Anyone who’s fond of the finer things in Dubai (especially when it comes to Japanese food) will have heard of Zuma. Most of them would know that the previous Regional Executive Chef of Zuma Middle East is now the Chef de Cuisine at Play Restaurant and Lounge. Frankly, that’s what really put Play on the map before it even opened.
Play promises a whole new genre of cuisine: Mediterrasian., however in my experience (of the menu items selected by our server), it was a lot more Asian and bits of random (parmesan truffle fries?) and not a lot of Mediterranean. We were told that the focus is on Japanese ingredients with a Mediterranean twist, however I only really felt that to be true in the case of the Fish in a Bag (I’ll elaborate on that later).
Whenever I’m invited to a tasting (as was the case at Play), and just about everything on the menu looks good, I simply snap it shut and ask the server/chef to surprise me. Otherwise I’m sure I would spend half an hour trying to decide what to try and what to skip on. So our server, Andor, picked for us to try the following items (I should mention here that I asked him not to pick anything with Foie Gras):
I told Andor I don’t want a sugary sweet drink, so he suggested I try this cucumber water based mocktail which I really did love.
The Maguro was lightly seared tuna with a lime truffle sauce and was the most ambrosial rendition of a tuna tataki I’ve ever had. It was like an explosion of
flavors sheer happiness in my mouth that melted like butter. Really need to go back for this.
The lobster rolls with potato bechamel sauce are apparently a very hot item on the menu. I did see an order of these on every table, but I found the fried buns to be too dry and the ratio of bread to bun to be too high. While I did like the actual flavors of the lobster and the bechamel, I feel the richness could have used some acidity to cut through it.
We loved the Duck Gyoza with chili ponzo sauce.. My +1 was worried about the duck tasting too gamey but it was anything but. These were scrumptious and the presentation (pancake-like) was very unique and a first for me.
While I enjoyed the shrimp tempura maki with teriyaki reduction, it wasn’t very memorable and it was dwarfed in comparison to the Maguro, and Gyoza.
The Crusty Crab maki had Hokkaido cream cheese, parmesan and panko on top, and a katsu spicy mayo. My +1 and I were in disagreement over this one. She absolutely abhored the parmesan on top but for me it kind of worked (kind of). I guess it was a bit redundant and I could have done just as well without the added richness of parmesan when it comes to maki. Also, I don’t think I’d be ordering maki on my subsequent visits to Play. For sushi and maki I’ll probably pick Zuma (especially considering the prices vs quality!)
This is the showstopper at Play, an entree sought after so much that it always, always sells out and supply can’t meet demand. The Wagyu braised short rib with spicy tahini soy sauce (the tahini really didn’t shine though though) with sesame paste dressing melted in our mouths and we couldn’t believe for a well done piece of meat to be that tender and succulent. Here’s the secret: it is slow-cooked for seventy six hours!
This was a case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover. or the summary on the back”. When the server listed what sounded like a million components in this “Fish in a bag”, we felt that they’ve unnecessarily over complicated this Japanese Red Snapper by throwing in olives, baby vegetables, shallots, veal pancetta, soy beans, and crispy quinoa. We held our breaths and forked up what we thought would be a Masterchef disaster, but had to bite our tongues because this was a recipe for brilliance. We might go back JUST to have this (and the Maguro, of course).
These were totally unnecessary. They’d be the most sophisticated fries to share in a group of friends, but for a tasting in which I’d want to try as many items in as little quantity as possible, there was no way to finish this huge plate and I absolutely hate wasting food.
Dessert was fan-friggin-tastic. This work of art right here is called the Frenchie, and comprised of a banana tarte tatin + hazelnut ice cream + caramel banana sauce. This was so, so good, and while it is definitely for the sweet toothed, it certainly wasn’t treacly.
The Pistachio “Sneaker” Bar. A moment of silence for desserts like this. Desserts like this, that make life worth living, that make getting out of bed in the mornings sensible. I’m not even going to elaborate on this blissful indulgence. You’re going to have to go try it out for yourself, and you’re going to thank me later.
And of course, how can I conclude a meal without my green tea.
Overall, I don’t think people should visit Play expecting another Zuma. But what they can expect is good food, and a good time. I’d pass on the Maki, and the truffle parm fries, and instead I’d like to try some ceviche and tartare next time and reorder everything else I tried. The ambiance is super suave and laid back, but (thankfully) also super grown up and not at all hipster. I loved the DJ’s choice of music (all remixes of songs from the 80s and 90s), and had a very enjoyable meal overall. I hear the energy goes up several notches on weekends, which I can imagine since under 21s aren’t allowed to stay past 10.
One thing that was really memorable- and not entirely in a good way- was that the server who brought us our Fish in a Bag (not Andor), cut into the bag from the side rather than the top (rookie mistake). The juices from the bag poured out onto the tray, then the table, and before long dripped onto the floor, barely missing my bag. What’s worse is that she was pretty nonchalant about it and just wiped the table top unapologetically and completely ignored the mess on the floor. When I asked her if this happens often (wanting to know if there was a technical error in the conceptualization of the dish), she gave me a meek affirmative. The manager though, who randomly checked up on us following this mess, was extremely embarrassed, profusely apologetic and immediately cleaned up the mess on the floor himself. Instant damage control and redemption. Kudos on that.
Thanks for having me over to play, Play.
You’re really going to have make a reservation, on 04 3364444