Perched on the 37th floor of the H Hotel, with sweeping views of the creek and Old Dubai, is the recently opened The Experience by Reif Othman. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Chef Othman – formerly of Zuma fame – is also the culinary brains behind Mediterrasian dining concept Play, which sits just one floor below in the same hotel. After only a short year in operation, this establishment has already secured a top spot amongst the city’s best restaurants, due in large part to Othman’s creativity and vision. It is with this admiration in mind that my dinner partner and I make our way to his newest venture for dinner one Wednesday evening.
The elevator doors open onto a cozy reception area equipped with couches, plants, and a reception desk, where we are met by the restaurant’s maître d’. Calling it a restaurant, however, doesn’t feel quite right – something that is made instantly clear just a few moments later as we follow him through a set of doors and into the dining area. In front of us is a space that has been divided into two. On one side is a large, open-plan kitchen with state-of-the-art facilities and, on the other, a U-shaped dining table that seats a maximum of 12 people. All around, plants, lush fabrics (think: velvet sofas and shaggy details), candles, bookshelves, and even a fireplace create an intimate atmosphere – almost like you’ve stumbled into someone’s home.
“I want people to feel like they are in my dining room, in my home. I decorated the space myself… it resembles my home,” Othman explains to us. He has just emerged from a backroom behind the kitchen and is wearing a cooler take on the chef’s uniform – his comes in dark denim. “I want people to interact, to talk, to enjoy the experience, and not to be on their mobile phones all the time.” He probably notices my nervous twitch because he quickly adds, “You can use your phone to take photos of the food, but that’s it.”
Properly briefed, I take a step back from the conversation to fire off a few urgent e-mails and messages while Othman and my partner, who is also in the F&B industry, dive into a conversation about Japanese cows. I join them again a few moments later, just in time to learn that this is the only – or one of the very, very few – establishments in Dubai to serve Japanese Wagyu. Othman himself had to travel to Japan to discuss halal meat (a requirement in the UAE) with suppliers.
Before we take our seats around the dining table, I ask Othman about the food he’ll be serving tonight. Is it Mediterrasian, like his other restaurant one floor down? Is it an à la carte or set menu? “It’s none of those things,” he replies. Every night, the food served at The Experience changes based on the freshest ingredients that he was able to source from his suppliers. There’s no à la carte nor set menu; he prepares dish after dish, and we tell him when to stop. The number of dishes ranges from 12 to 25, depending on how hungry and brave we are, he jokes.
Dinner starts with a small dish of amuse-bouches, each exploding in our mouths with a rush of flavors that we’ve never tasted before – or, at least, never in such combinations. After that, dinner is a blur of incredible dishes, each more beautiful than the one before.
As each plate is served by the chef, he shares an anecdote about its creation or its origins. For instance, we learn that the caviar pot placed in front of each one of us is filled with eggs picked by Othman himself. “This caviar is exclusive to me. I work with the supplier to choose the size of each egg.” We also learn that the cannelloni we are served was inspired by a dish that he was asked to create as a teenager auditioning for his first job in a kitchen.
Throughout dinner, we cannot help but notice the gorgeous dinnerware. This includes a soup bowl akin to a volcanic rock with a hole at the top, a shell-shaped plate holding a single salmon-filled ravioli topped with caviar, and a glass plate filled with tiny little black rocks, upon which sits the cannelloni. The pièce de résistance, in my opinion, is a bibimbap-inspired dish containing the famous Japanese Wagyu – which is, it’s quite safe to say, nothing like anything you’ve ever tasted before.
Dessert is also an experience in and of itself, during which the pastry chef paints a canvas of desserts onto a sheet of plastic placed between the two of us. Some dry ice, detailed explanations from the chef, and about seven different types of chocolate later, we’re barely able to make it out of our seats. While we wait for the elevator back down to Earth, Othman hands us a little parting gift in memory of our evening together – a set of taupe-colored ramekins – but we leave with so much more than just beautiful dishes and trouble breathing.
For reservations, call (+971) 4 501 8888.