Unsurprisingly, the term “gastropub” was coined in the United Kingdom. The land that’s rich with watering holes – with three on every corner, as the saying goes – underwent a revolution in the early 1990s. Before then, when it came to satisfying an appetite without bobbing over the road to the nearest chippy, your choice was a simple one: a packet of salt and vingear crisps, a picked onion or, if you were really lucky, a ploughman’s lunch, an uninspiring plate of cheese, tomato, a dollop of Branston’s Pickle and some bread. And that’s it. But then everyone started to demand a bit more than a stale sandwich, and a gulf in the market was soon filled by a new generation of pubs serving restaurant-quality meals.
Now, though, it’s not just gourmet food on offer, there is live entertainment, games, mixologists and more in these carefully crafted institutions. With this in mind, we dissected Dubai’s gastropub scene to find out what makes the ultimate venue for punters.
Let’s start with the most important thing with a gastropub: the food. If your menu and dishes aren’t on point then you either pack it up or drop the “gastro” part immediately.
While cobbling together a meagre plate of something microwaveable was once the responsibility of an overworked bar-person, the provision of food in pubs is now very much the realm of extremely talented chefs, bespoke menus and bold culinary concepts. Take Bridgewater Tavern. They serve up some of the tastiest comfort food you’re likely to sample, whatever the venue. Director of Culinary, Sebastian Nohse, explains the thinking behind the food choices.
“When working on the menu, we didn’t want it to cater only to the sports-bar crowd – we wanted to serve truly delicious and unique dishes that appeal to everyone,” he said. “We wanted a genuine ‘wow’ factor, and that’s why Bridgewater Tavern is known as much more than a place to watch sports. It has really high-end, quality food.
“We’re particularly proud of our signature Black Burger. The gimmicks – the black gloves and bib that come with it – are for fun, of course, but the food is taken very seriously, hence our motto ‘serious fun, for serious people’.”
We can vouch for that. We’ve tried the burger and the boneless chicken wings that have their sauce added via a bit of theatre as mocktail shakers are used to cover them. They were both incredibly moreish, and a cut above the same sort of food we’ve had in restaurants that purport to be specialists in these fields.
So, if you’re heading down to Bridgewater Tavern for food, we recommend the following:
Boneless chicken wings (AED60)
Choose from a selection of sauces on your server’s cart and marvel at the little performance that follows as your tasty wings are shaken until they’re dripping in deliciousness.
Black wasabi shrimp (AED60)
Only order this if you’re into your hot stuff. Seriously. As tempting as
it is to add a bit of spice to your meal, the cumulative effect of each shrimp is Premier League heat.
Cake pops (AED30)
Like little lollipops but in cake form, that’s the best way to describe this plate. They’re coated in three types of chocolate and are served with mango dip and raspberry coulis that marry the sweetness of both parts perfectly.
Where: JW Marriott Marquis
Contact: +9714 414 0000
What do Saturdays mean to you? For some its sport. For others it’s shopping. For a few it’s sitting somewhere dark hoping the morning doesn’t come. The Brunswick in Sheraton Mall of the Emirates would seem an ideal base for all three. There are six TV screens, a massive courtyard screen and three hi-fidelity projectors – and its relatively compact space means that you’ll get a great view wherever you are.
Importantly, though, they don’t dominate, so non-sporty friends who are having a quick pit-stop before deciding on whether to hit All Saints or the cinema will not feel as though they’re on the terraces. There’s also a bar and several nooks for some serious pre-work-week contemplation.
Where: Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
Contact: +971 56 404 0685
Nana Sechere, Head Bartender at Weslodge Dubai, explains why a good bar person can make you return to a gastropub.
“A great bartender is someone who showcases hospitality above everything else. At Weslodge, we have fun behind the bar and it’s very contagious. On a weekend night, you will see many of our bartenders laughing with guests, telling jokes, and in some cases dancing up a storm while making drinks.
“I feel that it really sets us apart from a lot of the other bars in Dubai. Some places here are way more concerned with how well they mix their beverages than they are about how much fun the guest is having.
“When you can combine fun with real bar skills, that’s when you get a place that is truly special. A few of our bartenders have been in some of the major mixology and bartending competitions in the city, with a couple nearly cracking the global finals. We all have a passion for making great beverages, so whether you ask us to freestyle and come up with something or mix up a classic, you really can’t go wrong with any of the members of our team.”
Where: JW Marriot Marquis
Contact: +9714 560 1700
Aussie singer and guitarist Josh McCartney knows more than most about playing in gastropubs. He has a regular session at The Copper Dog in DoubleTree by Hilton on Tuesday nights and then Nezessaussi on Friday evenings, and he also came runner-up in the DXB Music Scout competition in 2016 – which was held in gastropub Lock, Stock and Barrel. When it comes to pleasing a crowd, he has this down.
I actually find people don’t really mind too much what you play, as long as it’s familiar – unless they’re dancing, of course. Then I will throw in some Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, James Brown and some other rock and roll.
I tend to steer clear of classic rock. I played all of those songs for so long in Australia I can’t stand them anymore. “Hotel California” is like nails on a chalkboard for me now.
I don’t really have a consistent set of songs I play. I prefer to play to the people who are around rather than choose something based on the venue. The same people in a gastropub on any given night may be the same as
a restaurant or a lounge!
That said, I do tend to play RnB and pop. If I had to choose a set-list right now it would be:
1. “Let Me Love You” by Mario
2. “Just Friends” by Musiq Soulchild
3. “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys
4. “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran (even though I’m so sick of this song)
5. “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton, Jumeirah Beach Residences
Contact: +9714 559 5355
Director of F&B at JB’s Gastropub talks us through their interior design decisions that are crucial to keeping you happy for longer. Warning: includes Edison lights.
So who did JB’s ace interior?
The design was done by a company called LW Design Group LLC.
What was the initial concept for the venue?
The initial idea is that a warehouse was uncovered beneath an old building that was stripped down before re-building. So the “shell” of the outlet is an uncovered warehouse where you see traces of old tiles on a cement floor and olden-day light fixtures.
Nice. Do you have any special flourishes?
Well, they went to great lengths even in the bathrooms with faux copper cisterns and brass taps.
We’ve noticed the bric-a-brac items that seem in vogue…
Yeah, elements that are equally antique such as vintage luggage, clocks, books, a cash register and a sign made out of an old bicycle.
Yes, it’s all very homely.
Exactly, the team has done a great job of establishing a concept that’s talked about by everyone who visits JB’s and for such a concept, attention to detail is key.
Where: Amwaj Rotana Hotel, JBR
Contact: +9714 428 3084
The Tap House
Old-world cliché, new-world entertainment. The quiz night has been around for decades but there’s something decidedly now about it – and something ideally suited to the gastropub. In a world of goldfish-like attention spans and wiki-information on tap, flexing the brain cells in a convivial setting seems as much a welcome dollop of analogue retraining as a night out.
We like the quiz at this Club Vista Mare spot, hosted by the ever-charming Annah Jacob. It’s not a five-hour affair (looks sideways at the Crown & Lion), it’s a mix of general knowledge and creativity, entrants get a discount on their bill and – perhaps best of all – it’s not on every week. Taking place on the first Monday of the month, there’s no danger of overkill or it running out of steam. Fancy a go? Here are some questions:
1. Rank the following in terms of how fast they grow: finger nails, toe nails, hair.
2. What is the only continent on Earth without an active volcano?
3. If you order a pascade at a French restaurant, what will you get?
4. Who is the only female artist to have a film top the box-office in the same week their album was number one on the Billboard charts?
Where: Club Vista Mare, The Palm
Contact: +9714 514 3778
Man Cave at Cook Hall
You’re not a fully-fledged Dubai institution until you’ve got a brunch at your establishment. Sorry. So it’s great to see so many gastropubs jumping on board and delivering a brunch in their own style.
Cook Hall at The Westin in Al Habtoor City has a great brunch option called the Man Cave. It takes place on the top floor every Saturday and for three and a half hours you can enjoy unlimited beverages and a selection of dishes from the menu.
The best course for us, though, is the stack of games no more than pool cue away. There’s an American pool table, a dartboard and a table-tennis table for games involving cups and balls and… well, you know what we’re talking about. There’s even a PlayStation 4 hooked up with FIFA 18.
It’s marketed at men but whenever we’ve been down, we’ve seen mixed groups of highly competitive people shouting, high-fiving and slamming things down in irritation at their latest public humiliation.
Where: The Westin, Al Habtoor City
Contact: +9714 435 5577
Lock Stock & Barrel
So, with all these exceptional examples we have at our disposal, and our (shamefully) vast knowledge of the gastropub scene, which one is closest to being the ultimate venue?
We’d have to go for Lock, Stock & Barrel. It’s got great food, an award-winning brunch, comfy seats, loads of screens for sport watching, pool tables, innovative design – we love the speaker wall – and a great music setup. And considering entertainment manager for the holding company, Gaz Handford, is also the lead singer of resident band 13 Daze, that’s probably a given.
“Everything from the lighting design to the sound system and the operators that run it have been crafted with the intention of providing the feeling that this is not just a band in a bar, this is a real show,” he says, possibly reading from a flyer.
If you’re looking for the best in Dubai, you can’t go far wrong with Lock, Stock & Barrel.
Where: Grand Millennium Hotel, Barsha Heights
Contact: +9714 520 004