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Dining at Off The Hook is a catch-all experience, to say the least. While you can net seafood restaurants by the dozen in Dubai, this duplex restaurant, a stone’s throw away from Deira City Centre Metro station, is an uber casual eatery where the dining experience is — literally — hands on.

Walking into the brightly illuminated restaurant, high-ceilinged and sparsely furnished in table and bench sets, and set off with a wood frame design and lighting accents, what hits you first is the strong, pungent smell of seafood. You get used to it in a couple of minutes though, and what catches your attention next is the ambience. One of Off The Hook’s USPs is the fun dining concept, blending healthy and delicious food. With its warm, laid-back dine-in atmosphere, they’re bang on the buck about this one.

The tables are packed with groups of friends or families who look like they’re all mid-celebration: it’s either birthday parties or friends catching up after ages, and full of happy faces and laughter all round.

While we wait for the food, which takes a while to arrive — not entirely surprising given the restaurant is fully packed, impressively enough for a weekday — we learn their other USP. They only serve locally sourced, fresh, same-day catch from the Deira fish market, and easy, no-fancy recipes the only accompaniments of which are their signature sauces. The idea is to keep both the food and the eating experience effortless, while creating a trademark culinary draw to keep the diners coming back.

The menu is designed Louisiana-style — a lot and multiple varieties of seafood all served together in one happy succession. Don’t go in expecting to order a fancy fillet or a baked hammour. It’s about the basics here: crabs, squid, mussels, sea bass, shrimps, king fish, salmon, lobsters.

You have two ordering options — an a la carte and a set menu. It’s interestingly designed again: for a la carte, you don’t order portions or a dish, but in quantities of half kg or more. Spice it mild, medium or hot and pair with beverages: soft drinks, iced tea, ginger ale.

We’re, however, excited about the set menu, coming in solo, trio, grande, or fiesta options. Each one gives you increasing choices of catch, along sides of crab balls, rice, corn on the cob, with citrus soda and iced tea. The beverages are freshly made in-house and we were quite in danger of filling up on the iced tea, quite unlike any we’ve had in Dubai and obviously bearing a secret ingredient. Whatever it is, it’s the perfect antidote to the hot summer’s day.

Our order of lobster, shrimp, mussels, crabs, squid and fish balls arrive, each in its own bag — and then we get to the fun dining part. No plates or cutlery here: you get to spread out all the fishy goodness on plastic sheets spread out over the table, don some disposable gloves and an apron (trust me, you need them!) and then make all the mess you want while savouring each delectable mouthful. Each item is either simply boiled or grilled, and accompanied with sauces: lemon pepper, garlic butter, olive and herbs, curry and chilli, mushroom and onion, and an OTH special. We don’t know if it’s the seafood or the sauces that really make the meal for us, but either way, it’s on the table.

The whole experience is deceptively basic but extremely satisfying, probably due to the hands-on element and getting to make a mess out of the whole thing — it brings out your inner child and by extension, the fun times.

The details

Location: G5 Centurion Star Building, Port Saeed, Deira (Near Deira City Centre Metro station); Al Karamah area, Abu Dhabi. (Opening soon in Al Murabaa area, Al ain; Tourist Club area, Abu Dhabi)
Average cost for two: Dh100-150
Recommended: Any of the set menu options