Dubai is mad for Mexican, it would seem — or at least the jam-packed reopening of Maya on Sunday would lead us to believe. The Mexican restaurant at the Le Royal Meridien in Dubai Marina had been shuttered for refurbishment for months, during which time we mourned the loss of the favourite beachfront spot, serving high-end versions of south-of-the-border classics. Its opening party was a veritable fiesta, with hundreds clamouring for dishes of prawn ceviche and mini lobster tacos on the terraces as fireworks went off overhead.
Maya may be back, but the white tablecloths are gone. The big two-storey restaurant is now more focused on a more relaxed style of eating, says the man behind the concept, star Mexican chef Richard Sandoval. “The menu is easier to navigate, to understand,” he says. “We don’t have white tablecloths, but there will be DJs on the terrace.”
That terrace must have been designed with the sunset in mind — it faces west over the sea, with palm trees in the foreground. It’s sundowner central, I say.
“We used to be a starter and main restaurant,” he replies. “Now if you want to come and have that sundowner, you can have a lighter dinner,” maybe from the revamped taco menu, he suggests. “It’s modern, more approachable and more sharable.”
Inside, the floors in the air spot are covered with Spanish-style tiles, and there’s plenty of space at the wide, marble-topped bars or big couches surrounded by large Pottery Barn-style candles and lanterns. It’s warm and inviting.
His don’t-miss dishes? “Mole poblano, one of the classical dishes, lamb with green mole sauce, and tacos al pastor. It’s chicken, seasoned with a marinade of herbs and chillis, served with pineapple.
“Or carne asada — grilled skirt steak served with a mole enchilada.”
At the opening party, he served up piles of small tasting dishes with the faultless staff dishing out what must have been thousands of bowls of tomato-y ceviche, chunky guacamole topped with crab or pomegranate (try it!) and tiny pastry cases of beef or vegetable. Small tartlets made out of corn pastry were topped with fiercely spicy chicken or creamy, cheesy mushrooms. The turkey comes with nutty, complex mole sauce — a traditional chocolate-based (though not sweet) Mexican dish. The cubes of smoked beef brisket were immensely tasty, if a bit dry, while the fried fish or lobster tacos are a seafood lover’s dream. Plan a weekend around a plateful (or two) of those on the upper terrace.
Pre-renovation, the brilliant Playa Buena Vista offer on Fridays and Saturdays included a lunch on the terrace and beach access; this is expected to continue, said Sandoval, athough not for a few weeks.