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Fisherman’s Friends, Fois Gras & The Harbour’s new high - By Rebecca Wicks

Executive Chef Jordi Servalls Bonilla was undeniably ecstatic when we gave him the option of preparing his favourite stuff for us. As the head chef of The Harbour Hotel’s newest (and Dubai’s first) Gastro-Lounge and Restaurant establishment, The Observatory is fast becoming the place to “do dinner” at the newest end of town. With a menu so overwhelmingly wondrous, it seemed the only choice to let him have free reign over feeding us.

The views up here are incredible. You know, you don’t really appreciate quite how quickly this place is growing until you gaze over it all from above, pointing and saying things like “Oooh that wasn’t there a few weeks ago� oh look over there, isn’t that your house floating on that manmade island??”

The palm from the 52nd floor looks like exactly that. A palm tree. Remarkable, just as they planned it. Shame it looks a bit like a posh council estate at ground level. Anyway, dinner for my friend and I came course, after course, after course, after course, after course... the last time I’d eaten this much was on Christmas Day, but there was no stopping Bonilla as he whipped, dipped, fried, baked and blended on our behalf. At one point, before we were moved from the bar to our table, he placed his Seafood Tempura - a punnet of lightly battered squid, hammour and jumbo prawns - before us and watched us eat them from their decorative sticks, beaming like a schoolboy delivering a report card of straight A’s. Had he studied cooking so young, he would have deserved them.

Chicken spring rolls were big and juicy, washed down with fresh fruit cocktails. Off went the detox (too late to turn back now). Mini Foie-Gras Burgers also sounded tempting, but considering we were about to stuff our faces from the main menu, we declined. As we were led to our table at the other end of the restaurant, it was obvious we were dining with a full house. People chattered by candlelight, taking in the view of Dubai’s growing skyline, which stretches almost floor to ceiling in a 360 panoramic sweep. Even without a window seat there’s no mistaking the fact that you’re sitting somewhere pretty special.

With the main menu, which we’re assured will change frequently, Bonilla’s managed to combine the culinary influences of sophisticated Europe with generous portions and hearty, wholesome gastro-pub flavours. Takes you right back to a country pub in England on a brisk autumn day. Only in the desert. Surrounded by luxury� so� not at all really, but the feel is kind of like lovingly prepared home cooking, with a designer twist. At one point we were presented with a dollop of foam atop a salmon dish, which we were assured was air. Whisked air. Yes, ladies and gentleman in the city of dreams, you can indeed, now eat air.

Fisherman’s Friends, Fois Gras & The Harbour’s new high Seared Scottish Scallops, a Trio of Duck cooked crispy on the outside, and an usually delicious Oxtail concoction followed, but I think it was the Foie-gras Ice-Cream that tipped the menu over the edge, into the realm of extraordinary. This is the kind of dish that would make your gran screech down the phone in a state of disgust � “Foie-gras ice cream??! What kind of Mickey Mouse plays around with liver and puts a flake with it? You need to get out of that town!” But you know, being a citizen of the 21st century, and one accustomed to taking chances and trying new things, you’ll scoff and scoop, and chew, and frown and eventually smile. “It’s bloody good gran, really!” Air and meaty ice-cream. You can’t beat it.

Well actually you can. Chocolate spaghetti was the highlight of the dessert menu. Or perhaps it was the weird yet awesome Fisherman’s Friend ice-cream sat atop a chocolate brownie that took first prize. Yes, Fisherman’s Friend, essentially a menthol tasting cough sweet has made it into a dish that won’t get stuck in your throat. Who’d have thought? Mary Poppins would have had no problem getting the kids to keep the medicine down, if it all tasted like this.

It seems that being picky is the key here. Chef Bonilla tried no less than 14 different foie-gras providers before settling on his supplier, and a whole year finding suitable suppliers for his range of organic vegetables. As Dubai stretches into the horizon through its windows, I really hope The Observatory sees the same expansion, in its reputation, its creativity and its number of enthusiastic dinner guests. It deserves to stay more than literally, at the top. This is a newcomer that impresses without even trying, but when it does, the results are truly fabulous.

The Observatory is open for lunch and dinner every day. For reservations call The Harbour on +971 (0) 4 319 4000.

Posted: 08 January 2009

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