The dinner and dhow cruise has become one of the essential tourist ‘must do’s’ when visiting Dubai, but with so many options of varying quality, how do you choose?
Team Out & About UAE were lucky enough to be invited aboard JA Bateaux Dubai, a unique dining concept from JA Resorts & Hotels which has been gliding along the waters of Dubai’s historic creek for over a decade. Having recently relocated from Deira to the ultra-modern Al Seef development from Meraas, the experience is certainly one to remember.
As we board the sleek glass-encased boat docked on the Bur Dubai side of the creek, we’re immediately impressed by the ambience and concept offered by Bateaux. The experience represents more than just a buffet and a chance to see Dubai from a different perspective, instead presenting a sophisticated fine dining concept where all dishes are prepared on board and served a la carte to the table. We’re met at the hostess desk and greeted with warmth, before being led through the dining room towards our table. Bateaux doesn’t feel like a boat, but more like a floating restaurant with crisp white table linens and dapper staff dressed in shirts and suspenders.
Each of the tables are situated at a window or on an elevated central podium to ensure diners are offered a premium vantage point. The vessel may only measure 56m by 13m but the space is fully maximised by the spacious dining room and two bathrooms below deck. On first impressions, it appears the tables may be a little too close together in a bid to cram in 230 diners, but with Bateaux not operating at full capacity on the Tuesday night we dine, privacy is easily found. This may well be one the main selling points of this specific dinner cruise, which clocks in at two and a half hours (8:30pm — 11pm), taking time to ease guests into the dining experience. A clear pacing structure for the courses allows for uninterrupted conversation between diners, alongside the opportunity for some sightseeing on deck.
Bateaux should also be commended for forgoing the buffet spread, instead focusing on a four-course gourmet dining experience. Admittedly, we’re not quite sure how the product is prepared in such small quarters but it’s all part of the Bateaux charm. The first course presents a trio of amuse-bouche alongside a fruity mocktail and is served prior to departure. Plated with edible flowers. it’s a bizarre mix of arancini, Mexican Chicken and a Nutella stuffed biscuit, with the transition between savoury and sweet proving more than a little jarring.
Upon departure, alcohol is available for guests (AED 415 soft drinks package and AED 519 with unlimited house beverages) and though the overall price is a little steep (and more expensive than a lot of Dubai brunches), it’s worth it for a one-off splurge and a romantic night out.
Traversing the waterways of the creek, Bateaux heads east towards the floating bridge while we select starters from a leather-bound menu. The six mainly seafood options sound appealing and we select the Avocado & Prawn and the Katafi Wrapped Scallops.
The prawn is a plate with a lot going on. There’s a disc of beetroot topped with avocado and plump prawns and an unexpectedly spicy Marie Rose sauce that marries together the different textures. The Katafi Prawns though are spectacular and definitely the best thing we’ve ever eaten… on a boat! Presenting a dish of exemplary textures accompanied by a tabbouleh salsa and miso dressing that mixes Arabic and Asian flavours together in a delightful combination. It’s a dish reminiscent of the beef kofta from the Iftar menu at Jodhpur Royal Dining (a dish that made it into our top dishes of 2017) with the delicate scallop providing a beautiful contrast to the crunch of katafi.
A change of direction for the boat also marks the start of the evenings live entertainment and while most cruises will include a belly dancer or whirling Dervish (neither of which are UAE traditions), Bateaux keeps thing elegant with a pianist who adds to the romanticism of the evening with his renditions of popular hits, including a particularly memorable.version of Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s New York,
Upon reaching the Bastakiya quarter and the spice souqs full of activity considering the late hour, our main courses are served. The selection includes lamb, beef and chicken and we enjoy a tender Beef Tenderloin with celeriac fondant, mushroom tortellini and coriander mash. It may sound like there’s a lot of elements on the plate but the portion follows a fine dining approach in offering a little sample of everything. Though the boiled broccoli and carrots are completely unbefitting of the plate.
The Roasted Barberie Duck is also pleasing, cooked to our requested medium, the pink meat is tender and a crisp skin provides additional texture. Again, the vegetables seem to work against the plating of such an interesting dish but the mandarin, blackcurrant and Shiraz jus is exceptional and brings such a rich flavour to the plate that we can forgive the veg.
Reaching the busy Al Ghubaiba district the creek comes alive with traditional wooden abras and a cacophony of colours from the abundance of illuminated dhows on the water. We can’t help but feel sorry for the tourists crammed onto these (obviously poor) buffet dinner cruises, as we watch from inside then haven of our glass capsule. A trip to the outside deck presents a downstairs bar, while upstairs offers cushions for lounging and the best view of the creek. Just keep your eyes peeled for the newly opened Dubai Frame and the new LED light show taking place on the Burj Khalifa.
Throughout our cruise we found the service to be friendly albeit somewhat forceful at times! Recommendations are given, with the implication that they’re the only sensible option and it feels as if you’re being coerced into making a decision. This technique may not necessarily set the tone for an evening of fine-dining and despite our best efforts to resist, we succumbed when it came to dessert. In all honesty, we’re thankful we did as the Chocolate Fondant transpired to be the right choice. Granted it took some coaxing to reveal the gooey interior but paired with brownie chunks and a peanut butter ice cream, it’s a memorable way to end the meal. Unfortunately, the Sweet & Salty Caramel Chocolate didn’t fare so well! Sure enough, the flavours were present, but the textures were off, making for caramel layers constructed from jelly rather than the expected torte.
With Bateaux Dubai offering a more upmarket approach to the dinner cruise and a beautiful vessel created by Seine Design and constructed from anti-reflective glass (including the ceilings), the experience feels less touristy than it should. The Creek is an area we don’t visit all too often and dining with Bateaux is certainly a way to experience another side of Dubai in relative style. With the twinkling lights of Dubai reflected in the calm waters, we truly believe JA Bateaux Dubai should be experienced at least once.
Out & About UAE readers are entitled to a special 20% discount when booking with JA Bateaux Dubai. To avail the offer quote the promo code ‘BLG’ and mention the source ‘Out & About UAE’ when making a booking.
Out & About UAE were guests aboard Bateaux. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.