Name: The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill
Type: Seafood, specializing in oysters
Location: Dubai Marina, next to the beach
Dress Code: Flats and a fedora
Price Point: $$$
Canadian-Lebanese “gastropreneur” Joey Ghazal’s story in the Middle East began in 2010 when he set his sights on his native Lebanon. He developed four of his own concepts in Beirut: Brgr. Co, The Angry Monkey, Cro Magnon Steakhouse & Bar, and St. Elmo’s Seaside Brasserie. Ghazal’s concepts are widely popular; Brgr. Co, launched in June 2010, has since opened a second location in Beirut, two franchised locations in London, and franchise agreements for New York and Dubai. Dannielle Blaker meets Ghazal at his latest project, The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill, in the Dubai Marina to find out if his New England-influenced seafood brasserie makes the cut.
The entrance of The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill sets the tone for this brasserie and shows its unpretentious and outgoing personality right from the start. You don’t walk through a hotel lobby to access this restaurant; instead, you’ll find yourself at the loading docks located on the side of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Dubai Marina. If you’re driving, there’s valet parking right in front; just look for the wall with “SHUCK ME” written on it. If you’ve been to La Esquina in New York or La Bodega Negra in London’s Soho, you’ll find that this Bar & Grill has a similar feel, where the restaurant’s entrance is almost impossible to find—which is part of the fun.
The Maine’s décor has a nautical theme with elements of an elegant French bistro and friendly American brasserie. The rich, dark wood chairs complement the marble tabletops and the bar top complete with green antique bankers lamps. Behind the bar, is an exposed brick wall painted white (by Ghazal himself), repurposed nautical light fixtures, and three-dimensional Escher-inspired Batroun tiles on the floor. There’s also an outdoor dining area on the terrace with a direct view of what will be the Dubai Eye—the world’s largest Ferris wheel. There’s a theatrical flair to the dining experience, perhaps a nod to Ghazal’s time spent in London studying acting, and working as a waiter on the side.
Overall the atmosphere is good from an aesthetic point. I went on the fourth day of the restaurant’s soft launch, so it was quiet with only a handful of guests.
The one-page menu is refreshingly straightforward with enticing brasserie dishes designed for sharing. If you’re a seafood fan, this is a dream come true. If you’re a non-seafood eater, don’t worry, as there are plenty of other options like the Beef Carpaccio, Mushroom Truffle Pizza, and anything from the Steak & Chops section. For breakfast, the menu offers American favorites like Chicken ‘n’ Waffles and Steak and Eggs. The Truffle Breakfast Pizza (two of my favorite things) is definitely on my list of dishes to try on the next visit. The lunch and dinner menu includes favorites like Jerk Crabocado, Clam Chowder, Steamed Mussels, Steak Tartar, Catch of the Day, Ribeye for Two, Surf and Turf, and Chargrilled Octopus. From the raw bar menu, you’ll find Prawn Cocktail, Sea Bream Crudo, Scallop Ceviche and fresh Jersey, Fine de Claire, Princess de Kermancy, and Umami Oysters.
Credit: Head Chef Liam Breen
Head Chef Liam Breen prepared some of his favorite dishes for us to try. The Steak Tartar with Quail Egg was one of the best I’ve had, while the Jersey Oysters were delicate with a smooth, light taste. The Crabocado was just as it sounds—fresh crabmeat and avocado with a hint of jerk sauce. It’s light, refreshing, and perfect to share. If you’re craving comfort food, the white Clam Chowder is delicious. The Chargrilled Octopus was exceptionally tender—Ghazal wouldn’t share the recipe, but my guess is that the secret is in the marinade. Overall, the food is highly recommendable. If I had to select my least favorite dish, it would be the Crispy Fish Tacos. Codfish isn’t all that exciting, especially when there are so many other fantastic dishes to select. Pair your meal with a Bloody Mary mocktail. If you’re an experimental foodie, try the Kale Bloody Mary mocktail.
The service was excellent and comparable to the type one would expect in North America—our waiter was friendly and personable and was able to talk us through the menu items without any hesitation. Server knowledge commonly lacks in many Dubai restaurants and is my pet peeve. We left The Maine feeling like we’d made some new friends.
The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill positions itself as an affordable Dubai restaurant. If you compare it to similar concepts across the pond, it’s expensive. If you’re comparing it to Dubai’s fine dining establishments, it’s relatively reasonable. In terms of value for money for a high-quality Dubai restaurant, it’s good. When you pay your bill, just keep in mind how far the fresh oysters and other ingredients had to travel to reach your plate—it’s a luxury to have cold-water seafood in the desert.
1- Stay home and cook
2- Meh—order delivery next time
4- I’d bring my mother-in-law
5- My new favorite hot spot