What’s On travels to London
Home away from home…
We’re fortunate in Dubai to have imported many of the globe’s biggest names in hospitality. From Coya and Indochine to Nammos, Zuma and Nobu, the list goes on. In recent years though, we’ve seen more of our favourite homegrown concepts make their way overseas. La Cantine just opened in Mykonos, Gaia exported to Monaco, Opa is in St Tropez, and a handful of hotspots have chosen London as their home.
But with 7,000 kilometres between them, can the sister outposts match up to their desert-based siblings?
Where to dine?
The Maine Mayfair
One of the UAE’s finest homegrown concepts, The Maine, had no issues in making its mark in Mayfair. Proudly hosting some of the biggest names in fashion within the first four weeks, The Maine Mayfair earned its place as talk of the town in no time. The two-storey space, set within a historical townhouse in Hanover Square, has a casual yet cosy outdoor terrace on the ground level, but head downstairs and you’ll discover a sultry brasserie, lit only by the glow of some very glitzy chandeliers, small lamps on each of the luxe marble tables and an oddly bright open kitchen at the back of the venue. It’s a weekday when we visit, and a glamourous four-piece jazz band are playing in the middle of the room, providing a retro supper club-style atmosphere. On weekends, we’re told the entertainment cranks up a notch with cabaret-style dancers.
Those familiar with The Maine Land Brasserie in Dubai’s Business Bay will recognise many of the menu’s dishes, such as crispy fish tacos, slow-cooked short rib, Maine lobster and a selection of steaks. We couldn’t resist the tacos (approx. Dhs90), one of our favourite dishes in the Dubai outposts, and they don’t disappoint here either. The lightly battered fish balances perfectly with the fresh pico de gallo and drizzle of sour cream. We also try the T-bone (approx. Dhs700). While grass-fed meat wouldn’t normally be our first choice, the meat is suitably tender and cooked to our medium rare request. The restaurant carries many similarities to its original, however, the added element of entertainment seems to elevate this outpost from a great restaurant to an exclusive cabaret club.
Il Borro Tuscan Bistro London
Externally, Il Borro Tuscan Bistro in London couldn’t be more polar opposite than the one found in Dubai. In Dubai, Il Borro is located in Turtle Lagoon of Jumeirah Al Nassem; a ground-floor trattoria with a large outdoor terrace that overlooks the turtles as the sun sets behind Burj Al Arab. In London, we’re presented with a two-storey terraced building on busy Berkeley Street in Mayfair. Inside, however, we’re thrown into familiarity as the interiors effortlessly convey the high-end warmth that Il Borro guests adore. Dubai is ingrained in the story of the London space, as our waiter immediately launches into the brand’s timeline with genuine enthusiasm. The menu is near-identical to its original, which makes us wonder if the best-sellers are the same in both regions. We start with the pappa al pomodoro (approx. Dhs71), although it’s a little more rustic than we’d imagined. It’s hard to finish everything as we know we have a pasta course on the way. Choosing the tortelli con zucca e tartufo (approx. Dhs142), we tuck into al dente tortellini pieces filled with creamy pumpkin, topped with crispy pumpkin pieces and fresh truffle shavings. Next, we go for a filetto di branzino (approx. Dhs161). It’s a beautiful piece of delicate sea bass, with perfectly crispy skin and served on a vivid green bed of pea and mint puree. Our last stop is a light and fluffy tiramisu, which has just the right balance of cream and caffeine.
SushiSamba Heron Tower
While Palm Tower Dubai might not have been the originator of this iconic restaurant, it’s certainly made a name for itself in the last year. SushiSamba opened in London’s Heron Tower in 2012, followed by Covent Garden in 2018 and Dubai in 2021 (as well as an outpost in Las Vegas and a soon-to-open restaurant and beach club in Doha). The restaurant takes over the 38th and 39th floors of the skyscraper in Liverpool Street, with views of The Gherkin, The Shard and many more of London’s best-known landmarks – whether you’re dining next to the restaurant’s huge floor-to-ceiling windows, or its expansive outdoor terrace (home to SushiSamba’s famed orange-leaf tree).
The menu features more Brazilian dishes than the Dubai outpost, which focuses a little too much on sushi and not enough on samba for our liking. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we go full Carioca on the mains – but first, it’s a sushi starter. We try the samba London (approx. Dhs87), which somehow manages to pack in tuna, salmon, hamachi, avocado, asparagus and onion into one neat roll, topped with hishiho miso, crispy yuba and a yuzu dressing. Despite the mix of ingredients, the flavours blend well for a refreshing start to the meal.
A more unusual maki choice is the el topo roll (approx. Dhs73). We were intrigued by the fresh melted cheese, which sits atop salmon, jalapeño, shiso, and is finished with crispy shallots, spicy mayo and eel sauce. It divides the table due to the unusual textures and use of warmth in a typically cold dish. It’s worth trying, but we’re still trying to decide if we liked it or not.
In any restaurant with a menu that features gyoza, we will be trying said gyoza, and SushiSamba is no exception. The only option is wagyu gyoza (approx. Dhs92), but that’s alright with us. We receive tightly packed little parcels, pinched at the sides to stop any juices escaping. Inside is an explosion of flavour, bursting with delicious beef, kabocha purée and sweet soy that effortlessly disappears in just one bite.
For our main course, or ‘large plate’, we share a churrasco Rio grande (approx. Dhs248), which includes sliced rib-eye, chorizo and filet mignon all on one platter. Sadly, the kitchen was out of farofa (a traditional quinoa-like side dish), so we opted for rice, but it was also served with plenty of chimichurri and signature dipping sauces. The meat was well-seasoned and cooked so that it’s just pink in the middle. Having a mix of cuts to choose from is a dream for meat lovers, so we were more than satisfied, mopping up the juices ‘til the end.
Where to stay
The Carlton Tower by Jumeirah
Jumeirah and Dubai go together like Burj Khalifa and selfies. The city is home to 12 Jumeirah properties (soon to be 13), with another in Abu Dhabi, so most of us are well accustomed to its level of hospitality. But we were a little apprehensive to see how the brand would translate in London’s upmarket area of Knightsbridge. The Carlton Tower by Jumeirah recently underwent a huge renovation, and now has a very luxe yet welcoming feel to it. The redesign focused around letting in much more natural light, creating big windows that overlook Cadogan Place Park. The hotel is home to a large indoor swimming pool, housed in its chic spa with luxurious day beds surrounded by sheer white curtains, which are perched on the mezzanine level under an arced window that floods the room with even more natural light.
The rooms are well-designed and comfortable, finished in that signature Jumeirah style. We stay in a balcony room that has a small ledge just wide enough to stand on and enjoy the view of the park and across the top of London’s busy streets. The first thing that struck us was the size of the TV – pinned to the wall was a close-to-cinema size screen and on the other side of the room, a plush velvet L-shaped sofa. The second thing was the level of detail that had gone into making the experience personalised and special. We received leather key cards, emblazoned with our initials; monogrammed slippers in the softest material we’ve ever touched; and on the coffee table was a scrabble board complete with edible biscuit letters, spelled out with our names. Talk about a warm welcome.
Al Mare is the hotel’s signature restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from its ground floor location. It’s an elegant space that feels stylish and premium, with white-clothed tables set against quilted leather booths and soft furnishings in royal blue tones. The morning presents a menu of classic breakfast dishes, along with a small buffet serving fruit, cold cuts and pastries. After 12pm, the a la carte menu offers modern Italian cuisine, with a focus on fresh seafood, working its way from crudo to pesce through a series of insalatas, homemade pastas and main courses.
The hotel is just a five-minute walk from Knightsbridge tube station, and if you keep walking, you’ll reach Hyde Park. Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace are also within walking distance, so anyone looking to stay in the thick of the city should definitely consider The Carlton Tower by Jumeirah.