If Europe was a playground then the Belgium would be that strange skinny child who dresses a bit weird, hangs around with France and doesn’t really harm anyone.
There’s nothing to really dislike about Belgium and despite their strange fixation with dipping their chips in mayonnaise, they’re not really a place you think of when it comes to food. This is a beer café, so that’s always going to be the reason to come here – the Belgians do beer very well – but it’s more than just another bar in another hotel. This really is a little slice of something different.
For a theme bar, the surroundings are actually quite pleasant and it does look like an old Belgian pub. That look is pretty much the same as an old French pub, so it feels a bit like being on the set of the British sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo. There’s no Rene Artois serving behind the bar, but there are Indian guys serving Stella Artois and a huge list of specialty Belgian drinks. With a glass of cherry flavoured beer and a bottle of something called Kwak (at a powerful 8.5 per cent strength) we sat out on the terrace.
Once seated, bread is whisked out in a brown paper bag with a peg closing the top – a nice nod to presumably how Belgians liked to serve bread in the 40s. My beer came in a traditional glass that requires a wooden holder and again it was a fun, if essentially impractical, touch.
My cheese croquettes I ordered for starters were fantastic pockets of hot melted cheese, and rather then the watery, greasy cheese you often get this was robust in flavour. We’re it not for the noise from a huge building site next to the hotel you could close you eyes and feel like you were in a real cobbled-street café in a little European town. The shrimp cocktail was also a decent opener, aside for the little chunks of avocado which were far too solid.
The mussel pot my dining partner ordered was, like a Belgian sailor on shore leave, big and steaming. But the mussels from Brussels were a bit of a let down. Rather than being plump and juicy, they often disintegrated when trying to remove them from the shells and they were lacking in flavour. A peach beer was needed to make up for that. Conversely, my steak frittes was a fantastic piece of meat – far better than you’d ever expect from a café such as this. Thick, plump and with a peppercorn sauce on the side it was everything fine steak should be.
Both our mains also came with a side plate of chips and again, they were surprisingly good. As thick as a finger, with a golden coating and fluffy centre, you only realise how poor chips can be in Dubai once you finally get some really good ones. Of course, being Belgian, the had a pile of mayonnaise on the plate but like that other Belgian favourite, dour street mime, it’s best to just ignore it and move on. No mime here I’m please to report and it’s worth mentioning that the staff here were the happiest people I’ve ever met. It might be because the place had only been open four days and it was all still new and exciting, but either way they were great.
While many other places in Dubai hotels might treat you like Sir Lordship of Kingsville, here there was a rare sincerity that went with that – especially from our waiter Mika, who was perhaps the happiest man in Dubai. At the end I wanted to grab him in a playful headlock and ruffle his hair.
For dessert we shared a plate of pancakes with apple and strawberries and no ice cream because they didn’t have any yet. It seemed strange that they can get over 20 types of imported Belgian beef but couldn’t find time to nip down to Spinneys for a tub of ice cream, but by the time you read this I’m sure they’ll be sorted on that score. The pancakes were the thick and stacked variety rather then the cigarette-paper thin crepes and with the fruit it was a fine little way to end things.
The food here is a bit hit and miss, although the steak was very good. But to be overly critical about the food is perhaps to ask too much, it is essentially a beer café after all and the range of beers here is something worth looking into if that’s your thing. Stick to the very basics and you’ll have a good evening. What this really does offer is an overall experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the country.
It stands alone as being original, and in a city that is getting more and more of the same – be it more of the same shops, restaurant chains, fast food outlets or bars -that’s something with celebrating. As long as this doesn’t mean street mime and a load of shops selling pointless lace items are soon to follow, this Belgian establishment is a welcome addition to the city.
The bill came to Dhs321 (including two beers)