We arrived at a semi-busy Souk Al Bahar, where the restaurants and bars have beautiful hostesses outside, hawking their menus like a culinary version of the Patpong district. Every city in the world suffers from the January hangover, and Dubai is no different. The majority of restaurants had a smattering of customers, but probably 40 empty seats too many for their liking.
The Atlantic is Dubai’s latest seafood restaurant and is brought to you by the same group that runs Dubai’s grown up party nightspots, like Q43 and Lock Stock. It’ll be interesting to see how they bring in a classic premium dining operation into their portfolio. It’s a bit like Tiesto doing Classical music.
Because Dubai is already home to every single F&B concept and chef from America and Europe, The Atlantic hails from Melbourne, Australia. The chef consultant and partner is Donovan Cooke who keeps a watchful eye over the food quality from eleven thousand kilometers away, trusting day to day operations to Head Chef Zeke Quinn.
A good fish restaurant brings out a particular personality in fish. For example, the fish at Catch at the Fairmont are millennial cool, urban and hip. The Atlantic’s fish are sophisticated, classy, and probably went to public school.
In the old space where The Mango Tree used to be is the Atlantic restaurant – gentle and refined – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the fish markets it claims to be inspired from. Neutral colours cover the walls and floors, with pale blue & green chairs, sea green mirrored columns, and Art Deco-ish lights. There are an endless amount of circles within the design – mix that with all the greens in the room and it’s like you’re sitting in a large glass of fizzy absinth. It is rather intoxicating, but soothing as well.
We sat indoors, to the surprise and horror of the hostesses, who reminded us that their terrace has some of the best views of the fountains. I stood firm, explaining to the Serb that you never really get the full experience of a place stuck on a terrace and a busier restaurant would have a better atmosphere indoors.
The restaurant remained completely empty as every single reservation after us were led onto the terrace. Throughout the evening, the Serb stole longing glances through the window at the lively terrace. I told her that it looked cold outside. She didn’t agree. Easy by the Commodores played in the background.
Donovan’s most famous recipe is his olive oil confit salmon – the restaurant proudly boasts that he has been working on this dish for 22 years. That’s about the same amount of time Pizza Hut has been working on their Stuffed Crust Super Supreme, incidentally.
There’s a classicism to chef Donovan Cooke’s menu, and you can instantly see the heritage in his work from his time with Michael Roux and Marco Pierre White. His menu is refined, steeped in classical techniques and yet with a good understanding of the local market.
The service at The Atlantic is a new, progressive style from Melbourne that I’m not sure will work here in Dubai. It’s absurd, but basically, the food is not designed to be shared – you must order your own meal, and it’s placed in front of you, not in the middle of the table. Also, mind-blowingly, it seems the kitchen follows some sort of logical service flow, where the food arrives when you are ready for it, not when the food is ready. Like I said, not sure if this sort of progression will be accepted here – time will tell.
Our server was attentive and engaging and thanks to the empty restaurant, could provide us with a significant amount of attention. Recommendations were made – some good, (the salmon) and some ambitious (Wagyu beef – 559 Dhs).
We ordered the rock lobster salad to start (and share – HA!) followed by the 20 years in the making confit salmon and the grilled Dover sole. The Serb’s natural inclination in any restaurant is to find the meat and The Atlantic caters for that with some beef, chicken, and lamb dishes.
The lobster salad was three nuggets of lobster with some clever balls of confit apple, a few snap peas and a lime curd that could have been sharper. The lobster flesh was fresh and chewy, which is kind of what you want it to be. The dish was good, but at almost 80 dhs for the starter, it supports that adage that lobster is good, but only when someone else is paying.
Our main courses were almost perfect opposites – on one plate we had the 20-year-old salmon, pastel pink, delicate and coddled and on the other we had the Dover sole – rough, ragged with scorch marks and a story to tell. It was 16-year-old Britney against Keith Richards.
The salmon rested on a collection of heritage vegetables and gently wobbled in anticipation of my incoming fork. It was a delicate, fragile dish that had been gently cooked in a hot water bath, surrounded by olive oil. The salmon was ridiculously iridescent, almost like a mousse, if that’s possible. Eating it needed the least amount of effort – I’ve exerted more effort changing the TV channel.
The Dover sole, deboned and grilled, was a firm, solid fish that relied on the excellent accompanying butter sauce for flavour. It is a great fish, but the only downside is it’s an expensive fish. I don’t know why they are so pricey – maybe they are super difficult to catch; experts at evasion and diversion or accomplished escape artists.
We ordered the fat chip, as a side, which was neither fat nor singular. They were plentiful, regular sized and seasoned with a moreish smoked paprika salt. There was a cheeky dessert snuck in there as well – a chocolate and hazelnut tart with a robust and refreshing earl gray sorbet.
The food was of a restaurant far more mature than the three weeks The Atlantic has under her belt. There were no faults that I could tell, and if Zeke keeps up these standards, there’ll be few reasons for Chef Donovan to return.
In a city where there are several decent fish inspired restaurants, such as Catch and the Maine, it’ll be interesting to see how Cooke’s The Atlantic performs here. Having only been open a few weeks, and with Dubai still nursing its holiday season hangover, it’s a bit early to tell, but the line definitely has a bite on it. Book a table on the terrace – they have excellent views of the fountains.
Happy New Year, by the way.