I’m a big fan of the number three. There are many reasons for this – birth, life, and death or beginning, middle and end – it is a complete cycle unto itself – it is past, present and future. But the most important reason I like the number three is that Steve Jobs used it in his presentations a lot.
The Blue Armada Hotel in JLT is benefiting from the power of three. They have Mythos, Nola and now The Cocktail Kitchen. Easily the best F&B trio in JLT, perhaps even in the new Dubai area.
This is about my experience at Cocktail Kitchen, and I would like to point out, for the record that I ate at this restaurant well before Sheikh Hamdan ate there.
Cocktail Kitchen is another example of young expat professionals taking the brave entrepreneurial leap to create something that is a reflection of their talent, their hopes, and their dreams. These places deserve every chance to succeed, to be tried at least once and to be supported as much as they deserve to be supported.
The interior of CK is sleek, angular and bordering on minimalistic. There are lots of straight lines, with granite grays, pale woods, and pastel greens. However, I think there was a slight over-reliance on dramatic lighting to create their atmosphere – in my opinion; they would benefit from softening their interior a little and allowing some natural character to permeate into the physical space.
There is no official reception desk as such at Cocktail Kitchen or at least none that we could see. We tried the tactic of wandering around looking pathetic and lost in the hope someone would come to our aid, but after several long minutes and a few times up and down the bar, it was obvious we were going to have to take the initiative. We grabbed the first person we saw, who as it happens, was Jamie Fox’s Doppelganger, who promptly seated us and made sure we got some menus.
So, if Nola is about the atmosphere and Mythos is about the design then CK is about the cocktails and the bar, primarily. I haven’t been to a cocktail bar for a long time – and there is a reason for that. I’m not a big fan of cocktails if I am honest. Cocktails have been popular since the 18th century, but recently they have been through a dark time and are only just redeeming themselves. Neon coloured cocktails made with cheap sugary ingredients, served in ridiculous glasses with curly straws, poured by obnoxious, self-important bartenders who called themselves mixologists. I prefer the term cocktologists – much more fitting. Those were the dark times of the cocktail, and happily, you only find those sorts of places on some package holidays in mainland Europe now – and a few bars in Bur Dubai.
CK have bartenders that serve quality drinks. It really is that simple. The bar menu is professional and well considered. Expect quality spirits with lots of infused ingredients such as Chamomile & Darjeeling droplets, fresh pear or honey & smoke.
Even the mixers are craft sodas from the Fentiman’s range with great flavours like Curiosity Cola or Victorian Lemonade. A mature reflection of consumer expectations in 2016 and a far cry from a neon blue long island iced tea from Benidorm circa 1985. (watch now as CK launch a 1980’s Neon Cocktail night, and I look like a pompous, out of touch fool!)
We started with some nibbles, the arancini, deep-fried magic balls of mushroom risotto – crispy, a little chewy and served with a great basil mayo. We also had the fig and blue cheese bruschetta, – the bruschetta bread was also a little chewy, where it should have crunched but the creamy blue cheese and the delicate fig married the little bite sized mouthful perfectly.
We also ordered the olive ascolana – stuffed and fried olives – an Italian street food, traditionally served hot in little bags of wax paper. Typically, you should account for ten olives per person, but if you had to stuff a cavity as small as a hollowed-out olive you would only serve six too. They were good – however when you have less than a belly button’s worth of ragout stuffed into the olive, you’re going to want some punchy flavour that can make its presence know. I wasn’t sure CK’s ragout quite lived up to that task, but they were still delicious little mouth poppers.
The burratta truffle was correct in the sense that it was served without error, but it is also a dish that is served in every single restaurant I have been to in the last eight months, so it has some stiff competition and although very good, I’ve had better elsewhere, unfortunately.
The roasted sea bass with a chunky putanesca sauce was excellent. The flavour and presentation were both spot on. Putanesca sauce is a southern Italian tomato sauce that has a rather rude literal meaning. If you know a little Italian or Spanish and ever frequented the Rattlesnake back in the day, you’ll figure it out. However, it was as it should have been – tangy, earthy and a little bit salty.
The sea bass came in two fillets and wherever possible, you would always want to be able to serve one larger fillet. Not only does it look better on the plate, but it also cooks better. The larger the piece, the easier it is to keep that moist fleshy bite that sea bass is famous for. Having said that, this dish was acceptable, and they managed to get a good golden brown char to the flesh without drying it out. Well done CK!
I’ve been to Cocktail Kitchen several times since they have opened and they keep getting better, which is an encouraging sign. They still have some small operational issues to sort out, such as some unfortunate lighting surges and perhaps slightly more attentive staff, but the very fact that both myself and The Serb have returned numerous times suggests that they are doing something right.
That also means that next time you are there, you might be having dinner next to either Sheikh Hamdan or – ahem – the FoodSheikh.