Adrian Back visits At.mosphere Dubai
It is now more than six years since At.mosphere was opened on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa to a great deal of fanfare. Billing itself as the highest restaurant in the world and guaranteeing breath-taking views of virtually the entire city, it certainly had a unique selling point. Yet I struggled to find a friend, colleague or even acquaintance who had dined 442 metres above downtown Dubai. Perhaps the restaurant’s promise of delivering far more than just an exceptional view had not been met. Or perhaps the controversial minimum charge when first opened had proved off putting. Still, I made my way to the restaurant without any preconceptions and was looking forward to sampling high-quality food that would match the jaw-dropping views.
Certainly there is little doubt that anyone arriving will not be impressed after zooming up the high-speed lift and being greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a unique view of the ever-evolving city. The restaurant itself is on the small side and is somewhat monotone, with mahogany and plush red hues dominating the space. There are also a limited number of tables by the window, with these tending to accommodate smaller groups. Unlike the lounge which featured a live violinist, the music in the restaurant is very much ambient and there is no doubt that this is a fine-dining restaurant with the vast majority of patrons having dressed up for the occasion. Once seated the staff are friendly and knowledgeable, helping guide you through the menu and very quickly bring out a signature cocktail and small but flavourful amuse bouche to start your experience.
The menu itself has a wide variety of dishes but does cater for those with deep pockets, especially when it comes to those who prefer seafood and steaks. The 11+ Japanese wagyu sirloin is inordinately priced at $250, while the cold and warm seafood platters will set you back $260 should you choose to accompany it with grilled blue lobster tail. Even without the lobster be prepared to pay $210 for crab legs, scallops, oysters and salmon when opting for the cold seafood tower. However, there is an a la carte menu and it is here that you will find dishes that do provide more value for your money.
I decided to ask for the opinion of my waiter who was more than happy to recommend several dishes and eventually settled upon the blue lobster. Beautifully presented, the smoked beetroot and carrot still retained a crunch, as did the small caraway crackers.
A light horseradish quenelle added some much-needed spice to the salad, but the portion of lobster was somewhat of a let-down. Expecting that wonderful meaty texture and subtle shellfish flavour, instead I was greeted by a stringy and tough first bite that clearly showed the tail had been overcooked. This was disappointing given the small size of the dish and the $75 price tag. Fortunately the main course more than made up for the anti-climactic starter and having been warned about the lengthy cooking time, it was certainly worth the wait.
The star of the dish was very much the substantial portion of dry aged beef loin. Both succulent and tender, the full density of flavour was enhanced thanks to the well-matched soubise and Barolo sauce. Everything the starter lacked, the main had in abundance. The meat was perfectly cooked, with a hint of red in the middle, and the portion was on the larger side. The crispy potato stack was well seasoned, while the tongue and tail housed in a watercress crust did not overpower the beef which was rightfully the main focus of the dish.
“Given the unique location it is perhaps no surprise that At.mosphere is a favourite among UAE visitors.”
So far my experienced was mixed and I hoped that by ordering the pumpkin dessert I would be able to finish on a high. Once it arrived the presentation was stunning and I couldn’t wait to see if the various elements of the dish would work together. The pumpkin mousse was wonderfully light and had a subtle taste that was lifted thanks to the cassis base. This intense blackcurrant character was enhanced thanks to several purée dots of cassis also situated around the plate. Similarly the brown butter ice cream brought a delicate taste that matched well with the pumpkin and the hint of cinnamon that ran through the small crumble that sat alongside the mousse.
Lunch was then completed in the form of the complimentary dessert that came served in a wooden box. Once opened it reveals cold smoke that is hiding two small chocolates with a flavour-filled sorbet interior that left a smile on my face.
It was certainly enough to make me forget about the disappointment of the starter, but did make me wonder if the entire experience lived up to the rather full price tag. At.mosphere definitely has dishes full of finesse and flavour, and the amazing views are a sight to behold.
But given the premium pricing, that puts alongside some of the very best restaurants in the UAE, At.mosphere still needs a little more consistency.
However, those seeking a unique experience and with deep pockets will be attracted to the location and it is perhaps no surprise that it is a favourite among UAE visitors.
WORDS: ADRIAN BACK