If you cannot travel to Porto, consider La Niña instead.
I wonder what Christopher Columbus ate sailing for months towards the “New World”. A world, I hasten to add, already well-known and long inhabited for centuries by Amerindians before being supposedly ‘discovered’. That’s a soapbox for another day.
Standing on the ship, a festering impatience takes root staring at the horizon day in, day out, longing for landfall. An acute awareness that the crew grows weary. The untold horror of, yet again, eating preserved meat and rehydrated salty, dried bacalhau. An unmistakably mousy whiff rises from cooked grains salvaged from the ship’s stocky rodents. This “New World” held many things, especially something else to eat. A vegetable, no less.
La Niña, ICD Brookfield’s latest opening, seeks to draw together both the Old World, Iberia, and New World, Latin America, with the odd wink towards Columbus’s journey, hence naming La Niña after one of his ships. No mousy grains, but, yes, some bacalhau.
You do need to walk through the door, meet a greeter, get into an elevator, meet a second hostess who hands you over to another colleague that takes you to your table and introduces you to your server. But amid the human parcel passing, La Niña’s decorative design elements come into view.
Here, La Niña romances you with an old-World-done-new grandiosity drawing upon colonial elements executed for a Dubai audience accustomed to over-the-top design. Still La Niña pulls this off, from its soaring pale ceilings to long white drapes and oversized chandeliers that dimly warm a long, narrow restaurant space.
A cocktail bar is festooned with jars of dried fruit and bottles that taste good shaken and poured over ice. There’s wooden parquet floors, cartography designs and an indoor fountain (yes, really). La Niña’s most striking showpiece is its floor-to-ceiling, glossy azulejos. Those glazed, Portuguese blue ceramic tiles are still beautifully laid over places such as Porto’s train station. Anyone seeking to toss change in the fountain and make a wish should see the menu first.
La Niña’s nearly forty-dish menu (before desserts) is more modern than Columbus would have enjoyed. A menu injected with additional DIFC inflections like caviar, truffle, wagyu and lobster amongst the menu’s snacks, cold starters, warm starters and mains.
Raw dish fans will notice the tuna tartare with habanero truffle dressing and shards of rice crisps (AED 110) or a wagyu striploin of beef tartare with crispy potato and manchego (AED 80). The warm, mattress-sized coca de trufa delivers on the well-known promise that the best eating is in the delicious, crispy edges of Menorcan Mahón cheese lawned with black truffle (AED 85, added truffle at market price).
La Niña’s main courses of lime-brined baby chicken (AED 120) and marinated lamb chops with green romesco (AED 290) do their best to draw you in. The Locrio de Langosta, with its lobsters, octopus, prawns and 30-minute waiting time, resembles a gentrified Portuguese mariscada (AED 545). The kind that graduated top of the class and went to Yale.
Our whole wood grilled turbot is ceremoniously glazed in its collagen juices tableside but, at AED 585, you may consider the roasted salmon with achiote honey (AED 175). The braised oxtail is (perhaps unnecessarily) dissembled and re-engineered into a meaty cylinder on potato and Mahon cheese purée with pickled cucumbers (AED 190).
Dubai’s largesse finds new frontiers in La Niña’s dessert menu. Every fibre of me wants to dislike the coconut ice cream crowned with — *pause for dramatic effect* — a mound of caviar, especially at a knee-trembling AED 295. Yet, we give each other the “that’s actually nice” nod, as we go back for more. And the passion fruit and caramel flan breaks my lifetime dislike of flan at only AED 50.
So who should come to La Niña? Corporate expense accounts, fans of Bagatelle and OPA (the team behind La Niña), DIFC stalwarts and people with an aching for caviar and coconut ice cream.