Row on 45 review: Jason Atherton breaks into Mena 50 Best list in just four months

This isn't merely fine dining, this is blow-your-mind dining at the British chef's latest Dubai restaurant

Samegarei fish is one of 17 delicate and dainty dishes on the menu at Row on 45. Photo: Row on 45
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I will start with a rather bold prediction: having broken into Mena's 50 Best Restaurants list just four months after opening, Row on 45 will end the year with two Michelin stars.

Although the date of this year’s Michelin Guide Dubai ceremony has not yet been revealed (last year’s was held in May), I can almost bet British TV chef Jason Atherton will be in it.

He has the ingredients and knows the recipe for success. He’s been a chef for 35 years and his restaurants have held a star for 20. When Pollen Street Social opened in London in April 2011, it earned a star within six months. And he’s been cooking here for 25 years – after launching Gordon Ramsay's Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek – making him more than a mere veteran in Dubai terms; he’s practically ancient.

With experience like that under his belt, he’s a magnate for Michelin. And for me.

The food guide and tyre manufacturer lists its requirements for a two-star rating as “excellent cooking, worth a detour”. I live in Abu Dhabi, so the restaurant in Dubai Marina could be described as a little out of my way.

But I plunge ahead, take the scenic route and make my way 45 floors up Grovesnor House for a detour de force of 17 courses.

Where to sit and what to expect

Row on 45 sits above City Social House, a duplex penthouse-style venue with the best skyline views this side of Dubai. Its terrace is better than Zeta Seventy Seven, because views aren’t restricted to Bluewaters Island, and better than Observatory, which has been putting in a shift for years – and it shows.

Dinner is split into three acts across three venues: The Finest Welcome, The Pinnacle and The Grand Finale.

It’s a 22-cover service that aims to take diners on a journey through Atherton’s life. Thankfully, for my taste buds, his is a life well travelled. If it were mine on display, we wouldn’t get past slightly burnt toast served on the sofa.

It's Atherton's mind on a plate. And in my ears. He picks the playlist of The Smiths, Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman, Chuck Berry et al. It's the sort of place I'd be happy to sing for my supper – they don't let me.

It doesn't feel like being pranked by Heston Blumenthal, shocked by Dabiz Munoz or sworn at by Gordon Ramsay.

“‘Row’ stands for the ‘refinement of work’, meaning our work is never done,” Atherton tells me. “We pride ourselves on not resting on our laurels and appreciating that there is always room for improvement.”

The menu frequently changes, dishes are tweaked, ingredients are swapped out for ones in season and quirky concoctions are added. But one ethos remains: to astonish.

“People are buying into a 17-course journey through a gastronomic experience,” he explains. “They are expecting to taste flavours they have never tasted before, textures they have never experienced before and an overall experience that blows their mind.”

To achieve this, he’s assembled the cooking equivalent of the Avengers. Many are the best chefs from his kitchens or competitors – executive chef Dan Birk, who’s been with Atherton for 12 years; Spencer Metzger, former head chef at The Ritz and rising star of British TV cooking shows; and one to watch, Rahul Babu Shrestha – to name a few.

Beginning in the Art Deco champagne lounge, the experience also centres on the spaces, moving into the dining room/open kitchen and ending in a country manor-style library, which is all grandad’s wooden lodge charm and Victorian oddities.

The menu

First things first, this is a menu that requires diners to open their minds – and their wallets. At Dh1,145 for food, and wine pairings starting at Dh845 (Dh445 for soft drinks), it’s not quick-bite-on-the-way-home dining.

Dishes – many of which look better suited to hanging in galleries – are designed to provoke thought and conversation. It's fine-art dining and it’s firmly in the realm of restaurants of this standing.

The seven-course set menu at Stay by Yannick Alleno (two stars) is Dh1,250; eight courses at Il Ristorante – Niko Romito (two stars) are Dh1,100; and 11 courses at Ossiano (one star, should be two) cost Dh1,250. These prices are for food only, I should add.

While Atherton is, to a degree, wishing on a star (“of course, we would be delighted if Michelin bestowed us”), it’s not the sole goal. “I am aware it is a huge recognition and I’m not egotistical enough to say we are only hunting Michelin stars – it’s just part of the process of cooking incredible food and providing a high level of service,” he adds.

The first act is a trio of one-bite plates. Oyster and pearls (oyster ice cream beurre blanc, N25 caviar and a savoury meringue); bluefin date maguro (cubed tuna, a slice of otoro, myoga Japanese ginger and wasabi); and Norwegian king crab via Singapore’s backstreets.

The second sits in a pastry case made of tuna bones, because, why not take inspiration from the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk who promises to “grind his bones to make my bread”?

But it’s the crab dish that is really the stuff of fairytales. The sweet meat is served in a takoyaki, a Japanese stuffed dough ball, influenced by Atherton’s time in the Far East.

To start the second act, we open an envelope sealed with wax. Inside, a personalised menu awaits. It’s cryptic stuff. Each course simply appears as one or two ingredients: “oyster” at number one; “brioche” at six; “suzuki” (not the car) at nine; and so on.

It’s impossible to cover them all, so I’ll fire through some of the zaniest. Hokkaido Bafun uni (sea urchin) sits on a custard of langoustine heads. A5 Saroma Wagyu is roasted over binchotan coals. Brioche is served with velvety chicken butter.

Samegarei fish (“similar to turbot, but better”, says Metzger) and its liver (“so much cleaner than typical foie gras”, he adds); even the plankton it eats inspires the sauce. Suzuki turns out to be sea bass served with a bouillabaisse based on Atherton’s time working under Marco Pierre White.

There’s an utterly exceptional stilton tartlet and a miso sesame pudding. Though by course 16, my overloaded taste buds have given up and the promise of three ingredients that sound more like a barbecue in Sons of Anarchy (fresh-cut grass, leather and cigar smoke) in the Madong 70% chocolate tartlet is lost. But it’s lovely.

The grand finale, which I won’t spoil, takes place in the library/wilderness lodge where I’m grateful to find a squashy armchair to plunge into while my stomach digests. Their work may never be done, but I am. Over to you, Michelin inspectors.

Stand-out dish

With 17 courses, more than one element deserves particular praise.

The delicate tuna bone pastry casing is outstandingly good. The precision and refinement to get this right and make it look simple deserve a star alone.

I’m still dreaming about the crab takoyaki. At least 11 should be served with each course.

Finally, not a dish, but the service is exceptional, with the proud team presenting their creations at the table. Hats off to the chefs for memorising the ingredients – 90 per cent of which I’d never heard of until tonight – to repeat verbatim.

If only all detours were this good.

Price point and contact information

The 17-course menu costs Dh1,145 (a vegetarian option is available), wine pairings start at Dh845 and soft drinks Dh445.

Row on 45 is open 7.15pm-1am from Wednesday to Saturday (last seating is at 8.45pm), and located at Grosvenor House, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Dubai. For reservations, contact 056 832 4545.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: February 15, 2024, 2:15 PM