DUBAI: First things first: If you’re familiar with the Instagram account @influencersinthewild, then chances are you’ll spot similar examples of the content it posts at Burj Al-Arab’s SAL. Because for every few individuals who are at the venue for the resplendent views and excellent hospitality, there’s that one “influencer” at work, taking part in an impromptu photo shoot. It would be extreme to claim that they’re ruining the experience for everyone else, but you’ll probably pause and have a chuckle or two at the confidence of it all.
That being said, to reduce SAL to a social media “hotspot of the moment” would be doing it a disservice because judging by our own experience, there’s so much more to it than a backdrop for Insta-models. Jumeirah Group describes SAL, which opened in the second half of last year, as a “chic lifestyle experience at Burj Al Arab where barefoot luxury at an iconic pool and beach destination meets culinary excellence in a striking new dining venue.” With hues of blue forming the picture-perfect landscape, the restaurant overlooks the main star of the venue, the 100-meter infinity pool.
However, we’re here to dine, not dip (into the pool), and our entire meal was a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Headed by Culinary Director Marco Garfagnini, SAL’s menu “pays homage to the sea,” with the majority of the dishes made for sharing.
Greeted by a very welcoming and friendly team of hosts, we were guided to our seats before being offered a detailed run-through of the menu.
To start, my dining partner and I opted for the heirloom tomato carpaccio, feta cheese and black olives, and the tuna tartare with caviar. As we waited, we were served water from freshly cut coconuts.
Once our appetizers arrived, it became clear that our phone photography would be reserved for the dishes and not only for the view. The carpaccio was delicately laid out on a platter in a pretty pattern, while the tartare was served in a perfect circle with a dash of gold dusting on top.
The tartare was divine. Its citrus-based Ponzu sauce marinade offered the perfect balance, “cooking” the fish to eliminate any offending aftertaste sometimes experienced with tartare. In fact, it was one of the best tartare dishes I have ever sampled.
The main course certainly had a lot to live up to, bringing us to the first — the recommended Portuguese dourada, a gilt-head sea bream fish common in the Mediterranean. At SAL, it’s served baked with tomatoes and potatoes. Again, absolutely flawless. Its cod-like meatiness paired with a spinach-infused sauce made for a moreish main that was delightful on the palette.
Another fish dish we were recommended was the sea-salt-crusted seabass for two, but since my guest isn’t the biggest fan of seafood, we opted to try the third recommendation — the stone-oven-baked lemon chicken empanada, with French fries and baby spinach salad. Now, SAL likes to entertain guests, so similarly to the seabass, this one is carved and served right in front of you. Given the show, we were expecting something big, but if there was one dish that was more “meh” than “marvelous,” it was this one. It was underwhelming after it was cut open and presented, looking more like some lemon chicken in pita bread rather than a baked turnover. It still tasted delightful, but we both agreed that if we could, we would advise the restaurant to serve it as is, as it looked much more appealing at the start.
It was nearly time to wrap up, and as much as we wanted to go for something sweet, we were simply running on full. One lovely staff member did try to tempt us with the dessert trolley offering a selection from the restaurant’s master pastry chefs, but we stayed strong. In the end, we were presented with a cute little meringue-based dessert topped with fresh berries — just the right amount of sugar to conclude our visit with.
Needless to say, this Burj Al-Arab beach restaurant is definitely one to add to your must-visits. As someone who has been based in this region for many years, this was easily one of the best meals I have had in a long time.
I don’t make that claim lightly.
SAL @ Burj Al Arab