Is it more style over substance at this vibrant Business Bay spot?

From Mr Miyagi’s and Miss Tess to Little Miss India, quirky restaurants themed around fictional characters are de rigueur in Dubai at the moment. And the latest addition to Business Bay’s dining scene, Latin American-inspired Hotel Cartagena, is another that embraces this new movement. It’s owned, says the blurb, by a mysterious Mrs Buenida, who is a, “lovingly temperamental,” lady who runs, “an eclectic bohemian paradise cooking daring Latin recipes from her kitchen”.

You’ll need to take two lifts in the JW Marriott Marquis to reach Cartagena, but the views of Dubai are stunning when you get there. The calming pastel hues of the ill-fated Morah (the restaurant that occupied this spot previously) have been replaced with neon lights, vibrant wallpapers and faux foliage that hangs from every corner. It’s bold, brash and has instant wow factor.

On offer is a sharing menu with selections called Bites, Empanadas, Chicharones and Crudo. The crispy coconut calamari (Dhs55) was a winning combination thanks to some much-needed crunch from the coconut and the right amount for spice from the aioli creole. The octopus chicharone (Dhs78) also went down well, and was served with a delicious black potato foam that delivered unique flavours. A black bean chorizo empanada (Dhs52) though was bland and was more like a pastry puff, but a mushroom and cheese empanada (Dhs60) kept the mood igh – it was a simple, tasty mouthful of cheesy goodness.

Unfortunately, the main courses were something of a let down. Dishes arrived cold, and the Brazilian Picanha Steak (Dhs225) was chewy and tough and left the table almost untouched. The steamed mussels (Dhs145) were a better option –  the kick from some chorizo salsa and chilis gave the perfect balance to the fishy flavour of mussels and every last drop of the sauce was soaked up. But again, it wasn’t perfect – the small portion left us hungry for more.

Dessert wis where Mrs Buenida really excels. The churros 9Dhs48) arrived as three super-sized dough sticks, served with a dish of melted south American chocolate and passionfruit curd. Both were delicious; eaten together they were fantastic.

Hotel Cartagena has potential – tweak the mains and Mrs Buenida will be seeing us again.

JW Marriott Marquies, Business Bay, Dubai, daily 5.30pm to 3am. Tel: (04) 560 1799.

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