Ariana's Persian Kitchen review: Well-executed traditional fare makes what is old feel new

At her Atlantis the Royal restaurant, Iranian-American chef Ariana Bundy proves contemporary haute cuisine doesn't have to be defined by reinvention

Ariana's Persian Kitchen serves a variety of dips and mezze, each executed with finesse and authenticity. Photo: Ariana's Persian Kitchen
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Craving a classic dish done well? Open the menu of a buzzy high-end restaurant in the region and, chances are, you won't find it.

This isn’t without reason, of course. Many of the emerging chefs in the Gulf made their names through innovation. Go to top-ranked, award-winning restaurants such as Dubai-born concepts Orfali Bros, Moonrise or Jun’s, for example, and their signature dishes take inspiration from classics, but all come "with a twist".

As exciting and delicious as these creations are, I cannot help but wonder how well these talented chefs could have prepared the dish using traditional methods.

That is precisely why the 2023 Michelin-selected restaurant Ariana’s Persian Kitchen at Atlantis The Royal is something of a tiny miracle. While there are several new creations, this is largely haute cuisine defined by execution rather than invention. The ingredients are fresh and well-sourced, the preparation is exacting. And, ironically, in a country full of medium-quality Iranian restaurants, tasting dishes that are so familiar done to such a high level makes the old taste new again.

Where to sit and what to expect

Iranian-American chef Ariana Bundy has long lived between San Francisco and Dubai, but to date, UAE-based foodies only know her from cookbooks and the media rather than as a restaurateur.

Since leaving her post as the head pastry chef at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles in 2002, where she cooked for a host of celebrities and dignitaries such as Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt and Madonna, she began writing books. Her 2012 cookbook-memoir hybrid Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes became a global bestseller.

That book, and her 2015 food and travel series also titled Ariana's Persian Kitchen, served as the philosophical basis for the original restaurant concept, both in terms of its physical space and its food. It’s a stark contrast from some of the other restaurants at Atlantis the Royal, which have luxurious aesthetics befitting of their high price tags.

Ariana’s, meanwhile, is elegant while never feeling pretentious, with handblown glass lighting fixtures, with a mix of wooden, glass and metallic seating and tables all inspired by traditional Persian designs with a distinct touch. Whether sitting inside or outside, you would be just as comfortable getting dressed up for a quiet weekend dinner or dressing down for an elevated yet casual luncheon.

The menu

While there are some Ariana-specific creations to be found, you’ll mostly be met by familiar dish names as you scan the menu, and you won’t be disappointed in choosing them.

The list isn’t extensive, but it’s all hits not misses. For hot starters, the original sambuseh (a Persian samosa), eggplant dips kashk e bademjoon and mirza ghassemi, and stuffed grape leaf dish dolmeh barge mo are all superlatives of their ilk – each priced between Dh50 and Dh100.

The mains jump up in price, and while the rosewater sea bream (Dh195) adds unexpected traditional flavours to the restaurant's signature dishes, don’t skip over the same items you may order elsewhere out of perceived over-familiarity. The kabab koobideh (Dh155) is one of the best I’ve tried, even though it is a dish I’ve eaten probably once a month for about 15 years. For vegans, there’s even an Impossible variant at Dh145.

And if you want to add a luxury feel to your meal, the 24K gold jewelled rice will go nicely on the side for Dh65, surprisingly not breaking the bank as similarly-minded dishes at certain viral salt-using restaurants might.

Standout dish

Ariana Bundy began her journey in the world of desserts, so it makes sense that her wild orchid ice cream bastani sonati would be one of the genuine innovations here.

An interpretation of the classic Iranian dessert that became popular 100 years ago, this fragrant home-made ice cream is made with rosewater, saffron and silvered pistachios all sandwiched together with rice wafers.

The secret ingredient is in the name – root of wild orchid gives it a stretchier texture than you might expect from an ice cream.

A chat with the chef

Bundy's love of cooking came from her restaurateur father, who owned an innovative French fine-dining spot in pre-revolutionary Iran before opening a similar concept in Beverly Hills when her family moved.

Of equal influence are her grandparents, who grew fruits and vegetables and raised animals on their land in Iran.

Bundy tells The National: “Growing up, I experienced a true farm-to-table upbringing. I used to see big crates of grapes coming home, which would be quickly washed and put out on to a table.

“My cooking style is all about using clean, natural ingredients. Not only do we source a variety of ingredients from Iran, but we also prioritise quality, natural products. All ingredients and preparation are chosen to ensure they align with our commitment to a healthy and natural dining experience.

“For example, we ferment bread for 72 hours, and we also soak nuts for 24 hours and then dehydrate them at a slow temperature so that the enzymes are broken down for easy digestion. It's the same with our rice, which is imported from the Caspian region as is our olive oil,” she says.

Price point and contact information

Starters range from Dh50 to Dh85, and mains range from Dh120 to Dh325. The restaurant is open daily from noon to 3pm, and then from 6pm to 11pm. For reservations, call 04 426 2500.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: April 26, 2024, 6:02 PM