On a recent weekend visit to the brand new Bluewaters Dubai, FACT’s David Tapley finds a split level venue with immediate likability, distinct quirkiness and a menu t o match, welcome to The London Project.
The London Project’s ground floor is dedicated to cafe culture, with a podium already in place for a soon-to-be installed coffee roaster affectionally referred to as Queenie which will be adorned with a huge crown, hanging from the ceiling.
The social space also features a chiseled portrait of Margaret Busby, Britain’s first black female book publisher, and a living tree that leads upstairs, where in the canopy you’ll discover the gin garden…
It’s this distinct quirkiness that adds character to the space and the upstairs reveals a number of additional surprises including a podcast room and a private dining terrace which holds the best vantage point in the entire restaurant. With al fresco terraces on both levels, we slide into the only remaining outside table offering pleasant views over the beach at JBR and skydivers with their coloured parachutes drifting back down to earth.
The first thing we note as we peruse the menu is the pleasing Brit Pop soundtrack and the aroma of fish and chips that provide us with immediate nostalgic pangs for home. The concept is sharing style and the dishes, though not stereotypically British (you won’t find any toad in the hole or shepherds pie here) are said to draw inspiration from the flavours of London’s 32 boroughs.
The hodgepodge of dishes are akin to a trip to London’s Borough Market, a foodie’s paradise renowned for quality cuisine and the championing of locally-sourced ingredients. This is why you’ll find dishes like a South Pacific-inspired Ika Mata Ceviche (AED65) sitting beside Nordic Cured Salmon (AED70) and Slow Cooked Lamb Bao (AED75). We however begin with the Strawberry and Avocado Salad (AED90), an artistic plate of spiralised cucumber, toasted macadamia nuts and avocado puree. Texturally the plate is impressive and the strawberries are undeniably sweet but the salad is not sufficiently dressed and lacks depth.
By contrast the Pulled Beef Soft Shell Tacos (AED70) are wonderful. Served in a purple potato tortilla and generously topped with black garlic mayonnaise, the braised beef has a slight saltiness that works to bring the plate together. The Heirloom Tomato Burrata (AED75) is a dish we find hard to resist on any menu, but the team at The London Project have managed to really elevate the Italian cheese via a smoked raspberry sorbet, a sprinkling of basil oil and an abundance of locally grown heirloom tomatoes. It’s a winning dish in terms of both flavour and presentation and the sweetness from the sorbet masterfully offsets the acidity of the tomatoes and works well in conjunction with the creamy burrata.
With no main courses to speak of aside from a small selection of chargrilled steaks, we continue with additional sharing plates. The Buttermilk Chicken (AED55) with a chipotle sauce is succulent and well-seasoned with a crisp batter that is often hard to perfect and works as showcase of how fried chicken should be prepared. The London Project also offers a choice of four flatbreads and we find it difficult to resist the Wagyu Panchia (AED110) generously layering cold cuts and arugula upon a crisp base slathered in tomato sauce.
The simplicity of many of the dishes and their focus on quality ingredients is what makes the dining experience at The London Project so enamouring, though the final dessert course is a story of two halves. The Pistachio & Coconut (AED50) is a texturally impressive choice bringing together pistachio sponge, coconut mousse, burnt lime marshmallow and crystallised rose. As individual elements the flavours impress, but for us when taken as a whole, there is just far too much going on. The Gin Garden (AED55) though is fantastic in its utilisation of a butterfly shaped vanilla yogurt parfait, with strawberry sorbet a yogurt crisp and a potent gin granita.
As one of the first licensed premises in Bluewaters, The London Project already has quite a crowd and feels innovative. Bringing something so different into Dubai’s over-saturated dining scene is no easy task and even though the restaurant recently opened, we believe the concept has the potential to be HUGE.
From botanical juniper concoctions, to craft hops and ethically sourced coffee, The London Project has done a wonderful job in injecting the vibrant heartbeat of the UK capital onto a manmade island in Dubai while encapsulating the bohemian feeling of places like Dalston, Hoxton and Shoreditch. Trust this East Londoner when I say you’re going to enjoy this place. ✤