it makes for a more relaxed Friday meal.
The brunch menu and pricing is explained from the start and what you get for your Dhs250 with soft drinks is almost unbeatable.
The feast begins with a selection of unlimited, unbelieveably fresh, cold raw fish dishes. A selection of ceviches, tiraditos, nigiris and makis make their way to the table and are a delightful example of what Japanese-Peruvian fusion food is all about.
Of the ceviches – there are sea bass, tuna, flounder and salmon versions – the salmon stands out, with lemongrass, garlic, mango, spring onion and coriander lifing the fish and bringing a vibrancy of flavour to the dish, which is moreish and outright delicious. But this selection isn’t the best of the brunch. What’s even better are the makis. They’re an inventive selection of rolls starring all the usual ingredients, boosted by the inclusion of spring onion and mango in the spicy tuna rendition and cream cheese, avocado, shrimp tempura and teriyaki flavours in the ebi avocado maki. They’re so good we go for seconds.
The hot starters we’re not entirely bowled over by, but the gyoza – crammed full of sirloin steak, ají amarillo peppers, onion and tomatoes – and the tori antichuchos – skewers of chicken marinated in a teriyaki sauce and served with chipotle mayo – are top-notch, full of spice and bold flavours. They go down a treat.
You’d be wise at this point to stop and take a breather before delving into the main course options. But when you do, each person can choose one of either a seafood platter with rice; rib-eye steak with mashed potatoes and a mix of mushrooms and truffle; udon noodles with tofu, coconut, peanuts and red curry sauce; or a chicken dish bursting with ginger and garlic.
And it’s this course that comes out top for us, namely with that steak. It’s marinated in a teriyaki sauce. It’s sweet, the meat fall-apart soft, the sauce sticky and rich. And when it’s all mixed up with the smooth mash and eaten with the earthy shiitake and meaty shimeji mushrooms, it’s so good you’ll want to get the recipe from the chefs, make it yourself and eat it every day. (You won’t, so do yourself a favour and book a table for this brunch now.)
The food, service and setting are outstanding, and it’s well worth the price.
Dhs250* (soft drinks), Dhs400* (house beverages), Dhs600* (bubbly). Fri noon-4pm. Club Vista Mare, Palm Jumeirah (04 552 0244).
*prices exclude ten percent tax
The bottom line
Bold, punchy flavours make up this Friday feast.