Prime 68 is a steakhouse located high up in the sparkling new JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. It is one of many restaurants in the hotel, including Tong Thai, Rang Mahal by the Indian celebrity chef Atul Kochhar, the casual Japanese spot Izakaya and the French bakery and bistro Farine.
While I'm not entirely sure what is meant by its "boutique" description, this is certainly a grown-up spot: luxe monochrome, sumptuous chairs, shiny tables and a general air of sophistication. Despite there being plenty of available tables - some even by the coveted floor-to-ceiling windows - my friend and I were seated in one of the curved booths. While couples may well enjoy the sense of seclusion they give (provided the overly bright lights are turned down a notch), for two friends who were eager to soak up both the atmosphere and views from the 68th floor, it wasn't ideal and we felt quite cut off from the action.
The menu at Prime 68 is pleasingly concise, with emphasis placed upon the all-important steaks (various cuts of USDA prime, Blackmore Australian wagyu and Argentinian Aberdeen Angus). My friend's scallop and cauliflower purée starter - a recent classic if there ever was one - was pretty well executed: the scallops were plump and nicely roasted, the purée just smooth enough. A scattering of pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of beetroot and pomegranate vinaigrette added both colour and tartness.
In contrast to her pretty-looking plate, my duck rillettes with frisée salad looked rather dour. The coarse pâté was generously portioned, but apart from some acrid punch from the diced raw garlic that was threaded throughout, it wasn't particularly flavoursome. However, the lettuce was properly dressed and pleasantly bitter and two halves of pickled shallot were excellent - acidic with plenty of bite. The "grilled country bread" was a bit of a joke, though. It bore the perfectly scorched hallmarks of a griddle pan but was cold and completely un-toasted. It also tasted burnt which, all in all, was quite an achievement.
My friend's 8oz USDA prime fillet was served perfectly medium-rare, with a salty, charred crust and a soft, deep-red centre. My sizeable veal chop was also well cooked - tender and pink - with a subtle flavour.
However, both pieces of meat were presented on large white dishes, alongside a little bowl of brown coloured condiment (in my case onion marmalade, in hers, peppercorn sauce). The effect was uninspiring: without any additional garnish, the plates looked sparse and empty, as if the meat had just been plonked down with very little afterthought.
It must be noted that the onion marmalade that accompanied my veal was not well made at all. Rather than being unctuous and sticky - like marmalade - it hadn't been cooked or reduced down for long enough, leaving the onions swimming in a soppy, overly buttery liquid.
Unlike almost every other steak restaurant I've eaten in, the steaks at Prime 68 don't come with a choice of side order - you pay extra for them. We chose three to share. Crispy onions straws (essentially whisper-thin onion rings) were salty and crisp and worked well with the Tabasco-infused ketchup that they came with. A pan of mashed sweet potatoes shot through with maple syrup and topped with grilled marshmallows (which we ordered out of curiosity) tasted every bit as saccharine as it sounds. The tacky sweetness of the melted marshmallows overpowered everything else and we managed only a couple of mouthfuls.
While another guest could order that sweet potato mash and love it, I doubt that anyone would be pleased, or feel satisfied with, the side order of "simple greens" we received. This consisted of a small handful of salad leaves, just like the ones you can buy in a plastic bag from the supermarket and the presence of single, under-ripe tomato did not make me feel any less insulted about being asked to pay Dh25 for it.
After our main course plates were cleared, we were left alone for a long time. Ten, then 15, minutes went by; our waitress and several members of staff walked past the table a number of times without glancing in our direction and soon we felt properly forgotten about. When menus were presented a little while later, our waitress was genuinely apologetic. But after that, it was a different waiter who brought the desserts to the table, no one asked if we were enjoying them or offered us coffee and tea and we also grew frustrated when waiting for the bill. It's always a shame when the end of an evening drags like this.
My brownie pudding was, for the first couple of mouthfuls, lovely - warm, gooey and made with proper dark chocolate. Considering how rich it was, the portion was overwhelmingly large, though, and soon became cloying. My friend's carrot cake was a strange inclusion on a restaurant menu - it had clearly been pre-portioned, was on the dry side and looked like it belonged in a coffee shop display counter.
Despite the negatives, this wasn't a terrible meal. Nothing was inedible and I have no complaints about the meat. It's just that the evening was besieged with a few too many oddities and niggling inconsistencies.
- A meal for two at Prime 68, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, costs Dh850, including service charge. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito