I’ve been to Asia Asia two times previously (for drinks only) and thus have never made it past the always packed lounge. I’ve always been impressed with the decor, and have longingly looked at the menu, but it was only late last week I finally made a reservation. (Honestly, one of the biggest turn offs is getting to Pier 7… I cannot stand Marina traffic and really, for those of you dwelling on this side of town, I have no idea what you do on the weekends).
From le website:
The lavish Asia Asia Restaurant & Lounge takes its inspiration from the ancient Spice Route travelled by traders of old, and has been exquisitely furnished to reflect this famous journey from Asia Minor through to the Far East.
PR and Marketing companies, give me a shout, yes? I can do better.
If you’ve not been to Pier 7, it’s a building with a series of seven floors (get it, Pier 7?), each with their own restaurant. Asia Asia takes its theme over the top, as you are greeted with Foo Dogs and clay soldiers as soon as the doors open (not to mention a strangely chiming bell system in the ceiling). In our case, we were also greeted by no less than 10 (?) hostesses/wait staff all of whom wanted to guide and direct us. This theme of over the top service was further made when the moment upon sitting down, we were immediately asked if we wanted water or a drink.
No, thank you. Please, can I have 30 seconds to get settled? It had been a long week, and on Thursday at 7:30PM we just needed a moment to ourselves.
So, I am all for ambiance and mood lights, however, when patrons have to use the lights on their camera phone to read a menu… I think it’s a sign you have the lighting too low in your venue. The low lighting is also the excuse I’m going to use for my less than average photos in this review. Sorry gang, I was out with friends and didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ staging photos and trying to light the whole scene. I hope you’ll excuse me! (And I promise the pictures in my next review will make up for below).
The ala carte menu, as you would expect, skews in the direction of Toko, Katana and Ramusake — that is, if you’re in the mood for sushi, robata or dim sum, there is something for you. Four of our party couldn’t be bothered to make or commit to a difficult decision and went for the tasting menu option (I wouldn’t call it a ‘value’ at AED399, but you certainly get your money’s worth). The other two members of our party ordered directly off the menu (noodles and a roll) and were not disappointed with their choices (we might have had extra food from the tasting menu to share).
With five courses (!) I think the balance was wonderful and with only minor suggestions, I believe it is one of the better menus in the city. In fact, this was my default setting for each plate that was brought to us:
Course 1 (DAIKON ROLL // ZUKE MAGURO // MADAI CRUDO)
If I had to compare all the courses, well, this one barely edges out the others. Other than the addition of cheese (!??) in the Daikon Roll (what dairy or cheese of any variety is doing on this table, I have no idea), the can’t miss Zuke Maguro was a great place to start, and the Madai Crudo (last in the line up here) was an absolute thing of beauty. Paired with a large of helping of shredded vegetables, the combination of sauce and texture in the Crudo had Hubs and I fighting over the last bits on the plate.
Course 2 (Aburi Tuna Nigiri // Aburi Salmon Nigiri)
Can you mess up Nigiri? No, not really. Take two excellent cuts of fish, add a dash of seasoning, lightly sear, and watch diners make the fish disappear. (Also, side note, how cool is Aburi preparation? No need to worry, the firing is not done table side).
Course 3 (RED MISO GLAZED PRAWN SKEWER // CRISPY DUCK SPRING ROLL)
Two more home runs (in taste). The biggest issue here is the portion size of the crispy duck spring roll. While absolutely everything you want from a spring roll (crispy, salty, full of flavor), the size needs to be reduced by half. The prawns were excellent, and like most of the rest of the dishes, the perfect amount. (P.S. Have you noticed what a wonderful balance of protein, texture, and ingredients this menu has? Someone has clearly thought this through.)
Course 4 (ANAGO YAKI // BEEF BAO BUN // GRILLED RACK of LAMB)
Are you full yet? Because I certainly was! So, here’s where we hit our limit. To start, the Beef Bao Bun might have been my favorite plate of the evening… The bun itself was light, perfectly warm and filled with a perfect combination of beef and vegetables. I’ve not done the brunch at Asia Asia, but if I did, I would make sure I ordered this early (and if it isn’t on the brunch menu, I would make a special request).
Additionally, I’ve just realized I have no picture of said buns and I am very disappointed in myself. So enough about the bun already, the Lamb Chops were tender and large. In fact, with two big chops per person, we all agreed that like the duck, the portion could’ve been cut in half and we wouldn’t have known or minded. Which, leads to the beautifully presented but barely touched Anago Yaki. If the kitchen had left one plate for the four of us (instead of two), I’m still not sure we would’ve finished it.
Thus, by making reductions of sizes elsewhere in the menu, I think there might have been a place for this dish. In the current version of the menu, however…
Course 5 (CHOCOLATE FONDANT // MOCHI SELECTION)
Although at this point, we realized there was no room left, we found, as one previous waitress mentioned, the ‘dessert stomach.’ Essentially, there is part of your stomach that makes room when sweets are on the table. And I’m so glad mine did! The fondant was the perfect size to split (and honestly, who is turning down warm, gooey perfect chocolate?). For those who have a bit less of a sweet tooth, the mochi is what you expect – a bit gummy and chewy, but a slightly sweet finish to a great meal.
Bonus (A terrible drink!)
Although we ordered a few bottles of wine throughout the evening (a nice Malbec), to start the meal, there was a selection of cocktails. While the cocktail menu is broken into countries, I should’ve gone with something basic. Rather, the Komodo Dragon was unnecessarily smoky — of course, perhaps the fault is mine — I did order something named after a dragon. While I thought the rum-based concoction would be sweet, the Lamb’s Navy (I think) rendered the drink with a rather unpleasant aftertaste. I wouldn’t think of ordering it again.
In the end, we decided there was (of course) too much food. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy all of these dishes, it was simply too much (and I really do hate food wastage!). While I think the value of the menu would still be in place with my suggested reductions, if the team was looking for a place to make an addition, perhaps the menu could be then ‘enhanced’ with a special cocktail. Anyway, just my two cents. The tasting menu works on its own, but you will be busting.
Finally, at the end of the evening, I’d have to admit that service is what is holding back Asia Asia from me giving the highest of marks. There were small misses (being way too rushed at the start), being asked when we were going to leave (the table was ours until 10PM — we stayed later — but I don’t understand how a table with a decent bill, ordering food and alcohol and clearly having a good time should be asked to move), and while I like water and appreciate having water (especially if I’m drinking), bottle after bottle after bottle was opened without any specific knowledge or consent from the table. A better policy would be to leave the bottle on the table and have us ask for when we wanted the next one. I’m all for proactivity, but it felt a sneaky way to drive up the bill.
Would I go back? Yes, but… If booking an ‘early’ table, I would specifically request to hold the reservation through the second seating (midnight).
How about you, dear reader? Do you go for the free drinks on Ladies Night? Or, have you enjoyed something off the menu?