By James Brennan
Al Mahara brings all hands on deck to offer a supreme seafood experience, but at a handsome price.
‘Is this a real submarine?' asked a Chinese tourist, as a computer-generated fish swam past the window. Our sea captain for the evening, a petite Filipino lady who had quite clearly never spliced the main brace or shivered her timbers in her life, giggled and cocked her head sympathetically. ‘Yes, in your imagination, sir'.
To be fair, it was hardly a scene from Das Boot. We were buckled into seats in a fairground submersible, which rumbled and trembled in simulated motion, while video screen portholes flashed images of weed-strewn rocks and a rippled seabed. Our captain told us not to be afraid, but to hold on tightly, presumably in case we encountered an overgrown CGI haddock or something. Then we gently jerked and shuddered to a ‘halt' at the door to Al Mahara, the flagship seafood restaurant at the Burj Al Arab.
It may have been a daft way for grown men and women to be carrying on, but all was forgiven when Al Mahara's stunning aquarium loomed into sight. Known as ‘The Oval', the sweeping 360-degree tank contains 300,000 litres of deep-blue salt water, and a crazy haul of brilliantly named fish. As a Big Eye Trevally winked at my dining partner, and a Black Spotted Sweetlips blew me a watery kiss, we chose our catch from the menu.
My soup featured thinly sliced but substantially textured baby abalone, which melded subtle seafood hints and a suggestion of oyster mushroom in its complex flavour. It floated in a rich miso tea next to wagyu beef cheek wantons that disintegrated in the mouth in a meaty and delicately doughy pulp. Across the table, my friend was flirting with the tart of soft hand-dived scallops with potent black truffle and creamy leek. Both appetisers were accompanied by black squid ink bread and other soft rolls with a peppery butter spread.
As a Moorish Idol danced around the tank with a Halfmoon Damsel, my turbot ‘au champagne' drifted up to the table. The slab of soft, moist flaky fish slathered in thick creamy sauce and pilaf rice was given added bite by some crisp, fresh seasonal vegetables. Meanwhile, a giant square plate dotted with hunks of warm lobster, smears of suquet potato puree, a scattering of tatsoi leaves and bubbles of white truffle foam was being busily swept up opposite me. Both main courses were superb.
We glanced through the Burj's aquarium ‘I Spy' book to confirm that, indeed, the little fellow with what looked like a police baton stuck up his nose was the Unicorn Fish, and then our desserts appeared. The Valrhona chocolate sphere collapsed under a stream of warm Jivara sauce infused with Darjeeling tea to reveal a clutch of crimson, chocolate drenched raspberries. I sank a spoon into the strawberry composition, with caramelised brochette, Chantilly cream, sorbet and mini macaroons, and surfaced with a smile on my face.
There's no doubt about it, Al Mahara brings all hands on deck to offer you a supreme seafood experience, and you pay handsomely for the privilege. But while we'd arrived in a submarine, we left through a side door. Maybe that's because, after such fine food, excellent service and serene surroundings, a gimmicky theme park ride just doesn't cut it anymore. Either way, if you're planning to visit Al Mahara, you should wholeheartedly immerse yourself in all its folly to appreciate its true delights.
The bill (for two)
Total (including service)Dhs1230
Al Mahara, Burj Al Arab(04 301 7600). Opendaily 12.30pm-3pm, 7pm-12 midnight. All major credit cards accepted.