An exercise in frustration: Saturday lunch in Dubai

Saturday lunch is wonderful. An excellent time to catch up with friends as the end of the weekend approaches (our weekends in the UAE run Friday-Saturday), taking a civilized few hours to languidly dine and, perhaps, drink.

Unless you’re in Dubai and want Chinese food.

I’d a hankering for Chinese, so when my friend suggested dim sum for our planned Saturday lunch, I thought: Great, that’s easily settled. Until arriving at Asia Asia in Pier 7, only to find it’s not open for lunch on Saturday. Annoying, but we weren’t hangry just yet, and had also considered Yuan at Atlantis, so made our way down The Palm, to that heaving monstrosity of a resort.

Only to find that Yuan, too, was not open for lunch on Saturdays. But the good thing about Atlantis is that it has a number of dining options, so surely there’d be something acceptable (and preferably Chinese) inside. There was a spot called Asia Republic – but no alcohol. As the disappointment mounted, my friend recalled having lunch at a Chinese place in The Fairmont on The Palm. Brilliant, let’s do it. But first, let’s call to make sure it’s open. And discovered it’s shut for renovations.

Okay, it’s not Chinese – and it’s not even that great (the Dubai location does not rate next to its NYC counterparts) – but at least it’s Asian and within Atlantis. Let’s go to Nobu. Sorted, off we trot. To another locked f*@%*$# door.

Defeated, we retreat to Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. It’s not what we wanted, but it’s food and it has alcohol and neither of us had tried it before, so onward and upwards. Sitting down, I immediately felt like a child sitting at the grown-up table. Gordon Ramsay, do you have the longest torso ever? What is with your table and chair combos here? The chairs are way too short for the height of the tables (which I think were an average height). It’s odd and uncomfortable. Fix it. Or bring me a booster seat.

Whatever, the cocktail menu looks great. Pimms? Sold, bring it. And here comes the food menu. It’s essentially British fare. It’s straightforward; we’re not at some Heston-inspired, molecular-gastronomy, need-a-PhD-to-understand, avant-garde trend of the minute. The menu includes things such as macaroni & cheese and fish & chips. Yet the server went off on a John Galt-worthy monologue about the offerings. It was so absurd I almost started laughing, minutes into the spiel. But I didn’t have the heart to ask him to stop, and unfortunately the excessive explanations and attention, which were at times also intrusive, continued (and three different people individually asked us how things were throughout the lunch – that’s far too much). There is a way to do attentive, friendly service well and without feeling overbearing – see Cipriani Dubai, which has some of the most wonderful service I’ve experienced in Dubai and elsewhere (I love sitting at that bar!).

The food was fine, although overpriced in some cases – I had the butter chicken with rice and papadum, at 155dhs ($42). It was quite tasty, but no more so than the one from my favorite take-away curry house, where it’s about a third of the cost for the curry and rice combo. And the macaroni & cheese, a gluttonous pleasure, just had to be tried. It was okay – tasted more creamy than cheesy, but the oddest thing about it was the texture, as if the macaroni had been chopped and cubed, and had an almost gnocchi-like quality. Why chop the macaroni? What is this in aid of? Moving on. My friend had the chicken Caesar salad, which she felt was over-dressed. It did look a bit swampy toward the end, I thought.

So, lunch on a Saturday in Dubai: Proceed with caution. Especially if what you want is Chinese. Next time, it’s straight to Royal China in DIFC – can’t go wrong with their crispy duck wrapped in paper-thin pancakes – and it’s definitely open on Saturday afternoons. I just checked.

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