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Review: is Leña by Dani Garcia, Dubai’s best new steakhouse?

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Review: is Leña by Dani Garcia, Dubai’s best new steakhouse?

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Steaking a claim on the t-bone throne…

Dubai feels like it’s teetering on the charred edge of its steakhouse era as we carve our way into 2024. Mark my words, purveyors of premium cuts will become a lot less rare in the city over the next few months.

These theoretical ‘steak holders’ will have their work cut out for them though. They’ll be going head-to-head with new woodfire grill house, Leña, a concept from Andulisian culinary master, Dani Garcia. This is the man who, just weeks after earning his third Michelin Star, shut his restaurant to concentrate on a noble dream – “making Spanish cuisine an overall more casual affair”.

Leña resides within the increasingly A-List culinary community (Tresind Studio, Chez Wam, Signor Sassi) of St. Regis Gardens (the fact that it’s essentially the alfresco penthouse of Palm Jumeirah’s Nakheel Mall, never fails to blow my mind). And with its Iberian sister, Leña Marbella, winning a Most Beautiful Restaurant in the World award in 2021 – it really is no surprise that the Dubai sibling has turned out to be somewhat of a self-aware stunner itself.

It’s a song of wood and fire – a low-lit cuisine cave with oaky-toned panels and curving lines of magma glowing overhead. There’s a subtle scent of smoke snaking its way, almost cartoonishly, from the kitchen. The grills here are powered by aromatic blends of charocal, an essential component to the Chef Garcia flavour experience. It’s an art medium that comes with challenges though. It’s not uncommon for the back of house to trigger a smoke alarm – forcing the serving staff to rotate on reassuring errands, informing guests that it’s all part of the fiery theatre. And sensitive security systems.

From the entrees we picked up a grilled avocado (Dhs70), almost entirely because my dining partner and I are contrarians and, hitherto, were firm believers that to cook this fleshy fatty fruit is to dabble in the dark arts. We were wrong, and are now proud evangelists for the grilled avo cause. Something alluringly arcane is unlocked in the sear – an evolved flavour, enlivened by the coriander pesto and feta cheese salpicon daubed on top.

The Andalusian bluefin tuna tartar (Dhs145) is a sage choice too. You get a blend of raw akami and otoro cuts, caringly tossed with olive oil, caper berries and pickles. A harmony that rises higher than the notes of its parts. It’s a Spanish dish, but there are hints of a gap year in Japan.

If you’re in the mood for a lighter night, the beauty of the Leña menu is that although it isn’t huge, you can make quite the tapas spread by ordering from its starter and robata section. But we’ve got a date with the steak, and will court no distraction.

Your choice of cut runs to picaña, Angus tenderloin and ribeye, as well as some premium Kiwami options too. And then you’re invited to customise with traditional steakhouse sauces and gourmet sides to your own taste. We took the picaña (Dhs130, seriously, just Dhs130. Ronaldo dined here two nights before me, and it doesn’t matter what you think of his football, his net worth makes him a fascinating clientele yardstick) and the Angus tenderloin (Dhs250).

Great meat is great meat, and it’s easy enough to find in Dubai. The margins emerge from what’s done with it. Whatever happened to these steaks beyond the smokey, charcoal bath we know they took – is a little piece of poetry. The picaña might just offer the best dirham-to-delish steak ratio in Dubai.

We close our account, with sweet triangles of slow-grilled, cinnamon-tinged pineapple, in a passion fruit yogurt. A sweet, refreshing and not overly indulgent way to bid adios to Leña.

Verdict: There’s no smoke without fire, and Leña deploys both to devastating effect.

St Regis Gardens, Palm Jumeirah, daily 6pm to 2am. @lenadubai.dg

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