WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT: PLAY RESTAURANT & LOUNGE
2016 appears to be the year for even more restaurant launches. Given the nudge about Play in Dubai, I was told ‘you need to review it Pra’. Naturally, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, and I had the ideal companion in mind in the form of my bestie Al, the Middle East’s killer marketing and branding guru from one of the most consistent and well-known brands on the planet – McDonalds. We were ready for action to check out what the noise was all about.
As you‘ll know from The Caviar Spoon, we review from a leisure and a business angle. Some restaurants do leisure best, some are more suited to business, and a few really do rise to both occasions, begging the question, where would Play sit?
Rolling up my sleeves I went to check out the Play website, only to find it didn’t exist. However, at 4 weeks old and with a strong Facebook following, I had to give Play the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, there were buckets of articles about culinary wizard – Owner and Executive Chef Reif Othman, and GM extraordinaire Mr. Jean Marc Petrus.
If you’ve ever dined in any of the Zuma restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Istanbul, you may have heard the name Reif Othman banded around. The backbone and the heartbeat of this legendary brand, Reif spent more than 8 years as Exec Chef, winning both an incredible reputation and an enviable pile of awards. Needing a killer General Manager to help facilitate his dream, he asked Jean Marc Petrus to come on board. Jean Marc has managed prestigious venues including Zuma & Coya in the UAE, plus two 5-star hotels – the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg, and the One & Only Royal Mirage Dubai and again is well-known in the region.
So would the duo full of Middle-Eastern promise deliver?
Walking into the restaurant I was struck by how beautifully retro it was. Warm amber and brown art deco interiors mixed with what we decided looked like a kaleidoscope ceiling, not forgetting some pretty epic views of the skyline of downtown Dubai. Great spacing with a three tier elevated dining area and most importantly, a fully stocked specialised cocktail bar with subtle DJ tunes (yep, you could talk and eat at the same time!)
Sang, our waiter (our shining star of the night) recommended the Play Lemonade for 2 by Hendricks, which was served in the most delectable Hendricks china teapot and tea cups (totally on my birthday list this year!). As we sipped away, Jean Marc popped over.
Jean Marc has hospitality in his blood and has worked for some of the best brands in the world. With such knowledge and experience, we were intrigued to know how he intended to capture the audience in such a saturated market.
He discussed the concept behind Play, the brainchild of Reif and investors The Galadari family. With the help of beverage guru Elie Khoury, Managing Director of Treenergy and now Play, the concept was fine-tuned.
Jean Marc explained that they were looking to make Play a venue for an audience of say 38+ yrs who need a place to not only have great food and drinks, but also to socialise at until the small hours if they wish, rather than hopping from bar to bar or being forced into one of the questionable nightclubs in downtown Dubai.
The restaurant has a capacity of 190 with two seatings. The second sitting kicks off at 22:30, ideal for the night owls who wish to make a night of it. You also won’t get charged for the privilege of having a table, unlike some of the other nighttime venues.
He was utterly convincing when he made the statement that Play intended to carve a place for itself that sits firmly between restaurant and bar, but doing both to exemplary standards, and this was confirmed when we met Mr. Reif Othman himself.
Reif oozed passion and enthusiasm, and not only was he down to earth, but he knew his stuff, from pricing strategies, global expansion plans tapping into niche audiences, ensuring recession-proof growth, brand presence all on top of creating a menu of epic delights. Not to mention heading up a team of 40 chefs! You could see that his mind never stops and only 4 weeks in Reif was already planning a private dining concept on floor 37 of the H Hotel he intends to call ‘Reif’s Room’.
As for the food, intrigued by the “surprise us” concept, Sang got to work and brought out a feast; starting with the signature Pita Surprise – a pita shell topped with lightly seared wagyu beef, which exploded in your mouth to leave fluffy truffle mash potato. Uniquely presented and absolutely delicious, our portion control *almost* went out of the window.
We then had Pei Tee, a marinated beef tartare served with fried shallots and mouth-watering crispy veal pancetta. This was followed by the Chef’s Six, a wonderful selection of fresh sashimi and sushi, light as a feather and outstandingly more-ish.
The next stage of heaven was a 16/20 Ebi tempura and a wonderful Fish in a Bag concept of tender red snapper & quinoa. We truly felt for the waiter who risked 3rd-degree burns just by cutting the bag open, but the aromas were simply divine and we couldn’t wait to have a taste!
Whilst the food at Play is not utterly unique, it is brimming with flavour. There’s a great choice of dishes suitable for everything from light nibbles on a night out, to a corporate lunch or extensive celebration meal with friends. You really can PLAY your own way.
The main point of concern really was around making sure that ALL staff were of Sang and Jean Marc standards, but on that note, to say that both of these guys have radar vision is an understatement. Sang could spot a misaligned dish a mile off. We experienced it but what would happen if the dream team out front were not around?
Finishing our night, we challenged the concept of staying at Play all night and headed over to another bar to continue demolishing bubbles. Unsurprisingly, it resulted in chasing the night and we journeyed home moaning that we shouldn’t have left in the first place…apparently, Play knows us better than we know ourselves!
So will it be successful?
With two masters in their respective fields setting the bar high for the entire Play experience, we can expect this dream team to continue to take the Dubai restaurant game to a whole new level.
Edit 26/02/2017: Play was awarded 2017’s “Best Asian” and “Restaurant of the Year” by Time Out Dubai!
One Sheikh Zayed Road