Jason Atherton is a very busy man. He has opened seventeen restaurants in the last five years – that’s one restaurant every three and a half months. And as if that wasn’t enough, he’s managed to pick up a few Michelin Stars along the way. A student of reality TV star, Gordon Ramsey, Jason has been winning friends and influencing people all over the globe. Such is his commercial drive, he has even created a signature perfume, inspired from his time in the kitchen. I’m not sure if garlic, fish and oil are a nice combination, but I presume the check smelt good!
The Marina Social is housed in the new Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Marina. Upon arriving at the host stand, we were offered a drink at the bar, before going to the table. They have a great one paged cocktail list, and the bar has gone for an industrial chic look. However, I am pretty convinced that the hotel designed it, and it was donated to Social sometime in the pre-opening stage. The space smells of hotel design; banquette tables void of character, the same gunmetal colouring as seen in the lobby of the hotel – this was not a good sign. Please don’t tell me that Jason Atherton agreed to inherit a generic, hotel designed restaurant space? Say it isn’t so!
The service was up and down. – Once the staff relaxed, they got better, but to start with, they were stiff, formal and too intent on following standards and training manuals. I think the key to their future success will be getting the team to really understand what Social means and just loosen up a little.
It took them a while to get the music levels right, and they need to remember to cool down the room early, because a combination of animated guests, an open hot kitchen and hard-working staff will put a serious strain on any AC unit.
It’s a sharing restaurant, but I wouldn’t expect anything different from Jason. It’s his go-to, and it has served him well over the years. What this means is the food arrives whenever the chef prepares it. To their credit, they did follow a relatively logical delivery order, but they need to work on pacing. The first few dishes came out in a timely manner, and then there was a rather long break until the next round. It was in one of these breaks the Serb commented that Social Marina was similar to her favourite restaurant in Hong Kong. I have a feeling she was just name dropping though.
The food, for the most part, was belting – as it should be from Atherton’s Chef Patron (don’t know what that means) Tristin Farmer. Tristin has some excellent cooking chops himself and brings his own impressive CV to Dubai. You hope that Tristin will hang around, because a city will always benefit from such experience and skill. Unfortunately, you get the impression that with so many international Social openings on the cards, it is only a matter of time before he is whisked off to look after another venture.
Out of seven dishes ordered, two were mediocre, one was disappointing and the remaining were deserving of applause and adoration. The first round of applause goes to the social dog, a duck and foie gras hot dog. A decadent, delicious sausage in a sweet brioche bread and a huge step up from the IKEA dogs that I’m used to.
The goat’s cheese Churros were too doughy and were only saved by drenching them in sticky honey. The seared tuna and the Hamachi were as good as you’ll find in any specialized seafood restaurant. They were fresh, vital and clean in both flavour and texture.
The risotto was a little too close to rice pudding for my liking and the pulled lamb flatbread was delightful; but honestly, who doesn’t like pizza? The big let down for me, however, was the black onyx tenderloin. A musty, stale, overpowering flavour rendered the beef inedible for me. However, the Serb, unsurprisingly, had no issues in daintily devouring her piece of meat.
I really want to treat the Marina Social like Atherton wants us to treat it – somewhere to casually pop in with some friends over a bottle of wine and some sharing food. However, with an eye-watering bill of 1,500 Dhs for two, I would quickly become a bankrupt socialite, crying into my IKEA hot dog at what I used to be. I am assuming they only have one sitting per night, and that will always drive prices up.
In an interview, Jason Atherton claimed he makes no money from his food, but I find that hard to believe. Jason Atherton makes money off everything – we just need to decide if he deserves it.
I have a feeling the next time I go, Marina Social will have a few awards to their name, and as long as it’s not a value for money award, they will probably be very deserving of them. A good restaurant with a fresh, intelligent and relevant menu.
Well done for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.