Once home to the Mexican restaurant, “O Cacti”, level 2 of the ever-popular Pier 7 has over the summer, been transformed into jungle-themed, South American/Indonesian/Japanese restaurant, Mama Zonia.
I headed down with good friends atozaatar and husband to check it out!
The entrance to the restaurant is rather striking, adorned with a huge birdcage, jungle flora and Aztec tiles, you really know you’ve entered the jungle when you arrive. We were led through the restaurant to our table on the balcony, offering fantastic views over the Marina (as all the restaurants in Pier 7 Floor 2 upwards, do).
We started off with a round of cocktails as we mused over the menu. I opted for the interesting-sounding, “Amazonian Brew” – a rum-based coffee cocktail served very elaborately as you can see below:
At first, it tasted a bit medicinal for my palate, but as I got further into it, it began to get more enjoyable and the kick from the caffeine gave me the perk up I needed after arriving at the restaurant full of cold.
For starters, we opted for the Seabass Ceviche, the Beef Tataki, Spider Rolls and were advised to give the Watermelon Dish a try.
The ceviche was the first dish we tried and was a great example of the classic Peruvian dish; crunchy elements present, the right amount of acidity and heat, it was a great dish to whet the appetite for what was yet to come.
Next up were the Spider Rolls, another dish enjoyed by the table. Crunch soft-shell crab, fresh tuna with a few interesting elements to beautify the dish.
The Beef Tataki was nothing particularly mind-blowing, but was another pleasant dish that had enough punch from the yuzu ponzu to make it interesting.
The biggest surprise was the watermelon dish for sure. As a table of carnivores, it’s rare that we’re captivated by the vegetarian options and if it wasn’t for our excellent host who pushed us to order it, we’d have missed this one. Packed full of flavour, spice and texture we were all blown away by the depth of such a simple dish.
After the impressive cold-starters, we segued into the warm ones with excitement. A couple of skewered dishes followed, accompanied by an Indonesian Salad and a selection of crudités with a peanut sauce.
The beef skewers were deliciously smoky and very well-cooked, we did agree though that they’d been a little bit too liberal with the salt – which was the opposite for the prawn skewers, which were a little underseasoned and didn’t taste as fresh as the other seafood we’d tried so far.
The crudites and sauce did look a little 70s in its styling, but all of us kept going back for more as the peanut sauce was so delicious. It would also be a fantastic, healthy afternoon bar snack.
The Indonesian noodle salad was very small, but again (you see a theme here!), packed full of flavour and was cohesive with the rest of the dishes.
Before the mains, we decided to try one more started as frog’s legs aren’t something you see often on a menu over here:
They tasted a whole lot better than my photography does justice! Remarkedly meaty, juicy with a tasty curry dipping sauce, it was a very strong dish – especially using an ingredient that isn’t indigenous.
Mains next and despite already been pretty stuffed, we couldn’t see past the Short Rib, the Grilled Tiger Prawns and were advised by our server to give the hot ceviche a go, as it was a favourite of other diners.
The short rib was bloody fabulous. Slow cooked to perfection, finished off over hot coals, we all absolutely loved the cooking of it. The flavours could have been a little more pronounced in the sauce but it was a minor complaint, it really was pretty great.
The grilled tiger prawns followed the same theme as the prawns in the starters unfortunately. Cooked well, but again, just didn’t quite taste as fresh as some of the other seafood I’ve had around the city (places like Bleu Blanc really stand out).
I’ve had hot ceviche a few times and in all honesty, it’s never been my jam. I’m not the biggest fan of it anyway as I just feel the acidity ruins the integrity of the ingredients in marinades and heated up doesn’t bring it up a notch either. The other diners on the table seemed to enjoy it though.
After the feast, we were all pretty stuffed but the staff were insistent that we tried their desserts.
If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that dessert isn’t really my thing, but my word both these desserts were DIVINE. Despite being at the point of bursting, our table didn’t leave much of both dishes. The cheesecake was beautifully smooth, had some great textural elements and the rum soaked BBQd banana was a masterstroke.
After we finished, we were given a warm goodbye by the team and left with a few inches added to our waistbands.
FOOD: 13/15 – Most dishes were of an excellent standard. The only mild disappointment was the prawn dishes.
SERVICE: 13/15 – A very friendly and knowledgable team who went above and beyond to ensure we were well looked after all night.
DRINKS SELECTION: 4/5 – Good selection of cocktails, spirits, beers and wines.
AMBIENCE: 3/5 – It’s new so there’s a still room for improvement in getting people through the door, but the music was good but not too intrusive and there was a happy buzz on the balcony.
DESIGN: 4.5/5 – They’ve had a brief and the design team have hit it. You’re definitely transported to the jungle when you arrive.
VALUE: 2.5/5 – As with most new places these days, it’s pretty darn expensive. Short-rib for 210 AED?! Two tiger prawns for 310 AED?! Come with a full wallet!
TOTAL: 40/50 – A very interesting, new addition to the Dubai food scene! Despite the high pricing, it offers great vistas over the Marina and some delicious food. Worth checking out for a special occasion for a meal or going for drinks and a few smaller dishes.