The Observatory, nestled on the 52nd floor of the Marriott Harbour Hotel in Dubai Marina, has, over the years, become something of a must-visit.
With stunning views of the Palm Jumeirah on one side, and of Dubai Marina on the other, there are few better places from which to gaze upon the glistening lights of the cityscape below. Little wonder, then, that tourists pack in at dusk to watch the sun dip below the horizon. It’s also a favourite for residents looking to show visiting friends and family a spot that’s quintessentially Dubai.
The name is well-deserved, then, but is the fanfare? Traditionally, the Observatory has mixed its fabulous views with a high-quality British menu full of tried-and-tested classics. There’s nothing wrong with an obvious dish, so long as it’s done properly, but our recent visit suggested that the Observatory no longer serves food to match the quality of its views.
Unlike many trendy restaurants in Dubai, the Observatory doesn’t really create dishes for sharing. In that traditional British way, you select starters and mains for yourself, and largely ignore what everyone else on the table orders. In a city currently obsessed with the ‘sharing concept’, this is actually pretty refreshing.
The downside, though, is that if your orders don’t come out as expected, you’re stuck with them.
Case in point: The crispy pork roast, served with dumplings and gravy, sounds like an excellent choice if you’re looking for a bit of hearty comfort food. Unfortunately, when it comes out, the pork fillets have no crisp to them whatsoever, occupying that awkward space between dry and spongy. The dumplings are heavy and flavourless, and again dry – while I’m sure the dish was cooked fresh, it looks, feels and tastes like it’s been microwaved. Suddenly, the fish and chips another of our party ordered looks pretty good.
Alas, there’s no joy there, either. While the skinny-style French fries are well done, the dish would be improved with fat, chip shop-esque wedges. What’s more, the battered fish, on this occasion, hasn’t been properly de-boned, meaning tiny splinters lurk in every mouthful.
Our eyes gaze towards the pork spare ribs. The meat looks good, glazed in thick, gloopy BBQ sauce and dusted off with herbs, served alongside those same skinny French fries, which are more fitting here. Again, though, there’s a problem – the entire dish has been doused in about three tonnes of salt. It’s barely noticeable at first, but as you make your way through the meal, you begin to feel your lips tingling, and your thirst unquenchable. It’s impossible to finish the entire dish as a result.
We look for respite in the butter chicken, served English-style with paratha bread as a side, rather than rice. Presentation is good, but a single mouthful reveals that this is less a curry than a chicken-tomato soup broth. With very few spices, or interesting flavours of any kind on offer, we might as well have been served some diced chicken alongside a tin of chopped tomatoes.
Out of the six main courses we ordered at the Observatory, five had issues with them. The saving grace was the tiger prawns, doused in roasted garlic butter and served alongside sautéed wild mushrooms (despite the fact we’d ordered the dish with crispy mashed potato as a side). Regardless, the ensemble works brilliantly, the enormous prawns fresh-tasting and succulent, the garlic butter strong but not overpowering. Too right the dish is good, though – it costs AED 170.
Being English, we ate without complaint. However, when the manager came by afterwards to ask if everything was alright, we took the opportunity to give him some feedback. We weren’t looking for any freebies – we just relayed the information so that improvements might be made. Nevertheless, he came back with some complimentary desserts. A shame, then, that the New York-style Oreo cheesecake was dry and tasteless. That said, the melting chocolate-centered cake was delightfully extravagant – a ballistic chocolate bomb bursting with flavour.
It should also be noted that the starters really are worth a look. The trio of duck – confit, terrine and foie gras – is rich and delectable, each of the three options more tantalising than the last. The truffle fries, meanwhile, add a little class to the cheesy chips concept, the truffle shavings and herbs turning the dish into something you won’t feel guilty about indulging in.
Overall, though, if you’re going to visit the Observatory, you’re best off visiting for the views, rather than the food. Get there for happy hour and watch the sun set over the Gulf – that’s what the Observatory is good for. If you’re looking for high-quality British cuisine, there are plenty of better options in Dubai.
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