A little sun, a little sand, a little sea

MunChi at Habtoor Resort & Spa

By Yvonne Williams

Dubai is an unusual place. It is a desert country with a beautiful coastline. It borders mountains but is mostly sand. It has a road system second to none and driving habits to shame a small child. It’s full of life yet sometimes the populace expresses ennui enough to sate a Parisian beatnik.

In this city state of contrasts two things remain constant. Shopping is a national sport to rival Endurance racing for the passion of its adherents & eating out is a shared experience we all have opinions on.

So a restaurant review becomes quite a competitive operation; a challenge to the views and palates of some of the world’s most sophisticated diners. This is why it was such a joy to find a restaurant that is not only beautifully situated but also serves beautiful food with beautiful flavour.  MunChi is an oriental restaurant – mostly but not exclusively Thai – in the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa in Jumeirah Beach close by the Marina and the Juimeirah Beach Residence. But that is just about geography. MunChi’s position is way more romantic & exotic than mere geography.

The Habtoor Grand is represented from road level by its twin 18 & 25 storey towers which is what greet you as you pull up and let the valet parkers do their thing with your car or the elegantly exotic doorman help you from your cab. But these towers share their situation with a bit of a secret. Before they were built this was the site of the Metropolitan Beach Club with its mature gardens running down to the Arabian Gulf with its wonderful silvery sandy fringe and its low rise guest apartments around the pool. And surprise surprise it is still there, kissing cousin to the towers which form a typically Dubai add on to a most untypically Dubai hotel.

And MunChi is there, behind the towers, beyond the pool, nestling in the palm trees, by the grass and just a hop & a skip from the beach and Gulf. The restaurant itself is on two levels with the upstairs serving as a rather elegant yet comfortable lounge where you get bar snacks or indeed anything you want from the restaurant’s sizeable menu. Downstairs is the recently refurbished indoor restaurant area, comfortable, cool, smart – a nice place to be and eat.

Ahhh - but outside…outside is a deck area, right under the palm trees, with a clear view to the beach at anytime and at night a stunning view of stars, boat lights – maybe a big freighter or small dhow – and even the bioluminescence produced by some of the Gulf’s more esoteric wildlife.

I’ve eaten here many times with family & friends. I even had Christmas lunch here last
year. My seven year old niece played on the beach in between courses, hid behind palm trees and went for a swim under the watchful eye and expert tutelage of one of the very helpful Filipino waiters while her parents, uncle and aunt indulged in a special Thai Christmas Pandan Cake and yet another very fine espresso. If that’s not fusion food then I wonder what is.

The food then. Well it tastes good – very good. The portions, while not huge American sized troughs full, are large enough to give value but small enough to make it worth ordering several to share. Last time had a full set of starters – the whole set including some fine satay and nicely spicy veggie spring rolls & prawn parcels. Our ‘fishertarian’ friend had some sushi – fresh tasting and filling. I’m afraid I snarfed the won-tons myself – sharing is not a big thing with me.

Onwards to the Mains …Thai red Curry with Duck and Thai Green Chicken Curry are memorable. Hot but not mind blowing. Tasty and subtle without a doubt. Lemongrass, coriander & lime; these themes come through the chilli. Tender and succulent meats are only enhanced by the spices – never dominated by them. Sea bass and hammour – fresh, softy white and falling off the bones, spiced again but letting the texture and flavour of the fish through for you to savour. I’ve tried most of the menu by now. It’s all good, tasty and beautifully presented. But not presented in a way that makes you nervous about eating. The message is ‘Eat, eat well, eat heartily, enjoy’.

The staff does its part. They’ll recommend dishes if you don’t recognise what you want from the menu. They look after you and make sure you have what you need when you need it. Oh yes…and, as little Jessica will avow, some of them make great playmates & lifeguards.  Dinner is from around Dhs 300 for two without drinks. There’s plenty of wine available but with the strong flavours of the food you’d be just as well off with fresh fruit juice.

And whatever you do, make sure you go for a paddle in the Gulf of Arabia between courses. It adds immeasurably to the experience.

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