The appetite for dinner and a show remains undiminished in the UAE.
From cabaret dancing and Mediterranean dining at Papillon, and caviar dishes and acrobatic displays at White Dubai, to spirited 1980s power ballads and international salads at The Theatre, the eclectic format is a hit.
But with all cuisines and genres covered, can a new venue contribute something fresh to the mix?
The recently opened 53 Dubai is hoping to make a sky-high impression.
Located on the 53rd floor of the Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai, it claims to be the highest dinner-show operating in the Gulf.
The National pays a visit to see if the culinary and entertainment offerings reach similar heights.
What to expect and where to sit?
Entry is through the elevators in the hotel lobby, and the venue makes the most of its location.
Floor-to-ceiling windows provide breathtaking views of the Dubai skyline, and the ebb and flow of traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road.
53 Dubai is pleasingly casual and spacious. The decor exudes a chic and nocturnal vibe, with the colour scheme of the chairs and couches alternating between midnight blue and dove grey.
Those looking for a more intimate atmosphere should request a table beside the window and away from the stage, but if you are mainly here to enjoy the show, the seating area front and centre of the two main stages is just the ticket.
A word of caution for the latter: tables are exceptionally low, to the point where you're required to hunch when dining. A staff member assures me this is done to provide a better view of the performances and more suitably inclined tables are available at the side of the stage and further behind.
Culinary inspiration has been taken from far and wide in this menu comprising Mediterranean, Latin American and Asian flavours.
With no set menu on offer, you are to choose from nearly 40 starters, mains, side dishes and desserts.
Of the selection I tried, the beef tartare (Dh155) is delicate and well spiced. The shallots provide a welcome crunch and the yolk from the quail egg is exceptionally rich.
The fried calamari (Dh90) is crisp, golden brown and served with a zesty house-made chilli-mayonnaise. While perfectly serviceable, it seems a little too basic for such a glittering venue.
That touch of class is found, however, in the corn and truffle risotto (Dh145), a dish that soars in its interplay of sweet and savoury flavours. The potency of the black truffle flakes and melted pecorino cheese is offset by the sweetness of the corn and earthy nuttiness of the Acquerello rice.
The Chilean sea bass (Dh175) packs a similar vibrancy because of the cured seaweed adorning the delicate fish and the accompanying cauliflower puree.
Chocolate kisses (Dh250) — a dessert platter with mango and raspberry jelly, chocolate mousse and candy — seems unfocused and juvenile, at least for my culinary sensibilities.
A thoroughly satisfying — and grown-up — dessert, on the other hand, comes in the form of a rich apple panna cotta (Dh65).
The performances at 53 Dubai aim to cater to all tastes.
Choreographed by Lebanese dancer Jean Sakr, more than a dozen acts perform from Thursday to Saturday, from 9.30pm
Stay around for the full three-hour programme and you will witness everything from rhythmic gymnastics to a towering and somewhat sweaty saxophone player belting out covers of modern radio hits.
Set across a large and a small intimate stage closer to the audiences, the performances are solid and dynamic with acts often venturing into the crowds.
The singers put on a standout performance; they are easily the best I have come across on the UAE’s theatre-dinner circuit.
From a passionate take of One Night Only from the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, to the jazz standard Fever, the vocalists are so on point, they deserve a full evening of their own.
Slick and fast-paced, the 53 Dubai repertoire is engaging, with none of the acts outstaying their welcome.
A chat with the chef
53 Dubai embodies chef Esteban Torregrosa’s approach to creating contemporary and minimal dishes with fresh produce.
“I get inspired by nature, travels, cultures and experiences,” says the Colombian, who was previously a chef de partie at DIFC Spanish restaurant Laluz and head chef of 3BK at Armani Hotel Dubai.
“My philosophy is to respect the ingredients and highlight their natural flavours, colours and aromas with different techniques.”
With the 53 Dubai menu, Torregrosa aims to satisfy vegetarians and meat lovers. He recommends the wild mushroom yakimeshi (Dh125) for the former, beef and celeriac for the latter (Dh250) and lobster pappardelle (Dh400) for pescatarians.
Price point and contact information
53 Dubai certainly aims for more well-heeled diners, but there are plenty of reasonably priced options.
Starters range from Dh30 for a plate of edamame to Dh175 for the Obsiblue prawns.
The most affordable main course is the aforementioned wild mushroom yakimeshi at Dh125, with the most expensive option being a Dh450 Wagyu steak.
Beluga caviar is also available from Dh1,800.
53 Dubai operates from 8pm to 3am every day, with performances taking place from Thursday to Saturday, from 9.30pm until 12.30am. Reservations can be made by calling 056 253 5353 or booking via the website.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant