Despite their name, Play Restaurant and Lounge take themselves very seriously. As the Serb and I walked into the restaurant on the 36th floor of the H Hotel, I was taken back to pre-2008; a decadent and slightly irresponsible time where the success of a restaurant seemed to be linked to the amount of money it cost to build.
Fast forward to a very shaky 2016 and Play is a brave attempt at confidence and competence. Much like baby pandas, the birth of such restaurants are so scarce these days that they are almost like an endangered species – a relic of times gone by. Multiple seating zones, elevated private dining rooms, custom furniture, wall features and chandeliers all add up to a very expensive restaurant and bar. Before arrival, I was told that this might be a vanity project, an expensive toy to satiate someone’s ego, however, with Chef Reif Othman behind the menu, there was a good chance this behemoth of a project might have some substance in the menu.
Because Reif is of Zuma fame, there will, of course, be comparisons of his work at Play, and those who care about that sort of stuff will make a variety of claims and observations. This is what happens when you are as successful as Reif has been with Zuma – but he knows this already, and is well prepared, I am sure, for the incoming comparisons.
Stepping out of the rather shabby elevator and into the venue itself, it is obvious that Play demands glamour, class and sophistication, which is why I felt lucky to have the Serb by my side, as she has enough of those for both of us. The staff are all tall, good-looking and charismatic and had we been in LA, no doubt they would have all been aspiring actors and models.
The space is design heavy, with a lot of features that catch the eye. However, I only have two eyes, and it seemed like every wall, cabinet and ceiling was screaming for our attention. It was rather tiring for so early in the year – there were so many feature design elements that they all blurred into one. After closer inspection and feeling a little like Sherlock Holmes, (Benedict’s Sherlock, mind) I started to get an idea of perhaps the real intent of the venue. Neon lit Ice buckets built into the tables, a powerful speaker system and lighting racks on the ceilings, a DJ doing warm up exercises and finger stretches in the corner – they all point to once thing, my dear Watson.
Early evening, I think Play masquerades itself as an Asian/Mediterranean inspired restaurant but scratch the surface, and probe a little deeper, (By that I mean just wait until 11:30 pm or so) and Play would probably become a nightclub or lounge. Which meant one thing – we better eat and get out of there fast! We are far too old to enjoy a spontaneous evening of bottle service and sparklers without several days’ notice and several days’ recovery. And we hadn’t bought our sunglasses either.
It will come as little surprise that the menu is a sharing style format and everything arrives when it’s ready. Because the Serb was so distracted by all the feature walls and ceilings, she wasn’t paying much attention, and I managed to order a lot of food – far too much, in fact – and seeing as it was early January, it seemed even more glutinous and sinful.
I think we (I) ordered around ten different dishes, ranging from a wonderful Duck Gyoza, pan fried and topped with a parmesan cheese crust to Cod “New Style”. A lot of thought had gone into the menu presentation– every dish arrived on a different plate, from ceramic hollowed out logs for the sashimi to the wooden blocks showcasing the Pita Surprise. It was unnecessary, indulgent and wonderful.
The menu had flashes of brilliance; such as the Pita Surprise, a lightly toasted, one-bite (for me, two bites for the ever delicate Serb) puffed pita bread, topped with a Kobe Carpaccio slice and stuffed with a truffle creamed butter. The Duck Gyoza was also a highlight as were the Air Crackers, a simple melt in the mouth cracker with some wonderful flavours.
However, some of the dishes either needed more work in the design stage or more time in learning how to execute them. The Kobe sushi was dry and lacked flavor, and the asparagus spear in the middle was too hard and crunchy. The Chorizo Croquettes were a nice idea, but effectively it ended up being a lukewarm meat and potato paste. Personally, I think it was the texture that put me off – perhaps a hash brown texture, rather than a puree would have been to my liking. But I’m not a chef, so perhaps that’s a horrible idea.
Play Restaurant and Lounge are entering into an arena with some experienced operators, OKKU, which is in the same building, will be direct competition, as will the other heavyweights on SZR, namely Novikov, and Cavalli Club, the latter being possibly the most successful at the dinner and nightclub formula.
The menu, I assume will evolve and change – Chef Reif is too creative to allow his menu to remain stagnant, and considering they have only been open a few weeks, it was a remarkable early indication of quality and innovation.