The clue might be in the name, but Jumeirah Lake Towers’ Nola Eatery & Social House is less of a fine dining destination than it is a trendy hang-out in which to, well, socialise. Certainly, the menu features a lively selection of dishes, all prepared to exacting standards, but the new-ish restaurant feels as if its proprietors would have preferred it to be a chic, after-work drinks venue, rather than a deep dive into high-minded cuisine.
To be clear, this is no bad thing. Nola is all the better for eschewing an intimate atmosphere in favour of a more open and conversational one. And it should be pointed out that the quality of Nola as a social house has no adverse effects on the quality of the food, meaning that, if you are a foodie, you won’t leave disappointed.
This is a rare trick to pull off, and the word has gotten out in the few months or so since the restaurant launched. That said, given it’s nestled in the private back-alleys that separate the skyscrapers of JLT, Nola feels like a well-kept secret before you even set foot inside. It may be connected to the Armada Blue Bay Hotel in Cluster P, but you have to navigate a small maze through the basement to get there. Along the way, little dictums splashed across the narrow walkways provide clues as to where you should be going, adding a sense of adventure to the whole endeavour.
Once you arrive, the small entrance hall seems a little cosy, but as your eyes wander inside, it’s clear that this is an open and energetic space. The décor is heavy and laden, but with plenty of light splashing in from the large patio doors, and an enormous bar area, the venue is more city-bar than it is old-country-pub. Outside, a terrace stretches around the restaurant in a semi-circle, with high walls shielding patrons from the eyes of passersby. And while this prevents visitors from enjoying views of the lakes, the area is so well-appointed and comfortable that it’s not an issue – the glimmering tops of the buildings above provide more than enough eye candy in this comfortable setting.
It’s the perfect spot for an evening of casual conversation. The bonus is that Nola’s Cajun-inspired menu is both high quality and good value for money. Naturally, the menu features a selection of dishes intended for sharing, with the guacamole being the pick of the bunch. Available as a standard, spicy avocado dip, or with Cajun shrimps, the chef manages to take what could easily be a boring dish into a set of flavours that dance on the tongue.
The mains are where Nola’s Cajun roots really come into their own, however. The Cajun grill section may well be made up of standard fare such as jumbo prawns or a half chicken, but the likes of the seafood ‘jambalaya’ and the creole meatballs will have Cajun fans fired up. The cornflake chicken in a Cajun cornflake crust, served with a zucchini and parmesan waffle, is a real highlight. As is the braised short rib, slow cooked to perfection and served with the creamiest mash potato this side of New Orleans.
Nola Eatery & Social House, then, does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a place where you can enjoy inventive and interesting cuisine, without being pressured to leave once the meal is over. Indeed, given how easy it is to while away the hours at Nola, any visit there is likely to end at closing time.
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