With Dubai renowned for unique experiences and world records, nothing shouts ‘Dubai’ more than dining underwater in an aquarium. Though it must be said, the reality is slightly different to the underwater restaurants you’ve likely seen in tropical destinations such as the Maldives. FACT’s David Tapley finds out what it’s like to be surrounded by aqua blue at Ossiano in Atlantis The Palm.
As we approach the Ambassadors Lagoon, one of the focal points of Atlantis The Palm, Ossiano gives nothing away. Greeted by a cheery hostess we’re ushered into a golden elevator, descending into the depths of the restaurant space, and as the doors slide open, an underwater paradise is revealed. One of the strengths at Ossiano is the consistency in service and the Ossiano team should be commended for giving some of the most proficient service in Dubai. Bar staff have already learned our names from the hostess (while we were in the elevator) and are quick to concoct bespoke cocktails on our behalf. It’s a remarkable start to the evening and marks an indicator as to why Ossiano is held in such high regard.
Moving through into the dining room, we’re surprised at how small the restaurant space is, presumably in a bid to keep things intimate. Though most diners would be inclined to select one of the tables pushed up against the glass walls of the aquarium tank, we’d suggest sitting one row back to really appreciate the full spectacle on display. While we gawp at the floor to ceiling windows offering views into the underwater world of the Ambassador Lagoon, home to 65,000 marine animals including rays, sharks and a whole host of other aquatic species. It’s safe to say that we feel pretty guilty to be working our way through Chef Gregoire Berger’s seafood heavy ‘experience’ menu while large shoals of fish dissipate throughout the dining room.
Ginger is used as a bookend to the meal and a means to open the palate in preparation for the sensual onslaught. Resembling a raindrop cake and mixing cranberry and white tea that has undergone spherification, this opening number is an instant showcase for Berger’s avant-garde approach to food and one that left us wanting more.
As we make our way through seven distinct courses that include Burratina Pugliese (buratta presented with hibiscus, jalapeño and topped with dehydrated watermelon and tomato powder), Burnt Leek (razor clams, yuzu and seaweed butter) presented in a hollowed-out leek, and the alienlooking Beetroot Ravioli (goats cheese ricotta, betroot consommé, pine nuts and thyme), we soon realiSe that dining at Ossiano is as close to Michelin-star perfection as you’re likely to find in Dubai. The pinnacle of the meal comes at the mid-way point with Berger presenting his Foie Gras Berries, a highly experimental dish that again uses the culinary technique of spherification to startling effect. Spheres of foie gras sit on a plate as if resembling blackberries, with each sphere injected with cassis to cut through the richness of the liver, and topped with a squid ink crisp.
As expected, the seafood really delivers, with the Poached Blue Lobster presenting the crustacean in multiple formats including lobster tail tenderized in milk, a lobster macchiato and a beautifully light lobster soufflé which we’re likely to remember for years to come. More obscure (but no less impressive) is the Legine ‘Katsuobushi’, an Arctic Ocean tooth fish usually found at depths of up to 2000m, coated in nori and served with a fragrant risotto.
For all the floral embellishments and meticulous plating it’s a real shame the lighting in Ossiano is so poor, with tables offered little in the way of illumination, it feels at times as though you’re dining in the dark. Instead the focus remains on the aquarium at all times, meaning it’s difficult to appreciate the exquisite plating that’s just as important as the surrounds, though management assures us the lighting situation will soon be rectified.
Dining at Ossiano is certainly a Dubai ‘must-do’ and despite a somewhat hefty price tag it’s worth every dirham. As sharks prowl the waters and rays glide effortlessly overhead, Ossiano offers a unique and memorable experience anchored by strong service, exemplary food, and the feeling of dining on the ocean floor.
GO: VISIT OSSIANA AT ATLANTIS THE PALM. CALL (0)4 426 2000 FOR RESERVATIONS AND MORE INFORMATION