Let’s do lunch. Words normally uttered by two people as they’re parting hurriedly and knowing full well that what they really mean is, “I’ll see you when I see you and yes, I know there will be that awkward silence when we randomly bump into each other in Spinneys but I’m not that desperate to see you again.” But when people are important to each other they go to Vu’s for lunch. It’s the business-lunch pinnacle of Dubai and in Dubai nothing is more important than business. But it’s not for riff raff – you can’t wear jeans, trainers, sportswear or anything that wouldn’t seal a deal on Wall Street. This is business and they mean it.
For a start, even though I’d never eaten there before, when I gave my mobile phone number to the booking clerk they she knew instantly who I was, which I have to say threw me a little. How do these people get my contact details? Are they the same secret people who send me emails with share tips and insider deals for Viagra? And when the financial news says the stock market has risen sharply and is holding firm is it these people who are responsible for that? It was too early for conspiracy theories so I re-booked under another name and my dining partner’s mobile to ensure anonymity.
Upon arrival though, I was convinced that the ear-popping lift ride had taken us up 50 floors and back 20 years in time – the silver chrome, wood panelling and cream leather tablecloths make it look like upscale Manhattan or London in the 1980s when business and sealing the deal was everything. The same ethic seems to prevail here but with a stunning view over the city below. In fact, it’s where yuppie Patrick Bateman from American Psycho would kill to get a booking. It’s the mythical Dorsia brought to life.
My dining partner, Zenabu, and I were seated in one of the booths and realised instantly we were somewhere special. As the waitress brought us complementary breads (including one made with black squid ink) the room gently buzzed with decision makers passing on tips, advice and oiling the wheels of commerce with fine food as lubricant. ‘With discreet pinstripes you should wear a subdued blue or charcoal gray vest. A plaid suit would call for a bolder vest,’ I think I heard someone say on another table as we ordered our first course.
My starter of sweet baby fennel and tomato broth with potato dumplings and mushrooms was lovely but ultimately just a little bowl of soup that could easily be matched for taste elsewhere. Bad business on my part but Zenabu’s warm salad of fungi, goat’s cappellaci, pumpkin stripe and dried speck was a better choice. Delicious, slightly chewy and rich mushrooms brought out the flavour while the strong, vibrant goats cheese enveloped in a pasta shell was wonderfully offset by a sweet, ambrosial pumpkin puree.
For mains, I ordered the tamarind glazed beef cheek, pink eye potatoes and salsa verde but instead the waitress brought out something from the TATE Modern’s Edible Art Wing. The sculpture was so tender it fell apart upon contact with a knife and had a full flavour of rich, heavy, braised steak and it’s hard to find meat like this in the city. Across from me, my partner’s, pan seared John Dory fillet with drunken prawn raviolo and XO glaze came served in a deep, square latrine-like dish but was perfectly cooked. Light and flaky and served with a perfectly al dente pasta case covering a golf-ball sized prawn. The Asian style chilli and herb sauce came with far too much oil for Zenabu’s pallatte, and ever-expanding waistline, so bear that in mind, but it was otherwise excellent.
The edible art show continued into deserts with a green tiramisu cone, coffee candy and wasabi crisp dish that was perhaps the most beautiful looking dessert I’ve seen. The taste couldn’t quite match the appearance, with little wasabi flavour to be found, but complaining would be like saying the Mona Lisa’s smile is ‘a bit squiffy’. It didn’t need the nasal burn of wasabi anyway and was an excellent dessert as it was. The banana and peanut nougatine with warm peanut butter and strawberry froth was sadly not in the same league and the only major downside of the entire meal. The nougatine was too solid and icy, while the smearing of peanut butter across the plate was wholly unappetising. Nice idea but not a winner.
While businessmen in Valentino suits and Oliver Peoples glasses compared business cards (“Look at that subtle off-white colouring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my, it even has a watermark…”) we sat back and looked out over the city. It would be a shame to let the suits dominate the clientele here and let it just be a dining venue for the top brass with expenses accounts, because while we were not full from the food, we were overflowing with the satisfaction from having just eaten something special. If Gordon Ramsay’s Verre is arguably Dubai’s top place for an evening meal then Australian chef James Viles has ensured Vu’s is the premier place for lunch. Deals may be done over dining here but James has ensured that his creations really are the business.
Verdict: With food and the view this unique it’s a wonder any business gets done, but if you’re looking to impress then Vu’s will almost certainly seal the deal.
The bill came to Dhs577 including two glasses of wine
For 7Days newspaper, December 2006