The Best Shanghainese for Vegans in UAE.
Asian food is one of my favourite cuisines. I’ve tried several fantastic restaurants in the UAE and what I discovered is that not many have a vast array of choices for vegans. I usually end up choosing the same two or three dishes each time I visit. But enter the newly opened Tàn Chá, located in the bustling JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in Business Bay.
They opened their doors in February 2022 and it’s certainly the best amongst the selection of vast eateries at the hotel. Tàn Chá, is spread across two floors, including a lantern-lit terrace overlooking the canal. Expect a sleek interior that combines modern elegance with traditional Asian décor. The space is adaptable to cater for dinners, parties or events using sliding partitions and curtains. Additionally, there are five rooms, each with its own unique name. Though the restaurant remains cohesive in its aesthetic and atmosphere, each room is simultaneously unique; from the decor of old Chinese murals to a barroom which appears to be underwater. If you’re in need of even more privacy, there is a private dining space designed like the traditional Chinese birdcage. You’ll be dazzled by the likes of artist Grégoire A. Meyer’s digital artworks of floor-to-ceiling mesmeric screening of Koi fish.
For a special touch, a selected few regular guests get to have their very own engraved chopsticks, which adds a warm, personal touch to this glamorous restaurant. The point here is, every time you come back, you’ll get to use your very own chopsticks, so it's like you are part of the family.
It’s important to note that it’s a non-GMO restaurant so you won’t feel heavy or bloated the next day. The cuisine is traditional Shanghainese-meets-modern fusion. The dishes are inspired by Chinese-style food with a contemporary Western twist. Though Chinese food is often associated with chicken, beef, duck, and a wide variety of meats, it must be acknowledged that Tàn Chá offers an exceptional selection of vegan dishes, and each dish has meticulous presentation. My husband is a meat-eater, and he loves the 48-hour jasmine smoked short rib which came with a joyful mandarin sauce cooked to perfection. In addition to the table favourite: the Peking duck which (I am told) was incredibly succulent and had a nice fat to flavour ratio. I was amazed by the choice of vegan dishes which were some of the best Asian dishes I’ve tasted in years! It’s no wonder they were recently featured in the Michelin Guide Dubai 2022 and have top ratings by Gault & Millau.
If you’re a vegan, I recommend the following: Crispy Kale Crackers, served with crunchy kale and sweet chilli sauce; Spicy Cucumber Salad, with black fungus rolled with cucumber, served in Szechuan dressing and garnished with balsamic pearls; Salt and Pepper French Beans, with shredded chilli pepper and togarashi; Sweet Corn Soup, which is so insanely creamy, yet with crunch due to the carrot and sweet popcorn; Morel Mushroom “Water Pastry” Dumplings – this has a delicious flavour and crunchy tapioca flour skin; Truffle Mushroom Bun, with vegan king oyster shitake and black truffle. For the mains, you must try Honey Spiced Grilled Tofu, which is crispy bean curd topped with ginger and kale, in a spicy sauce. I’m told that even carnivores will love this. Several people I know would never eat tofu, but this was a delight for them. Also, the Ma Po Tofu, a Szechuan classic dish is a must-try.
Their bar serves an invigorating beverage programme and innovative cocktails as well as an extensive wine list. There are twists to traditional cocktails like “Finding the Hidden Dragon” - a take on the Bloody Mary - to carefully constructed cocktails like “A Song to the Moon Princess” a delicate sweet berry option and “Taming the Croucher Tiger” with notes of fresh guava. Alongside the artistic names, the menu itself was beautiful, with intricate colourful oriental illustrations of animals and nature adorning its pages and each cocktail presented has its own unique tale.
For dessert, you can get a plate of delicious fruit or sorbet. There’s even a fantastic tea sommelier who can help you choose from a selection of loose leaf white and green tea.
Final thoughts: I loved everything about Tàn Chá, from the décor to the artistic menus, creative drinks, and dishes, to the chic atmosphere and friendly helpful staff. If you frequently visit JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, you’ll know that valet parking can be very slow, this is due to it being a popular hot spot in Dubai, but there’s a separate valet parking dedicated to Tàn Chá guests at the back of the hotel (by the canal), so it’s super-fast to park and pick up your car after you’re done. All in all, this is most definitely the best restaurant for vegan Asian food in Dubai, and the UAE so far!