Fish Beach Taverna Dubai at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi is one of the most inviting, relaxing beachside restaurants I have seen. Only a few tables at the entrance are covered by a roof, while the main alfresco dining area sits among trees adorned with multiple lanterns.
A handful of white picnic tables in the sand are just steps from the shore. The venue is awash in white, turquoise and blue, and a criss-cross string of bulbs adds a perfect glow overhead.
But a word of advice, do not go there hungry. Despite the beauty of this oasis, the food leaves so much to be desired that I am left confused at how a restaurant this Instagrammable justifies serving this kind of food.
The cuisine is, oddly, Turkish, which doesn’t match the decor. When I walk in, I expect Greek or Italian seafood. The contemporary pop music does not work either. The mismatch of ambience and cuisine could be forgiven if the food was worth eating, but every Turkish dish I’ve had over the years – whether in an upscale restaurant in Dubai or on the streets of Istanbul – has been significantly better than what I tried at Fish Beach.
We sit at a table on the sand and ask our waiter for starter recommendations. He gives a few and, after we mull over the choices, he says he will bring the whole selection of cold meze out.
The wait staff indeed lacks confidence and finesse – it is a little too rough around the edges for this setting (at one point, I see a waiter drop a whole, uncooked fish in the sand, pick it up by the tail and simply set it on a chair).
When the tray of 15 meze arrives, our waiter only offers an explanation after I ask about each. It is a nice presentation and I like seeing the dishes before choosing, but the three we pick are given to us straight off the tray. I’m left to wonder how long they’ve been on there, and how many people looked them over before us?
We get a grilled aubergine dip with garlic yogurt, olive oil, butter, chilli and walnuts (called “atom” on the menu). It is too smoky and does not come with anything. We tear off pieces from the small bread loaf set on our table on arrival, but it does not go well with this dip. We are offered nothing else for dipping, even when we ask. It is a wasted dish.
We had levrek too – salted sea bass drowning in a mix of herbs, orange, rosemary, oregano and olive oil. It is fishy and the flavour is not balanced. It needs acidity and salt (despite the “salted sea bass” description).
Our octopus meze, marinated in orange vinaigrette with a lemon olive oil dressing and fresh chilli, also has a strong fishy flavour that makes it hard to eat. Squeezing a lemon on it helps, but is not enough.
We are told all of the seafood arrives from Turkey three times a week, but nothing tastes fresh. Each of the starters, be it a simple cucumber and mint yogurt dip or marinated octopus, costs Dh40 – too much.
After the underwhelming starters, I am less than excited about the mains, but mine – called pekmez – is the bright spot of the evening.
These pan-fried tiger prawns are marinated in chilli flakes, basil and thick grape juice. The chilli and basil work well together and there is a layering of flavour in this dish missing in the others. It is well-seasoned, well-cooked and I enjoy it.
I cannot say the same for our pan-fried sea bass with celery root and saffron sauce. Despite the flavourful ingredients it is sad, bland and disappointing.
The desserts (there are only three) are slightly better than the seafood. If you must, get the laz borek, which claims to be 40 layers of filo dough filled with a “secret sauce”. It’s sweet enough without going overboard.
• Our meal for two at Fish Beach Taverna Dubai, Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, cost Dh560. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito. To book, call 04 511 7373