Is this hip, hidden brasserie the new pearl of JBR?
There’s something going on in JBR, and it’s got nothing to do with the outdoor mall. While several new restaurants are wedged in along the seafront, the siren scrape of steel on nacre has been drawing curious crowds to a secret spot at the southernmost tip; tucked away in the car park of the unassuming DoubleTree By Hilton.
Called the Maine Oyster Bar & Grill, it’s one of the most ambitious projects in the area, and it’s already making Dubai’s diners sit up and take notice.
Why? Firstly, design. Founder Joey Ghazal has a history of transforming empty spaces into talking points, having treated concepts such as the award-winning Angry Monkey in Lebanon and a new hidden bar inside Dubai’s popular Stereo Arcade like giant dioramas – filling them with elaborate details that encourage visitors to explore. The effect at the Maine is that of a fisherman’s warehouse plucked from the shores of America’s East Coast, transformed into a cool, seaside brasserie, and plonked back down again in the car park of a Dubai hotel.
The restaurant has no real signage from the road, making it a great clandestine date spot. Once you do find your way inside, your attention will be immediately drawn to a long bar manned by bearded men in bow ties. One wall displays a healthy selection of tipples, and a black latticework bench divided by large white pillars runs down the centre of the restaurant, separating the bar from the dining area. Huge plant pots add glimmers of colour to the otherwise monochrome room and there’s a beautiful, if slightly dark, terrace.
Big band music sets the mood for the crowd – which is surprisingly mature for a restaurant that has been teasing its growing social media following with snaps of edgy young chefs and tongue-in-cheek quotes. Then again, hipsters and baby boomers have always had shared interests.
On to the food, and half a dozen freshly shucked Jersey oysters (Dhs120) were the perfect bar snack, garnished with a selection of mignonettes, fresh horseradish, lemon and Tabasco sauce. Equal parts creamy and metallic, they needed little adornment, but a sprinkle of horseradish added a welcome kick.
A crispy fish taco (Dhs64) made a generous appetiser for two, and came on a soft white tortilla topped with pico de gallo and lemon aioli. The jerk crabocado (Dhs87) was hunks of Canadian snow crab mixed with delicious Jamaican jerk spice and breadcrumbs and served on a bed of chunky avocado. The claw meat was perfect with the cool avocado and the slight crunch of the breadcrumbs. The truffle and mushroom pizza was an unexpected curveball – and an instant home run. Its thin crust miraculously held together beneath the weight of the Shimeji mushrooms dripping in cheese and black truffle.
Of the main courses, the halibut and bearnaise (Dhs150) was the stuff of dreams. Lightly sautéed, the top had a golden crunch, and the mashed potatoes, beef bacon and green peas were bathed in a rich, creamy, buttery sauce.
Although stuffed, our Key Lime Pie (Dhs35) with lime meringue and a double dollop of Chantilly cream was still a pleasure to eat.
In terms of the design, the vibe, and the food, the Maine is a hidden pearl on JBR. It tackles a lot (meats, pizzas, craft cocktails, fresh oysters and so on) but does so very well – this place is definitely worth ‘shelling’ out for.
DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel, JBR, Dubai, daily noon until midnight. Tel: (04) 4576719. Taxi: DoubleTree Hilton. themaine.ae
Atmosphere: Party, Romantic, Cosy
Price: Dhs250 to Dhs749 (dinner for two with soft drinks)