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Thu 19 Oct 2017 02:58 PM

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Review: Sean Connolly's restaurant at Dubai Opera is more hip than it is conventional

A wood-fired pizza oven in the fine-dining restaurant is testament of the chef's effort to avoid typical cuisine

Review: Sean Connolly's restaurant at Dubai Opera is more hip than it is conventional
With a large central lounge and smaller sushi and pizza counter, seating banquettes and architectural lighting, the place is both hip while remaining smart.

Award-winning chef Sean Connolly’s new restaurant at Dubai Opera is a true occasion place. And by that we mean, go there on any occasion, as often as you can.

One of the chicer venues in Dubai, it looks more akin to a London or New York-style late-night brasserie, occupying most of the top floor of the Dubai Opera building and with incredible views of Downtown Dubai.

Not that guests are paying too much attention to the glittering city outside, as the restaurant’s interior is far too impressive. With a large central lounge and smaller sushi and pizza counter, seating banquettes and architectural lighting, the place is both hip while remaining smart.

Casually dressed staff float amiably about and the venue is split into different sections, making the place feel like one evening spent there would not be long enough.

Certainly, with a leafy outdoor terrace due to open when the weather cools, and a brilliant soundtrack of funk, dance and old school hip-hop, the Sean Connolly restaurant could well become one of the best new nightspots in Dubai.

When we arrive for dinner on a Thursday evening, the place is quiet but quickly fills up as opera-goers spill out from the main performance and other diners start a fashionably late-night meal. Sean Connolly has described his food as “accessible”. The Yorkshire-born chef, who is based in Australia where he has five eateries, tries to avoid pretentious cuisine, and this is evidenced by the fact there is a wood-fired pizza oven in an otherwise fine-dining restaurant.

Our eclectic yet stylish meal is another indication of his flair for dishes that are homely yet sophisticated. Given that the venue seats almost 350 guests – a sizeable space to fill day in and day out – catering to a broad range of audiences and tastes is important.

We begin with a well presented selection of sashimi, including tuna, seabass, salmon, yellow tail and blue fin tuna, nestled on ice and sea leaves. Each piece has a vibrant freshness that tastes unique – difficult to do in a city where sushi sometimes feels ubiquitous in many venues.

Next, we have the salad made with grilled white peaches, buffalo mozzarella and pistachio pesto. The peaches are just firm enough and the mozzarella roughly torn with a perfect complement to the nutty pesto.

For main course, we have New Zealand Ocean Beef, renowned as being among the world’s finest beef, and 140 days grain-fed on the South Island of New Zealand. It comes on a bed of wilted spinach but scarcely needs accompaniment as the meat is cooked to perfection.

A side dish is humorously called ‘Grandma’s carrots’ – chunky whole carrots cooked within an inch of their lives.

Any longer and they would have turned to mush, but the chef gets them just right.

By the time dessert arrives, we are almost full, but we manage a sugar-sweet hazelnut semi freddo with popcorn and salted caramel, with the crunchy popcorn blending with the smooth ice cream.

It is a testament to the light-hearted, un-stuffy vibe of the restaurant – and the whole of Dubai Opera, in fact – that we end up staying long after we’ve finished eating, soaking up the cool tunes and fun vibes. And we will be going back once the terrace opens.

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