As an Asian restaurant with a Russian name in a high-end part of town; Novikov just smacks of over pretentious pomp done badly. As such, I’ve avoided it for some time. Much as I aim to avoid any confused conceptual behemoth ensconced in any given plush hotel of Dubai. I was so unswervingly prepared to be vindicated in my contempt of Novikov and its ilk, that my détente toward it was almost begrudging.
Despite being, if i say so myself, a true product of my environment and therefore, a thoroughly modern maiden. There are a few tried and tested traditional practices in which I still insist on partaking. One in particular being a drink at the bar before dinner. The act, in its simplicity, adds a welcome prelude to the evening, building suspense and anticipation for the impending meal. A precious pause in time, allowing diners to truly cast off their sunlight-hour guises and give rise to the more relaxed, appreciative souls within. I have yet, however in recent times been given the opportunity, unless on my own, sometimes unwelcome, request.
Due to good traffic we stepped out of Novikov’s private elevator a full thirty minutes before our allotted time, therefore we thought, we would surely be lead to the bar where we could serenely begin the task of padding out our dinner bill with frivolous, heady cocktails. However when we arrived, a terrifyingly efficient hostess set off at an alarming pace toward the dining room to seat us. What did I miss? Why do I need to jog behind a woman in stilettos to request my opportunity to flex the bartenders hard-shake skills?
Once two, very passable, Negroni’s had been consumed at the bar we are directed to our table by the window at the far end of the restaurant. A welcome retreat from the central bustle of the room. In true ‘new Dubai’ style the space was large, dark and filled with a deep, resonating bassline from a myriad of speakers around the room. I didn’t need to know what it’s like to dine witting the confines of a professional concert sound system but now I do.
Hanging behind the glass of the semi-open kitchen are row upon row of inviting BBQ ducks, all glistening golden brown skin and heady, meaty aroma. The signature duck salad, mixed and served at the table, looked stunning if mountainous on the plate. However, its appearance was in fact misleading, the sweet sticky hoi sin dressing was overbearing and cloying in its richness, it left the subtle micro greens dead in the water and rendered the freshness one expects from a salad obsolete. The duck served to us in our salad appeared to have been taken down from the glistening display and, horror of horrors, thrown into the deep fat fryer. The skin had puffed up akin to a down market ship-shop batter and the meat had taken on so much excess fat it was practically gunning for ones arteries straight from the plate. Add this to the saccharine sweet dressing and the dish as a whole was a vastly unpleasant experience.
Elsewhere on the table perfection could be found; creamy pink tinged Hamachi carpaccio punctured with the unctuous earthiness of fresh shaved black truffle. Offset by a bright, full bodied dressing that piqued the insides of ones cheeks and left a genuine, if rare, smile on faces present. Black cod; cooked knowledgably and skilfully, a rarity at that. Similarly, the roasted Hamachi collar with garlic butter was simple, yet effective the freshness of the flaky, fatty meat was obvious, as was the care it was cooked with.
Dessert was the Shira Tama Sphere, a sweet encased within a thin chocolate sphere which is melted at the table with a hot ginger sauce. Of course its encased in a chocolate sphere to be melted at the table, when was the last time you had a dessert that wasn’t encased in a bloody sphere? As the waitress went to pour the spiced liquid over the bauble thus providing the ‘showcase’ part of the dish, she encouraged, nay instructed me to take a video of the sensation. I don’t take pictures of my food, or videos, or snaps or chats or any other tedious form of over sharing that ultimately, causes one to be disengaged with their experience thus rendering the whole thing uncomfortably forgettable. I mean I come home and write these god-awful things, what more do you want. However, in this instance, the authority of her instruction flustered me and I did as she said. The video is terrible. I’ve seen a sphere being melted before, as has every other pleb on the planet. I won’t be sharing the experience on Instagram or facebook or twitter as, let’s face it, no one cares. Minus points for forced media distraction Novikov.
The dessert itself, circus performance aside, was decadent in its deliciousness. Rather uncouthly I ran my finger through the thick, spiced, Worther’s Original sauce after the cake had been duly demolished.
Novikov has a cult following and appears on almost every list of top spots in Dubai. These accolades, whilst not undeserved could be met by the restaurant with a stronger desire to elevate themselves further. It seems they have reached high ground in Dubai and has stopped to take a rest, leaning back on their previous success as a safeguard to the future. This, I wager, will leave them open to being overtaken by the opposition, who wont be hard pressed to find the occasional elements that let Novikov down and exploit them to their advantage. Time for socks to be pulled up I think.
Novikov, Sheraton Grand Hotel
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, UAE
+971 4 338 8744