Given the size of the Russian community in Dubai, whether living and working here or on holiday, it’s a surprise that more Slavic-themed establishments aren’t peppered across the city’s dining scene.
In a bid to take advantage of this untapped culinary corner, the Conrad Hotel in Downtown Dubai has launched Vesna (taken from the Russian for “spring”), a new restaurant and lounge spot that has taken over the space previously occupied by the Marco Pierre White Grill.
Gone are MPW’s traditional monochrome furnishings, moody lighting and leather upholstery and in their place are glitzy chandeliers, decorative golden touches and velvet-covered seating. In short, as archetypal an upmarket Russian environment as you can imagine.
Devoid of any solid pre-conceptions as to what to expect on our plates, we allowed Vesna’s waiters to guide us throughout the entirety of our dinner. At first glance, the menu’s appetiser section is a mix of slightly odd-sounding starter options; instead of, say, the usual tiger prawns, seared scallops or steak tartare openers – synonymous with most of Dubai’s upmarket eateries – you’ll find the genuine Slavic fare of forshmack (Atlantic herring), teschin yazik (eggplant) and fried mushroom hats. Even if these don’t sound as though they’d be to your taste, don’t play safe here – we found the more unorthodox the option, the tastier it was.
That said, asking the waiting staff for a little clarification on some of the menu is advised – the Odessa-style stuffed chicken, for example – may arrive at your table a little different than described. If you want to go down the traditional route, though, the menu has a number of caviar options – culminating in the sturgeon caviar, the restaurant’s finest and weighing in at AED660 for 30 grams. Definitely one for the purists.
The mains selection unfolds with a delicious range of borsch – the Slavic specialty soup – served with a contemporary twist with slow-cooked beef or salmon, cooked alongside garden vegetables, dill, chives or herb and Indian spices.
The beef stroganoff (possibly the only dish with which we were previously familiar) was as good as any ShortList has experienced; a tenderly cooked slice of Australian black angus beef, delicately lathered with the requisite mushrooms, onions, fresh cream and an excellent spiced potato purée. The hard-to-pronounce chakhokbili is also recommended – slow-cooked New Zealand lamb infused with diced tomato, bell peppers, eggplant (they do love an eggplant), garlic and coriander.
Those more au fait with their Russian history will know the country’s affiliation with potato produce. During the country’s long winters, when fresh produce was hard to come by, the humble potato would constitute a central part of the population’s daily diet. And naturally, the versatile root is tangibly championed in Vesna’s menu, the highlight of which we found in the chef’s fried potatoes, blended in secret herbs, spices and onions.
For those comfortable with Dubai’s endless steakhouses, pan-Asian lounges and Levantine restaurants, Vesna is a welcome dinner departure. If you’re curious to sample a wholly authentic taste of Slavic cuisine in the appropriate setting, this adventurous new Downtown spot offers the best Russian route to do so.
Three dishes to try
Fresh Atlantic herring tastefully blended with diced red onion, lemon juice and homemade cottage cheese. Not something we thought we’d enjoy, but we were pleasantly surprised.
Not the most adventurous dish on the menu, but it’s a great one. It’s a contemporary twist on a classic; organic chicken coated in Japanese breadcrumbs filled with a French garlic butter.
Siberian beef pelmeni
This is the standout in their five-strong dumpling section. Filled with Australian black angus beef, these come served either boiled or fried and garnished with sour cream.
Where: Conrad Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road
Contact: +9714 352 8169, www.vesna.ae
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