Dubai: Dinner at Conservatory, at Al Manzil Hotel in Old Town. With a name like that, I wasn't sure what to expect from my night. However, as I walked in, I was pleasantly surprised with the realness of the restaurant. I had a salad bar to my left and a burger bar to my right. I finally understood this would be an evening of gourmet, healthy food for me, and one of every boy's dream for my partner.
We started with a platter of saj with zataar and olive oil. The traditional Arabic bread, cooked on a heated metal dome, was delicate enough to whet my appetite for what was to come.
Starters saw me rushing to the salad bar, where I threw in every mouthwatering ingredient on display. My partner went the fast food route with pizzettes, a small wood-fired version of their larger cousin, the pizza. His margherita featured a tomato sugo, fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and pecorino Romano gorgonzola with rocket and wild mushrooms. The end result was a deliciously light and extremely easy to digest mini pizza that I eventually ditched my salad for.
For our mains, I went for the irresistible-sounding mixed grill of hammour, Atlantic salmon, tiger prawns, diver scallops and Omani lobster, served with baby vegetables, sauce rouille and citrus beurre blanc. One mouthful of this signature dish, which came with each piece of fish stacked one atop the other, and conversation at the table died.
My partner, meanwhile, continued on his fast food odyssey, with a visit to the gourmet burger bar.
Fortunately, there's something for everyone. Meat lovers can choose from beef, lamb and chicken, while pescatarians can opt for a boneless Atlantic salmon fillet burger, with the option of wasabi, and vegetarians can finally participate in the burger fiesta with a massive Portobello mushroom, grilled just like a traditional burger, or a falafel burger seasoned with traditional Arabic spices.
At almost bursting point, we decided to leave our diets at home and indulge in some after-dinner sweet talk. The choices are both interesting and extremely international: ginger kulfi with coffee jelly, ginger snaps and chocolate crumble; cake and marshmallow of Japanese green tea; profiteroles with pistachio ice cream and hot mocha sauce; mouhalabieh…. Not being over adventurous, I settled for the profiteroles. Not a wise move and made me insanely jealous that my partner had lucked out with his New York cheesecake with rhubarb compote and butter keks. Fortunately, as with all their courses, the serving size is large, and the cheesecake was enough to drown out the nutty, creamy taste of my profiteroles.
Would I go back to Conservatory? For the seafood platter alone, I would. But my partner plans to make it his regular, thanks to the pizza-burger starters and main options.