[Big Bite] Restaurant Review: Busaba Eathai

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It was a breezy winter night earlier this year when I recognized a familiar logo sweeping the front of a building in a quiet alley at The Beach. I pressed my face to the glass to get a closer look in excitement and could see a gutted space coming to life. A quick Google search provided confirmation, Busaba Eathai was coming to Dubai. Restauranteer Alan Yu, brainchild behind Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Wagamama, has taken the UK’s most popular Thai eatery international with their first stop in Dubai. I lurked suspiciously around the neighborhood over the next few weeks checking up on the progress, impatiently awaiting Busaba’s grand opening. 

I dined at Busaba eight times in the first two months they opened. One bite of their divine Massaman Duck Curry and I was transported back to that unusually sunny afternoon in Soho a few summers ago when a couple of Londoners introduced me to the restaurant. The cinnamon kick was just as strong as it was in England and the braised duck just as tender, it became clear that consistency is key at Busaba. Even the interiors are identical, walnut benches fill the dimly lit space and upholstered furniture line the terrace upstairs. Narrow beams of sunlight peak in through slender windows and candles flicker in the shadows.

Head Chef Yu Hing Tham, former chef at Mango Tree, explained that Busaba’s menu is their take on Thai street food which has been refined for the western palate. Despite the challenges in sourcing ingredients, the UK and UAE menus are almost exactly the same. I’ve tried my best to diversify every time I dine at Busaba but I keep coming back for a few favorites.

Thai Calamari: Pass on the mediocre Spring Rolls and opt for Busaba’s Thai Calamari which is hands down the best rendition i’ve ever had. You won’t find substandard soggy calamari rings here, Busaba nails the squid to batter ratio and goes heavy-handed on the spices. It goes to show as they sell over 100,000 portions of the starter per month across their 12 UK locations. The deep fried tentacles are soaked and stir fried in a light batter of oyster sauce with hints of chili, ginger and coriander, best eaten with a dash of sriracha for an absolutely addictive appetizer.

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Noodles: Once your taste buds have recovered from the Thai Calamari high, move on to Noodles. As an avid Pad Thai fan, this was one of the first dishes I ordered at Busaba but found that it didn’t compare to its contender the Pad Kwetio which swaps rice noodles for wide sen yai noodles and eliminates egg. With the addition of smoked chicken and shitake mushrooms, Pad Kwetio has quickly become my favorite noodle dish on the menu.

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Pad Kwetio

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Pad Thai

Curry: I’ve always associated curry with comfort food, there is something about a hearty stew packed with bold and fragrant spices over a bed of rice to lift my spirits. Each curry I tried was a true testament to everything I love about Thai food without being overwhelming. The Green Chicken Curry was particularly spicy providing a bitter contrast with crunchy pea aubergines and among my favorites was the Red Beef Curry, robust with a pop of sweet basil and delicate braised beef. Their veggie alternative, the Butternut Pumpkin Curry was aromatic with an earthy undertone and a gravy-like consistency and of course a Busaba favorite, the Massaman Duck curry, mentioned above. All curries are best served with sticky Coconut Rice to compliment the coconut milk base.  Don’t be fooled by the portion sizes, those porcelain bowls are deeper than they look. 

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Massaman Duck Curry with Coconut Rice

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Butternut Pumpkin Curry with Coconut Rice

Finish off your feast with a pot of Ginger and Honey Tea to settle your stomach and do indulge in the pair of Coconut and Cashew Cookies that come alongside which were almost petit four-like, but much softer.

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I still have a laundry list of dishes to try like the Chili Prawn Fried Rice, Ginger Beef Stir Fry and a few of the chefs favorites including the Char Grilled Duck, Fish Cakes and of course Mango Sticky Rice which I’ll be back for soon.

I presume that the charismatic Restaurant Manager Luca Bottino is responsible for the friendly wait staff, several of which were transferred from London, and the charming ambiance at the Dubai Marina eatery. Busaba is a much welcomed facelift to Dubai’s casual dining scene and a treasure among a row of mediocre chain restaurants in JBR, my only request is that they start their delivery service soon.

Rumor has it It Busaba has plans to open nine more locations across the region in the next three years.