Headed into dinner at Play, we weren’t sure if the restaurant could live up to our unusually high expectations. You see, Play has fast become the talk of the town having picked up a number of recent accolades, including Time Out Dubai’s ‘Restaurant Of The Year 2017.’ Everyone we know who has dined at Play speaks of it with such contagious enthusiasm that we were almost certain it couldn’t live up to the hype.
Located on the 36th floor of the H Hotel, access to Play is granted via a private elevator from the hotel lobby. As the elevator doors slide open, we’re greeted by not one, not two, but three hostesses! We’re not sure why there are quite so many, that is until we enter into the restaurant itself. Play boasts an immediate likeability and a sense of effortless charm that’s difficult to find in Dubai. The restaurant space is large but transitions seamlessly from bar/lounge into a dining room, while floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning views over the city, as the almost psychadelic flashes of brake lights snake their way along the busy Sheikh Zayed Road far below.
Despite an expansive size, Play manages to maintain a sense of intimacy via the use of sparse lighting and evenly spaced tables. At 8pm on a Sunday the place is certainly buzzing and the appeal of a semi-full restaurant mixed with a hip young crowd certainly makes for a welcome change. Despite the restaurants in-demand nature, the expected feeling of pretension is nowhere to be found and is replaced with a relaxed vibe that’s as enticing as the food menu.
Play is helmed by Chef Reif Othman, previously of Zuma, who left that establishment in 2015 to open Play. The cuisine on display here is an innovative fusion affectionately labelled as Mediterrasian, blending both Mediterranean and Asian (predominantly Japanese) flavours. Othman’s menu is easy to navigate, with the dishes broken down into simple groups, but we struggle to select, not due to a lack of choice, but because we literally want to try everything. Thankfully, our waiter is on hand to assist, talking passionately about the food and helping us home in on a number of dishes. These service levels are one of Play’s greatest strengths, offering engaged staff with a competent knowledge surrounding the dishes, who are able to read a diners cues without intrusion.
Our meal begins with a seafood Ceviche which manages to hit the right notes of acidity (without being too overbearing) through the use of a citrus Ponzu marination. It’s a beautifully presented dish, plated with edible flowers and pieces of fried squid which add a much needed ‘bite’ to the texture of the plate. Ellie’s meanwhile, is a well-balanced dish pairing freshly sliced avocado with a green chilli mayonnaise, served on top of a crisp tortilla. The coolness of the avocado is certainly complemented by the slight heat from the chilli and is representative of simplicity at its very best.
Both the Lemon Prawns, cut in half and drizzled with a beguiling citrus blend, and the Duck Gyoza (looking more like an Indian paratha) maintain the trend of prominent flavours, yet it’s the Pita Suprise that was the real, uh…. surprise! These puffed parcels topped with lightly seared Wagyu and stuffed with a warm truffle butter are both comforting and sublime, and we immediately want more. Foolishly, we don’t sample the sushi, purely due to lack of stomach capacity, but at least it gives us a reason to come back (not that we really needed one).
Venturing into the main courses, we chose to stay away from the Black Cod, for it seems to be an almost obligatory inclusion on any Asian restaurant menu in Dubai (though we have no doubt that Play’s would be a stirling offering). Instead opting for the Certified Japanese Sendai Wagyu Striploin, which at close to AED 800 may be a touch on the pricey side. Interactivity comes into play with the slices of Wagyu cooked over a hot stone set upon the table. The searing of the meat engulfs diners in a pleasant aroma and when dipped in accompanying citrus Ponzu and/or sesame, the meat really comes to life adding another dimension to the dish via the depth of flavour.
We’d also recommend the Carbonara Barrel, where pasta is cooked inside a 24 month aged parmesan wheel. Like the Wagyu, it’s a dish of aromatics, with the cheese scraped and mixed into the pasta, before the addition of veal bacon and an onsen egg comprising of a beautiful almost custard-like texture.
Much of the traditionalism associated with Asian desserts is foregone at Play and we once again find ourselves at a crossroads of indecision. The Everyday I’m Truffling (truffle creme brulee) which we’d heard so much about is nowhere to be found, so we instead settle on Le Rocher. Presented like a crown, this chocolatey dessert is centred around a Ferrero Rocher ice cream, hazelnut truffles and an orange anis foam. It’s a plate of complementing textures and while we were slightly unsure on the orange element in the dish, we can appreciate it was needed to cut through the sweetness of the chocolate.
Our dining companion chooses the 8 Elements, an ambitious dish that presents raspberry in eight different ways (or techniques). A mixture of sorbets, jellies, mousse, crumbs and foam, it’s a dish of so many textures that it shouldn’t work, but unbeliveably it does. Topped with silver leaf, it’s one of the prettiest looking dishes on the menu and one that’s bound to be a crowd-pleaser.
Play offers a near-faultless experience that masterfully blends exemplary food, proficient service and a buzzing atmosphere into one memorable dining experience. The word ‘experience’ is the key here, as it’s about more than just good food. Now, we don’t want to be sensationalist or be accused of undue bloggers hype BUT Play is (in our opinion) one of the best dining experiences you’re likely to encounter in Dubai. So much so, that we’re returning again next week to dine at Othman’s ‘The Experience’ located in a private dining room on the hotels 37th floor.
We were invited to dine at Play. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Two interior images used courtesy of Play.