Play Restaurant at The H hotel in Dubai is chef Reif Othman’s first solo venture after a successful stint as the regional executive chef of Zuma Restaurants for Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul (he also oversaw operations in Hong Kong and Miami). Needless to say, expectations were high on my first visit to Play.
The restaurant is on the 36th floor of the hotel and offers beautiful vistas of the twinkling city below via floor to ceiling windows.
The dining room flanks a large bar and lounge area, which is lively when we arrive at 7.30pm and stays that way all night.
The walls have an amber glow and warm up the space, which may be too dimly lit for some.
Play’s food is described as “Mediterasian” – blending Othman’s Japanese background with Mediterranean ingredients. Our waiter is friendly, attentive and explains each section of the menu before we even have to ask. He describes each dish we inquire about in detail and offers his recommendations (not the most expensive items on the menu) without being pushy. After pouring over the menu for too long, we order appetisers, which is where our waiter’s only misstep happens. A few minutes after ordering, he returns (sans food) to tell us the burrata is not available so we sift through the options and order again.
The duck gyoza we opt for are four dumplings hidden under one thin gyoza wrapper. We crack through the flaky topping to reveal fat dumplings stuffed with shredded duck leg confit. The meat is tender, full-flavoured and paired with a deep, rich ponzu sauce. We love them. We’re told our shellfish roll – presented as three mini sliders – is a mix of cod (not shellfish), prawn and crab. The fried Japanese buns the seafood mix is stuffed in are clearly not an afterthought. The soft texture and sweetness of the buns balance the spicy fish well. We devour them.
My main course of rock shrimp risotto is made with a seafood broth that adds nice depth of flavour. There are meaty shimeji mushrooms and a handful of delicately crispy rock shrimp and king crab mixed throughout. My only complaint – and I’m stretching here, because this dish is delicious – is that it’s slightly oversalted. My husband’s 76 Hours – named for how long it’s braised – is a generous portion of bone-in prime beef ribs set atop a pool of goma dressing (a sweet, tangy, sesame-based staple in Japan). I wonder aloud if I’ve ever had meat this tender. Decidedly, I have not. The sweet, slightly charred exterior holds the flavour inside the meat and we eat with abandon. We don’t need a knife to cut through this meat; it simply falls apart on our forks. This, we decide, is meat at its best.
The desserts were less satisfying, but still inspired and thoughtful. The only dish of the night that we didn’t like is the sticky date pudding. It’s a little on the dry side, though the caramel sauce helps. But the whole thing is ruined by the green tea ice cream that comes with it. You need to really love green tea to want this flavour infused into your ice cream. We thought it did nothing except detract from the sweet date pudding. A better dessert choice is the “sneaker” bar – a long, thin and tall pistachio chocolate bar paired with creamy pistachio ice cream. We break the chocolate shell of the bar to reveal layers of chocolate that’s just sweet enough, but not too rich.
Without hesitation, I’m returning to Play – just to continue the journey through the long and inspired menu. Coming across a chef as talented as Reif Othman in Dubai’s restaurant scene is a bit like finding a diamond in a pile of cheap jewellery: in a city flooded with too many lacklustre high-end restaurants, Play and Othman shine bright.
• Our meal for two at Play cost Dh705. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito