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REVIEW: Seven Sands

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It’s probably no exaggeration to suggest that the vast majority of people arriving in the United Arab Emirates have little knowledge of what constitutes local cuisine. It’s also not much of a stretch to claim a reasonable percentage leave without being any the wiser. There has, though, been an effort – concerted or otherwise – to expose more and more people to what Emirati food is, the most conspicuous example being the opulent Mezlai in Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Seven Sands, spreading over two sleek, modern floors at the southern-most tip of The Beach in JBR, is an altogether more approachable venue for getting to grips with dishes such as fouga, thereed and korse. Conceived by the hospitality team at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Seven Sands is a pretty decent attempt at placing the experience of eating traditional local bedouin cooking – lots of rice, plenty of seafood, influences from across the Arabian peninsula as well as Persia and the Indian subcontinent – on a contemporary par with the Italian, Lebanese and French establishments next door.

“We’ve repeatedly received interest from visitors in authentic Emirati cuisine,” said Mohammed Al -Jumairi, DWTC’s vice president of hospitality, when the restaurant opened nine months ago. “We’d like to welcome residents of Dubai and the UAE to come and experience the rich culture, heritage and cuisine of this land.”

The result is a combination that might slightly jar at first – decor that wouldn’t be out of place in a  slick four-star hotel in Business Bay, a menu that in other places would be read on a large, red-striped cushion – but any cognitive dissonance soon disappears when the first of the dishes arrive. The presentation is crisp, the dishes imaginative and the service very knowledgable.

The introductory squares of crispy bread with zaatar was followed by shark sambousa – samosas, essentially, of tightly packed minced shark – that were vaguely reminiscent of sardine but with plenty of spices, and two generous mounds of kibbeh al bezar, a more moist and aromatic version of the Lebanese mezze classic. So far, so intriguing.

For mains, we opted for a fish fouga, a large pile of basmati rice with a pan jus reduction, saffron and stock, and a whole baked snapper draped over the top. This was firmly in the “nostalgia” category, tasting like the home-cooked dishes you’d eat anywhere from Beirut to Bur Dubai 20 or more years ago. As tasty as it was, however, the surgeon’s precision required to sidestep the bones was a little much for a weekend lunchtime. More spectacular, though, were the jumbo prawns, chargrilled with lemon, coriander, garlic butter and pumpkin crisps.

If you have room for dessert, the date and toffee pudding felt more British than Bedouin, but it didn’t last long enough in the bowl for it to remotely matter.

If you can get a table on the terrace, or near the huge open windows, the sea breeze and distant clatter of beachside activity provide a pleasing backdrop for your coffee and shisha afterwards. Will it put Emirati cuisine on the map? Not sure. But it deserves a long afternoon of exploration for you to decide.

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