Al Mahara @ the Burj Al Arab

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Al Mahara = The Oyster in Arabic. I meant for this to be a restaurant review but it has turned into more of a ramble on the ordeal we had of even getting to the place! Oh well. Please read on if you will.

Last week I was finally able to secure a reservation for Al Mahara at the Burj Al Arab. This is the restaurant that has the huge fish tank in the middle:

photo from Burj Al Arab website
photo from Burj Al Arab website

The reservations were for last night (Tuesday) and as Scotch and I drove towards the Burj – I decided not to valet. In NY, valet parking is very rare and always expensive and ’till this day, I still have a hard time valeting my car.

So I had this bright idea that we would self-park! I do it at every other hotel in Dubai, why not here? As we drove into the car park in our little Toyota Yaris rental, we passed an amazing array of very, very, expensive (some quite colorful) cars including the hotel’s fleet of white Rolls Royces, and finally squeaked our way into a parking spot (I say squeak b/c you can always hear me coming from a mile away as our little Yaris has got an engine squeaking problem).

It soon became obvious that no one self-parks their car at the Burj because there was no direct way out of the car park and into the hotel lobby. We had to walk up 4 flights of stairs, through room service, almost getting lost in the kitchen until someone in a chef uniform lead us out, then more back-of-house (where they had pictures of staff at various team-building events), only to emerge behind the reception area! What a laugh it was. I bet all the staff that we passed by thought we were nuts.

By this time, we were 15 minutes late for our 7pm reservation. Oh well. I was more concerned about how we would find our way back through the back-of-house maze and to our parking spot. Needless to say, I will never be self-parking at the Burj ever again when valet is free.

We checked in at the hostess table but they couldn’t find our reservations. We were a bit late but surely they couldn’t have given our table away already? The nice hostess asked for my confirmation number and luckily I still had it on my phone. I punched up the conf # and said, “Here it is, # blah-blah-blah for April 23rd at 7pm. It is Tuesday, right?” At that point, both Scotch and the hostess looked at me as if it were Monday. “It is Tuesday today, right?” I repeated.

Ok, so it was Tuesday but it was also April 22nd, not the 23rd. Ach! Long story short, I did make the original reservation for Wednesday, but then I called to say that we couldn’t do Wednesday, could we have Tuesday instead? I was told that I could change it to Tuesday, but it would have to be at 7pm and not 7:30pm as originally scheduled. I said no problem. So it seems that the time was changed, but not the date. (Why does this stuff always happen to me?)

I was prepared at that point to be sent home but maybe the nice hostess sensed that I had already paid my penance through the car-park/back-of-house journey and allowed us to stay and dine as long as we vacated our table by 9pm. Whew!

How was the dinner?

Well, before I get to that, I thought there was supposed to be some kind of submarine ride to get you down to the dining room. Turns out, the “submarine ride” ended up being just a mundane contraption know as the Elevator (the submarine simulator was broken and has been for some time now).

Dinner? It was amazing! And it was also not. I had a pre-starter of 4 oysters (one with pineapple, one with Thai fish sauce, one with sesame carrot sauce, and one au natural) which at first seemed like odd combinations but was quite scrumptious. I loved them all! Especially the one in the Thai fish sauce. So thumbs up here.

Scotch had a starter of scallops with veal cheeks with an amazing sauce. Also thumbs up. My starter was a lobster bisque with seafood ravioli. The ravioli was very tasty and the lobster bisque was properly balanced and also tasty but not amazing. No thumbs down but no thumbs up either.

For our mains, I ordered the lobster thermidor (way over-salted for me!) and Scotch had the Kobe beef with pan-seared foie gras. I wasn’t very impressed with my dish but Scotch’s was freaking amazing. Especially the sauce! With every bite, I found myself whispering, “Holy mother of God.” And I’m not even religious! Two thumbs up!

So for two starters (and the pre-starter that I snuck in), two entrees, two glasses of wine, one gin and tonic, two cups of tea, and no desserts, the total bill came to 2300 dhs ($625). Yikes.

The service? It was just fine. Not quite 5-star (nor self-proclaimed 7-star) but the waiters were friendly, unobtrusive and efficient. Oh, and there was a really nice harpist throughout the evening.

I’m sorry that I don’t have any photos of the food. Blogging faux pas, I know. I wanted to take some but Scotch asked me not to embarrass him by whipping out my camera. Not that I ever listen but I thought I’d let him have his way, you know, just this once.

I did sneak in a shot of the fish tank (which I couldn’t take my eyes off!) from the vantage point of our dining table:

Al Mahara Restaurant

From what I could see, there was a leopard and a black-tip shark, moral eel, triggers, huge grouper, angelfish, butterflyfish, and much more.

And we did find our way back behind the reception area, through the staff photo gallery and room service, and finally down the 4 flights into the bowels of the car-park. Just a few confused stares from the staff along the way.

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