A few years ago, I would regularly walk past a restaurant in the centre of Bristol, England, called Flavourz. It sold itself as a “Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian and Mexican” buffet – a jack of all trades, master of none.
It smelt, by turns, slightly tempting and spectacularly disgusting, depending on which muddled geographical noseful you happened to breathe in. Since then, I’ve been suspicious of any restaurant that blurs international borders.
Which brings us to Novikov, the first Middle Eastern outpost from the Russian restaurateur Arkadiy Novikov, joining his eponymous efforts in Moscow and London. It’s undoubtedly a hot ticket on the Dubai culinary scene, as the exceptionally brisk Thursday-night trade proved during our visit. If there were any vacant tables, we didn’t spy them.
But there were alarm bells: here we have a Russian touting Asian- fusion food, with more locations of origin on the menu than there are stamps in the average passport (deep breath: Scotland, New Zealand, Portugal, France, Spain, Australia, Canada and Italy). Where’s the focus? The concept? The continuity? The consistency?
What we hadn’t bargained for, however, was the sheer quality of the food across the vast menu.
It helped that we didn’t overcomplicate a pre-starter round of toasted edamame (a wonderfully smoky, charred take on the soybean dish) and seaweed salad (possibly the only scenario where the word “slimy” can be used as a positive adjective).
We then upped the stakes with two selections of “special sushi”, a description that didn’t disappoint. The quail egg and truffle gunkan were a duo of delicate parcels topped with the two main ingredients that lingered long on the taste buds – enough to ignore the fact that the nori wrapping was a mite chewy.
Far more extravagant were the Wagyu caviar rolls. Our order was met with compliments from our waiter, although that might have been in relation to its Dh295 price tag. And while it’s rarely easy to justify such a spend on an octet of sushi, we didn’t regret a single mouthful, thanks to the extraordinarily tender beef.
For our mains, we homed in on the wok dishes. The steamed sea bass with ginger and soy was minimal, yet spot on, with fall-apart flakes of white fish, while the Malaysian-style soft-shell crab had just the right amount of crunch.
To finish, the grandly named “miso banoffee V2” might sound as much like a military rocket than a dessert, but there was no mistaking the innovation on display in the deconstructed pie. The banana, poached in saffron syrup, was second in sweetness only to the slick of accompanying Manjari chocolate mousse, set off splendidly by the peanut-butter crumble and the gold-leaf-topped miso caramel ice cream.
That ice cream had nothing on my dining partner’s pudding, though: the adventurous flavour of the homemade black sesame variant rendered moot its unappetising greyish tones.
Even allowing for the fact that the Wagyu caviar rolls skewed our bill skywards, nobody will be including Novikov on any compilations of cheap eats any time soon. But with its sumptuous interior – including giant ceiling lighting features resembling hatching dinosaur eggs – and a genuine buzz throughout its dining room, Novikov is worth a special investment, whether or not you’re an oligarch.
Our meal for two at Novikov Restaurant & Bar, Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai, cost Dh993. For more information, call 04 388 8744. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito