In a serious Dubai foodie faux pas, I had only previously visited Play as part of the Foodiva’s dine around (about this time last year). During our visit, I was impressed by not only the food but also the design and overall atmosphere of the restaurant and lounge (as I recall it was the middle of the week and packed with patrons). Thus, when seated next to talented chef (and winner of Time Out Dubai’s Best Restaurant 2017 and Best Asian Restaurant 2017) Reif Othman at the recent pop up with Gaggan at the One & Only Royal Mirage last week, I was super excited to talk to him about all his recent successes. While he’s a fun dinner companion (and very patient when it comes to foodie friends who take 9,000 pictures of their plates), it’s also clear that he’s entirely dedicated to his food (and his diners). While I’m still making plans to try The Experience, brunch seemed like a great place to start.
For the recently launched ‘Play by Day’ Friday brunch, with no real timings posted, we arrived promptly at 12:30, only to find apparently, the brunch had started a few minutes previously (?). Now, as a professional bruncher, I like to know how to get my money’s worth out of any meal I attend, so I do think it’s helpful for guests to know when things get started (but maybe I’m just taking things too seriously). Anyway, after the remainder of our group arrived, we were shown to our seats (much to our delight — the circle table that spins around
because we are all twelve-year-olds), and the brunch began.
- The food. With basically all forms of Asian fusion you can possibly think of served with familiar favorites (sushi, miso soup, edamame), this is a brunch where you’ll be wondering where you’re going to put it all. There were standouts in every round of service, and really, you’re simply not going to be let down by any part of this menu (I would gladly eat nearly every dish again). If I had a word of advice, if you are dining with a group, simply try all of the main dishes (each person gets to select one).
- The entertainment. Perhaps a bit more modern than I’m used to (honestly, just give me a great DJ and the volume at a level where I can talk without yelling — Catch and Dusty’s have nailed this in the past), guests were treated to a lounge singer, a saxophonist, and a contortionist, along with some lovely showgirl styled ladies. Personally, I preferred the crooner the best (he had a great voice and his song selection was on point) and thought the introduction of something new to the stage was a welcome addition to the Dubai brunch scene.
- Just like with Rüya, there was an all-out struggle to get a copy of the menu. Seriously. Now, obviously, my interests in the menu are going to be focused on ingredients, dishes, and flow of the meal, but as a casual diner who paid for the experience, wouldn’t they want to know what was coming next? I sincerely do not understand this ‘surprise’ menu plan that seems to be in place around town (especially as it relates to brunch). I don’t believe anyone wins when no one knows what’s going on and unless dining at a specifically curated tasting menu (ala Gaggan), I would like to know how much food I’ll receive and basically in what order.
- You probably already know what I’m going to say next. Yup, you guessed it, pacing. Now, while some diners might enjoy a glut of food delivered all at once, to me, it forces the guest to jump into everything without taking the time to savor each individual plate (which, for food at this level, I think is important). Perhaps if it was just the two of us, it might be okay, but with a large table, it was a bit intense. Thus, after the appetizers and sushi were pushed through, we called for a break of 30 minutes until the mains would be served. I think if the plates had arrived at about half the speed, there would be more time to appreciate each dish, rather than trying to force feed appetizers to clear the (already burgeoning) table.
- Communication. Upon entering, while waiting for the rest of our party, we sat awkwardly in the bar. No one came to check on us, ask if we wanted a drink, or to explain how the brunch worked. Once we were seated, the same situation happened. Yes, we were expected, and yes, I’ve been to a brunch before, however, I think it’s important to start a good line of dialogue to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Bar service. At 2 hours+ into the meal, I had only been served two drinks. With a house that wasn’t full, I had to practically BEG for a cocktail (not a fancy one, mind you, only one with two ingredients) and when I finally got it, it was wrong. I had similar issues throughout. Who knew a rum and coke was such a complicated order?
- No last call. Oops! I’m not sure if this was an oversight on behalf of our waiter, or simply not done at the restaurant, but at brunch, it’s always important to know when the well is about to run dry (as it were).
- Issues with allergies. You probably are aware that I regularly dine with someone who has allergies. She didn’t ask to have these reactions, they just happen, and she has no control over them. I’m guessing there is someone in your life who might have a similar experience. So, when I see this friend suffer because of the lack of translation between service and kitchen, it really does my head in. While I realize service in Dubai can be a bit lacking, at superior restaurants (such as Play), I simply don’t see any excuse for this situation. Whether it’s a matter of training or better communication, if a diner lets the kitchen know in advance, then it shouldn’t be guess work for each course.
- How do people show up to a brunch after 2:30 PM? It’s one of those Dubai things I’ve never been able to understand.
Would I go back to this brunch? Eh… While the food is incredible, I think I would skip brunch for awhile (until they get their service issues sorted) and go for dinner instead (where I would have to hope the service was better oriented towards looking after its guests). Should you be interested in trying ‘Play by Day,’ pricing runs 340AED (soft drinks) for the Playground package, AED440 for The Supper Club Package (unlimited grape beverage and spirits), and AED540 for the Sea of Bubbles option (champagne).
Have you been to Play yet? What’s your favorite dish?