Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spectrum on One

Spectrum on One
The Fairmont Hotel
Tel: .04 332 5555

A quick note here. Why on earth do people who write copy for hotels feel they have to write complete crap? The Fairmont website is uncompromising in its felicitous ministrations of the linguistic parallax when talking about Spectrum on One... “The definition of culinary creativity and distinction is demonstrated through a unique dining concept that has garnered numerous accolades.” It’s enough to make you blow chunks, really.

That apart...

I’m quite fond of these ‘casual dining’ restaurants: Spectrum, like Teatro at the Rotana Towers or Yalumba at Le Meridian is not really so much about the food as it is about the whole experience, ambience and atmosphere. You have to do your bit, too: the company you’re keeping can make the difference between a perfectly civilised meal with slightly disappointing food and a highly enjoyable and hilarious night out where everything was just peachy.

All the restaurant has to do is supply decent enough food, quickly and with prompt, pleasant service. And Spectrum on One does all three brilliantly. Spectrum takes up pretty much all of the first floor of Dubai’s Fairmont Hotel and consists of a number of dining areas in a large, open plan setting; an idea made possible through some very clever interior design. There are a number of open cooking stations throughout, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Sushi/Japanese, European and so on. This idea means that a truly global menu is on the cards and, in fact, the menu itself stretches to a stunning 20 pages. That’s a huge choice, one so bewildering that the waiters routinely ask if you’d like help with the menu.

There are also three set menus on offer: the chef’s menu, the F&B manager’s menu and the GM’s menu. A party of eight, for simplicity’s sake, we plumped for the chef’s menu on the grounds that GMs are accountants and wouldn’t know good food from a pickled abalone and F&Bs have never been near a kitchen. Chefs are made to be trusted: even if hindsight might occasionally prove your trust was misplaced.

One thing struck me on the menu: a seafood platter special for two at Dhs 1,300. I think this stands as the most expensive thing I’ve ever seen on a restaurant menu and I honestly cannot see why you would eat Dhs 1,300 of air-freighted seafood in a generic hotel concept restaurant. You want to pay £100 for a plate of fine de clair oysters and Beluga? Eat it fresh from the sea in Dingle, bubba, not wrenched out of a three day stay in the lockup!

After a dip into an excellent wine list, the starters arrived: big bamboo steamers crammed with excellent dim sum (although there was not a drop of soy sauce in sight, three dipping sauces did come with these) and platters of samosas, pakoras and fried things with chutneys and poppadoms. It all added up to a strangely pleasant mixture of soft, fishy things and crispy curry things. Little was left, although the Indian elements did feel a little, well, oily.

Conversation (and vino) flowing, we’re into the mains bang on time, no delay, no mucking around, although the staff seemed a little puzzled about how to put the plates out on the table, which did seem a little, well, odd given this place is hardly new. Bowls of boiled rice, hot Chinese beef, jhinga prawns (stunning), dal makhani and stir fries were popped onto the Lazy Susan to be shared out by the diners. Again, an odd mixture of flavours, but each one distinctive and excellent.

We didn’t need the dessert. An excellent crème brulee had been messed about with too much and would have been better left plain above the sugar line: the tiny ice cream was delicious.

All in all, an excellent meal. Not fine dining brilliance, not subtle or uber-clever. Just a nice ambience, well-done food and good, stable service. You could hardly wish for more if you just want to get on with an evening’s talk, laughter and, last but not least, great company. If you have a noisy, fun party that’s more about enjoying the evening than worrying about the finest of fine dining, you’ll love Spectrum on One.

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