Rhodes RW1

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Gary Rhodes’ restaurant Mezzanine closed down at the Grosvenor House for what was meant to be a three-month refurb. It ended up being over a year before it reopened and has done so with a whole new concept.

Rhodes RW1 is described by those behind it as serving British classics, “created to transport you back to your childhood, with nostalgic dishes, elevated and presented within unique, modern and sophisticated space.”

Rhodes himself has added, “We’ve listened to customer demand and made the conscious decision to focus on serving up our interpretation of hearty, nostalgic dishes.” No surprise that it’s British food on offer, but it actually takes a very confident chef to reinterpreted childhood classics.

The idea that these are the dishes the Brit Expat diners will remember from their youth is at times a little wide of the mark. Most dinners round our way were egg, chips, beans, potato waffles and other Eighties staples followed by Arctic Roll or a scoop of Co-op Ice cream. They were eaten around a kitchen table while Neighbours was on the telly.

In trying to launch a restaurant like this there’s always a risk that it could end in a classic case of the chili-con-carne-paradox. The idea being that nearly everyone who make a chili considers their version to be the best. This is actually understandable as the dish is virtually indestructible and can be made hotter, cooler, thicker, richer, and so on to your exact specification with ease. So the odds of finding one at a restaurant that’s better are slim – even for the very novice cook – so therefore nobody really wants to pay for chili in a restaurant. The same could be said, to some extent, about many of the dishes that Brits grew up with.

Thankfully, the menu here takes British classics and elevates them way beyond what any but the most culinary adept of parents will have cooked.

It’s also great news that nothing on the menu could be described as “playful” or “ironic”, as could have happened in the hands of a less-grounded chef who hadn’t listened to their customers. These terms usually translate as “tiny portions” and “ruined” as some chefs veer too much into the art-on-a-plate territory when trying to reinvent something.

Often they forget that the people paying to eat in their restaurants are probably hungry and have already shelled out money for a baby sitter and taxi or maybe just navigated the hellish Marina traffic to get there. The last thing they want to feel like is that they’re part of some elaborate art installation or culinary practical joke.

“There’s also a nice pre-dinner touch in that you can sit out on the terrace having a drink and order your starter and main before you even go in to sit at the table.”

Those who have discovered that several ingredients of their main course were presented in the form of  “foam” or those old enough to remember Nouvelle Cuisine in the Eighties will know the type of thing. What Rhodes presents here are dishes from the Seventies and Eighties created with the finesse and ingredients of now.

The shepherd’s pie you may remember from the restaurant’s previous incarnation Mezzanine. Then, it was it was a little smaller in diameter than a compact disc and not a whole lot thicker. It tasted great but felt a little wanting. But in listening to customer demands that seemingly includes portion size.

Now the shepherd’s pie is in a rectangular dish and there’s more of it. It’s rich, soul food that’s filling and full of flavour and the homemade HP sauce on the side has the ring of familiarity without tasting cheap.

You can tell the ingredients that have been used are really good, which (somewhat shockingly) is not something all top restaurants in Dubai can claim.

The starter of homemade pork pie with honey apples, coleslaw, and a brilliant Cumberland sauce is a countryside picnic on a plate. Again, we’re happy to report the quality is far better than anything from Bowyers that we unwrapped in our school lunches. And the picnic-style dish fits in with the décor that has taken inspiration from a traditional English conservatory.

The female staff in yellow summer dresses flit from table to table amid flowers and wooden trellises and the attempt to create a “banks of the River Themes at Henley” works. The photos here don’t really do it justice, but that and the Wedgewood china plates all work well.

Prawn cocktail for a starter could feel a little too “on the nose” but the ingredients are fresh and simple and really work well. It seems there’s life in the old dish yet. There’s also a nice pre-dinner touch in that you can sit out on the terrace having a drink and order your starter and main before you even go in to sit at the table. The pre-dinner cocktails are in-keeping with the theme of the restaurant, hence the “Stiff Upper Lip”, which contains Tanqueray gin, Aperol (it’s everywhere now), mandarin, vanilla and homemade tonic.

You could dine here on triple pie – pork pie to start, shepherd’s pie for main and apple pie for dessert. The pie-fecta if you will. I was tempted, but there were pancakes on the dessert menu. In this case, warm orange and ‘Grand Marnier’ pancakes with vanilla ice cream. As a child we only had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, so I’ll rarely miss a chance to have them when offered.

Likewise, the lemon curd and clotted cream mousse with warm mini scones and strawberries were just retro enough but still felt like a treat – which is probably exactly what Rhodes was looking for.

In the year or so it’s taken Rhodes to reopen in this space there have been a number of British restaurants opening around the city and that’s no bad thing. British food has, in some strange way, become the staple cuisine of Dubai. As English is the lingua franca in the city, so the simplicity of British food works across nationalities – whether they remember the dishes from their youth or not. Rhodes RW1 stands up against any of them.

Rhodes W1 is open for dinner from 7pm – 11pm. Closed on Sunday. For restaurant reservations please call: 04 317 6000.

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