Review: Lana Lusa, Dubai: Lazy Portuguese Lunches in Wasl 51
Lana Lusa Evokes Old Lisbon & Modern Portuguese Food
Lana Lusa, 6 dishes, 2 bottled waters and 1 macchiato: AED458 (US$125, £92, €102), Al Wasl 51 Plaza 1 Entrance, Dar Wasl Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 04 380 1515, http://lanalusa.com/.
Written by EatGoSee / More food reviews available here.
Casual dining on the sun-drenched terrace perfect for Dubai winters
Starters menu offers insight into Portuguese cooking, variety and value
Pasteis de nata is a must take home
Unlicensed venue when Portugal products wine, port and more - a trick missed
Some dishes need further work
Lana Lusa Evokes Old Lisbon & Modern Portuguese Food
Lisbon – and Portugal for that matter – drips heavy with nostalgia for me. So, the journey down Al Wasl Road to Lana Lusa contends with a well-shaped impression of Portuguese food from numerous journeys from Loule to Lisbon, Porto and places in between.
Lana Lusa: A Brief Word about Portuguese Food
Lana Lusa delivers decor and chill in spades
Lana Lusa conjures an old world style together with alfresco, Boulevard dining. I perch on a slick wicker and red dogtooth chair on Lana Lusa’s sun-drenched terrace that curves like a hip facing Al Wasl Road. The terrace is shaded under mature potted plants and brilliant yellow parasols. So far, so Belem. Dubai winter adores such dining. Bring your designer sunglasses to discreetly watch the Manolo-heeled denizens clomp around Wasl 51.
Lana Lusa outside terrace from Al Wasl Road (first) then from within the terrace area (second)
The inside space is casual and romantic with soaring ceilings, glimmering copper fittings and the walls warmly stained the terracotta of Portuguese roof tiles. The team that brought us La Cantine du Faubourg and Ninive deliver precision glamour. The dulcet tremble of Portuguese fado ebbs with the nearby water feature. Wasl 51 is not Lisbon’s Praça dos Restauradores, but this is the closest I will get to Old European boulevard dining for a long time so there is no time for grumbling.
Lana Lusa interior decor from the bakery (first) and a seated bench area with views of the open kitchen (second)
Lana Lusa’s Portuguese menu
Lana Lusa’s Portuguese food navigates Portugal’s highlights
Overall, Lana Lusa’s food successfully modernises an inherently rustic cuisine with a flurry of small dishes. Lana Lusa shows capable cooking and subtlety. The main courses are pleasing but my advice is to spend more time in the starters where value for money and variety is available.
Chilled prawns wallow in a bath of Portuguese olive oil scented with lemon and strewn with verdant samphire (AED69). Delightfully restrained and fragrant, as I drag hunks of fresh bread through judiciously lemon-scented oil. The marinated sardines are lively and fresh; a balanced dish due to a rubble of tomatoes, parsley, onion and black olives (AED48). The sardines are served in a charming traditional-style ceramic dish resembling infamous canned sardines. Lana Lusa’s deft hand picks through subtlety like a fado guitarist’s fingers.
Chilled Prawns (first) with marinated sardines (second)
This sojourn through Portuguese food continues with pasteis de bacalhau: a velvet smooth herbed potato quenelle with a toasted crumb and a faint hint of salted cod bacalhau (AED57). It is dainty, careful cooking and begs for a chilled vinho verde, if only. Spray from the lemon wedge will suffice for now as, alas, Lana Lusa is unlicensed. I will return to this vacancy more than once. By contrast, the rissóis de camarào (shrimp croquette) is an empanada oozing a bolshy shrimp sauce (AED65). The glorious shrimp sauce tastes intensely of shrimp heads, shells and all the best bits harnessed by centuries of Portuguese cooking and callously discarded by most. Lana Lusa’s rissóis de camarào is the first glimmer of rustic eating but with the sensibilities of a modern kitchen.
Lana Lusa’s pasteis de bacalhau (first) with rissóis de camarào (second)
A hot dish of bacalhau com natas plates homely, comfort food deserving of a family gathering (AED85). A gratinated bacalhau ‘fish pie’ unctuous with silky threads of salted cod fish and tender, lightly sauteed onion beneath a toasted crumb. I would greedily gnaw away at the biscuity, crispy bits stuck to the gratin dish much to the shock of my dentist and the two Lebanese ladies sat at least two metres from me. Instead, I scrape these prizes coupled with mouthfuls of an astringent, traditional Portuguese carrot salad.
Lana Lusa’s bacalhau com natas (first) with Lana Lusa’s plates (second)
The pasteis de nata and tarte de amendoa are signature, must-order desserts from Lana Lusa’s impressive bakery. The quaint wooden dessert box arrives with samples from which to choose. The pasteis de nata is the best I have eaten outside of Lisbon (although I was warned of inconsistency). The sweet, custard pasteis de nata is available for takeaway making for a perfect gift when you want to impress friends and guests. The tarte de amendoa, so nutty, sweet and crumbly, I was moved to recreate the dish at home, twice. A short bica or macchiato helps see off a charming lunch.
Lana Lusa’s dessert tray arrives for guests to pick from the bakery in addition to menu options
Lana Lusa’s tarte de amendoa (first) with a macchatio (second)
So Lana Lusa’s food is perfect?
Lana Lusa’s food is not flawless. I returned here a second time a month later for a more assured view as I wavered. There are signs of inconsistent execution and some dishes will not please all.
A substantial arroz de tamboril is Lana Lusa’s most pricey dish outside of the shared plates main courses likely due to the braised monkfish tail (AED135). Lana Lusa should put it on the sharing menu as clay pot dish can easily be shared between two – maybe three – improving the value for money proposition. The tomato-stained soft rice with fistfulls of parsley, sings of sautéed onion and bright lemon that overshadows the monkfish. Arroz de tamboril is a signature, country-style Portuguese dish designed for communal eating. This version is elegant but divisive; still, I admire Lana Lusa’s mature, elevated execution and, on balance, I would order it again.
Lana Lusa’s Arroz de Tamboril
The pica pau is an earthy and autumnal with beef rump cap sauteed in mustard and pickles. of bay, burnished with vinegary sharpness (AED68). A finely judged dish save that the beef morsels are tougher than my worn Chelsea boots. The amêijoas á Bulhão pato delivers a dish of small clams with grassy notes from a generous fist of coriander and thumb-sized garlic clove in its skin cooked soft like a baby potato (AED72). A splash of white wine would harmonise disparate ingredients like a seasoned diplomat as charming as the service I experienced both times at Lana Lusa. But back to the clams. The lack of white wine from the classic recipe is appreciable, and missed. Still, Lana Lusa’s bread comes to the rescue, again, soaking up clam broth mercilessly.
Lana Lusa’s amêijoas á Bulhão pato clams (first) and the pica pau (second)
Lastly, the Bolo de bolacha is unremarkable and adds nothing to an already strong dessert menu.
Would I Return to Lana Lusa?
Lana Lusa is an enjoyable introduction to Portuguese food for a city where many resign Portuguese cooking to Nandos (audible groan). I will return and bring Mrs EatGoSee and colleagues to Lana Lusa for the charming staff coupled with the impressive array of dishes and decor. No one should leave without a box of the pasteis de nata.
However in a city that loves spice, gimmicks and showmanship, Lana Lusa will not impress everyone and I can foresee complaints about bland or unexciting food. The kitchen and team will need work on Lana Lusa’s relevance and target its audience carefully.
How Could Lana Lusa improve?
Lana Lusa must seriously reconsider its decision as an unlicensed venue. Portugal is a wine producing country with its wonderful Douro Valley, gently effervescent vinho verde, infamous ports and the lesser known ginjinha (aka ginja). Portuguese food without wine is an incomplete picture. If location precludes licensing, perhaps BYOB flexibility or partnering with providers would offer diners a lot of value. Maybe La Cantine or Ninive would offer occasional pop-ups within its (very) licensed walls?
Lana Lusa misses the trend towards plant-based or vegan options in a city bending towards this arch. The kitchen should (defensively) find substitutes for existing dishes. Lastly, a table water option would improve the value for money for customers.
Who Should Come to Lana Lusa?
Lovers of Portuguese food or seafood, Jumeirah residents and people looking for something different to the usual rotation of Dubai dining. Casual lunch seekers who appreciate alfresco dining or enjoy interior design nods to Old World decor.