First look: Chef Dani Garcia opens Lena and omakase restaurant Smoked Room in Dubai

We preview four dishes recommended by the award-winning Andalusian chef

The 14-seater omakase restaurant Smoked Room is located within Lena by Dani Garcia at St Regis Gardens in Palm Jumeirah. Photo: Smoked Room
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The National’s Taste Test series takes you inside the latest restaurants to sample dishes recommended by chefs before the doors open. Bon appetite.

Inside Lena and Smoked Room

Among culinary circles, Dani Garcia is known as the chef who shut his restaurant in Madrid a mere three weeks after it received its third Michelin star. There was no suggestion that the Spanish chef was retiring or shying away from the pressure of sending out plate-after-plate of Michelin-lauded perfection.

If anything, the Andalusian culinary creator was determined to make Mediterranean cuisine ever more accessible. He did so by opening restaurants that paid homage to his favourite cooking techniques – grilled and charcoal-smoked – served to discerning diners omakase-style.

What followed was steakhouse Lena and Italian eatery Aleli, both in Marbella; high-end omakase restaurant Smoked Room in Madrid that only seats 14; as well as more casual concepts – from build-a-bowl restaurant EL Pollo Verde in New York, to tapas house Bibo in Spain, London and Doha.

From December 18, Garcia will welcome diners in the UAE to the Dubai outposts of Lena and Smoked Room, both located on the St Regis Gardens rooftop in Palm Jumeirah.

The National got a first look at the oh-so-stylish Lena (the Marbella outpost was named most beautiful restaurant in the world by Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2021) and the exclusive 14-seater omakase restaurant Smoked Room ensconced within it.

We also sampled chef Garcia’s four most-recommended seafood dishes from the latter (the meat grill was yet to be fitted out when we visited the as-yet-under-construction venue last month).

Amaebi from Hokkaido, brown butter and yuzu kosho

“My aim is to ensure diners feel every dish, no matter how small, in their mouth even after it’s eaten and until the next one is served. This is very important,” says Garcia. “The sweet Japanese shrimp is left raw with just a bit of yuzu kosho jus, and when you get to the bottom you come to the smoke and embers aspect that is at the core of the omakase restaurant, in the form of the burnt beurre noisette.”

Taste test: Given the shrimps are raw through and through, the silken texture of the burnt brown butter comes as a real delight, and provides a one-two flavour punch thanks to the yuzu jus. The unctuousness of the butter leaves a lingering and altogether pleasant aftertaste, just as the chef had promised.

Smoked eel nitro tomato, roasted red pepper caramel and ajoblanco from Malaga

“We rethought the concept of a tomato, which is usually red, in terms of giving it a charcoal touch, which could be either black or, as in the case of this dish, white. Of course, the 'tomato' itself is smoked eel immersed in a traditional cold almond soup with a touch of caramelised sweet red pepper.”

Taste test: This is the highlight of our meal, as each bite of this “tomato soup” proffers a different flavour. A delectable mousse-like casing covers the rather more firm texture of the smoked eel, while the almond and caramel swim around in a masterfully prepared liquid, every drop of which was licked clean.

Corn chawanmushi, grilled leek, king crab and sea urchin

“Hokkaido uni and Japanese king crab are the best, most premium ingredients in the world,” declares Garcia with pride. “Pair these with corn royale, and you have a dish that is nothing short of royal.”

Taste test: The chawanmushi treatment of the corn royale – using eggs and cream for a custard-like texture – is the perfect setting for the chef’s “best ingredients”. The crab and uni also benefit from the cold, creamy vichyssoise soup, making for a robust and masterful preparation.

Grilled hokkigai, tosazu beurre Blanc and fresh wasabi paste

“Bigger than most clams at 400g each, the giant conchas finas is charcoal-cooked, then dipped in tosazu, the most umami vinegar from Japan,” explains Garcia.

Taste test: One of the prettiest-looking dishes at Smoked Room, this is also its most concentrated and offers a full-on hit of umami. The vinegar – a fusion of Bonito and Kombu dashi – is at once smoky and acidic, and a bold base for the sweet clam meat. It perfectly underscores chef Garcia’s desire to serve dishes that are surprising, delightful and memorable in equal measure.

Updated: December 17, 2023, 10:04 AM