When one thinks of a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, foliage-strewn interiors or eco-friendly wooden wicker chairs often come to mind, as do salads, dal or Impossible burgers, with hibiscus tea and green juices.
Epitome is not that place. In fact, Epitome, which is in Aloft Dubai Creek in Deira, is probably unlike any other place you've ever been to.
It claims to be Dubai's first upscale all-vegetarian restaurant, bar and lounge, and is a place to have dinner, but also a night out.
What to expect and where to sit
You'd be forgiven for being confused upon entering the restaurant, unless there's someone standing at the door. No one is there when we arrive. There's a very unassuming door that almost looks like a fire escape ahead of us, then a glass door that leads to a balcony. There are no signs and we're not entirely sure we're in the right place.
After a few minutes of confusion, we finally poke our head through the balcony door, then someone comes out to greet us, leading the way through the restaurant (which is through the aforementioned unassuming door), to our chosen spot on the terrace.
The interiors here are of an acquired taste. Indoors, Art Deco elements combine with Romanesque statues in monochrome shades punctuated by bursts of bright red and blue.
The outdoor terrace is less fussy, with comfortable couches and seating areas, with low tables, mostly facing outwards, towards Dubai skyline views.
When the weather permits, I recommend you sit here, as my dining partner and I did.
One word springs to mind when reflecting on Epitome's menu: expansive.
Owners of the restaurant and lounge initially set out to "break the myth that vegetarian food is limited to salads", and it's fair to say they've done that.
There are also numerous menus, including one for vegan dishes, those for people observing Jainism, a midnight menu and a smaller one for "epic hours".
While there are, of course, a medley of salads on the main food menu, dishes also span soups, bar bites, flatbreads, sushi, dim sum, pasta, curries, poke bowls, tikka, tacos and kebabs — and that's not even the full extent of it.
From Nepalese momos to Italian rigatoni and Indian-Chinese-style paneer, plus Cantonese noodles to Balinese tofu rice and Cajun-spiced nachos, diners can eat their way around the world one plant-filled dish at a time.
With such an extensive selection to choose from, we don't know where to start, so we employ help from our friendly waiter, who is armed with suggestions and knowledge about each dish's ingredients.
We don't particularly enjoy the fairly bland wontons in the hoisin chilli soup bath (Dh52), nor the heavy, too-generous portion of lotus crisps (Dh45) and less-than-flavoursome Tex Mex tacos (Dh45).
The signature avocado tikka masala (Dh65) is bursting with flavour, however, as is the Indo-Chinese dish, Kolkata chilli paneer (Dh52).
The paneer certainly falls under this category, but so does the Thai curry rice (Dh55), which is a heartwarming bowl of flavourful sauce, crispy vegetables and perfectly cooked rice.
This was one recommended by the waiter, and I'm glad I chose it.
Chat with the chef
Chef Akshay Nayyar says he couldn't wait to get involved with Epitome when the project came up as "it was just the right time as vegetarian and veganism is growing like never before".
Nayyar had been building vegetarian brands across the world, he explains. "Creating recipes that have never been made before using fresh and innovative ingredients beautifully married together that awestruck our diner, that was my vision."
Some of his favourite dishes on the menu include blackjack pillows (Dh32), made with corn and leeks, maitake mushrooms, green mango salsa and lemon sour cream; truffle dynamite sushi (Dh65) with crispy rock mushrooms, daikon, vinegared carrots and chives, plus crumbled wasabi nuts; and the aforementioned avocado tikka masala. "All these dishes have been curated at Epitome with cautious research and pairing of flavours."
The bestselling dish, he says, is Epitome smoking cigars (Dh49), served with edible ash, lava and charcoal oil. "When the dish comes on the table, it creates an illusion of a lit cigar with ash... I call it a smart dish. Easy to eat and can be eaten any time of the day."
Price point and contact information
Epitome is a reasonably priced restaurant. The price point for most dishes hovers between Dh30 and Dh60, while Indian breads are between Dh10 and Dh20, and desserts are Dh39 for a fruit and nut tart, to Dh62 for the 24K gold-dusted mango cheesecake.
The most expensive dish is Dh99 for the mezze bites, with falafel fries, soya shawarma pockets, green pea and labneh kibbeh, fried olives, mukhalil, chilli hummus, muhammara, garlic toum and zaatar potato wedges.
The restaurant is open every day from 5pm to 3am. Reservations can be made by calling 054 705 8750, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or booking via the website.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant