Wheeler’s of St James docks into Dubai
“I own the global brand, the oldest fish brand in the world. I was part of Forte when the hostile takeover with Granada happened, so I ended up buying it because the brand may have died and that would have been very sad,” said Marco Pierre White when asked about Wheeler’s in a FooDiva interview last year. Well he has now franchised the brand to Rmal Hospitality, his partner for Frankie’s and MPW Steakhouse in the UAE to open the first international Wheeler’s, following on from the seven restaurants he has in the UK, in Dubai at DIFC.
Boasting high ceilings, glittering chandeliers, marble floors and dark wood panelling across a cocktail bar, a 100+ seat restaurant and a little bit of a show kitchen, the interior is a throw back to the Victorian era (albeit a contemporary spin) as the first Wheeler’s opened in 1856. Renowned for traditional British seafood, the menu which is hugely Ivy-esque in design certainly lives up to its reputation – mind you with plenty of meat and veggie options too – rather unusual but welcoming for a seafood restaurant.
FooDiva’s starter and a signature one at that, a prawn cocktail topped with salmon roe was very bland with far too many shreds of lettuce drowning out the prawns in an equally as tasteless cocktail sauce – not a match on Rivington Grill’s sublime seafood cocktail with a kick. Thankfully, my fellow diners’ appetisers made for a far more flavoursome choice. The Obsibleu shrimp ceviche, a blue-coloured New Caledonian shrimp with its distinct sweet taste, was served carpaccio-style with a dash of aloe vera and shaved artichokes. A traditional fishcake coated with lemon breadcrumbs with wasabi mayo on the side was such a marvelously moreish entree. I so had food envy…well luckily for moi, dining with FooDiva always means sharing.
My main choice, another signature dish, the beer battered fish and chips was a winner with a crisp batter crust enveloping a flaky cod I presume. The accompanying triple cooked chips made for perfect dunking in the tartare sauce, whilst my friends wolfed down the minted mushy peas. Our other two mains went down a a treat – a fish pie topped with mashed potatoes, also a speciality, was a massive portion with more of a seafood than filleted fish mix in a cream-based sauce – and a simple fillet of Dover sole with nut brown butter, capers, almonds and lemon. A couple of side orders of buttered spinach and creamed potatoes, aka mash were all the flatfish required, if that.
I wish I’d left some tummy space for the classic and comforting Brit desserts – an apple, blackberry and oat crumble with Cornish clotted cream (the latter not easily spotted on menus here), a lemon tart with raspberry ripple ice cream, and FooDiva’s least favourite but that’s purely personal, a Cambridge burnt cream, aka crème brûlée.
Many of the front and back of house staff have been flown in from Wheeler’s in St James, London and whilst overall the service was good, my friend wasn’t too impressed with the clear upselling on a glass of wine to the point that she reverted to cocktails. Damn good dirty martinis though. When will restaurants learn that the consumer has wisened up and no longer likes to smell the sell? I’d love to compare revenue data on restaurants that upsell and the handful in this town that don’t support this policy – an interesting post for sure – would you agree?
It’s a shame Wheeler’s was practically empty, albeit a Monday night – given the likes of neighbouring La Petite Maison, Zuma and Roberto’s have been busy from day one every day of the week. The live pianist helps create a little ambience but punters are required for that much-needed buzz. Three courses, a couple of cocktails later and a bill for AED 535 per head is quite a good deal really. Bar my starter, the soul food impresses, but sadly no local sustainable fish options on the menu. Why not start off with a daily special? Question is would that make Marco happy? Here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.
Wheeler’s is located at DIFC (financial centre) Gate Village, Dubai – opposite La Petite Maison. Open daily for lunch and dinner. T; +971 4 3860899. E; firstname.lastname@example.org Valet parking at Building 8. Licensed. Price per head including a couple of cocktails AED 535.
Where do you head to for your seafood fix?