In December of last year, former Zuma Dubai chef Reif Othman opened his homegrown ‘Mediterrasian’ concept, Play Restaurant & Lounge, on the 36th floor of the H Hotel. Since then, Play seems to be the only place in town anyone wants to talk about. Maybe it’s the fashionably designed space, with its rich bronze accents and elegant marble touches designed by Gregory Gatserelia, made up of a sleek and sprawling public dining room, elevated private dining area, lounge, and specialty cocktail bar. It’s true, the clubby-but-not-cold haunt is admittedly impressive, especially when you’re seated near the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, which look out onto a view of the twinkling Dubai skyline that we’ve all come to know and love from al fresco nights at the hotel’s 40Kong Lounge.
As for the food, it orbits around the very verb after which the restaurant is named, to play, which – pun alert – plays out with a menu that tells the story of a punchy mixture of flavors from Mediterranean and Japanese culinary traditions. A dedicated Research and Development kitchen is where Othman and his team of 40 chefs dream up creations such as rock shrimp risotto, lightly seared wagyu beef carpaccio, wasabi cod, and snails in a garden.
During Savoir Flair’s recent visit to Play, after we were finally able to find the restaurant, which is tucked in the back corner of the H Hotel near the World Trade Centre roundabout, we were escorted by a very serious-looking bouncer into a private, numberless elevator to the splashy new culinary watering hole. Seated at low tables, which feature sleek hatches that open up to reveal a place for bottle service for the post 11 p.m. crowd, we waited in eager anticipation.
Dinner began with olives and edamame in a – dare I say it – rather forced effort to drive home the fusion element of the Mediterranean-meets-Japanese theme. However, this was immediately followed by maki rolls and a salmon and tuna tartare with pickled onions and pancakes that even the world’s biggest sushi snob would find absolutely faultless. Dinner continued with mains that riffed on simple Asian and European dishes, such as black cod with portions of the fresh fish deep-fried and served skewer style on an elegant platter.
Meanwhile, the highly acclaimed Takumi wagyu ribs, which are marinated for three days before being cooked, were as tender as they were tasty and robust. My ‘Fish in a Bag’ was flavorful, and memorable, as the smell of red snapper wafted from the plastic bag that our waitress cut before us tableside. Sides of truffle fries left us weak in the knees, as did the dessert menu, with a gluten-free brownie buried under a pile of candy floss and white chocolate chunks that I cannot get out of my mind, even now.