Sonamu

Heading into Deira for Korean food has long been an exercise in two things: cunning navigation skills and budget dining. The opening of the Asiana, the area’s newest five-star hotel, changes all this. When my date and I visited, our taxi driver delivered us to the door without a question asked, and as soon as we walked into the cavernous lobby it was obvious that the cost of the meal wouldn’t go unnoticed by our wallets. The hotel chain boasts four high-end restaurants specialising in four variants of Asian cuisine: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean. The latter is served at Sonamu, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, a fact that can be easily ascertained from its high ceilings, abundance of Asian foliage and smart wooden decor. As can be expected from any Ramadan restaurant visit that’s not an iftar, Sonamu was all but empty, and we eased ourselves behind one of the low-slung tables sporting a Korean barbecue grill. To our disappointment, the barbecue stations weren’t yet operational, denying us the thrill of cooking our own slabs of marinated beef. But kitchens have chefs for good reason and I conceded they’d probably do a better job of preparing the food than I would, so I turned my attention to the sizeable menu. The first four pages were occupied by various meal deals accompanied by prices far exceeding what I’d hoped to spend that evening. I hurriedly skipped to the individual courses – imploring my date to do the same – and was relieved to find that the individual portions were far more reasonable. It soon occurred to me that the inflated prices probably had something to do with the restaurant’s license to serve both pork and alcohol, two ingredients that feature heavily in Korean food and on Sonamu’s menu. I was happy to pay the price of authenticity and ordered marinated chilli pork belly and a bean paste hot pot, while my date decided upon a more aquatic helping of tofu hot pot with clams and grilled king prawns. It didn’t take long for the requisite appetisers to fill our table: a grilled mackerel with charred-black skin came apart at the touch of a chopstick to reveal soft, smoky flesh. A duo of crisp vegetable pancakes found their way into our mouths as soon as they’d arrived on the table, quickly followed by podgy mushrooms that bathed lazily in tart vinegar. Then came the kimchi, spinach, bean shoots and dried anchovies, artfully served in what can be best described as a pencil box. It was an onslaught of food and flavour, and it was credit to the quality of the mains that I was able to soldier on to the bitter (-sweet) end. The slithers of hot red pork belly, speckled with sesame seeds, heaved with flavour, and the ‘king’ prefix to my date’s prawns almost felt like an understatement, with meaty innards bursting impatiently out of their translucent shells. The soups, meanwhile, were only soups in name. The solid ingredients of each (whether clams or the pillowy tofu) dominated the spicy broth, and it almost became a chore to finish either. As the seafood pancake landed on our table, compliments of the chef (a treat for everyone that night, it seemed), I couldn’t help but release a whimper of defeat. Having initially been sceptical about the price (a scepticism I blame on my four years spent in Asia, where I became spoiled by cheap and delicious food), I’d certainly got my money’s worth, not just in terms of volume, but in terms of fresh and authentic ingredients, which are often absent from the cheaper Korean establishments around town. If Asiana can replicate the quality of Sonamu across its other outlets, then the hotel could soon become a shining beacon for Asian cuisine in Dubai. The bill (for two) 1x Ginger ale Dhs15 1x Sparkling water Dhs20 1x Bean paste hot pot Dhs60 1x Tofu hot pot with clams Dhs60 1x Chilli pork belly Dhs70 1x King prawns Dhs120 Total (including service) Dhs345

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