I’ve dined at my fair share of restaurants in Dubai, and written more blog posts than I can remember. Over time, my palate has evolved (read gotten harder to please), and I consequently cut down on blogging about restaurants because fewer and fewer of them impressed me. After having a taste of The Experience by Reif Othman, I felt like I’m writing a blogpost for the very first time.
A few weeks have passed since my first and very memorable meal at The Experience by Reif Othman, and I’m only writing about it now. This was partly because I was crazy busy promoting the Dubai Food Festival in partnership with Dubai Tourism, and partly because I just procrastinated like a pro. I’m talking binge-watching vlogs on Tokyo living, you guys. Told you, procrastinated like a pro.
A truly exceptional meal often leaves me at a loss for words. The reason is plain and simple: the meal was so extraordinary, that words cannot do justice to the multitude of explosive flavors and textures that I had the sheer joy of ingesting. I guess, perhaps, I need a few weeks to calm down and let the high wear off a bit, before I can go through my notes, relive the experience, and put it on the blog.
I’ve dined at Play a handful of times, so I already knew that Chef Reif Othman means business and disappointment was not a risk. What went down at The Experience by Reif Othman though, is a whole other story, in a whole other universe. I hate to sound cliche, and it grinds my gears how carelessly this word is thrown around, but this guy has truly nailed umami.
First off, this was the first experience I’ve had of it’s kind. Yes, I’ve been to chef’s table events before, but none quite like this. The Experience is a place where every single day is an ultra luxury chef’s table experience. The food could pass for fine dining, but The Experience is not quite as uptight. Every single morning, Reif Othman compiles a new menu, as if it’s no big deal! Only 12 people can be seated at a time on the U-shaped table facing an open-kitchen, in loft-like space, and it is an extremely personal, extremely unforgettable meal that can range from 8-16 courses, depending on your appetite!
The Experience initially started out as an R&D kitchen. The space was huge though, and the idea to turn it into an apartment-like space was so brilliant that it has become a benchmark for others to copy- and is being copied. I frankly think this is the ultimate dream come true: have a successful, swinging, extremely popular restaurant with a fixed menu a floor down; and upstairs you whip up new recipes everyday, which the adventurous diners are more than happy to try, pay for, and hence rid you of your worries of any leftovers or wastage from the test kitchen.
As you step out of the elevator on the 37th floor of The H hotel, you immediately step into what appears to be a living room. To your right, is a door that leads to what shall henceforth be Narnia for me; where absolutely anything is possible and the only thing you can expect for certain is to be fed well, followed by wanting to curl up and cry for (a) not being able to afford to eat here on a daily basis and (b) knowing that you will never, ever be able to cook like Reif Othman.
The first thing that makes it’s way to your table is the bread and butter. Full disclosure: the quality of the bread and the butter can make or break a meal for me, because it sets the tone and tells me a lot about the attention to detail paid by the chef. The chef must have enough respect for the diner to ensure that the bread is fresh and the butter just the right amount of salted, and must never treat either with neglect. The bread in this case was sourdough (my favorite), and there was two types of butter, both from France: one lightly salted, and the other mixed with seaweed. I kid you not, I wanted to eat the entire pats of butter, and I probably would have if I wasn’t trying to pretend to be a lady.
The first course knocked me out like a loser at Teken. The combination of flavors and contrasts of textures were absolutely mind-blowing. I usually hate gazpacho, because I always find gazpacho to be lacking oomph, but this viscous Japanese strawberry gazpacho with veal panchetta, squid ink crouton and basil oil made me fall head over heels in love. Paired with a chorizo madeline, and kombu tart with potato espuma and slow-poached mangosteen confit, this was a home run and we were only on the first course.
Next up, we were brought little tins of French caviar. This caviar is custom made for The Experience by Chef Reif Othman, and this was the best caviar I have ever had. If I could have spent the entire night slathering this buttery caviar on bread and eating just that, it would have been enough for me. The caviar was not overly brine-y, and the little crispy bits on top gave it just the right amount of textural contrast that I crave in every dish.
The bluefin tuna toro on nori tempura and Japanese mackerel with kimchi and gochujang, came with a story that once again bore testament to the intricacy of Reif Othman’s thought process. You’re advised to ear the mackerel first, followed by the tuna, because in real life the tuna eats the mackerel. How cute yet sinister is that? I enjoyed the tuna more, because I’m a big fan of tartare.
The next course was another phenomenal, gobsmacking one. Before us sat a bowl of mushroom soup consume with a potato puree-stuffed morel. I felt like I’m eating gold as I bit into the spongy morel and had luscious potato puree ooze into my mouth.
The excitement continued, as we were brought a pink himalayan salt slab, on which we got to grill thin slices of Japanese wagyu. This was enjoyed with some ponzu sauce and I loved the saltiness that the beef absorbed from the salt slab. The beef was garnished with a pomeji leaf that looked suspiciously like mirijuana, so of course I brought it home. Much to my disappointment, it was not (mirijuana).
I clapped my hands like a seal when I saw the next course. We had soba-like noodles, drowned in a young ginger, fresh yuzu zest and beef consommé slow-cooked for 8 hours. The noodles were naturally not the very best I’ve had, since there is no substitute for a fresh noodle, but the beef consume was so deep and layered with flavor that it was ridiculous. The freshness from the yuzu cut through the richness of the broth like a knife through butter. If I have one mission in life now, it will be to crack the recipe for this consommé.
The palate cleanser came next and had me fooled at first glance. My heart sank when I saw it, because I thought it was dessert and I wasn’t nearly ready for this meal to be over. Of course, my stomach -which was fast approaching “full” status- begged to differ, but I decided not to let that get in my way. What we had was a granita made with melted chocolate and chocolate infused tea. Frankly, it tasted like frozen hot chocolate and I’ve never been a fan of hot chocolate so this one was a miss for me.
What came next was the the absolute definition of “an explosion in my mouth”. I knew this was a ravioli as soon as I saw it, but I didn’t realize it would be the ravioli version of a xiao long bao, but so much better. You must eat this in one go, and as soon as you bite into the delicate skin, expect a burst of truffle juice and chicken stock!
By the next course, I realized that this menu (although delicious) perhaps has one protein too many, and they were all seafood and beef. We now had Red Snapper from Japan with mussel butter broth, trumpets and baby carrots. Finally! Some hints of veggies!
Last but not the least, the grand finale: 72 hour, slow-braised at 65 degrees, Japanese wagyu neck in the most luscious of gravies. Drizzled with some lemongrass and truffle oil, this was a great way to drop the curtain. I was asked at this point if I’m full or would like to carry on, and I really wanted to save room for dessert.
Dessert was a tip of the hat to the infamous Pina Colada. We had coconut ice-cream, with sous-vide pineapple, fried quinoa and black sesame seeds, on the softest most airiest vanilla sponge cake ever. We enjoyed our dessert in the lounge area, with sweeping views of old Dubai dotted with lights.
On your way out, each diner is handed a jute pouch containing a little gift to take home, along with a hand-written and wax-sealed menu of everything you ate at The Experience by Reif Othman. My. God. I was already sold but at this point I wan’t could have just jumped off the 37th floor and rested in eternal peace.
The Experience by Reif Othman will set you back a sweet AED 750, but if you appreciate fine food, you will not regret it. Thank you so much, chef, for giving Dubai such exquisite food.