Sea World

Some time ago (we’re not sure exactly when), the huge neon lobster sign perched jauntily atop the Safestway building on Sheikh Zayed Road was turned off for good. When they decided to pull the plug on the Seaworld sign (and the restaurant), it was the end of a Dubai institution. But not for long. The Asiana Hotel has saved Seaworld from extinction by offering it sanctuary among its seemingly infinite number of restaurants. Sadly, the huge neon lobster sign hasn’t been carted up to Deira as well, although it’s honoured in the restaurant’s logo. The similarities between the original and its latest incarnation stop here. While the original Seaworld was a random, vibrant mess of a restaurant (I mean this in the nicest possible sense), the new Seaworld feels rather too polished in comparison. In fairness, the venue is brand new and is yet to lure loyal patrons up to Deira, but as I arrived at the restaurant I couldn’t help wondering whether the spirit of Seaworld could ever be reimagined in what, it has to be said, is a fairly sterile venue. The dearth of customers didn’t help the atmosphere, but then the high ceilings and carefully coiffed furnishings didn’t lend themselves to a cheap-and-cheery seafood experience. Nonetheless, my date and I took our place at a boothed table, only to be beckoned to the ‘seafood market’ – a selection of rather unhappy looking fish resting upon a lengthy bed of ice that ran the width of the restaurant. Our waitress dutifully followed us up and down the colourful display – which featured everything from local hammour and sultan to snapper, sea bream, shrimp and lobster – pushing a miniature shopping trolley that was not, we were assured later, stolen from a nearby supermarket. Yet as pleasant as the young waitress was, her knowledge of the fish, recommended preparation methods and accompanying dishes was non-existent. The best she could muster was to repeat everything we asked as a statement, nodding uncertainly as she did. We gave up after a while and chose sautéed red snapper and steamed sea bass in chilli and lemon sauce, with asparagus in oyster sauce as a side. Nonetheless, the ordering process was laborious, frustrating, and a little embarrassing for everyone. Admittedly, the Asiana is geared towards Japanese, Chinese and Korean guests, but a five-star hotel should be able to train staff to facilitate basic requests. I find it gauche complaining about other people’s lack of English when I don’t speak any other languages myself, but I’m not lamenting the failure of our waitress, rather the arrogance of a hotel that does not feel the need to train its staff properly. My mood was marginally improved by the arrival of some soft, flavourful ‘cup mussels’, followed by the sautéed red snapper. It was the dish that saved our Seaworld experience, though when it arrived, artfully encased in a thin layer of batter, I was worried we’d been given the wrong order (we hadn’t). The thin batter gave way to supremely succulent and sweet fish, which was balanced by a tempered chill sauce. It was an excellent dish. The same couldn’t be said of the sea bass that arrived grilled, rather than steamed as I’d ordered. The poor waitress looked distraught and hurried to the kitchen for help, only for another waitress to return to tell us that steamed sea bass would take 45 minutes. We stuck with the grilled fish, only to find it rubbery and tasteless. If ever there was insult to injury, it was this. Dessert was offered, but to avoid further disappointment we declined. While the sautéed red snapper was enough to keep Seaworld afloat, it’s not enough to realise the glory days of the no-nonsense original. The bill (for two) 1x Mussel cups Dhs50 1x Red snapper Dhs179 per kg 1x Sea bass Dhs80 per kg Total (excluding service) Dhs309

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