Dubai International Financial Centre is often locally referred to as “Dubai International Food Court”. For many, the only reason to go there is to eat at one of the growing number of restaurants in the area.
Peyote is the latest, having just opened on the site of what was Marco Pierre White’s Wheelers, which was never more than just OK, in a district where competition is high both in terms of quantity and quality.
This is a part of town where Zuma and Le Petite Maison still rule. And if venues with top chefs and great food, such as R Trader, can close, and LaLuz – from an elBulli alumni no less – is rarely booked out, then anything new in this area is going to find it tough. Peyote could well be the right venue at the right time in the right place.
Once again, it’s an offshoot of a restaurant in another country – this time from London’s Mayfair, where it also targets wealthy locals and hedge funders who populate that part of the city. And while Dubai is not short of Mexican restaurants, from the homely charm of Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop to Richard Sandoval’s Maya, Mexican food is having its international moment right now, like Peruvian once did. High-end tacos are on pretty much everyone’s list of predicted food trends for this year. Not typical dry shells with a dollop of cheap chilli, but something much better – and here you can find a pretty good example of how it can be done well.
Peyote’s tacos de res (with braised-beef short ribs, salsa tatemada and cilantro cress) and tacos el pastor (roasted chicken adobo, pineapple pico de gallo, lime and cilantro) are both very good. Smaller and presented in pairs, they are near-revelations compared with what you might once have expected if you ordered tacos. These are bursting with flavour, manageable in size and with perfectly cooked meats.
Likewise, the hamachi with ginger vinaigrette and avocado purée could be a signature dish at a Japanese restaurant, but here was just one of many smaller sharing dishes that work. However, at Dh85 it is a lot of money for a few mouthfuls. The cooked octopus with tomato, cilantro and chilli Serrano is also a dish that must be tried if you want to know what Mexican food can be about these days.
Peyote is also a good place to go to get an idea about how Mexican restaurants are increasingly presenting themselves. There are no sombreros on the walls, no clichéd tat on display – the only concession is some arty “Day of the Dead” skulls on shelves. This is a sleek, modern venue for contemporary cuisine, with impeccable service.
The larger mains we choose consist of 24-hour braised lamb shoulder in banana leaf and salsa tatemada, which is rich, delicate and tender, and a grilled Chilean sea bass with axiote marinade and pineapple habanero butter. You’d be hard-pushed to find a better piece of fish anywhere in the city right now. It perfectly balances the flavours and light texture, making it more akin to something from a top Asian restaurant.
The sides are solid updates on classics, including sweetcorn with homemade mayonnaise and queso fresco, which was great, but a bit steep at Dh40.
Do also try the patatas bravas (baby potatoes with salsa ajillo) and an orange-coloured Mexican-style rice cooked in tomato and garlic broth.
The traditional churros with chocolate sauce make for a light and moreish dessert, while the chocolate-covered burnt-banana lollipop, presented on a bed of ice, was good and rare fun.
It can often be a problem when you take food that has been hugely popular over the past decade when served in cantinas, and from food trucks, and try to make it posh. Sure, you can use better-quality ingredients, but sometimes it just feels like the same thing rearranged on a plate at an inflated price.
But the dishes here really are superior, if possibly overpriced Mexican food – but there’s no denying it is very good.
A decade ago, Mexican food in Dubai largely meant The Alamo – a long-gone cantina in Dubai Marine Beach Resort – when Indians dressed as cowboys served up gloopy cheese- covered nachos and refried disappointment. Now we have places such as Peyote, with modern, authentic dishes in great surroundings.
So we’re going to call it – modern Mexican is the new Peruvian, and Peyote is a great place to try it. Just bring a fat wallet.
Our meal for two at Peyote, DIFC, cost Dh714 without drinks. To book, call 04 521 6300.