Review: Around the World in 12 courses with 3Fils x Qasr Al Sarab
A more covetous collab than Tiffany and Nike..?
The Empty Quarter that occupies an expansive section of the Arabian peninsular is, for the most part, pretty accurate in terms of nomenclature. Sand tsunamis, some the size of Abu Dhabi’s downtown skyscrapers, roll and crash in a glacial creep across a seemingly otherwise barren landscape. But life, uh, finds a way — the desert harbours an ecosystem built around salt flats, hardy vegetation and double hardy nomadic wildlife.
It’s also home to a scattered congregation of luxurious desert hotels, perhaps the most regal of which is Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. It’s an unashamedly palatial oasis, overlooked on all sides by towering dunes — a luxury retreat for the international travel market’s seclusion seekers. It’s known for its spa and wellness offerings, poetic-view pool villas, and being a hub for the cast and crew of Hollywood blockbusters filming in the locale.
It’s probably fair to say that Qasr Al Sarab is less celebrated for its gastronomy, though it’s an aspect the hotel is acutely focused on developing. Part of this first phase of the repas reboot, is a collaborative 12 course degustation menu with former MENA 50 Best top restaurant, 3Fils and sister sweets brand BRIX — billed as a whistlestop, ‘Around the World’ culinary tour. It’s a pop-up held in the hotel’s exclusive Royal Pavillion and is available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until March 31.
At Dhs900 per head for the soft beverage option, it’s not cheap, but people rarely drive two hours into the desert for ‘cheap’. The real question is whether it’s worth the trek and the cheque.
Outside on the terrace — a full blanket of stars, unencumbered by urban glow, hangs above the banqueting tables. This menu is divided into three stages (The Odyssey, The Expedition and The Discovery) and is delivered as a guided tour. Our waitress Ana sets the scene, as The Odyssey begins. The tempo-setting overture is a homage to the desert — a bedrock of salmon tartare sits below a sand-simulating crumble crust. Digging into the dish, we find exotic seams of ginger and conflicting textures that fit the theatre of the concept.
Ana appears once more and announces the story behind course number two. A tale of Tokyo — the spiritual home of 3Fils — three expertly engineered crudo bites, each paired with an individual crispy foil. Present are tuna and potato, wagyu and ginger, and tuna uni. The complexity, the flavour balancing and presentation all make this feel like the climax to Act One of the trip, but there are still two more rounds to go.
The third flight of the itinerary is a floral arrangement of scallops, with a central mandarin yolk, artfully mimicking the flag of the Philippines. It’s a simple-though-thoroughbred 3Fils seafood dish, delicate slices of scallop are sent spiralling by the perfumed citrus splashes of mandarin.
The concluding chapter of The Odyssey, salmon carpaccio, confirms a trend — despite claiming Norwegian heritage, it has a strong Japanese accent. And that’s more than fine with us. 3Fils serves up some of the best far eastern food in the whole of the UAE, it just makes the ‘Around the World’ theme a little hard to swallow.
Our Expedition phase begins with a mixed mushroom soup. It’s so densely packed with contributing herby-umami flavours, it’s almost impossible to pull apart in any way that makes sense beyond a general feeling of awe. The soup is dove-tailed by an equally exquisite, pop-punk softshell crab, watermelon and avocado towerette in a ponzu dressing. Seabass and Wagyu fillets finish off Act Two in a more conservative fashion, but in quality of craft, they represent a pair of plates almost worthy of the meal’s price tag alone.
The final quartet of the meal is curated by Chef Carmen Rueda Hernandez of BRIX. It begins with a mini ‘winter’ cheesecake; there are caviar pearls (presented in a caviar tin) with yuzu, lime, sesame and white truffle; a spectacularly chromatic cocoa bean shell with chocolate mousse, salted caramel and coffee ‘soil’; and a curtain closer of petit four. It’s art, it’s sweet dish wizardry, clever, comforting and at times disarming, but never less than sublime. A fitting way to say sayonara.
Verdict: Is it worth the price tag? Abolutely. Arguably double the price tag, there are certainly people paying much more for far less. Is it worth the trip? That’s a more subjective dilemma to consider. But the smartest advice we can offer to resolve it is — book yourself a room. You will not be disappointed.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa Desert. Thursday, Friday and Saturday until March 31, 2023, Dhs900. Book at anantara.com