With friends in town from Muscat, I quickly debated where we wanted to take them for dinner. While certainly some of my old haunts seemed like a good fit (Weslodge, Carnival by Tresind, and Marina Social all came to mind), I’m always trying to find something new to enjoy and having heard good things, decided on a reservation at recently opened Aji. Unfortunately, the charming company aside, by the end of the evening, I wish I had opted for The Artisan instead. Oh well, that will be a treat for another day…
Let’s first start with the good points, shall we?
- Location. Club Vista Mar is a lot of fun and a great alternative to DIFC. The collection of restaurants and design of the space is well done (never mind the lack of a dedicated taxi queue).
- Unique fit out. Tall ceilings, funky designs, and an attractive outdoor bar make the visual components of Aji better than many of the venues I’ve recently visited.
- The range of the menu. While a bit protein heavy (sorry vegetarians), there is a huge variety of food for guests to sample, such that everyone should find something they like. (I’m not certain how ‘Japanese-Peruvian’ the entire menu is, but there is an attempt).
- Amazing flounder. Yes, you read that right. Literally, some of the best nigiri I’ve ever had and it was flounder, Aji style. Go figure. Everyone at the table thoroughly enjoyed their bite.
- And when dishes were good, they were excellent. I particularly loved the wagyu maki and gyoza. Unfortunately, when the plates were bad, there was very little to redeem them (keep reading below).
And now for some suggestions/things to work on:
- Completely of a personal opinion, but there were a few dishes I would simply drop from the menu completely or tweak for significant improvement. Overall, there was a HUGE lack of texture in many of the dishes I tried. For example, the O Toro starter included fatty tuna (yum) on top of a lukewarm mash (?!). The too soft texture of the entire dish wrecked one of my favorite fish. Similarly, is this supposed to be appetizing?
- An unnecessary high price point. Our side of the bill ran over AED1,000. Yes, we ate a lot of plates and had drinks, but it’s still not a cheap date, and I don’t think the value for money comes close to matching here.
- Voss sparkling water (but they managed a still local water…?).
- Overhaul service training. It’s not rare in the Middle East to have a disconnect with one waiter, but with an entire front of house? The continued difficult, awkward, and overall unhelpful members of the Aji team really knocked major points off of the meal for me and made clear that this restaurant just opened (as opposed to the highly professional service at Dragonfly, for comparison). Specifics to work on:
- An understanding of offered wines. When the first bottle we tried to order was no longer available (but still on the fancy iPad ‘menu’), a comment along the lines ‘here’s some others you might like’ would’ve gone pretty far with our group. And we won’t bother mentioning there were only two bottles of the wine we did end up ordering.
- A bottle of white wine should immediately be placed in a bucket of ice, and not on a random table in the eye line of the guests.
- Changing out plates when new dishes are brought to the table.
- Changing out glasses when a new bottle of wine is brought to the table.
- Folding napkins when a guest leaves the table (yup, for this kind of money, this attention to detail matters).
- Recognition/greeting of the guest. Hubs and I stood with our hands literally in our pockets upon arrival. Even if a hostess is on the phone (that’s her job, I know), a simple smile and nod recognizing the guest is an easy gesture to know we will shortly be looked after. (Never mind there was a team of 3, and we still stood waiting around with other guests).
- If there is a party of 4, and a dish only offers 3 of something, and the table politely inquires if the plate can have an addition to equal the number in the party, then perhaps ask the kitchen to accommodate this relatively simple request (especially if said party has ordered a relatively large amount of food in the evening already).
- After three times, if a table answers they are waiting for friends to arrive before ordering a bottle of water, three more requests for what type of water (after cocktail orders have already been placed) are not appreciated.
Would I go back? Sorry, gang. This one is a big miss for me. For true (reliable) Peruvian, I’d go to one of the authentic venues in town (Coya, Mayta, or Totora). Unless you live on the Palm, I don’t think Aji is worth the trip.
So, what did I miss? With a lot of positive buzz, did I simply catch Aji on a bad night? Let me know!