There's an undeniable sense of familiarity and comfort found in Creole cuisine that, when done right, hits home in the most profound of ways for me. Perhaps it is the distinct assertiveness of the bold, smoky and savoury flavours that evokes a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of the tastes I was exposed to growing up in India.
Just like the diverse and captivating nature of Indian food, Creole cuisine is exquisite and multifaceted. By blending the flavours and dishes from West Africa, France, Spain, the Caribbean and the American South, it displays the diverse cultural influences that coexisted in South Louisiana during the 18th century. And, as food often does, it gracefully transcends the barriers of a segregated society, uniting diverse heritages on a single menu.
In Dubai’s Boxpark, Smokd Eatery by chef Reif Othman is putting this ethos on the plate. The National went along to put it to the test.
What to expect and where to sit
Decorated in hues of terracotta and mint green, the restaurant can accommodate 52 guests indoors and 26 outdoors with table and booth seating for those who appreciate high-back seating.
I recommend nabbing the sofa seat towards the centre for a little more space between the tables, which also makes the perfect spot to watch all culinary action coming to life.
Sherief Elmoslemany of Smoked Meat Kitchen (SMK) fame and Michelin-lauded chef Othman are responsible for the menu, which offers an array of modern Creole dishes.
My dining companion and I start off with the Smokd tonnato (Dh78), where thinly sliced pastrami, succulent and full of smoky notes, melds with the delicate hints of brine and hazelnut. The crispy capers provide a burst of tangy saltiness that, when sprinkled with an exquisite tuna sauce, lends a creamy richness and brings out a depth of flavours.
The chilli mango margarita (Dh42) stands out among more ambitious mocktails, skilfully fusing sweet and spicy notes.
Smokd Eatery’s finest moments weave technique with texture and flavour. The cauliflower popcorn (Dh40) breaks my lifetime dislike of cauliflower, a divisive ingredient that is often regarded as bland. These florets are expertly battered to crispy perfection and deliver a glorious crunch, while the tanginess of the citrus yoghurt ranch dressing adds a tangible zing.
Despite being a restaurant that specialises in meats and seafood, the few vegetarian dishes on the menu (cauliflower popcorn, hokkaido sweetcorn with kaffir lime butter and truffle cream penne with shaved Parmesan) make the case that vegetarian dishes are coming into their own in Dubai.
The beating heart, though, lies in signature dishes such as the artfully presented smoked prime ribs (Dh168) that makes a grand entrance, ceremoniously topped with roasted pumpkin seeds.
As I delve into the ribs, my fork glides through the meat effortlessly and the kitchen’s culinary pedigree in creating smoky specialities is on delicious display. The ribs retain a juiciness and tenderness despite the bold, smoked flavours, further enhanced by the subtle nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds and the velvety sweetness of the butternut squash puree.
The restaurant’s focused menu, priced between high-end and low-budget restaurants, offers gourmet yet value-for-money dishes enhanced by solid cooking techniques and gleaming service from an experienced team long into their stride.
The oven-baked bone marrow and burnt ends brisket tartars with mantou buns (Dh118) has to be the tipping point of the table. The tartar's savoury, smoky character is swaddled exquisitely by the richness of the marrow and the assertive seasoning, creating intense textures and nuanced flavours worth every dirham.
Price point and contact information
Appetisers range from Dh40 to Dh118; salads go from Dh38 to Dh88; mains are between Dh68 and Dh168; and desserts cost between Dh42 and Dh68.
Smokd Eatery is open from noon to midnight and reservations can be made by calling 04 529 7842.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant