When we broke the news of Atlantis The Palm's latest event, Cirque de Cuisine, last month – a night brunch with food from Bread Street Kitchen, Ronda Locatelli, Nobu, Seafire, Asia Republic, TBJ and Shawafel – we were overwhelmed with comments from readers requesting clarification, and struggled to get straight answers on their behalf.
Would it be seated? Would the whole thing be standing? When and how were tickets going to be on sale? It took us right up to the hours before the event itself before we finally got all the clarification we needed.
So it was with some apprehension that we booked tickets to check it out, and we were unsure of what to expect. Ultimately, it's not as chaotic as we anticipate, given the confusion leading up to the event. But the whole thing is rather bizzare. The corridors are dotted with cheap-looking cocktail tables and paraded by circus performers, while the mood inside each restaurant is completely different. Bread Street Kitchen is lively but laid-back, Ronda Locatelli is mellow, Nobu is loungey, Seafire is upbeat. Pair that with wandering street performers, haphazard service and a rowdy crowd, and things start to feel surreal.
We start in Bread Street Kitchen where there's a live acoustic singer and Ramsay brunch classics like fish and chips, mini pulled beef shepherd's pies, truffle mac 'n' cheese balls and that delightful beef Wellington (which is just as good as we remember it being). Some of it misses the mark, as is always the case with large-scale brunches, but this is the best food of the evening.
Nobu – clearly the biggest draw of the night – is packed, filled with smoke and with lounge music pumping. The queue for the buffet here is at least 15 minutes long – it feels like standing in line for a school dinner, but in a bar – and we are disappointed with what we find at the end of it. The sushi is fine, but nowhere near Nobu's usual standard, and the selection is tiny. The fish tastes fresh, but it's room temperature rather than cold and it's almost all nigiri. When it comes to flavours, there's barely a trace of the fusion creativity that the restaurant is known for.
The food in the other restaurants follows suit. Nothing is bad, but nothing (except that unbeatable Wellington) is standout. The majority of the buffets are made up of nibbles rather than substantial meals. There's no pasta station, for example, in Ronda Locatelli, and the only flavour of pizza on offer is margherita. It's almost all cold cuts, cheese and salad.
It's obvious that this is primarily a party brunch and that the food is taking a backseat, but that's a little disappointing when a large part of the incentive to spend almost Dhs600 on a ticket is to sample the excellent food that these restaurants usually offer. There are beverage stations with signature mixed drinks in each restaurant, plus a bubbles station out in the corridor, but with the amount of time spent queueing and trying to find tables, it's difficult to get your money's worth from either the food or the beverages. Staff are also stretched thin to say the least, so we often end up perching at the end of dirty tables piled high with plates.
To give credit where it's due, there's plenty of entertainment that goes down well with the crowd, from stilt walkers and a live saxophonist to living statues and a photo booth. In Seafire, we walk in and find people going wild on the dancefloor to local jazz band The Swing Revue, while the dessert buffet is a spectacle in itself. The live stations – including liquid nitrogen-frozen popcorn, ice cream doughnuts and pretty much everything else you can think of – are dotted around the maze of The Lost Chambers aquarium. Tucking into a cupcake while watching luminous jellyfish drift past and enjoying ice cream while marvelling at sharks and stingrays are highlights of the entire evening.
In news that will surprise exactly no-one, the after-party at N'Dulge is chaos. The bar is chronically understaffed, so much so that it takes people up to 40 frustrating minutes to be served, so the promised hour of free beverages ends up being precisely one each.
Is it worth the money? Not quite, though there's potential. In terms of scale it's vast, and the evening is a fun one, but the selection of food isn't the largest we've seen. If you're looking for a place to party with a large group of friends, with a few good nibbles to keep you going, it does fine. As a brunch for foodies, less so.
There's no word yet on whether this will be a regular occurrence. If so, there are certainly a few kinks to iron out first before this can truly compete with other bigger-is-better brunches in the city.
Time Out reviews anonymously and pays for all its meals.