Dubai, the city of curious, courageous diners, really should have more places for tapas. There’s obviously an appetite for “little plates” as evidenced by the deftly designed grazing boards – filled with meats, cheeses, fruit and truffle-something or other – I see so often on social media.
Tapas are not quite as bite-sized but, much like a grazing board, they are a great way to build meals incrementally – a perfect excuse to work through a menu without committing to large(r) portions.
This diner’s dream, in other words.
Meda Tapas & Bar, which opened at the bustling Taj Dubai in Business Bay in April, serves sizeable, sharing-style snacks influenced by Spanish, Italian and Greek cuisines.
What to expect and where to sit
My dining companion and I are led to a cute spot by the window that affords a partially twinkling view of the city. While the restaurant has white tablecloths, Meda attempts to move away from white tablecloth service by way of chatty servers and a choice and decibel level of music that should put most millennials at ease.
Colourful, sardine-illustrated bottles of olive oil dot each table, encouraging diners to douse at will. I spy potted herbs in a few corners that lend the air a pleasing aroma.
Seating includes plush, green couches for those who prefer to lie back against the backdrop of a glitzy, art-deco bar. With its modern decorative elements and an undercurrent of olive green running through, the restaurant naturally lends itself to cozy conversations.
We visited on a sombre Thursday evening, but the airy interior would be worth visiting in daylight, too.
Even though the summer has arrived, we skip the raw bar and head straight for the tapas menu. While we deliberate, a basket of warm, freshly baked sourdough arrives, an excellent vehicle for double-dipping in a creamy garlic aioli and the tableside olive oil that is bright and fruity.
We begin with the server-recommended smoked burrata from Puglia (Meda’s chef Vincenzo Nigro is Puglian). The more camera-prone diners can record some theatrics, as the dish (Dh89) comes under a cloche trapped with liquid smoke, which the server artfully releases. But, in a city full of creamy burratas, it takes a lot more than a smokeshow to be memorable.
So we stick to bar classics after that: patatas bravas (Dh60), handcrafted beef sliders (Dh80) and gambas a la plancha (more on this below). The chopped potatoes do not lose their crackle despite their heavy blanket of velvet aioli and vibrant tomato sauce. The sliders are plump and juicy, served on potato buns with milky Passendale cheese and caramelised onions.
Next come blush-red Chistorra sausages (Dh85), an oilier cousin of the chorizo, also on sourdough, and we end the main meal with a vegetarian paella (Dh165).
This was an ideal forerunner for a multi-textural but still humdrum tiramisu (Dh55) and a citrus-scented pineapple crumble (Dh50), which is lush and layered.
The gambas a la plancha (Dh80) is the dish we yearn for long after it has been cleared. It is also the dish that is most emblematic of the chef’s philosophy: simple ingredients done right. It is served traditionally, in a warm skillet with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the flavourful broth. While garlic and chilli are both star ingredients in their own right, in this dish they coexist pleasingly, elevating the flavour without overpowering. The prawns are impeccably cooked and are a true test in having just enough faith that the dish will continue to cook even after being pulled off the stove.
A chat with the chef
Chef Nigro is no Dubai-newbie, having previously worked at Palazzo Versace. He sticks to his Puglian roots – the almost bare-bones menu relies on the work of a handful of good ingredients working well together.
In a city of excess, this is delightfully refreshing. “Coming from the south of Italy, my go-to ingredients lie in the very basics: herbs, olive oil, and cheese. I strongly believe that fresh herbs have the power to elevate any dish with their vibrancy, while authentic and good-quality olive oil holds a special place in my heart,” he says.
Price point and contact information
Appetisers range from Dh45 to Dh105; raw bar and caviar items range from Dh82 to Dh390; mains go for between Dh89 and Dh185; and desserts cost between Dh20 and Dh60.
Meda Tapas & Bar is open daily from noon to midnight. Reservations can be made by calling 0567112277.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant