At the Trade Centre end of Sheikh Zayed Road, you’ll find the Sheraton Grand Hotel, and outside that hotel, Novikov, the pan-Asian restaurant has its own grand entrance.
We were here for the business lunch, and excited to try the food that is already renowned in the UK, where the coolest people seem to hang out. Arkady Novikov, trained cook turned serial restaurateur, now has more than 50 outlets across the world, from the massive multi-cuisine Novikovs in Moscow and London, to hole-in-wall style joints offering affordable Russian food.
The PR team is keen to stress this place does not serve Russian food, perhaps forgetting the renaissance of the last decade which has seen charismatic chefs such as Vladimir Mukhin take the cuisine onto every top 50 restaurant list in the world.
But this is all about Asian food. Novikov himself is now more ‘Apprentice’ TV show host than chef, but he unarguably knows how to make a successful restaurant, one of which we were currently ascending into via private lift.
Stepping out of the lift, we are greeted by a vast, hangar-like space that seats in excess of 300 people. There’s a DJ booth in the upper space, but it’s lunchtime, and we are here to eat, not dance. Evening dining, we suspect, might be a case of over-eager young brokers from DIFC across the road who come to see and be-seen, braying above the sound of music delivered way too loud for a restaurant. Think fat cigars and fatter wallets.
We are guided to our table by a suited waiter, politeness and smiles clearly a forte. He even said, in answer to one of our questions he didn’t know the answer to: “It would be an honour to answer, and my pleasure to find out.” We liked that.
The hangar-sized space is L-shaped, with a bar area as you step out of the lift, and a dining area which stretches around the corner to a fabulous wet-bar of fresh fish, oceanic edibles, and the kitchen.
The space is well lit. Floor to ceiling glass doesn’t make the place too bright, surprisingly, thanks to wooden shades, and subtle lighting throughout creates a warm, cosy feel, given the size of it. Beautiful white orchids are used to delineate different zones.
We choose a strategic corner under the silent DJ booth so we can see all the comings and goings. A group of co-workers enter, eat rapidly, fairly silently and leave. A few Emiratis are dotted around, lingering over coffee before lunch.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and far more chilled than we’d expected, to be honest. But the cavernous ceiling is peppered with what look like giant, cracked alien eggs, revealing molten lava within. I think they are lights. Terrifying. But I’m sure they look lovely in the evening.
First up, crudites with an extremely tasty dip. Fresh, tasty and simple. A great start, especially when it’s complimentary.
The ‘Shinkansen’ business lunch (named after Japan’s fast, efficient railway system) comprises soup, a choice of two starters and a choice of main, from an ample menu.
Looking at the extravagant, colourful display of vegetables, fish and crustacea was making us hungry.
We rapidly ordered hamachi carpaccio, a maki selection, wagyu beef tacos and salt and pepper squid.
Nothing enormously imaginative here, perhaps, but the sort of crowd-pleasers you find at the likes of Zuma, Ramusake, Nobu and Play.
The dishes arrived swiftly, and all seemed fresh and satisfying. The carpaccio came in a truffle dressing, which could have over powered, but didn’t.
The salt and pepper squid had a fiery touch of fresh chilli, but were perfectly cooked in a delightfully dry, crispy coating. Maki were oversized, generous and tasty.
The only slight disappointment was the wagyu beef taco – apparently a cocktail hour favourite at the bar – which, given the provenance of the beef, seemed lost when mixed up with the other taco ingredients, delivering average flavour.
Steamed sea bass with ginger and soy was light, perfectly cooked and nigh on perfect, if it weren’t for our other main course – Novikov black cod, clearly so good it takes the owner’s name. It’s hard to get black cod wrong, and this was no exception, melt in the mouth, delicious and fall-apart-on-the-fork soft.
The tangy sauce which accompanied it was dense, salty and too much for this most delicate of fish. Hats off to Novikov for serving it on the side – in my opinion, if it were poured over the fish, the meal would be ruined. We requested Singapore noodles as an extra dish – both the main courses are served simply, with no sides – but having tried them, we would avoid them. Basic and uninteresting, you can get better noodles on the side streets of any Asian city. If this were your only choice of main course, you’d be sorely disappointed.
Desserts and drinks aren’t included in the AED115 lunch deal, but we opted for a couple of dishes to round off this rapid lunch, deciding to eat more than you normally probably would if you were rushing back to DIFC to clinch that stock deal.
My ‘shira tama’ sphere melted in front of me, as the waiter poured hot ginger caramel sauce on the thin chocolate globe, to my obligatory ooohs. Inside the dome, a rich caramel mousse dotted with sugar-coated hazelnuts and praline ice cream awaited. A rich, heavy, super-sweet dessert, not for the faint hearted. Or diabetic.
My partner’s passion fruit crème brûlée got to me more than her, even though I tried to persuade her to get the miso banoffee, only because it sounded faintly disgusting. But this combination of mango foam, rich passion fruit cream and coconut sorbet was a pirouette for the palette. Delicious.
Novikov hit all the right buttons for us. A lunch this good is not for every day. It feels a little above average. This is a place to impress a client, to woo a lover, to celebrate an anniversary. Not cheap, but with a strong menu, great chefs, and – we forgot to mention – impeccable service – this is worth it.
Choose wisely, and leave happy.
Cost for Two: Business Lunch AED 115 per head.
Total bill, including 2 x dessert, water, coffee, juices: AED 564 inc. 10% municipality fee
Sheraton Grand Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road
Reservations 04 388 8744