As Beijing unveils its gigantic new airport today, another spectacular Chinese marvel has thrown open its imperial doors closer to home.
Seated in the eye of the pyramid in Raffles’ Noble House, it becomes patently clear as the evening progresses that, just as China is currently winning the race for the world’s biggest and most spectacular airport (part of their US$39 billion Olympic Games refurbishment project), so too is the lofty Noble House streaks ahead of its Chinese culinary competitors.
Chef Peter Lau has been poached from previous Dubai favourite Zheng He’s, and staff at the Madinat Jumeirah must be kicking themselves black and blue at having lost this remarkable young talent with his revolutionary contemporary Chinese dining concept.
When he popped over to our table to introduce himself –not because we’re special but because, sacrilegiously, we were one of only three tables that night – I couldn’t resist asking if he uses monosodium glutamate in his cooking. Shaking his head, he pointed to the back of his jaw and declared that if food does contain MSG, you’ll get a sharp taste there – “just there, below your ear.” One of Chef Peter’s most valuable lessons is that food needs to taste smooth in this region of your mouth.
And boy, is this food smooth…and spicy, tangy, creamy, evocative and all together wonderful. Each and every taste bud came out to play and all reported back that they’d had an absolute ball. Legend has it that back in the day of the Zhou Dynasty, the emperor – I forget which one –demanded to be served not only the best of everything, but a conglomeration of several flavours within every meal, meaning many small dishes would have to be prepared to ensure he wouldn’t get full on one single flavour. Which is like this experience, only we would have had to fire one of our cooks as we started to fill up nicely after only the second course.
A small athletic man scurried to our table and, from behind his back, masterfully upended green tea from a pot with a spout the length of a snake, with the flourish of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Perfectly cylindrical baby bread roll dumplings served with hoi san sauce were followed by an amuse bouche of deep fried black squid. Usually not a fan of tentacled fish, I was immediately converted by this melting golden cone. Then came three different piping hot dumplings, the crystal black truffle dumpling with button mushrooms, snow peas and carrot, ever so slightly triumphing over the beluga caviar, shrimps and scallops offering by virtue of its redolent earthy aroma. Again I surprised myself by relishing the crunchy abalone dim sum that tasted neither like snail nor shoe leather.
More heavenly parcels followed in the shape of a soft crêpe rolled with foie gras, mango, shredded duck and a gossamer strip of crispy duck skin. My partners two flavoured prawns, the chefs signature dish, were declared to be sensational: one came with a pink ginger mayonnaise and chopped papaya, the other with a sinus-clearing wasabi mayonnaise and a mango salsa, artfully garnished with dainty edible flowers and seaweed powder.
A Cantonese delicacy, my moral side said no to the sharks fin broth but, in the name of duty, and as a payback to Jaws, I sampled it. I can safely say that my partners hot and sour seafood broth with egg white foam and fresh longan (a bit like a lychee) was a more savoury affair on every level.
For mains, the velvety pan seared black pepper Wagyu lingered lovingly on our palettes like a refined full-bodied wine. The accompanying zucchini parcel may have looked like a little old lady’s tightly fitted hair net, but was a fresh and fragrant stir-fry of fungus, tofu and Chinese cabbage.
Waddling to the loo for a brief break before dessert, with its floor to ceiling mirrors and gilded chairs, had Liberace been Chinese, this would have been his bathroom. In the restaurant itself, high-backed chairs and grand round tables are interspersed with more intimate alcoves and lavish private dining rooms. Not only is the layout is innovative you’re also rewarded with one of the best views in Dubai.
Detecting its smoothness as the coconut milk and pandan leaf ice glides gently towards the back of your jaw, you’ll note wryly that you don’t have to be blue-blooded to appreciate this patrician feast, but you may wish you had the royal inheritance to fund a regular round of it.
The four-course set menu costs Dhs588, five-courses Dhs688 and six-courses Dhs888.