The British have given the world some great things: the internal combustion engine, the periodic table, radar, sports that take three days to play and have tea breaks, television, telephones, vacuum cleaners, penicillin, the train and much more. But these wonderful contributions to humanity are forgotten when it comes to the topic of food, especially if you about to go dining with one of those people who thinks British food is dreadful and everything is better in their county. Or as they’re more commonly known – Americans.
‘You Limeys are the worst damn cooks on the planet,’ said Bob my American dining partner, who was visiting from one of those southern states where everyone is so fat their cars have stretchmarks. ‘We might have one of the fattest nations on earth back home but that’s because we like eating our food. If we all moved to Britain none of use would want to eat.’
He laughed as his own comment and slapped me on the back as I mentally crossed him off my Christmas card list. As it turns out, Bob’s only experience of a bad meal in Britain was actually some pub grub in a grimy East End boozer. I can actually sympathise.
Having eaten in more East End pubs than the Mitchell brothers and ‘Fat Pat’ combined I know it’s like playing a culinary version of Russian roulette – click, click, click, salmonella. When pub grub is done well it’s great unpretentious food that fills you up and won’t cost you the earth so I wanted to show Bob that British pub grub could be done well and had heard good things about The Dhow & Anchor.
For a start, the Dhow & Anchor has an instant advantage of almost any English pub, as instead of sitting outside with a view of brick walls, drizzle and unemployment we got palm trees, swimming pools and the Burj Al Arab all lit up. And yes, it’s best to eat outside as the interior is full of sunburnt expats chain-smoking and occasionally reminding you of why so make British people left Britain in the first place.
Out on the terrace, however, is wonderful and so is the service. Even Bob – from the land of service culture – was impressed when the waitress noticed that the woman on the table next to us was shivering so brought out a pashmina for her to wear. It was the kind of gesture he would have never seen in England (or many places in Dubai for that matter) where the typical response would have been a passing comment that she’ll ‘catch a death dressed like’ that before wandering off.
The menu was authentic with grilled pork chops with bubble and squeak covered in gravy as well as steak and mushroom pie with chips. But being American, Bob went for the burger and like doubters at an Aerosmith gig, he came to mock but stayed to rock. The burger was big and chunky to the point where it took two hands to lift one up and the chips that came with it were like little gold ingots of deep fried flavour.
I’ll still maintain that the best burger in the city is the smokehouse at Johnny Rockets (they even put an onion ring in there which is genius) but this one ably fulfilled the criteria on which burgers are judged – the E.L.V.I.S scale. 1) Enough bun to hold onto but not so much it’s all you can taste. 2) Large enough to ensure that you have to open you mouth full to take a bite. 3) Vegetarians would be appalled at the amount of actual cow in there. 4) Includes at least three accompanying components, in the case it was lettuce, tomato and onions. Basic but classic. 5) Stand it on it’s side and fat won’t drip down your hand. You’d be surprised how many fail this one, but it passed all five points and the big Yank was a happy man.
My sirloin steak with mushroom sauce, Irish colcannon and green beans was a bit of a curveball thrown to see how they coped with something a bit more than typical bar food, but I’m pleased to report they largely triumphed. Despite a little too much fat around the edges, the steak was tender and flavoursome while the colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale) upped the stodge level just the right amount.
The deserts of sherry trifle and steamed sponge were a cut above the norm and a pleasant nod towards British ‘afters’ but the main courses are the ones that impressed.
‘I bet it was cooked by Indians though, not a Brit’, he harrumphed. It probably was, but so what? When the British aren’t getting wet in the persistent rain they’re cooking themselves chicken tikka massala, which is now the most eaten dish in the UK. So it makes sense that here in (mostly) sunny Dubai we can have Indians cooking great British pub grub and at the Dhow & Anchor they do it really well. In fact, it’s even American proof.
Verdict: If you’re after pub food without the negatives that normally come with it, outside at the Dhow & Anchor is a great shout.
The bill came to Dhs220