Sunday, 23 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Benjarong at the Dusit Thani, Dubai

Last weekend, I stayed a night at the Dusit Thani in Dubai, and had a dinner at their Thai restaurant, Benjarong, which was more adequate than exciting.

The DT's cute lobby has a pretty, open glass ceiling, like a Victorian train station. The twin-legged structure looks really smart from the outside, but I gotta say, having to get the lift down 22 floors from your room on one leg of the building just so you can go up 24 floors again on the other side to get to dinner gets tiresome.

The décor was the most memorable thing about the evening at Benjarong: heavily Eastern themed with dark wooden beams and luxe carpeting, but pretty restrained (by Dubai standards). My favourite feature was the beautiful painted pillars. Unfortch, I didn't get any good pictures, because Dining Companion firmly and explicitly banned me from instagramming anything (buzzkill). You can kinda sorta see in the background of this grainy disaster, though.

There's also a pretty great view of the Burj Khalifa, which by the way is mesmerising, and stunning lit up at night. 

The BK, from the rooftop pool
Pre-dinner, we were unexpectedly witness to a Thai dance performance on a small stage in the middle of the room; since the backing music was turned up loud, I'll confess I found this more disconcerting than enjoyable. Later, the two performers returned to play some traditional Thai music with mysterious long-handled lute-like string instruments. (I didn't catch the name of these, and a Google search isn't turning up any definite answers.) Presumably this is an aspect of the “famed Thai hospitality” that the Dusit Thani pushes as its USP? Like many places in the UAE, this also involves waitstaff who spring to pull out your chair, unfold your napkin and spread it across your lap for you, inevitably making uptight Brits feel slightly uncomfortable.

The multi-floor upwards view from the entrance to Benjarong
Benjarong serves the same moderate drinks selection as the Champagne Lounge and Italian restaurant PAX on the same floor, and dingy hotel bar downstairs, and there isn't a lot to report (though the wine list and menus come in cloth bound hardback volumes so giant you can only open them lying down). Our waitress clarified that I wanted alcohol in my mojito, but brought me an alcohol free version anyway.

Between two people, we ordered Yum Ped Yang, Goong Mungkorn Benjarong, Pu Nim Phad Prig Thai Dum, and Khao Ob Sapparod (we achieved this by pointing at the menu and mumbling).

The Yum Ped Yang – roast duck salad – was heavy on uninteresting lettuce, but the duck was light, fresh and delicious, in a lime chilli dressing.

Goong Mungkorn – battered lobster with peppers – was a major letdown. Its showy presentation just covered up a generic red sauce which wasn't highly flavoured, overly large chunks of pepper, and swimming balls of fried lobster which couldn't stand up to the stronger flavours. It was edible enough, but at 259Dhs (and by far the most expensive thing on the menu), it was underwhelming – I could have been eating any other meaty fish and never known the difference. Apart from the intact lobster shell on the plate, it wasn't more refined than the fusion Thai café I used to go to in the student area of Manchester, where you got your 10th £7.95 meal free.

Sorry buddy
The Pu Nim Phad Prig Thai Dum, on the other hand, was a phenomenal battered soft shell crab with black pepper sauce, and the standout dish of the meal. Rather than harsh and fiery, the black pepper was warm and didn't overpower the excellent crab; we could've eaten twice as much of it.
The Khao Ob Sapparod was a classic and enjoyable fried-rice-n-stuff side, whose main interest came from being served in half a hollowed out pineapple, which was a bit cool.

I ordered the assorted house desserts, but this turned out to be a plate full of those little mysterious Thai sweet things – syrup-dunked doughy balls, garishly coloured sugar shapes, and golden flowers of unidentifiable ingredients – which were all but unpalatable to my Western tastes. They were the pinnacle of Thai dessert excellence for all I know, though. Dining Companion loved his coconut ice cream with roasted peanuts.

After dinner, we went down to the hotel bar, MyBar, which is so dimly lit you can hardly see your hand in front of your face. A friend had warned us that it would be full of “businesswomen, here to…do business”, and this proved to be correct, but the incompetent bartenders were the real problem. I had a Planters Punch which was inoffensive only because it tasted of nothing but fruit juice; Dining Companion’s whiskey sour tasted like lemon juice topped with Sprite and had to be sent back, only to be replaced with the undrinkable house white wine. This was a low point, in an otherwise very delightful stay at the Dusit Thani.

Our food total at Benjarong came to about 600Dhs for two people, or approx £100. Most of the main dishes were between 80 and 140Dhs, so you could easily save 100-150Dhs if you don't take someone who orders the lobster. And you shouldn't, because it sums up how I felt about Benjarong overall: enjoyable, pleasant, a little bit stylish, but ultimately unmemorable. 3/5.

(Full disclosure: this meal and hotel room were free for me, but only by coincidence.)

Bonuses: hotel room view, at night and during the day, and Dining Companion and I expressing our feelings about hotel breakfasts

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