Review: Jun's, chef Kelvin Cheung's Dubai debut
Is Dubai ready for this grown-up fusion restaurant?
Chef Kelvin Cheung is marking a milestone when we visit his newly opened restaurant, Jun’s, one early September evening: it’s a year since he moved to Dubai. It’s a special occasion for many, but especially for a chef who’s spent the last 12 months pouring his passion into his first Dubai restaurant. In Jun’s, chef Kelvin presents a love letter to his memories of food that begin in childhood and evolve through the chef’s culinary career that’s taken him around the world. It is self-described as progressive, modern and approachable fine dining. We’re suitably intrigued.
That aforementioned menu is showcased against the backdrop of a sleek restaurant space on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, a location typically reserved for unlicensed restaurants. However due to its tie to Vida Downtown, Jun’s pairs its fusion menu of North American and Asian flavours with an array of cocktails, wines and spirits: something they’d do well to put more emphasis on.
The aesthetic has the feel of a stylish brasserie, with a marble floor in rich teal, burnt orange and black leather chairs and copper accents. It might feel very masculine if it wasn’t for the ornate feathers in shades of coffee, taupe and cream that add a feminine touch to the bar, the kitchen counter, DJ booth and walls wherever the designers have found an inch of space. With it’s double height ceiling and impressive size Jun’s could feel a little soulless, but soft lighting, lively DJ beats and a largely full restaurant ensure it doesn’t.
To give a little backstory to those unfamiliar with the culinary star of this show, chef Kelvin Cheung is a Chinese-Canadian third-generation chef. Born in Canada, raised in Chicago, rising through the ranks in kitchens in America and Hong Kong, his culinary influence also comes from his Chinese heritage and French training – so it’s impossible to tie his cooking to just one cuisine. What each dish does have is a story behind it, whether it’s a dessert inspired by his failed bubble tea shop from university or day trips to Macau as a child that inspires the Macanese lobster.
Among the star starters, we’re surprised by how much we enjoy the flavour-packed rainbow heirloom carrots (Dhs60), simply seasoned with a soy honey butter and presented on a bed of creamy smoked labneh. Another table-pleasing small plate is the scallop and corn (Dhs70) is chef Kelvin’s twist on scallop sushi with slivers of Hokkaido scallop neatly topping discs of warm crispy rice, in turn plated onto a corn puree.
The Norwegian salmon tartare (Dhs80) is a colourful combination of punchy agua de chile, charred avocado and diced raw salmon that we pile onto crisp nori crackers, and we much prefer it to the slightly-too-rich Wagyu beef tartare with Szechuan bone marrow (Dhs115), which misses the mark.
Loosening our belts, we move to mains and opt to try the brilliant Macanese lobster (Dhs175), which arrives as chunks of Atlantic lobster in a thick madras curry sauce, mixed in with mushroom, coconut and parmesan and perfectly pairs with piping hot steamed buns. The miso glazed Chilean seabass (Dhs175) is tasty, but not the best version we’ve ever eaten in Dubai.
For dessert, we can’t miss trying the boba creme brulee (Dhs45), and the addition of coconut tapioca boba is a novel and welcome twist to a classic sweet.
These nostalgic narrative that comes with each dish chef Kelvin presents gives Jun’s an intimacy that is rarely offered in Dubai, but in a restaurant of this size, it’s not going to be easy to replicate that experience with every guest. While the handpicked team are knowledgeable on the story of each dish, it’s never quite the same as hearing it straight from chef Kelvin.
The verdict: An audience with chef Kelvin is not one to be missed.
Jun’s, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai, 5.30pm to 2am daily. Tel: (0)4 457 6035, junsdubai.com