An Asian restaurant with a Russian name in a high-end part of town Novikov just smacks of over pretentious pomp. As such I’ve avoided it for some time now. However, upon being persuaded into going, what I found really wasn’t all that bad.
I’ll admit, though being a thoroughly modern kinda gal, there are a few tried and tested traditional practices I still like to follow. One in particular being a drink at the bar before dinner. Until lately I’d assumed I was in the majority with this leaning. Lucky as I am to have visited many a fine restaurant it seemed to me commonplace for the host or hostess to offer a drink at the bar before taking our seats in the dining room. Is this passé? Is this a dying trend? Am I in fact behind the times? I’m noticing more and more the complete bypassing of the (subsequently empty) bar by host staff and increasing often there’s no mention of the choice to start ones evening at the bar. What did I miss?
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 sent to the bar beforehand, it seemed obvious to us. However when we arrived, a smiling and efficient hostess set off at an alarming pace toward the dining room to seat us. We jogged a little to catch her up before requesting a drink at the bar before we sat down. She was all too happy to oblige but I’m still mystified as to where this once textbook step of service has gone, when did it become a request as opposed to an offer?
Once two very passable Negroni’s had been consumed at the bar we were directed to our table by the window at the far end of the restaurant. A welcome retreat for me 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.
We were presented with menus and swiftly descended upon by our waiter. Service all evening was prompt and industrious. Though it lacked a certain warmth and charm it was, at least, free from the overbearing eagerness that can grow tiresome in some venues.
We were asked several times if we needed any guidance on the menu which we politely refused, and opted instead to pick a seafood based selection of our own.
Our two first dishes were ones of absolute perfection, a Hamachi carpaccio with fresh slices black truffle and a zesty dressing amalgamated all things tangy, earthy and fatty in one wave of a chopstick and left a genuine (and rare) smile on All Mouth DXB’s face. As did the scallop and truffle dish served along side it. Topped with truffle oil and kewpie mayo the scallops were as fresh as could be and tender to the point of melting.
Unfortunately, the next dish rather marred the experience by disappointing on almost all levels, the signature duck salad was mixed and served at the table and looked stunning on the plate. However, its appearance was in fact misleading, the sweet sticky hoi sin dressing was overbearing and cloying in its richness, it killed the subtle micro greens dead and rendered the freshness one expects from a salad obsolete. The duck itself was also rather a let down. Hanging behind the glass of the semi-open kitchen are row upon row of traditional Asian bbq ducks, all glistening golden brown skin and heady meaty aroma. However, the duck served to us in our salad appeared to have been taken down from that display and, horror of horrors, thrown into the deep fat fryer. The skin had puffed up akin to batter and the meat had taken on so much excess fat it was practically gunning for ones arteries straight form the plate. Add this to the saccharine sweet dressing and the dish as a whole was a vastly unpleasant experience.
Things improved as we moved through the next few dishes, of particular note were the dim sum; Xiao long bao are a particular passion of mine and my quest for the best in Dubai is an ongoing saga. Novikov’s come very close to the mark, salty soup and doughy dumpling pair excellently with the vinegar and ginger dipping sauce. My only complaints here are that there was no spoon provided to tear the dumping into to allow the sauce, soup and dumpling to be enjoyed together, the dim sum basket also wasn’t explained to us, meaning the soup dumpling inside were a happy surprise but one that could’ve easily not been enjoyed to it’s full potential if we hadn’t have keenly spied them ourselves.
Next up was black cod, an extremely high quality piece of fish cooked knowledgably and skilfully. The glaze on it was too sweet for me but that’s a very personal preference and by no means a reflection on the dish’s success as a whole. Similarly, was the roasted Hamachi collar with garlic butter, 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 sphere which is melted at the table with a hot ginger sauce. As the waitress went to pour the caramel sauce over the bubble 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 current experience thus rendering the whole thing less meaningful (I mean I come home and write this god-awful blog, what more do you want)
However, 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.
Queue the more important element of the dessert; the taste. In a word, exceptional. Its Ginger Snaps and Worther’s Originals and Jamaica Cake all in one with texture upon texture creating balance and dimensions beyond its mere ingredients. Rather uncouthly I ran my finger through the sauce when the cake had gone so as to finish off every last drop.
Novikov has a cult following an 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 fear 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