On top down under
James Fryer takes a trip to Dubai’s first Australian fine dining restaurant, and gets more than he bargained for.
Maybe Yalumba’s interior designers managed to find another job. How could they have forgotten the pictures of Uluru hanging on the walls, the didgeridoo standing in the corner and Aboriginal-looking sculptures taking pride of place? If the words ‘modern australian cuisine’ didn’t appear below the restaurant’s name, you wouldn’t guess where Yalumba was pitching itself amongst the city’s plethora of restaurants. For that, the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen of Le Meridien is due a bonus.
Named after Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba is all about subtlety, simplicity and attention to detail. A relaxing balance between minimalism and modern chic has been achieved through the use of sharp edges, dark woods, neutral tones and a layout which creates a roomy and interesting use of space. The chefs can be seen working in the island kitchen, the numerous tables are generously spread out and funky elements, such as the long marble bar make this eatery special.
But let’s get onto the real business – the food. The Asian influences are clear and each dish is granted a good couple of lines to explain exactly what’s on offer. Crab and spinach wontons were wholeheartedly welcomed by my companion, who dealt with the sweetest chilli sauce known to man admirably. My caesar salad combo of crisp cos lettuce, parmesan shavings, and poached egg was also an overriding success. A quick word to non-fish vegetarians – stay clear of the deliciously unusual fresh tuna-bread which adorns the table – not cheese as we first suspected.
I was nervous about the forthcoming main course. If I had a dirham for every time second-rate mains had followed a star introduction, I’d have enough to afford a glass of Yalumba’s house wine by now. Thankfully the interlude was interrupted by the arrival of a meaty crayfish bursting with freshness, if only a little bland with the accompanying tomato sauce and creamy potato salad. The ever-attentive and extremely friendly waitress checked the steak was cooked to my rare specification – and it was. Perhaps nearby M’s Beef Bistro could learn a thing or two from one of the best steaks I have ever tasted – perfectly seared on the outside, tender and, dare I say it, melt in the mouth throughout. Accompanied with a filo basket overflowing with shitake mushrooms, this was a dish that worked wonders.
When phoning to book a table, I informed the recipient of my call that it was my companion’s birthday. I didn’t think anything of it when I was asked what the birthday girl’s name was. I was hoping the kitchen would be informed of the special occasion, and that something like chocolate cake would be chosen. From the corner of my eye I spotted what must have been all of the staff coming towards us. My companion wasn’t aware until a chorus of Happy Birthday swept the restaurant and a delicious candle-lit cheesecake piled high with fresh strawberries, pineapple and kiwi had arrived. The real icing on the cake, pun intended, was a hand-crafted plaque bearing my partner’s name. Someone really had been listening when I booked.
Chocoholics will be right at home with Yalumba’s luxurious dessert menu, but the sweet Italian casatta we chose to share was a welcome zingy and fruity colourful delight. The remaining 80 per cent of the cake was boxed for us to take home, and a bill under Dhs 400 (the cake was complimentary) arrived. It was just before 11pm and the staff busied over setting tables for the following morning’s breakfast – the only fault of an otherwise perfect celebratory evening.
It’s the details that make all the difference, so long as the basics are done correctly. Great food and service surpassed the definition of the word basic, and the smaller touches presented themselves abundantly throughout the evening. In a place where you won’t find any Crocodile Dundee gimmicks or clichéd tack, you will find some seriously good tucker which, if representative of the land down under, is somewhere I’m heading on my next flight out of Dubai.
Yalumba, Le Meridien Dubai. Tel: (04) 2824040.