Zheng He’s, a restaurant named and themed after the explorer, is the venue for today.
Overall: The service, decor, and food were all excellent. Not only was this some of the best Asian food I’ve had, it was some of the best food I’ve ever had, period.
Entrance and Decor
The entrance to the restaurant is a descending stairway lit with lantern-style lights. It’s a good introduction to get you in the mood for your dining experience. The host desk is at the bottom of the stairway. The restaurant has an open and inviting feel. The decor is fairly minimalist with some slight Asian accents to add to the theme. The intent is clear, that the restaurant wants an open dining experience that focuses on the food and is appropriate for the entire family. This was accented by the fact that there were predominantly families dining at the restaurant.
The view from our table was spectacular. The hotel fountain/pond was right next to us, and the beach and horizon were immediately visible beyond that. We actually spent a few minutes taking in the sunset view before taking our seats. The table decorations were also minimalist…in that they were non-existent aside from the Chinese style triangular cloth napkins and chopsticks. All in all, the introduction definitely made me optimistic for the meal I was about to experience.
Two of us ordered the fixed menu called “Zheng He’s Voyage.” It is a nine course meal for two (but there was certainly enough food to serve three) designed to provide diners with an experience of the entire menu. At 360 AED per person, it’s remarkably well priced compared to similar quality restaurants as well. The third person in our group ordered dim sum and stuffed crab claws separately. There are too many courses to review each one individually, so I’m just going to go over the highlights, but rest assured that everything was delicious.
The appetizers included a selection of various dumplings and dim sum, and a wonton soup. I particularly enjoyed the barbecue chicken bun, but the other items were also all good.
The entrees is where the meal really picked up. Let’s start with the duck, the restaurant’s specialty. It was a perfectly tender roasted sliced duck cooked with a perfect crisp on the skin, as all duck should be cooked. It was accompanied with Chinese pancakes, sliced cucumber, spring onions, and two different sauces (ginger lime, and hoison). The idea was to wrap the duck, cucumber, and spring onions in the pancake with a drizzle of the sauce. Everything worked together perfectly. The crunch of the cucumbers and spring onions added a great texture accent to the tender duck, and the sauce was exactly what was needed to elevate the dish to the next level. The house specialty was delicious.
The slow cooked short ribs were also remarkable. They were perfectly tender, sliding off the bone at the slightest touch. The barbecue sauce was the perfect combination of sweet, smoky, and a little tangy. It was incredibly flavorful without being too heavy or overpowering, quite a feat to accomplish with this type of dish. There was a sizzling homemade tofu dish which should also be mentioned. It was brought out on a metal skillet, and a minced chicken and peanut gravy was poured on top of the tofu and skillet at the table. It sizzled and bubbled and added a bit of flare to what might have otherwise been an ordinary dish. It also tasted excellent, the peanuts and chicken providing a nice elevation to the blandness of tofu, so it wasn’t just for show.
The star of the meal, though, was without a doubt the Chilean sea bass with spicy chili sauce. I scarcely have the words to describe how incredible this dish was. Mind blowing? Orgasmic? Unbelievable? Yes, it was definitely all of these things. What I want to talk about, though, is the stunning preciseness of balance that it showcased. The danger with cooking a fish like this in Asian spices and seasoning is losing the delicate flavor of the fish itself. This regularly happens in South Asian cuisine where the flavors of seafood are masked with unnecessarily heavy spices. Going too far in the other direction, however, can also be dangerous as the dish might end up too bland. I have never eaten a dish that was as well balanced as this one. The batter on the fish was light and thin, giving an extra layer to the texture and flavor, but not being overly present. The chili sauce added just enough heat to accent the natural warmth of the fish. And the fish itself, the fish itself! I still have not been able to understand how a battered cubed fish could possibly have been cooked so perfectly, hot and flaky throughout, while still being moist and tender. The fish itself deserves some credit, but this is a fish that is also quite easy to mess up. If you’re going to order anything at this restaurant, this is what I would recommend. I would pay the price of the entire meal just for this dish.
The desert was an interesting experience and provided a fun close to the meal. Believer it or not, that picture is of what this restaurant called a creme brulee. Rest assured, it’s not a creme brulee. The desert was a chocolate mousse cake, lychee sorbet, and sliced kumquat marmalade. The creme brulee element was that the chocolate mousse did indeed have a layer of torched sugar on top. The flavors complimented each other quite well. The mousse was light, the kumquat marmalade added a nice acidity, and the lychee sorbet provided a light finish. They just shouldn’t call a tulip a rose.
All in all, I think the final picture below perfectly sums up this restaurant experience. This is the best place I have eaten in Dubai, and one of the best I’ve eaten at in my life. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has a chance to eat there.