La Mer has become a Dubai talking point. The new beachfront development from Meraas Holdings sits on the site of the former Jumeirah Beach Park and presents the expected cubic retail outlets that have proven so popular in JBR and Al Seef and the inner-city BoxPark and CityWalk.
Featuring street art, hammocks, bucket showers and promenades strung with twinkling fairy-lights, La Mer offers immediate appeal BUT currently there are only a handful of outlets open. Situated at the far end of La Mer South is the Indian inspired Masti, a sizeable venue that encompasses restaurant, lounge and soon-to-open gin room. As the first licensed venue to open at La Mer (alcohol is only served after 5pm) Masti offers an immediate appeal further heightened by the lively interiors.
With Masti translating from Hindi as ‘fun and mischief’ it’s an accurate description of the vibrant venue. Think Coya-esque jungle theming, colourful upholstery, golden gilded screens resembling palm fronds and plenty of foliage to complete the look of an eccentric Indian summerhouse. With quirky focal points such as a stained-glass elephants head and light fittings held up by monkeys, the decor certainly ticks the boxes, but what of the food?
The menu at Masti presents Indian inspired sharing plates and is the brainchild of Chef Hari Nayak, the man behind another popular Dubai establishment, Bombay Bungalow. The idea of taking global dishes and giving them a unique Indian twist is not a new one and has proven successful for Tamba in the capital, yet the food at Masti feels a little more casual and a little less refined. We begin with the Tuna Bhel Tartare (AED 65) a dish that became a social media sensation days after our visit when it was featured on the Instagram Stories of the Crown Prince of Dubai. It’s an interesting take on the typically French tartare but one that comes with a surprise presentation element, housed inside an ‘egg’ that must be cracked open to reveal the flavoursome filling.
Reinterpretation appears to be the modus operandi of Masti, as the kitchen team twist and turn popular dishes such as burrata, carpaccio and ceviche into something the marketing team have coined as ‘New Indian.’ Some of the dishes are exceptional, with Masti’s take on the Taiwanese Bao (AED 70) being a particular highlight, replacing the typical pork with pulled tandoori chicken and a pipette of sweet tamarind glaze.
Comparatively, the beef tacos don’t quite hit the spot, with the meat missing a much needed depth in flavour, though we did appreciate the use of a rice flour pancake in substitution of the corn tortilla to wrap the meat. Five Slow Cooked Lamb Croquettes (AED 70) are excellent, beautifully plated upon a bed of creamed green peas and wasabi which complement and enhance the Kashmiri spices used to season the meat.
Our main issues with Masti derive from the price to portion ratio, which despite the obvious sharing concept (it’s recommended to order at least three dishes per person) seems skewed a little too far in the restaurants favour. This feeling is compounded by the fact that despite being labelled as main courses, the dishes that constitute this section of the menu are of a very similar size to the hot and cold plates. It’s a point that the team at Masti seem well aware of, apologising in advance for the portion sizes and stressing there is little difference to the dishes other than price.
We dive into a trio of Gunpowder Scallops (AED 130) which are delicate and sweet but not overpowered by the prominent flavour of lemongrass, around which the dish has been constructed. Topped with thoran (a coconut-based vegetable dish) caviar, the scallops represent another beautifully plated dish. The signature Sun-Dried Tomato Prawns (AED 85) are as unmemorable as the tacos but we find the Slow Cooked Octopus (AED 85) to be a real winner. Small tendrils of tender tentacle sit on top of a cauliflower creme and beetroot sauce, and as bizarre as it sounds, the dish takes on the textures and tastes of semolina which (surprisingly) works well in conjunction with the mollusc.
Masti’s dessert menu is a concise offering of just five choices. We jump at the chance to try the Lotus Tiramisu (AED 45) combining two of our favourite things (it’s in the name) but as tiramisu purists, we were left entirely underwhelmed. Presented like an ice cream on a stick, the basundi base was far too perfumed for our liking and with the tiramisu taking on the same aromatic flavours, it was impossible to taste the lotus mix at all.
The Chocolate Delice (AED 50) on the otherhand makes for a fun way to end the meal. A combination of chocolate, cumin and strawberry delice (we would’ve asked for a touch more cumin to be honest) is surrounded with strawberry gel, chocolate buttons and in a bid to be extra Masti/mischevious, a soil of chocolate and popping candy. It’s the superior choice from the dessert options which also include a carrot cake, raspberry rose and mango chocolate cheesecake.
A lot of people have been alluding to Masti’s similarities to Carnival by Tresind but we have to disagree. Carnival is a different beast entirely that encapsulates diners in a dining experience via a clever balance of flavour and theatrics. Masti represents a far more casual affair, one that relies on experimentation that doesn’t always pay off. As one of the first dining venues out of the gate at La Mer, competition for Masti is only going to increase in the coming weeks and while the venue and product are good, we would suggest the restaurant reassess it’s pricing structure or increases the portion sizes.
Masti has certainly got people talking (helped in part by a hyperbolic review in the most recent issue of ShortList). As is the norm with Dubai openings, Masti will have to work hard to build momentum upon the initial opening buzz before the next big thing pops up, but the foundations are set and we can certainly see ourselves popping back, if only for sundowners.