Dubai is certainly not lacking when it comes to dining options with an impressive view. Options abound, wether you select beachside, atop one of the cities numerous monolithic skyscrapers or aboard a traditional wooden abra. There is certainly no shortage of fantastic vistas and unique dining experiences to be had but the Dubai Fountains seem to draw most of the attention. With residents and visitors alike, vying for the very best views of the nightly performances in Burj Lake, just in front of the world’s tallest building.
For casual family dining there are numerous options in the Dubai Mall but for those looking for a more fine dining approach and a licensed premises. Then a short hop across the bridge to the adjacent Souk Al Bahar will satisfy all the above criteria. Loosely based on a traditional Arabic souk, we suggest you avoid the kitsch souvenir stalls and throngs of tourists that plague the lower level and head upstairs. where you’ll find numerous dining options, many of which offer panoramic views of the fountains.
Navigating the warren of narrow passageways, we soon arrive at our destination for the evening, Karma Kafe. Developed by George V. Entertainment, founders of world-renowned properties Buddha Bar, Bushido and Abu Dhabi’s BarFly. Much like its aforementioned sister property in the capital (which we visited a number of weeks ago) Karma Kafe presents a facade of upmarket sophistication and is a place that gives the impression of being ultra-exclusive, without actually being so. Dreading the usual stand-offish nature of the hostess team, associated with trendy establishments like these. We were in fact completely taken aback by the pleasant and warm welcome that we received but were somewhat distracted by the inability to see the restaurants interiors, which are masked by a heavy curtain embossed with the symbol of a dragon.
Confirming that we’re expected (a reservation had been made) the curtain is slowly drawn back to build anticipation for the big reveal. Granting us entry into the dark and intimate space. The interior design of Karma is meticulous and the first thing we notice is the sleek bar topped with golden birdcages. Quickly scanning the room, we’re presented with low slung couches, a central DJ booth and a giant red Buddha – frozen in a pose of serene contemplation – providing a jarring juxtaposition to the frivolity of the location. Rounding out the distinctly Asian ambiance are traditional paper lanterns and a wall filled with miniature buddha’s, lined up in unison and bathed in hues of brilliant red.
Despite the inviting interiors, we’d actually reserved to sit on the expansive outside terrace. Hoping to get a peek at the magical fountain show, without having to contend with the thousands of visitors who throng the sides of the lake in half hourly intervals. Karma Kafe delivered on this promise, providing us a small table front and centre to the action and offering optimum views of the Burj Khalifa. As the waters of the lake began to glitter, indicating that the show would soon begin, our illusion of a perfect evening was soon shattered. Other diners (who we did not know, nor care too) decided to push past our chairs and stand in front of our table to watch the show, therefore blocking our view. Now we could somewhat understand the situation, should this be the only place in the restaurant to view the fountains, but in reality the entire terrace is one large balcony. So leaning on our table (and our food) to take photos is not only lacking in decorum but is totally unacceptable, especially when there are plenty of places to view the fountains that aren’t going to upset fellow diners. Despite the team at Karma’s best efforts to minimize the disruption to our meal, the process would repeat itself every thirty minutes, with only one person being polite enough to ask us if they could stand for a few minutes.
Aside from this, the pleasant weather and refreshing beverages helped to calm our frustrations and when we weren’t being barged by our fellow diners, the views of the fountains were fantastic, as was the food.
At first we were a little dubious of the Pan Asian menu, taking inspiration from Japan, Thailand and Indonesia and served (of course) sharing style. The traditional mix of sushi, ceviche and miso cod are all present and correct, though we were looking for something that deviated from the standard fare. We found it in the Japanese Tuna Pizza of grilled tortilla, yellowfin tuna sashimi, tomato, truffle oil and wasabi aioli.
Call if fusion or straight up gimmickry but we were yet to try one of the infamous sushi pizzas that have taken Instagram by storm these past few months. Having been disappointed by the rice heavy and overly stodgy nature of sushi burgers and sushi burritos, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. The sushi pizza both surprised and delighted in its amalgamation of flatbread and Japanese sashimi that we expected to be texturally bizarre but in reality worked admirably. In fact, we found the pizza to be more moorish than our chosen salted edamame and would go so far as to hail it our favourite dish of the evening.
With such a high precedent having been set, we moved onto sushi. Selecting the Duck & Dragon and the Crunch Melt, upon the recommendation of our friendly server. The duck was our preference for its prominent flavour profile and large rolls that contained barbecued eel, avocado, cucumber, in addition to the duck confit. The Crunch Melt is based around a shrimp tempura and rolled with mozzarella cheese, asparagus, avocado and tempura crunch and being one of Karma’s signature dishes, we can certainly appreciate the appeal.
A selection of Dim Sum continued the impressive repertoire of dishes at Karma and despite the wasabi prawn dumpling being slightly under-seasoned, we relished in the spiced Thai chicken parcel and adored the creamy sweet potato packages that rounded out the basket of steamed delights. You can never really go wrong with Shrimp Tempura, a dish that has fast become the staple of Asian menus throughout the UAE. At Karma the formula has remained simple, offering a crisp and flavorsome tempura batter that is neither oily nor heavy.
Teaching the same levels as the sushi pizza (almost), were the Wagyu Beef Gyoza. Stuffed full of wagyu beef, shiitake mushrooms, celery, truffle oil and creme de foie gras. Its a rich and decadent dish that may not be for everyone but we relished in every morsel and appreciated the fusion approach of Japanese Gyoza and French fine dining.
The pricing structure of the menu takes a steep incline when it comes to the ‘main plates.’ Having been impressed by the similarly themed dish at BarFly, we were excited to try the Miso Black Cod which transpired to be an almost identical replica of the dish being served 150km away in the capital (not a bad thing at all). Featuring a wonderfully flaky texture from the sous vide method of cooking, the sweet miso and slight citrus acidity from the yuzu make this one impressive plate. Intrigued by the Tea Smoked Salmon we decided it may be too similar to the cod and instead opted for the Angry Chicken. A curry-like dish that features a deliciously creamy ‘angry sauce’ alongside roasted chills and purple potatoes.
Our less-ambitious dining companion opted for a more obvious menu choice in the Wok Fried Chicken and Cashew Nuts, transpiring to be another beautiful dish. All three main courses were of a very high standard but we did find the portion sizes a little confusing. Granted we would expect the cod to be smaller in nature but the angry chicken was huge (more than enough for two people), while the chicken and cashew was half the size of its comparative counterpart. Perhaps a re-think in terms of consistency is needed?
Though the main courses themselves were particularly good we were left a little underwhelmed by the accompanying sides. The Baby Park Choi was fine but nothing like some of the wonderful versions we had when traveling through Vietnam and the Egg Fried Rice was a little to earthy for our liking.
In keeping with its upmarket fine dining vibe, the desserts (thankfully) move away from the tarot, coconut and rice based dishes that are synonymous with South East Asian cuisine. Although huge fans of Thailand’s street food staple of mango sticky rice (which we literally lived on when backpacking around Thailand more than a decade ago) we always look for a little more when it comes to desserts in Asian restaurants.
Unable to resident the delightful Valrhona Chocolate Fondant with vanilla ice cream. The dish had the perfect amount of ‘ooze’ and was moist and comforting without being too heavy. Having had one to many disappointing fondants in recent months, this one certainly hit all the right marks.
The Yuzu Panna Cotta was the more traditional choice and contained the mild citrusy notes that one would expect from the Japanese yuzu fruit and was again a light choice. Accompanied by a cup of Red Chilli Chai (Indian chai infused with chili and strawberries) we finished out evening, marveling at the fountains once more.
With an extensive cigar menu and a selection of fragrant cocktails, Karma Kafe could well be the destination of choice in Souk Al Bahar. The location is a key selling point for those looking to dine with those premium fountain views and the multiple award winning venue is right in the pulsating heart of Downtown Dubai. Wether you’re visiting for a culinary food journey through the very best of Asian cuisines, the Karma Karvery Friday Brunch, Sushi Saturdays or the popular Sake In The City ladies night. Karma Kafe will likely leave you more than a little impressed.
We were invited to dine at Karma Cafe All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.