Club Vista Mare is one of my favourites of the newer developments in Dubai. A waterfront, promenade-like row of licensed restaurants spanning from Ethiopian cuisine to a traditional “Tap House”? What’s not to love?
I’d been invited to go to Ibn AlBahr a few weeks ago, but it was one I wanted to save until the weather was better, so now that winter is upon us, I took the wife along to see what the restaurant “owned by fishermen” could produce.
My visit coincided with a Zomato event, whose guests were all served a set menu and disappointingly, I was informed just prior to my visit that I also had to have this menu – I was assured that the food I would be having would be the exact same portion-size and quality as the regular menu and to be fair, the manager said I could try anything else off the menu if I wished, so I wasn’t too disheartened and at least it gave me the opportunity to try some things that I wouldn’t usually order.
The first course came and was a colossal array of mezze; hummus, mtabbal batinjan, mohammara, stuffed vine leaves, tabbouleh, fattoush, crispy calamari, hot potato and tajen samak were all brought over. I’m admittedly not the biggest fan – and definitely not the most informed on what makes Lebanese mezze good or not, however to the wife and I’s tongues it was a very satisfying spread. The tajen samak (coriander, garlic and tahini sauce with white-fish) made a delicious appetizer and the hummus and fattoush – as expected – were executed well. We also loved the flavours of the hot potato, although they would be even better if they could just get them a bit crispier.
I’m not a huge fan of vine leaves and this element unfortunately didn’t bowl me over, however, I think it’s to do more with my palette than it necessarily being bad or not! The calamari wasn’t the best though, a little bit soggy and rubbery inside – I’d recommend giving it a miss and stocking up on the tajen samak!
For main, we were brought over sayadieh – a butterflied, freshly-caught snapper alongside a delicious bowl of rice. It looked great and tasted even better. Word of warning though, it hadn’t been fully deboned and it was difficult to see what you were eating as it was dark outside, so I did find myself on more than one occasion picking bones out of my mouth and this would probably put some people off. I’m not sure if there had just been a few missed, as the half my wife ate was bone free. Luckily for me, having been sea fishing in the past and cooking fresh catches on the BBQ, a few bones aren’t going to ruin my meal!
I’m not even going to write an opinion on desserts as I detest Arabic sweets as I just find them far, far too sweet. I can give no reasonable critique as to whether the baklava and bouza were any good as they’re just not to my taste. Others around the restaurant seemed to enjoy them though!
Throughout the evening, service was quick and efficient; one lady was especially friendly with us and gave us a few bits of info about dishes we didn’t know much about and the manager went around the restaurant greeting various guests (not just food critics and zomato-ers) so that was also a plus.
Overall, despite a few dishes not been quite to my tastes (not helped by being made to have a set menu), the elements I would have ordered were really enjoyable and we discovered a couple of new dishes (the deliciously flavoured Lebanese rice and tajen samak) that we loved. It’s worth highlighting that the setting is beautiful. You have the option to sit right on the beach and it makes a relaxing environment having the sea right in front of you.
We both left with smiles on our faces, looking forward to coming back and picking our own choice of food next time.
FOOD: 11.5/15 – Fresh, high quality food overall – other than the calamari missing the mark all dishes were of a strong standard.
SERVICE: 12.5/15 – Food came quickly, drinks were kept full and the servers were friendly and personable.
DRINKS SELECTION: 4/5 – A lot of restaurants miss the mark when it comes to serving local drinks so it was pleasing to see Lebanese beer and wine on the menu.
AMBIANCE: 4/5 – It’s wonderful being sat by the sea in the fantastic winter weather. The only thing letting it down was having to put up with shisha smoke everywhere – not something that’s particular pleasant when you’re trying to eat.
DESIGN: 4/5 – It has an un-exaggerated nautical theme inside that’s pleasant and airy, but it’s all about the terrace really. Nothing beats eating freshly caught fish right by the sea.
VALUE: 4/5 – Drinks were reasonably priced (35 AED for beer if I remember correctly) and none of the food seemed expensive. The starters we had all ranged from 24-35 AED and the mains all come in under 100 AED (although the fresh fish is priced by weight, so I’m sure you could break the bank with the lobster thermidore!).
TOTAL: 40/50 – Ibn AlBahr really transported me back to being on holiday somewhere like Spain, Thailand or Sri Lanka where you just wander down the beach and get a freshly caught fish, cooked with respect, caught from the sea you overlook. The wife and I both had a relaxing, happy evening and look forward to returning soon to try some of their other dishes.