Zhen Wei is in good company at its Caesars Palace outpost on Dubai's Bluewaters Island, sitting alongside Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen and the soon-to-come Japanese-Korean restaurant Paru. The pan-Asian restaurant boasts a dim sum master and a dedicated wok chef, and is a cosy spot on the ground floor of the resort, extending out to the pool area. Zhen Wei promises "a sensory journey straight to the streets of Hong Kong", which translates into a menu packed with traditional yet creatively cooked Chinese favourites: think Peking duck, innovative dim sum variations and plenty of xiao long bao.
What to expect and where to sit
We arrive at 6pm and, despite knowing we are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to early dining times in Dubai, we are the only ones in the restaurant for the first 45 minutes. Dimly lit and spacious, Zhen Wei is all hard wood and earthy tones, and largely keeps the cooking and dining spaces separate – we're seated around a corner and well out of sight of anyone handling our food. The terrace outside provides a couple of seating options, but given the domineering palm trees and proximity to families splashing about in the pool straight out in front, the outside view isn't hugely inviting.
Chef Yang "Frankie" Tao pays homage to the streets of Hong Kong with a menu that stays true to the mould of authentic Chinese dim sum. So, of course, we start by filling every inch of our table with piles of the stuff. The standouts are the crispy shrimp money bags (Dh70) and Hong Kong chicken char siu bao (Dh65). Another starter, the Wagyu rib-eye skewers (Dh80), is underwhelming to me – the skewers could have benefitted with a dollop of sauce, but my dining partner is convinced that was exactly how they should be done, marinated rather than slathered and tender to the bite.
Following the recommendation of our friendly waiter, we order the black-tea-smoked sea bass (Dh260) for mains, as well as the half Peking duck (Dh225). Naturally, the sea bass comes out with a lid containing a plume of smoke ready to be set loose across the restaurant as it's lifted at the table – it seems to be a USP for most restaurants in Dubai these days, after all. Luckily, the taste lives up to the showmanship, and the fish proves itself a well-cooked, seared and marinated delight, and the slightly sweet fruit-infused pomelo salad is a perfect accompaniment. Top tip: order the bok choy with fried garlic and the broccolini with almonds as sides.
We're also not afraid to go out on a limb here and crown the Peking duck as potentially the best we've ever had, and certainly the most moist. Served with all the usual condiments – thick hoisin sauce, pancakes, Beijing onion and cucumber – it makes for an interactive method to stretch your waistband to bursting point. Given we're on the verge of popping, dessert handily comes as part of a platter featuring each of Zhen Wei's individual offerings. I love anything red-bean-related, so am a particular fan of the sesame red bean ball, but the sweet-hive-style brown cake is an unexpected delight, too.
Beware, though, this is not a light menu, so you might be feeling decidedly ill if you order as much as we did, and try polish it all off, as we absolutely did. You could just as easily order several courses of dim sum and consider yourself well-fed.
The crunchy pockets of goodness that are the shrimp money bags win hands down for their authentic dim sum charm. The chicken char siu bao is more a steamed bun, but one that comes oozing with a spicy, saucy filling. The scallop and lobster siew mai (Dh105) seems overpriced at basically Dh25 per piece, but makes up for it in the pert packages of well-seasoned seafood you'll be served.
Who’s eating there
A scattering of other tables seems to be largely occupied by couples making the most of the mood lighting and cosy interior. However, the aforementioned pool nearby, and proximity to the beach and hotel, will undoubtedly draw in a varied crowd.
A chat with the chef
Hailing from Nanjing in China, dim sum master Frankie has been behind some of Dubai’s best-known restaurants. Arriving from France in 2006, he joined Haru Robata Yaki & Sushi, before working across all of The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina’s restaurants. He went on to lead China Grill in 2014, opened Maiden Shanghai at Five The Palm in 2017, and joined Zhen Wei last year. “Only by constantly creating new dishes can we attract the attention of our guests,” he says. “Of course, also we need the best produce and traditional techniques that have been learnt over generations.”
It seems Frankie's tastes chime with ours, as he is quick to extol the virtues of the smoked sea bass, as well as the hot and sour soup, and recommends anything stir-fried and smoked. "Smoked foods such as the Earl Grey Tea-smoked sea bass is an amazing taste. At home I have my own smoke gun which I use a lot," says the chef.
Value for money and contact information
Sharing plates and dim sum range from Dh35 to Dh105, so it’s easy to spend as much or as little as you like. Although paying in the range of Dh100 for a quartet of dim sum is on the pricey side, the Dh200-plus mains seem about right considering the quality and fine dining nature of the restaurant. This isn’t a roadside joint in Lan Kwai-Fong, after all.
Zhen Wei is open daily from noon to 3.30pm and 5pm to 10.30pm at Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai. Call 04 5566466 for more information or to make a reservation.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant.