Chinese restaurant Zheng He’s has a grandstand view of Madinat Jumeirah’s Arabian-Disneyland waterways; stationed neatly at the bottom of the classy Mina A’ Salam hotel, the mood is one of affluent, fairy tale exclusivity. While I had previously visited this and neighbouring venues during the twinkly twilight hours, seeing the resort lit by golden sunshine is a distinctly different experience.
After hours, this place offers dim-lit, date-like intimacy. But for this brand new Friday brunch — formally the restaurant was part of a multi-venue Jumeirah package — the doors are thrown widely open, light streaming into the quaintly decorated space, which combines hanging birdcages and wooden Oriental furnishings. Perhaps as a direct result, the mood is notably lighter, brighter and more laid-back — although perhaps slightly too relaxed; the toddlers at our neighbouring table found banging a decorative drum so amusing, and for such a sustained length of time, we elected to move tables for dessert.
One thing this brunch can’t be criticised for is trade descriptions violations — the title promises duck, and boy oh boy does it deliver. This is no loose theme, but a guiding mission statement for nearly everything which will reach your table: Five of the six starters served were duck-based, as were three of the six mains. It sounds like something your mum might say, but I was actually starting to fear I would leave look the table sprouting feathers.
Naturally, it’s the Peking duck that arrives first — that DIY pancake-and-hoi sin classic — and it’s as good as you could hope for.
Next comes the dim sum, largely authentic — greasy in the way it’s meant to be — the chewy, steamed duck bao (bun) was a particular treasure. A surprising modern fusion saw the chicken siu mai stacked with fatty duck liver, which somehow worked, despite every reservation we held.
The fusions found in the main dishes weren’t always as successful. The duck fillet deep fried with lemon and kiwi was both too crispy and too sweet for this palate. The Wagyu beef and duck meat buns were too tough to chew comfortably. The sizzling duck meat looked impressive, but was left on the hotplate too long, sucking the tenderness away. The imposing wok-fried lobster was only not quite as good as it looked, garnished too liberally in the gloopy, sweet ginger sauce. The simple chunks of sea bass fillet were perhaps the strongest of the lot. It’s worth noting that this set menu is completely non-negotiable — in that there is not a single vegetarian dish on it.
Who’s it best for?
Duck lovers, clearly. As long at they are duck lovers without vegetarian friends.
There were some teething problems with the service, and more than one of the mains failed to meet our expectations. However the excellent dim sum, fine location and relative novelty of the theme will certainly appeal to some.
The National was a guest of the venue.
Fridays noon-4pm. Dh395-495. Mina A’ Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. Reservations 04 432 3232