- One of the most decorated luxury hotels in the world, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai has frequently been called “the world’s first seven-star hotel” and “the most luxurious hotel in the world” by travel writers and critics.
- I recently visited the hotel to try its flagship restaurant, Al Mahara, helmed by the Michelin-starred British chef Nathan Outlaw.
- Like the gold-and-marble-covered hotel it’s housed in, Al Mahara can be an over-the-top experience, with extravagances like caviar and truffles finding their way into numerous dishes and checks that can easily top $US400 for two people.
- While the seafood restaurant is no doubt delicious, with fresh ingredients and a few inspired dishes, truthfully I’ve had much better meals, with tasting menus, for less. At times, it feels as though you are paying for the location.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat where the big shots do, Al Mahara might seem like a good place to start.
It’s the flagship restaurant of the Burj Al Arab, a Dubai hotel frequently described by travel writers and critics as the most luxurious in the world.
Since 2016, Al Mahara has been helmed by the Michelin-starred British chef Nathan Outlaw. In addition to his restaurant at the Burj, Outlaw has four other highly regarded restaurants in the United Kingdom and has appeared on several cooking shows.
His main restaurant, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, has two Michelin stars and is considered one of the best restaurants in the world.
On a recent trip to Dubai, I planned to stay at the Burj Al Arab. Having never eaten at a Nathan Outlaw joint, I knew I’d have to make a trip to Al Mahara.
While Outlaw is known for its pared-back approach, Al Mahara appears to have a slightly more maximalist take on seafood. Its head chef, Pete Biggs, an Outlaw veteran, rises to the golden aura of the Burj.
Here’s what it was like:
Shaped like the sail of an Arabian dhow ship and built for $US1 billion, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai has been described as the world’s first seven-star hotel and the most luxurious hotel in the world.
In November, I visited the hotel for a night and decided to try all that the luxurious place had to offer — and there’s nothing rich people like to spend money on more than food. This is what the atrium of the Burj looks like. Yes, it’s all real gold.
I had a dinner reservation at the Burj’s flagship restaurant, Al Mahara. To get to the restaurant, you take this turquoise-and-gold elevator that looks like an Hermès enameled bangle. Every room in the hotel looks like a finely crafted piece of jewellery.
If it wasn’t clear from the giant gold seashell that is the host stand, Al Mahara is all about seafood.
Like everything else in the Burj, Al Mahara’s wine racks do in fact glitter with gold. It’s in spots like this where my brain is caught between “Can only gold be a design aesthetic?” and “Ooh, sparkly wall!”
But Al Mahara, like the Burj, does nothing halfway. Witness this golden seashell hallway to the dining room. There are a few places I’ve been to in my life that seem ripped from a Bond villain’s lair — this is one of them.
Even the bathroom was wrapped in ribbons of gold.
The dining room of Al Mahara wraps around a floor-to-ceiling, 260,000-gallon aquarium filled with fish (not the ones you’ll be eating). Staff members have taken to naming the fish, like a goofy-looking Napoleon fish known as George.
To start my meal at Al Mahara, I ordered a Manhattan — my usual drink of choice — but asked them to make it with the Japanese whisky Nikka From the Barrel. It was precisely made: equal parts bitter and sweet, with the peppery, smoky, of-the-sea flavour I associate with Nikka.
Before I even had the chance to order, the waiter brought over an amuse-bouche — a small, complimentary hors d’oeuvre — of butternut-squash soup. The mellow soup was brought alive by smoked pumpkin seeds and slivers of briny codfish.
The kitchen at Al Mahara was taken over in 2016 by the British Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw, known for his “pared-down approach” to local, sustainable seafood. Here’s a look at the menu. The prices are in dirhams — $US1 is about 3.7 dirhams.
Outlaw’s menu, according to The Telegraph’s Lara Brunt, is quite a change of pace from the original menu, which tended toward complex French food. But we’re still in the Burj, so you don’t get regular butter with your bread — you get smoked-salmon butter.
While Brunt said Outlaw’s “pared-down approach” was intact at Al Mahara, the dishes I encountered, while delicious, were often as over-the-top as a golden elevator. For example, the crispy oysters (about $US70) were not only deep-fried but surrounded with a creamy oyster-and-cucumber sauce and topped with … caviar.
Source: Al Mahara
The lobster cocktail ($US80) was packed with fresh, tender lobster meat brushed with an herby crème fraîche and accompanied by a few leaves of baby gem lettuce that were topped with … black truffle. Dishes like that seem designed to underscore — as if you’d forgotten — that you are eating in “the most luxurious hotel in the world.”
Source: Al Mahara
The main courses find the pared-back footing. The salt-baked whole sea bass ($US266) is both simple and theatrical, arriving encased in salt and filleted tableside.
Source: Al Mahara
The fish is as fresh and tender as you’d expect in a dish the price of a smartphone. It’s a lot of food; my partner and I did not come close to finishing it.
The other entrée I ordered was a chilli king crab in the shell ($US114). The dish was like a simplified version of a famous Singaporean specialty, featuring crab swimming in a sweet, orange-red sauce. Outlaw’s crab was brushed delicately with a subtler sweet-and-spicy sauce. A garnish of sliced chilli peppers added a kick.
The star of the meal wasn’t even one of the dishes, but the sauce that came on the side. The vividly orange Porthilly crab sauce, a classic concoction used at all of Outlaw’s restaurants, tastes like a buttery seafood bisque. If it weren’t for the confines of social niceties, I would have poured the sauce into a cup and drunk it like a milkshake.
For dessert — I was so stuffed that I can’t believe I even ordered it — I had the passionfruit baked Alaska with mango sorbet ($US26). After the taste-bud overkill of the fried oysters and truffle-topped lobster, the mellow, sweet-and-tart dessert was a gentle comedown.
Was it worth it? The restaurant is no doubt delicious, with fresh ingredients and a few inspired dishes, but asking whether a meal that cost upward of $US500 for two people is worth it is probably the wrong question. Truthfully, I’ve had much better meals, with tasting menus, for less — but here you’re paying for the gold-covered spectacle of the location. The food is more of a side dish.
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