One thing that Dubai is certainly famous for is the overall luxury that comes to be expected as standard in everything they do. There are luxury experiences to be found on virtually every corner and lavish touches present in practically every building, shop, hotel, mall and restaurant, even in the Metro (you have never seen underground stations as squeaky clean and shiny as the ones here). So when you say Dubai, your mind instantly concocts a picture of something grand, impossibly luxurious and incredibly modern or futuristic.
Dubai is definitely a place that doesn’t do small and simple. After all it is home to several highly-acclaimed eateries, and whilst the emirate doesn't boast any Michelin-starred restaurant (just yet), it has many Michelin-starred chefs running what are considered to be some of the best restaurants in the Middle East and some of the most eye-catchingly spectacular in the world. Just like Dubai is home to the only self-acclaimed seven-star hotel in the world, it will come as no surprise that one day it will perhaps host the world’s first four-star Michelin restaurant (self-proclaimed or not).
So, given its background for dazzling and wowing, it wouldn’t come as a shock to learn that Dubai is home to two spectacular “underwater” restaurants, and I quote the word “underwater” because whilst it refers to what the dining experience feels like, you’re never really under water, just surrounded by massive, floor-to-ceiling water tanks displaying the most animated aquatic life. On my last holiday to Dubai I was lucky enough to dine at one of these with my husband. And this is what this post is all about - my experience dining at the incredible Ossiano, Atlantis The Palm’s most iconic, sophisticated and certainly most expensive restaurant.
Ossiano at Atlantis, The Palm
Ossiano is definitely one of the priciest restaurants you’ll ever eat in, not only in Dubai but in much of the world. If anything, in terms of price, wow-factor and level of refinement, it could only be likened to the Al Mahara restaurant, located inside the Burj Al Arab (that seven-starred hotel we talked about earlier) with a similar culinary offering as it also specialises in gourmet seafood, and also boasting an underwater dining experience (albeit not as spectacular and dramatic as the one in Ossiano, as I don’t think they have sharks and manta rays in their tank, but then again correct me if I’m wrong I didn’t get a chance to visit).
The location of this restaurant is as impressive as the restaurant itself. It’s beautifully hidden inside the magnificent and opulent Atlantis, the Palm; the iconic Dubai hotel located at the tip of the man-made collection of islands off Jumeirah Beach known as The Palm. So, booking a table here (advance booking is essential) meant I would also get a self-guided tour of this amazing hotel’s facilities; an opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, unless I booked tickets to their amazing Aquaventure Park, dolphin encounter or to any of their other restaurants. So, then again, as much as dining at Ossiano was an experience in itself, so was visiting one of Dubai’s spectacular resorts – majestically rising in its own island!
First impressions – drama, lights and…sea!
Walking up towards the restaurant’s entrance, after following one of the bell boys’ indications and after being already wowed by the impossibly-high ceilings, the enormous, brightly coloured hall, centred by a monumental coral-like sculpture made of glistening glass, and the dramatic, shell-encrusted columns framing the huge water tank at the end…all of this was so overwhelmly breathtaking that I couldn’t help but let out a gasp of sheer admiration. This hotel more than deserves its name, as it more than lives up to what you imagine the real Atlantis might have once looked like, or at the very least evokes the concept of a city sunk in the ocean rather well. Everything was so grand and sumptuous that you really felt tiny amidst it all.
We had reservations for 9:00 p.m. as we had left our toddler with a babysitter at our hotel (The Westin Mina Seyahi) and he was way too excited to be put down to bed anytime before 8:30 p.m. We didn’t know how long it would take our taxi to reach the hotel, so we allowed half-an-hour travel time. We were there in just 15 minutes which meant we could spare a fair few minutes to admire the hotel in all its grandeur and wander around.
The entrance to Ossiano was actually quite discreet, far more so than its surroundings. In-keeping with the expectations that refined gourmet venues are sleek and shiny but never gaudy, the lighting was very low, the colours dark, and you couldn’t make much out from the exterior. It was anyone’s guess what it looked like inside as it didn’t give anything way from the entrance (yet of course, we, and pretty much anyone who goes to dine there, knows what glorious marvel of a tank it holds inside).
Located at the end of the lobby’s long corridor, to the left of the balcony that offered an incredible view of the colossal water tank, Ossiano looked minimal; no one would look at it twice, it doesn’t stand out in any way, but we knew what we were looking for so finding it was easy enough.
Complimentary bites, mocktails and an unexpected proposal
As I said earlier, the entrance to Ossiano looked rather dark and dimly lit, all you could see from a distance of about a metre from the main door (wide open double doors, by the way) was the orange and purple lighting of the ceiling lamps against very grey (yet shiny) walls, glistening checkered floor tiles and dark purple furniture.
First thing you noticed upon entering was the plush sofas in front and to your left a perfectly laid out glass table presided by a row of awards, proudly displayed for all to see. Walking a little further the restaurant curved to the right and you saw a grand set of fluorescent-lit stairs in front of you, leading down to a long and beautifully lit bar on the left and the all-famous floor-to-ceiling water tank to the right, fringed by a selection of elegantly-laid and perfectly positioned tables. It was at this moment that a sweetly smiling waitress approached us, asked for our names, checked her list and told us that we could either head to the bar for a pre-dinner drink or go straight to our table downstairs. Considering we were a little early and already quite hungry we took the stairs and headed straight for our table.
To my surprise it wasn’t as full as I expected the restaurant to be, a few tables were taken, namely all the best ones right next to the huge aquarium, but quite a few were also empty (and it was a Saturday night!). I guess not everyone is Dubai is filthy rich and can afford to dine there every weekend, makes sense after all. Since all the tables facing the tank were already either reserved or busy we were given a table that we believed to be second best, as it directly sat opposite the water tank and we had only one other table between us and marine life. Quite the view it was.
Our courteous waiter, assigned to look after us for the night warmly approached us and introduced himself as he briefly explained the dining concept at Ossiano. He asked us if we wanted drinks and told us he could recommend excellent wine pairings but we weren’t in the mood for alcohol and decided on some mocktails instead – may I say mighty delicious they were too.
After presenting us with the menu and giving us a lengthy explanation of our options, recommendations and chef specials, he presented us with a welcome aperitif that consisted of four different types of small hors d’ouvres; exquisite bite-sized finger food taken to vertigo-inducing heights of refinements, the likes of which neither of us had ever experienced. These small temptations to whet our appetite were presented in pairs, so no fighting was needed as to who ate which. I regrettably cannot remember the long names of each of these tiny delicacies, as hard as I try they were so softly (and swiftly) uttered listed one after the other by our attentive waiter that we couldn’t have recalled those if we had tried.
Just as we started sipping on our chosen drinks we witnessed a sight we weren’t expecting, as the gentleman in the table in front of us got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend as a diver in the tank with a big “Will you marry me?” sign approached the glass in front of them and stayed motionless holding the sign while the surprised girlfriend looked on speechless. This was a treat we didn’t expect but which added a special touch to the night. Who doesn’t get a bit weepy/emotional/soppy with proposals? I know all of us girls do.
I couldn’t help but get my noticeably big camera out and take a snap of the precious moment before my husband cautioned me that the loved-up couple might not appreciate my intrusive photo-taking of their special moment, so after one more snap which I pretended to be aimed at the tank, I put the camera down and tried to look non-chalant. To my surprise, later on the proposing gent approached us and asked if we had taken any photos. I sheepishly nodded trying to explain that it was such a moving picture that I couldn’t help capturing it, that I, of course was more than happy to delete it if he wanted me to, but instead he smiled warmly and said he was glad I had taken photos as it was the only memento they had of the evening, that if I would be kind enough to email them to him and he handed me his card. Why, of course, I replied, more than happy to!
An upgrade to premium views – what a treat!
Shortly after I had conversed with the gentleman that had just proposed to his girlfriend in the most special of ways, we saw them get up and leave, and, as the waiters started clearing their table the thought invaded my head that we could be bumped to their seats with premium views right next to the tank!
I mentioned this to my husband who thought I was being a bit cheeky. I debated with myself whether it was appropriate etiquette in such a place to ask or not to ask to change tables, but seeing we hadn’t yet been given the menus and all we had on our table was our cocktail I thought it wouldn’t be that much of a hassle. So I plucked up the courage and made a gesture to call our waiter. There was no delay in him noticing and approaching us and upon doing so I asked him if it would be possible for us to change to the now empty table in front of us. After his face showing the slightest bit of hesitation for a very brief moment, or perhaps looking a bit confused (I’m not sure that he was surprised by the request or he wasn’t sure he understood right) he quickly smiled and said that it would be no problem at all, that he would let us know when the table was ready. I smiled triumphantly to my husband; “See? All it takes is just asking.”
When the time came for us to be moved our waiter signalled for us to follow him. Silly me, forgetting where I was, I tried to help by taking my own napkin and cocktail. The waiter smiled again and told me to leave it all behind that they would bring it to our new table in less than a second. And so they did and I kept uttering to myself: what a service!
It was more than true, the level of service you get at Ossiano is the most discreet and pleasant I have ever gotten. Each time we approached either of the two tables we “experienced”, the waiter hurried to move the seats for us before we sat down and before and after each course we were read out the dish and all its components to the very last detail. The service was very attentive but never intrusive; there was no persistent questioning on whether we enjoyed each course, yet they cared about the smallest of details…so all I could keep repeating to myself was: what service! I guess you get what you pay for and the service here is outstandingly exceptional. I was living proof after all that no request was too much trouble.
The Ossiano Experience menu – a tantalising nine-course meal
After our waiter had explained our options and talked us through the menu, or shall I say menus, (as in fact there were more than one) we decided to forgo a la carte dining altogether (the names of many dishes and what they were sounded a little foreign to us so choosing in itself proved a daunting task) and instead we went for the full Ossiano Experience – a separate menu, highly recommended by the waiter and which included all the restaurant’s highlights, the most favoured and exquisite dishes of all. It was the perfect choice all in all (albeit one of the most expensive ones but hey, you only live once) as it also gave you a true taste of what the restaurant offered and what their seafood offering was all about, so we couldn’t have gone for a more well-rounded option. The Ossiano Experience consisted of nine courses and seeing as we were expecting all dishes to be very petite (as they all are when it comes to haute cuisine) we thought we could handle them all easily. Well, was I in for a surprise!
While our first dish arrived I excused myself to the Ladies’ and I was simply wowed by the luxury of it all, the lavish grandeur went all the way from the entrance to the loo and carried on inside one of the private rooms. I know they always try and make girls’ lavatories roomy but this was way over-the-top. Unless you were in Victorian times and had a big dress trailing after you there was no way a single girl could fill up that much space or make that much use of a lavatory. The only thing that was missing perhaps (if you intended for the ladies to actually sit down and read those magazines – positioned in a way they weren’t accessible from the loo - was a chair). Everything shined and sparkled, the massive chandelier on its own took my breath away. As a blogger that likes to re-tell all detail in my chronicles, I had to take note (and photos) of it all.
Back to our table it wasn’t long before our first course arrived, the Gillardeu Oyster, and with it came my thoughts that when you glimpse at the size of the food presented, so dainty and minimal, you wonder if you will ever fill up with nine sets of these. But at the moment I had to the oyster to worry about, I had never in my life eaten one of these, and it stared at me threateningly, daringly. I have to say, that it took some courage to gulp it down since whilst I am aware that is one of the finest delicacies in the world, to me it looked slimy and not in the very least appealing, but I swallowed my contempt and with it the oyster…the result? Not bad, not bad at all. A little squishy and odd-tasting but the more I savoured it, the more intense the taste became and the better it got. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be afraid of another one.
Following that came the Sturia Caviar, presented inside its own tin, sitting in one plate and accompanied by another plate, laid out with what looked similar to slices of Melba toast, a few blinis and sour cream (it probably wasn’t called that but I can’t remember all the long names our waiter uttered and that’s what it reminded me of). This was another very pleasant dish that I very much enjoyed, as the cream took the edge of the caviar’s saltiness, making an altogether very palatable combination. My husband didn’t rave about it much, so I think out of the two of us I enjoyed that one the most.
Next came the Octopus Carpaccio with lemon, fennel and chives. What looked like the simplest of dishes (visually it wasn’t all that impressive, yet very colourful and appealing) turned out to be one of the tastiest. I had never had octopus carpaccio and although it proved a little (just slightly) chewy, it was really flavourful and truly delicious. The portion might have looked small on the plate but it went a long way taste-wise, you weren’t left thinking there wasn’t enough of it, there were plenty of mouthfuls to get a real taste of it. And no saturation either; simply delicious.
To close the curtains on the starters line-up came one of the prettiest of dishes, the Foie Gras Parfait with beetroot and pistachio. This dish looked so beautiful, it reminded more of a dessert than savoury dish. There was a slim slice of foie gras topped by crushed pistachio bits, sitting next to a line of beetroot-infused squares of jelly and tiny pieces of toast. Delicious is a word that doesn’t quite cut it to describe it, it was truly mouth-watering yet, after a few bites of it, the intensity of the foie grass invaded and staturated my tastebuds, it sort of sat on my throat and gave me a slight feeling of fullness, so I struggled a bit towards the end to finish it all. I was looking forward to what would follow but already a bit wary that I was getting full far too soon.
Course by course – half-way there, from entrees through to desserts
The selection of delectable starters over, the first of three main dishes made it on the scene. It was the Lobster Veloute with truffle and pumpkin first, and whilst it looked promising, sadly this one almost made me give up on the rest of the food. Don’t get me wrong, my husband loved every bit of it but my untrained and unrefined palate found the lobster veloute (a sort of foamy, creamy soup) a bit too strong in a nauseating sense. This dish was presented to us first as a pretty layout of beautifully arranged delicate lobster pieces but before I had a chance to get my camera out they were pouring the veloute over it and completely covering it with this rich sauce. The first few mouthfuls were really luscious and whilst there were still bits of fresh lobster to be found in every spoonful, the strong taste of the veloute was balanced out, but once those were gone I simply couldn’t handle the taste of the veloute alone as I found it a bit sickly. Food connoisseurs might find my food ignorance and disregard for this finest of dishes insulting, but this is the humble opinion of an unexperienced diner. My husband on the other hand, loved every last spoonful of it.
Next to follow was the Confit Loch Fyne Salmon with cucumber, dill and slow roasted tomato. After the slight disappointment of the previous one, this dish was a refreshing taste to calm my stomach down and renew my sluggish appetite. I love salmon anyway, I love it cooked, smoked and even raw, so it would be a challenge for me to find something not to like about this dish. The sauce that accompanied was the perfect compliment to it and I enjoyed it to the very last bite.
The last of the main dishes was the Bordelaise Poached Wagyu Tenderloin with braised shallots and Puy lentils. At this point I was feeling quite full already so whilst it was an indeed scrumptious dish, it was very filling and I couldn’t finish some of the last few bites (not if I wanted to save some room for dessert and indeed I did). Once a very strict “all-meats-must-be-well-done-please” advocate, for this dish I made an exception, as my husband recommended I at least made an effort on this special occasion to try it on the recommended cooking point, which was medium rare. All I wanted was no blood to come out of it, and it didn’t. It was juicy, tender and not chewy at all. A very pleasant reward to my bravery!
Before the desserts came the cheese platter, or should I say the Herve Mons Cheese Selection, a plate I had forgotten of already and which, sadly, I was too full to sample. On top of this, I don’t really like cheese much so, unfortunately, this was a course that was completely wasted on me. Upon presenting us with the plate, the waiter listed of all the different kinds of cheeses there and I should have written them down because this is something I knew I wouldn’t remember. Perhaps the cheese connoisseur can easily point them out with my pictures.
And finally, the dishes I was most looking forward to and which I had saved room for by avoiding getting too full on the last course – the desserts. First came the Honeycomb, a pre-dessert that consisted of smashed bits of honeycomb topped by a quenelle of vanilla ice cream – the perfect combination of smoothness and crunchiness, I loved it! Lastly, the piece de resistance, the Valrhona Dark Chocolate with caramel, passionfruit, Suntory 17 ice cream. Wow! This one was a looker for sure. Don’t be fooled by its quaint-looking size, it’s so rich that it will more than make up for its size once your mouth starts dancing to its sweet tunes. The perfect end to a perfect night and an almost equally perfect dining experience.
Parting thoughts – not forgetting about the all-important tank
I’ve dedicated a lengthy portion of this post to describing the nine-course menu and all that it entailed but whilst there’s no denying that the food at Ossiano is undoubtedly great; let’s not forget that what makes this restaurant most unique and the overall experience really unforgettable is its incredible setting. In my opinion (and I think most people who visit might agree with me) it’s more about the opulent yet subdued elegant décor, the stylish, chic ambience and the amazing focal point (the massive aquarium that no one can miss) than the actual food. The cuisine is, of course, nothing to get too trivial about (after all the restaurant was the inspiration of the late three-Michelin star winner, Chef Santi Santamaria and the kitchen is now run by award-winning chef, Wesley Berghoff), but I think I could have had just anything there and enjoyed the experience all the same. For me, not used to such heights of fine dining it was a novelty in every way and no doubt the sampling of such exquisite delicacies proved a great part of the adventure, but the main reason I went there, was the stunning under-the-sea environment that enveloped you.
Whilst dining there you can’t help but look up and be hypnotised by the sight of fish of all kinds, sizes and colours passing you by, and this is made all the more special if you get to sit in a table right next to the tank, which we eventually did and….wow!
There were many sharks of various types and sizes, I counted at least six different ones and they took it in turns to pass us (the tank was really that huge – 11.5 million litres of habitat is no mean feat!) so that we hardly ever saw two crossing paths at the same time. I kept my eyes peeled for sharks because whilst I find them the scariest of creatures (I wouldn’t do the optional tank immersion - which they actually do in Atlantis for a hefty fee - even if they actually paid me to do it!) I also find them hypnotically fascinating. Sadly they all turned out to be very camera shy, so I only managed to capture one. Bear in mind I was also in the midst of a very posh meal and I took my camera out more than the average person, I bet more than one diner found the flashing upsetting, so I did try to not overdo it. Regardless, I got to live it and be entranced by it all, and at the end that’s all that matters.
To sum up the experience of dining at Ossiano, it was after all Atlantis’ amazing Ambassador Lagoon, with its 65,0000 marine creatures passing me by, what created the unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will forever cherish and treasure. With its hefty price tag it's not a place I will be coming back to anytime soon.