With price increasingly becoming a deciding factor for the city’s regular brunchers, restaurants are under more pressure than ever to deliver excellent value for money. Brunch doesn’t need to be cheap to deliver this – some of the best in town are among the most expensive, but the variety and quality of food (among other things) make it worth every dirham.
Relatively new to the scene, Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera’s Garden Brunch is up there with the city’s pricier offerings, but in its current incarnation, doesn’t quite feel like good value for your hard-earneds.
Here, it’s clear you’re paying for the location. That is, dining inside a cultural landmark in the centre of Downtown, from which you can peer up at the Burj Khalifa from the garden.
On arrival, guests are invited to fill their boots at the oyster-shucking station – fitting, considering the restaurant has been designed to look like the inside of a prized mollusc, with its pearly pink and silver hues. The rest of the menu, however, makes slightly less sense.
Food arrives almost as soon as we sit down. A sashimi salad of mixed raw fish, diced and tossed in a spicy mayonnaise, topped with tempura crumbs, tastes like a lighter riff on the ubiquitous rock shrimp. We’re fans. But of the prawn with ponzu, wasabi and sliced radish, we’re less so – the strong, sharp and peppery flavours competing for attention with too-thick slivers of raw crustacean. As for the bowl of green pea guacamole, which doesn’t seem to belong with anything else on the table, we’re at a bit of a loss. (Pass the tortillas, would you, Sean?)
A second round of starters – salads – arrive. Yes, the combination of watermelon with tomato, strawberry, mint and whipped feta is beautifully light and refreshing, but by this point, we’re really quite hungry, and casing the joint for a rogue bread roll.
Thankfully, mains (chosen at the start) soon arrive, but our gratitude is short-lived. The rib-eye is chewy, the fat not quite rendered, while the wagyu burger is under-seasoned and unexciting. An uber-soft side of “Grandma’s carrots” (seemingly cooked sous vide, with Ina Garten-approved volumes of butter) are a flashback to childhood – and not in a cheerfully nostalgic way.
Conversely, the duck fat chips are absolutely knockout, with a thick, crisp armour and dreamily fluffy interiors.
Starches and service (which is truly flawless and utterly superb throughout) aside, the Garden Brunch has its work cut out if it wants to rival the best in this price bracket.
More variety (and a couple of tortillas) would be a good place to start.
Fri noon-4pm. Dhs390 (soft drinks), Dhs500 (house beverages), Dhs610 (bubbly). Dubai Opera, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 362 7312).
The bottom line
A grand location, with an experience that doesn’t quite live up to it.