H Hotel 'plays' with your food so you don't have to
"Mediterasian" innovation at Play
Competition is hotting up in the Dubai dining scene. With so many choices out there, restaurants are pulling out all the stops to be different and impress, but this is not without consequences. Yes, they may be able to deliver a shark swimming past my head as I tuck into a tenderloin, but can they deliver the food to the correct table or present the right bill? This worried me a little when I was asked to review a restaurant called “Play”. Strange images came to mind of having to defeat the chef at Snakes and Ladders to earn a starter, or being tossed pancakes like frisbees and having to catch them in my mouth like a hungry dog. None of that happened, but I'm sure someone is working on that concept as we speak.
Play is all about the experience. Executive Chef Reif Othman’s concept slaps all of your senses into a heightened state before punching you full on in the chops with a creative fusion of flavours and ingredients. As you would expect, Play is first and foremost all about having fun. I found myself smiling and even laughing during this culinary adventure – in a good way! I might have to be a little harsh on Play and try my best to pick a few holes, not because I disliked it but purely because it was so good, i’m worried about running out of superlatives.
The restaurant is way up on the 36th floor of this 5-star hotel, however you're not expected to find your own way there, which is good because I had already managed to get lost. Instead, it has its own dedicated lift: an impressive start. I had just enough time in the lift to glance in the mirror and decide that I might be a little underdressed before the doors opened leading me into the vast and sprawling restaurant and bar area. There are elevated private dining areas, stylish Art Deco interiors and floor to ceiling windows making the most of their high-rise viewpoint. Pleasingly, it was also just about dark enough to hide my slightly questionable jeans.
At this point I can pick a couple of those little holes: the seats were a little too low to be comfortable and me and my date were so close to our neighbours I could have helped myself to their breadsticks; not the intimate dining experience I was looking for. Our waiter was excellent though, explaining the concept and the rather confusing menu. I won't put too many spoilers in here with regards to the menu though as the restaurant likes to keep it under wraps - you won’t find it on the internet too easily.
Virtually everything we sampled was perfect, with the food brought out as and when it was cooked then put in the middle of the table for sharing. In keeping with the sense of fun, I loved that each dish came with its own uniquely designed receptacle to compliment each dish. The highlights from our particular choices include the Wagyu Pita Surprise with (add superlative here) beef and soft and decadent truffle butter hidden away in the pita; it was like a savoury chocolate eclair and simply delicious.
The Seared Tuna was loaded with flavour and married well with the aged balsamic and the crunchy croutons that seemed to be infused with parmesan. My main dish, called “76 Hours”, was Takumi Wagyu ribs with spicy Goma dressing and a spring onion salad. This was a plate of food that dreams are made of - and definitely not for sharing. The meat, 76 hours in the making as the title alludes, disintegrated with just a light touch from my fork - I could easily have eaten it with a spoon. The sauce was sweet, salty, sticky and (insert another superlative here); the salad, bless it, didn’t get a look in. A particular nod should go to the presentation: I loved that all the meat had been carefully removed from the bone but a bone was still kept on the plate for decoration. Even the sides we ordered were fabulously luxurious: the salty fries were dripping with parmesan and truffle shavings and the asparagus, equally as indulgent, were smothered with truffle butter. There was, dare I say it, perhaps too much truffle...which seems a particular #DubaiProblem if ever there was one.
After the elegant simplicity of the previous dishes, the desserts were somewhat surprising; I love my puds and can usually destroy two all in the name of food reviewing research, but not even I could finish these. The Horlicks-flavoured mousse was a fun dessert, incorporating foam, sugar work and soft candied bananas, with the Horlicks bringing a touch of nostalgia for late night sweet treats from when I was young. We also tried the Cannoli, two pastry sticks filled with mascarpone with popping candy sprinkled across that exploded in our mouths and certainly made us smile.
Play is certainly enjoying a renaissance as the new place to see and be seen. And the accolade is justly deserved – there are simply so many things that they get so right. I love the concept, which is so strong here, and it's achieved without forgetting the ever so important rudiments. Would I eat here again? Oh yes. The menu has so much choice and just as many reasons to come back for more. We were well fed but didn’t even touch on the “Raw” section, the Tempura or many of the very tempting little sharing platters. The good news is that even though this is a 5-star hotel, we didn’t find the prices too scary, especially considering the quality: you can enjoy a main for around AED130 and the starters and desserts are around AED50.
If you don’t want to cross your legs (you can’t), love a sizeable dessert and want an evening that's going to be a lot of fun, you should hurry up and get your good selves booked in! Enjoy.