Finally. A restaurant that lives up to its hype! I was extremely excited when I received an email asking me if I would like to review Jason Atherton's first UAE venture. While I was in London I had visited his flagship Michelin Star restaurant, Pollen Street Social, and fell in love with his food, and his newest venture definitely did not disappoint. For those of you who aren't familiar with his work, Jason Atherton had worked under some of the best in the industry before joining the Gordon Ramsay group and heading his Dubai restaurant, Verre, which, at that time in 2002, was a game changer for Dubai's restaurant scene. He then went on to launch Maze, another Gordon Ramsay Group restaurant, and earned it a Michelin Star. After overseeing the opening of 5 other Maze restaurants globally, he started his own restaurant group, The Social Company, which has seen extremely successful restaurant openings all over the world.
I first heard of Jason Atherton's upcoming venture in Dubai during the Food Festival in March when I met him at the Marina Social stall at the Kite Beach Canteen. Impatiently waiting all summer I finally got a chance to try it last week and was utterly bowled over by how amazing my evening was! Receiving an extremely warm welcome by Lauren Suddaby, our host for the evening, a cheery greeting is always a great start, and it set the tone for an unwaveringly friendly service throughout the night. We were first invited to have a drink in the Social room and some bar snacks before heading to our table in the dining room. As soon as I entered I saw a familiar face, a good friend I hadn't run into since I was working at The Fairmont. Souvik, who is currently doing so well for himself, and was recently a finalist in the Best of Belvedere competition, made us some incredibly good looking and tasting drinks!
This one was my fav! The Long Peach Spiced Tea - A mix of english breakfast, peaches, honey, star anise, cinnamon, clove, cardamom and lemon. Skimming through the Bar Menu was quite entertaining as well, some incredibly tongue in cheek cocktail names likes "Up in your Grill", "Cereal Killer", "Can't stop the Roque", and " Pretty Fly for a Mai-Tai". Love it! The attention to detail was exceptional, right down to the garnish which included homemade apple and beetroot powder, which involves dehydrating thin slices of apple and beetroot for several hours at a low temperature and then processing it to a fine powder in a Robot Coupe. We also ordered the Social Dog, the most popular item off the Bar Snacks menu and for good reason! A perfectly toasted brioche bun stuffed with a duck and foie gras sausage, caramelized onions and topped with a homemade, mild mustard sauce. Most of the dishes at Marina Social are served with the "social knife". To emphasize and make easier the sharing concept the restaurant exudes.
After devouring that and heading to our table, I couldn't help but stare at that beautiful and glittery view of the marina, it definitely matched the slick, sophisticated interiors finished with glossy polished wood and a bustling open kitchen.
When I first saw the menu I didn't quite know what to make of it! A British-Mediterranean inspired menu with some definite Italian influences, the Americas shone through also with the Smoked Boston Lobster as well as more European cuisine with the Goats Cheese Churros. There's something for everyone, that's for sure! There are three options on the menu for creating sharing dishes tailored to your table depending on how hungry you are: "Munchies" (a 4 course meal) "Hungry" (a 6 course meal) Or "Famished" (an 8 course meal), plus a further two pages of sharing plates covering all genres from Raw & Cold to Pizzas and Flatbread. At this point, Chef Patron Tristin Farmer took the lead and courses upon courses were arriving at our table, all with impeccable presentation, and here are my favorites:
The Italian beef tomato. Such a witty dish. It looks like the kitchen has just dumped a tomato on your plate and called for service. But when you cut into it, the firm shell of the blanched and peeled beef tomato gives way to some great craftsmanship. Hollowed out using a melon baller and stuffed with creamy burrata and a slightly acidic dehydrated tomato salad. Served with 25 year aged balsamic and tomato salt.
The English breakfast tea and toast with an afternoon tea setup. A teapot of wild mushroom consommé is poured into espresso cups with parmesan foam which is complemented with some toast, bone marrow butter and Gentlemen’s relish. Ah-mazing.
Hand chopped beef tartare which is tossed tableside with fried capers, shallots, parsley, cornichons and egg yolk jam (which is made by putting a bunch of egg yolks together in a vacpack bag and cooking them sous vide for about an hour at a low temperature), it is then topped with horseradish cream and a truffle & balsamic dressing. YUM! In my head, this was definitely in competition with Tom Aikens' Pots, Pans and Boards Beef Tartare, both quite similar but I can't quite decide which one I like better.
The Foie gras & confit duck terrine had an impeccable balance of flavors. Served with black pepper poached pears and crystalized walnuts. This was a definite winner! But I'm a sucker for anything with duck and foie gras.
This one was particularly random - Alexander McQueen-esque plates came out with this course as well as a rustic ceramic chicken gravy holder filled with the most amazing chicken jus! The whole herb roasted Picalou Chicken course felt like we were right back at home, sat with the family having a roast chicken for dinner. But of course it was elevated to a whole other level. Each part of the chicken was prepared in a different way and nothing was wasted, including the carcass which was used to make the sauce. The breast roasted and stuffed with parmesan and parsley. The thigh and drumstick were confit (my favorite technique of preparing any food - long, slow cooking in oil or fat at low temperatures), the thigh was then deep fried in breadcrumbs and the meat on the drumstick shredded off the bone and finished in a chicken cream sauce, both of which were divine and my favorite from this course. And finally the wing, which was braised, de boned, glazed in chicken jus and then smoked; served on a crouton with Welsh rarebit (a warm cheesy sauce).
This was incredible foodies, some interesting theatre and flair came from the Whole Smoked Boston Lobster, make sure your cameras are ready for this one because once the wooden drawer is opened at the table, wisps of smoke emerge leaving your mouth hanging open!
The remaining two halves of the shellfish contained sweet, plump chunks of meat, which were very easy to eat because the meat had been removed from the shell, cut into chunks and glazed in a lemon butter sauce; the mild smokey aftertaste - due to the lobster shells being smoked for several hours before hand - was a perfect finish on the palate. Served with a warm potato salad, baby gem, lobster tempura and a sauce choron.
The sourdough pizza with pulled lamb may just be the best pizza I've eaten in a long while. A particularly fresh and aromatic pesto, melt in your mouth slices of lamb, a perfectly soft yet crusty sourdough base, frothy buffalo ricotta, and smokey chunks of courgette.
At this point we needed a break, we could barely eat another bite! But when dessert was mentioned, we couldn't refuse. We headed over to the dessert bar to see what magic they had to offer us.
The Special gelato was served on a delightfully impressive stand and had an extremely fun element of having to guess which gelato was which by referring to a list given to us by Head Pastry Chef, Stefano Ferraro. Oh, and all of them are made fresh, in-house by his pastry team.
We were then spoiled with this amazing Orange and Clove soufflé which is gluten free! Not your average soufflé foodies - This one doesn't have a pastry cream base, but instead a rice pudding base. Yes, I was shocked too. It was one of the fluffiest, lightest, pillow and foam-like soufflés I've ever come across. Oh, and then it was topped with a chocolate sorbet... No biggie.
Last but not least, we were given this beautiful Apple Tart Tatin with Madagascan Vanilla ice cream, which was my ultimate favorite of the desserts. Perfectly caramelized and spiced apples with just the right ratio of crisp pastry at the bottom.
At this point, we were in a major food coma. Chef Patron, Tristin Farmer, who has climbed his way up in the kitchen by making his way through all of Gordon Ramsay's Michelin Star restaurants in London (yes, that is some impressive training indeed), kindly took the time out to show me around the kitchen and introduced me to the Josper Grill.
This piece of equipment is something that Jason Atherton has in all his Social restaurants and probably only about 10 are being used by restaurants within the UAE at this point in time. By combining the functions of an oven and grill, it can work at high temperatures, sealing the product, smoking and grilling at the same time. An indoor barbecue if you will! These results are unique creating a wonderfully mild smokey aftertaste in anything that's cooked in it. A secret to a lot of the flavors in the Marina Social menu. It was also quite evident that nothing in Chef Tristin Farmer's kitchen goes to waste, right down to the burnt skin of scraped peppers which are then used to infuse oils for a smokey flavor in salad dressings.
Just when I thought the evening was ending I looked over at my watch and I couldn't believe my eyes, it was 11pm! We had arrived at 6pm. Where those 5 hours went I will never know. We were walked out with a box of petit fours each off the sweet trolley, because treating us to drinks and a 6 course meal just wasn't enough! Our boxes were filled with Chocolate Brownie squares, Baci Chocolate, Fennel Jelly, Peanut Brittle and Rose Marshmallows, which all made for a delicious breakfast with my morning cup of tea the next day!
One thing I really loved about the layout of the restaurant was how interactive it was. An open kitchen and dessert bar allows guests to observe and interact with the chefs during their meals, it's also one of the very few high end restaurants in Dubai that allows you to simply come in for dessert and coffee, or just a drink as opposed to an entire meal. While the food is clearly of a fine dining standard, the casual atmosphere removes any pretension. The classy vibe coupled with the fun and random glimpses (like the tongue in cheek cocktail names, and Alexander McQueen-esque plates), combine to create a winning formula with a unique personality. The food also has the perfect balance between modern and rustic, simple ingredients elevated with sophisticated cooking techniques served in ceramic chicken gravy holders and vintage petits fours tins. Definitely worth checking out! Add it to your list foodies, you won't regret it - Trust me! xo