Zengo is currently the number one restaurant in Dubai on Trip Advisor but to be honest, you never can trust these restaurant review sites in my opinion. Everyone’s a critic these days!
Zengo, at the Le Royal Meridian Hotel, is one of 35 restaurants in Richard Sandoval’s empire of Mexican contemporary restaurants. I have eaten in not just one, not just two, but three of hisrestaurants and therefore I deem myself Dubai’s foremost authority on the Richard Sandoval empire. I am probably his most avid groupie, faithfully following his openings around the globe. Iam considering a Sandoval tattoo down my left calf.
Zengo is currently the number one restaurant in Dubai on Trip Advisor but to be honest, you never can trust these restaurant review sites in my opinion. Everyone’s a critic these days.However, within seconds of sitting down, I knew why they were a Trip Advisor favourite. At every opportunity, the staff mentioned it and it was clearly something they focused on in staffmeetings. Funnily enough, when I was doing my groupie thing and ate at Toro in Belgrade, the staff there did the same, so it is obviously quite a savvy strategy they all participate in.
After a warm welcome and a rather complicated decision to either use the stairs or the elevator, we arrived on the main restaurant floor. This is the sort of restaurant that calls you by yoursurname and encourages you to get drunk at the bar before moving to the table. In that sense it reminds me of my university housemate, Oshy. At the bar, the young bartender is a strongsalesman and I ended up with an Old Fashioned cocktail interpretation with very cool ice cube balls. I hate Old Fashioned cocktails so I still don’t really know why I agreed to it. But I did likehow I felt whilst holding it. It was a good looking drink, despite remaining largely untouched for the reminder of the evening.
Zengo is how restaurants should be built – a great bar and sushi counter acting as the backbone of a sweeping curvature – a great variety of dining tables and lounge suites wrapped aroundthe outside of the space and a terrace that would be great in the winter. I am so glad they didn’t try to theme the décor; I was dreading seeing a Koi fish mural in a poncho, or samurai swordsmade from Burritos. They have kept it classy, neutral and sophisticated – the complete opposite to the stereotypical comments I just made.
The menu is designed by both Richard Sandoval and Akmal Anuar, so you should see an interesting menu of Mexican/Asian cuisine. That’s a great way to hedge your bets. Having beentalked through the menu by another extremely well trained and personable waiter, it was apparent that Akmal’s voice was the lead in the menu direction. A great selection of Asian dishes,accented with Mexican flavours. However, being the seasoned restaurant critic that I am, and the Serb not one to be swayed by boring server suggestions, we immediately agreed toeverything our waiter recommended. I would like to think I would have chosen those dishes anyway, though.
Zengo have opted for a sharing menu and for those of you who know me, know that I’m not necessarily a big fan of sharing concepts. But it does work in this instance – it allows a moreintimate familiarity with your table and brings the whole experience into a lovely balance of casual premium dining.
The food really is very good. The Angry Zengo was a slightly spicy tuna maki roll that was well balanced and reminded me of Angry Birds, the computer game. I was tempted to launch eachangry roll at the table next to me to see if I could knock over their wine glasses. I didn’t though. The duck maseca pancake was not what the Serb expected – she really wanted a Peking duckwith plum sauce and paper-thin pancakes, in the style of a Chinese take away. She didn’t tell me as such, but I know her and I know exactly what she was thinking. However, their versionwas excellent and I think this is probably their defining dish. Every restaurant should have one dish that everyone recommends, and Zengo’s is the duck maseca pancake – shredded duck,with a sweet chipotle barbeque sauce on a soft tortilla base.
We also had Wagyu Sate – beef skewers in a peanut sauce – but it too was quite a sweet dish, so combined with the duck and the Serb, there was just a bit too much sweetness at the table,unfortunately. Finally, we shared the carbonara, that famous Mexican/Asian dish. But it was made with udon noodles, so I think they just about get away with it.
The Zengo experience is traditional, keeping traditional service points that the newer breed of restaurants are often sacrificing. It’s this attention to detail that takes Zengo into the upperechelon of premium dining in Dubai. Whether it’s the best in Dubai is not my place to say, but as I looked around the room at the many busy tables, Zengo was doing exactly what arestaurant should be doing.
You see, restaurants affect us in every way you can imagine. Restaurants are not just a place to eat; restaurants are non-denominational cathedrals where people from all walks of lifegather for a common purpose. Restaurants offer companionship, unity, sustenance, shelter and comfort. They help us forge bonds and create memories that last lifetimes. What could bemore important to humanity then that? So, next time you are lucky enough to dine out with loved ones or friends, take a breath between your appetizer and main course to reflect,appreciate and savour that moment – they don’t last forever. You’ll feel better for it, I promise.
Zengo in Japanese means “Give and Take.” Zengo manages to give so much more than just food – but they do take your money. 600 Dhs for two, to be precise.