It was a sunny mid-October morning in Dubai when we expats started feeling a break from the summer heat. I was excited to catch up with a friend whose life I only followed on Instagram the last few months due to the weather, travel and, let’s be frank, other unjustified excuses.
We agreed to meet at La Mer, a sublime seafront community best described as “coastal chic”. One important note, La Mer is very new. Although the community is open, certain things are still being polished and only a few retail outlets operate. Obviously it didn’t stop us from going there; in fact I love to discover places before they turn into “IG’s most shared geotag”. With that evil plan in mind I arrived earlier to impress my friend with local knowledge. While scouting the whole area, I popped my head into a curious looking restaurant with podium-like wood deck, panoramic windows and colourful wall art. HQ’s 459.
“Welcome, welcome,” said a soft voice behind me. I turned around confused and encountered the smiling face of a person dressed in a beautiful embroidered linen-cotton set. Life in a hot climate taught me to appreciate natural fabrics and peculiar designs. “How are you doing on a such hot day,” he continued. “Come in for a cup of coffee. We are not fully opened yet, but we serve.” I still looked a little unconvinced, so he added: “Why walk around in this heat when I know you’ll come back.” I smiled. There was something very cheeky, welcoming, authentic and local in the way he chatted.
He was impossible to refuse but I tried to act cool saying: “Well, I need my friend’s opinion before I step in.” He replied: “We are the only business that serves Lamborghini coffee…” He paused. “Mmmm… sounds like the fanciest coffee in Dubai.”
“I’m in. You got me”.
Little did I know he was one of the owners soaking up sun on the terrace and watching crowds. He could spot a fellow coffee addict from a distance and was kind enough to drag them in. And then I met V. When you see V the first few times she is like that cool Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland who appears and disappears at will, leaving a dazzling smile hanging in the air. It takes a while to get used to, as she tends to lighten up the entire space with her presence. Blessed with physical beauty, she’s got a personality, the sort of person everyone wants to be friends with. I mumbled the silliest question she is probably mostly annoyed with: “Is it V for Victory or V for Vendetta?”
“None,” she replied. It’s Veniece. My dad’s favourite city”.
Conveniently short and sharp, it clearly indicated the chef’s focus on extended breakfast, minimalism in ingredients, interesting food pairing and potentially a fantastic meal. When my friend walked through the door she saw me studying a menu with the curiosity of a person who craved an espresso but opted for a 7-course dinner. We agreed to share a few things, the chef’s specials for the day, starting with Nitro coffees.
Our first appetiser was tuna ceviche with a dash of lemon juice, dill, black garlic on the side, and sprinkled with powdered seaweed. Beautiful translucent cubes with refreshing taste, I could swear there was chopped pomelo but I never confirmed. The high quality hard to find tuna was excellent. Black garlic puree brought all ingredients together, setting my expectations for the next course pretty high.
So when the Spanish octopus arrived on a white plate garnished with roasted purple potatoes and chef’s secret spicy sauce, I was in heaven. Cooked perfectly, it could only be described as dreamy and creamy, the soft texture of seafood paired very well with the crunchiness and tartness of the roasted purple potatoes. The house-made chili sauce added a tiny kick to the dish. Needless to say, we fought for the last piece.
Tiger prawns soaked in creamy tomato sauce with extravagant gnocchi, chives and melted leeks stole my heart. They were so good; we demanded to speak to the chef.
Executive Chef James Kim
Chef James Kim didn’t make us wait. In a dark grey cap he casually walked out of the kitchen, grabbed a chair next to us and started talking passionately about simple ingredients and great taste.
Before we asked, he described his cuisine as simple comfort food created to fill diners with happiness. I agreed with the happiness part, but not the rest. Fine dining for the price of casual was what we just experienced. Camouflaged with modesty, Chef James, who in his former life in LA worked as a fashion designer, knew exactly where he was heading. His food excelled at every angle, and one bite will make you crave it again and again, bringing back customers and generating a permanent buzz. My verdict: “Bravo!”.
Oh my God!