Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dubai Restaurant Review: Sakura, Crowne Plaza

In a nutshell: good food but no atmosphere.

It has been about 5 years since I visited the Crowne Plaza but it hasn't changed at all in that time, or even in the last 15 years maybe. When you walk into the strange little shopping centre on the ground floor it smells old and somehow brings back memories of the old Dubai. It doesn't smell dirty, just a smell that really took me back and made me feel we were in the 90s - hard to explain! Going up the very long and almost vertical escalator to the lobby my first impression was that the hotel's looking a bit tired and could do with a refurb, it was one of the first hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road and it still has that 90s look about it. We went up to the 4th floor and found that we had to go through Oscar's Vine Society (a French wine bar) to get into Sakura. Very strange, did we go up the wrong lifts?

A small aside on Oscar's before continuing with Sakura. Oscar's used to be a piano bar and it is where Simon and I went with some friends (before we became a couple) and I accidently knocked an entire glass of white wine down his front! The piano, low seats and carpet are now gone, replaced by high wooden tables with bar stools, slate floors and a huge chalkboard with all the wines by the glass listed. Very small and very empty - even when we left Sakura there were only about 4 people in the bar. Oscar's does a themed evening on a different area of France each night, serving up a buffet for AED 99. I looked at the Saturday buffet (Normandy night I think) and there was really nothing there for AED 99 - some soup, cheese, biscuits and that was about it. Disappointing.

Now back to Sakura...the restaurant is fairly large with regular tables, tatami tables and teppanyaki tables available. We chose the teppanyaki and until about 9pm we were the only diners in the entire place - hence the total lack of atmosphere. My experience of teppanyaki is that you normally have a choice of set menus (beef / chicken / seafood) which then includes miso soup, Japanese salad, whichever teppanyaki you've chosen with rice & veg and finally dessert. Not the case here where you have to order and pay for everything separately. We hadn't realised until we sat down that they are doing a special offer during the summer which gives you 46% off your food bill - the 46 is linked to the average Dubai summer temperature. So almost half off, not bad at all!

Our chicken yakitori starters (only AED 20) included 3 BBQ'ed chicken skewers which were really tender and juicy. The chef then came out to cook our teppanyaki, he wasn't Japanese but he was very good and provided all the knife throwing entertainment that you expect when you go for teppanyaki. As always, it was quite loud so it's definitely not somewhere to go for a romantic dinner. My seafood plate (AED 125) included 2 jumbo prawns, a decent-sized salmon steak plus a large hammour steak and I ordered vegetables to go with it. The prawns were delicious, as was the salmon although part of it had missed the heat and so wasn't cooked enough for me. I couldn't manage the hammour (plus I don't like hammour that much) so I passed that over to Simon to give him a surf 'n' turf with his steak. Simon and both our friends had the steak teppanyaki (AED 180) and were really impressed with how tender the steak was, cooked enough to not be pink but not over-cooked to the point of being dry.

In terms of food, we couldn't fault it. However, in terms of atmosphere it was sadly completely lacking and we wouldn't go back to Sakura. They also only offered imported water, not local, which I always find extremely annoying - why fly water in from half way round the world and charge a fortune for it when you have just as good water choices here in the UAE? An interesting point to note, the Paulaner beer that our friends had was AED 40 in Oscar's and only AED 34 in Sakura. So if you do go then I'd suggest you have your beer in the restaurant - or drink wine since they had a buy-1-get-1-free offer on glasses of wine ordered before 7pm.


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