How does Chef Kelvin Cheung’s Dubai debut shape up in the competitive dining landscape of Downtown Dubai?
I have no business being out on a Friday night. On Fridays, I return to my chrysalis after the working week, routinely fighting three cats, a dog and a wife for sofa space. I have yet to win. I fortify my patch with takeaway detritus, eventually lulled to sleep by Netflix before 9pm. But this Friday? This Friday would be different.
Flashing lights ricochet off the taxi window as we turn into Downtown Dubai. Having lived or worked in Downtown Dubai for over seven years, I have witnessed the dining scene evolve drastically (and for the better). The Boulevard comes alive at night, studded with restaurants and the clacking of stilettos. In this space, near the Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel, Jun’s has opened its doors.
Jun’s thrums with Friday night feels. Low lighting, trendy-looking staff and a series of design choices. The pervasive marbleised, emerald-teal floor is topped with tawny or black leather chairs and wooden tables decorated with copper lamps. Metal accents continue with chain mail art installations. Ivory chandeliers dangle like broken egg shells from Jun’s soaring ceiling. A backlit bar flanks the main dining room. Spoiler alert: I would return to Jun’s for the drinks alone. Jun’s designed its drinks menu with Tesouro’s award-winning mixology team, currently ranked #4 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars. The Mightnight Brekkie is a blush mystery wrapped in an enigma (AED 75) made with clarified peanut butter, watermelon and ‘magic citrus’. Did I stutter? Just try it.
Jun’s beating heart lies near the bar, rising slowly to reveal a vibrant, moody space throbbing with its DJ-curated music. Those who like hearing each other chat over dinner may prefer the trail of communal tables leading towards the bathrooms. A chef’s table is coming soon in this area. Here, I munch on glistening, plump Hokkaido scallops with corn puree (AED 61) while watching people preen themselves before the Instagram catnip that is an oversized, feathered mirror. After all, these selfies don’t take themselves.
This brings us to the small matter of Jun’s grub. Much has been written about Jun’s chef Kelvin Cheung. His Chinese heritage, Canadian childhood, French training and, most recently, his tenure in India. Kelvin is affable, down-to-earth and enthuses over his nearly 50-item menu’s inspirations. A menu described as North American Asian, which, to be honest, had me worried Jun’s was thinly-veiled PF Changs but, mercifully, it’s far more interesting and elevated. Much of the menu is vegetarian, vegan, gluten or dairy-free, for whom those things are important. There is not an obvious cogent theme running through Jun’s menu, but that’s pedantic. Jun’s is a slick operation fuelled on cool, where beautiful people quaff Nacho Libres (AED 70) and poke around the salmon tartare in verdant pools of agua chile with charred avocado (AED 74).
A crispy heap of tempura za’atar chaat tangs with tamarind (an ingredient I adore) in cooling yoghurt and warming chaat masala (AED 43). The roasted heirloom carrots are the stand-out dish (AED 55). A row of smoked heirloom carrots, lacquered with soy honey butter, plank over a pert mound of smoked labneh complete with candied walnuts. It’s a post-Ottolenghi dish taken to the next level. A coconutty mushroom Macanese, stained with madras curry, answers the question of what a coronation mushroom would taste like if it went to the right school. The original dish features lobster (AED 250), but if you order only one lobster dish, cast your eye toward the Cantonese butter-poached lobster roll (AED 105). It sings with fragrant ginger scallions over precisely-cooked pudgy lobster morsels.
Some dishes are not yet their best selves. The wagyu striploin tartare is a technique roadshow of roasted bone marrow, sous vide egg yolk, kimchi and more served with beef chicharrones (AED 104). The sticky bone marrow assembles a choir with no clear lead singer. The mango elderflower panna cotta is another example where less is more (AED 45). The boba crème brûlée showcases more technical prowess. A fun, spiced lattice reveals a consoling ginger custard (AED 45). I deeply dislike squidgy tapioca balls, but many will disagree. My biggest advice to Jun’s Dubai is to lower the tables.
We head towards the valet to call a taxi home just as the DJ turns things up a notch. Yes, there’s Boulevard-side valet. So would I return to Jun’s Dubai? Indeed for entertaining new visitors in town, business dinners, meet-ups with old friends and luring people like me out on a Friday night for a taste of what life once was.