Located on the 6th floor of the stunning Mandarin Oriental Jumeira lies Tasca, a Portuguese restaurant by acclaimed chef José Avillez. The first restaurant opening outside of Portugal for Avillez is a big deal for Dubai and shows the city is beginning to compete on the culinary world stage. FACT’s David Tapley experienced a leisurely Saturday lunch at the chic venue…
There couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Tasca by José Avillez than the UAE’s first Mandarin Oriental property, providing a chic yet relaxed space on the Jumeira shoreline. The restaurant is no different and embraces diners with a well-thought-out design exemplified by an impressive dining space that is both intimate and inspiring. Accessed via a private elevator that exclusively services the restaurant, the door slides open to reveal sleek vino cases and a distinct loft-style environment. Jet-black exposed brick walls and wooden cladding match the simple furnishings of this particular tasca (Portuguese tavern). Tables follow the flow of the restaurant, taking on the shape of a horseshoe and wrapping around a central show kitchen where the restaurant and bar become one. A team of chefs and mixologists work side-by-side concocting innovative cocktails and Portuguese dishes, sharing the space and working in complete unison. It’s something we’ve not seen before and we’d encourage diners to take a seat at the bar to fully appreciate the interactivity of the experience where the lines between chef and diner are well and truly blurred.
Vibrant turquoise glassware matches the infinity pool and ocean views that flank the left side of the restaurant, while on the right lies a small private dining area and a number of seats looking out towards the Dubai skyline and the towering Burj Khalifa.
Tasca’s menu is concise and designed with sharing in mind. Our keen waiter hails from Portugal and recommends a selection of three dishes per person to really embrace the concept and we happily go along with his personal favourites. Accompanied by an eclectic beverage menu, we are delighted by the Primo Basílico with lemon foam and basil and the Algarve’s Whisper. A combination of orange, yuzu and honey, bursting with citrusy notes and successfully capturing a sense of the sun-kissed Mediterranean in a glass.
The food represents a contemporary take on Portuguese cuisine, taking many traditional elements and injecting them with a distinctly modern twist. Authenticity prevails but even the restaurant admits to difficulties when it comes to sourcing some of the ingredients for the dishes. All of the seafood is flown in from Portugal but other ingredients such as the meat are brought in from elsewhere, a prevailing difficulty in the Dubai dining scene.
Beginning with seafood, we thoroughly enjoy the subtleties of the coastal prawns marinated in citrus, seaweed and summer truffle. Representing a light dish, the discreet nuances in flavour complement one another admirably. The grilled scarlet shrimp is a representation of simplicity at its very best! Plating a large Portuguese shrimp that has been lightly grilled and served with Tasca sauce and yuzu mayonnaise. A dish so good in fact, that we order it twice.
The Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a pleasant surprise with its mix of codfish, potatoes, onion cream and olives. That once mixed together becomes a powerhouse of a dish. Tasca’s piri piri chicken with smoked avocado cream brings a prevalent flavour to the meat that is hard to replicate and served with a fiery sauce, shows to the world how this popular dish should be executed. Similarly, the 150g Wagyu sirloin is prepared in the josper grill before being sprinkled with salt and served alongside a yuzu and truffle sauce. In truth, the sauce is not required as the flavour from the premium meat is more than enough.
Squeezing in room for desserts as we gaze out over the ocean vista, we opt for the traditional custard tart or pastel de nata which at Tasca comes with a generous dollop of coffee ice cream. Tasca looks to bring a laid-back sense of dining anchored around good food to the Emirates. It’s pleasing to witness such a refreshing culinary concept for Dubai and Tasca by José Avillez represents one of the first restaurants to really specialise in quality Portuguese food in the city. Many of the team hail from Portugal which brings an added authenticity to the experience and a real sense of pride in Avillez’s concept. Reciting the origins of the dishes, the history, the inspiration and where all the ingredients are sourced from with such gleeful abandon that their passion for the restaurant becomes infectious. The result is an inclusive and rewarding dining experience and one that is well worth checking out.
GO: Call (0)4 777 2231 for reservations and more information.