Wheeler’s of St James docks into Dubai

Wheeler's of St James...in 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.

Wheeler's of St James...in DubaiBoasting 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.

Prawn cocktailObsibleu shrimp cevicheFish and chipsFish pieApple, blackberry and oat crumble with Cornish clotted creamLemon tart with raspberry ripple ice cream

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;  wheelersrestaurant@rmalhospitality.ae 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?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3
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25 Responses to “Wheeler’s of St James docks into Dubai”

  1. Geordie Armani January 28, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I have been waiting for this review as you know, 3/5 from the Foodiva is a bit disappointing. Seafood month coming up for me in February, but I love Barracuda on the Beach Road, plain and simple, nothing fancy but local sustainable fish found on the menu. Then of course there is the shack on the beach, Bu Qutair 🙂

    • FooDiva January 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      3/5 is pretty reasonable – anything below is worrying! I still need to get to Barracuda – as for Bu’Qtair top of my list for unlicensed!

  2. Sally - My Custard Pie January 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Interesting review and although the menu is really enticing the way this menu completely ignores sustainability and local fishing options puts me right off. Transplanting a concept lock, stock and barrel without any consideration for its location is short sighted and arrogant IMHO!

    • FooDiva January 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      I would be interested to see if and how Rmal responds to the sustainability issue.

      • Tariq January 31, 2013 at 2:27 pm

        You have to try Wilton’s next time in London.

        • FooDiva January 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm

          Can’t believe I have never come across Wilton’s…another restaurant to add to my ever-growing London list 🙂

      • Anthony Liddiard February 4, 2013 at 11:43 am

        Dear Samantha,

        Thank you very much to you and your readers for the comments about Wheelers, our new seafood restaurant in DIFC.

        I can assure everyone that all of our fish comes from sustainable sources around the world and we have been been very particular in working with our suppliers to ensure that all of the documentation is legitimate in this regard.

        Having taken on board the comments about local produce we will be shortly introducing a “catch of the day” where a local sustainable fish will be featured.

        You will be pleased to hear that we have also modified the Prawn Cocktail as we had received similar feedback from other guests.

        These comments are very much appreciated as we can only improve through constructive feedback.

        Best Regards

        Anthony Liddiard
        Chief Executive Officer
        RMAL Hospitality PJSC

        • FooDiva February 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm

          Dear Anthony,

          Glad to hear your imported seafood is sustainably sourced and even better that you will be embracing local sustainable fish.

          I look forward to returning for the new prawn cocktail and the daily local fish special 🙂

          I really do appreciate you personally taking the time to review and respond to the feedback – a very refreshing approach and one much needed here in Dubai.

          All the best,

  3. dave reeder January 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I think Marco is forgetting Wiltons, which dates back to the mid-18th century…

    • FooDiva January 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Never heard of it…must be a generation thing 😉

  4. IshitaUnblogged January 28, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Interesting conversation going on in the comments… I’m sure that FooDiva’s review would initiate some conversation on the sustainability issue. I found it interesting that many of the house staff have been flown in from the London Wheeler’s. Have you tried the one there? Is there a certain ‘Wheeler’ code of ethics that they need to follow?

    • FooDiva January 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Sadly I have not tried Wheeler’s in the UK…mind you I did have a lunch invite from MPW that I never followed up on 🙂 Code of ethics or not, if a brand is looking to expand internationally they need to adapt to the market especially where sustainability is concerned.

  5. Kellie Whitehead January 28, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    I am a sucker for Brit dishes done *really* well, hence my love of The Ivy, so will definitely be trying Wheelers, Prices seem on the ‘reasonable’ side too.

    • FooDiva January 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm

      Despite its critics I too am a fan of The Ivy here – admittedly their location could be better…something Wheeler’s has achieved. So give it a go!

  6. dave reeder January 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm


    I don’t think it’s a generational thing, more a being a Londoner thing…

    It also seems quite common for brands to import staff to retain what the business likes to call the DNA of the brand. The recent Hakkasan opening in Doha, for example, saw staff from Dubai help with training as well as the global development chef overseeing the kitchen.

  7. Susan January 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Fond memories of Wheelers in Edinburgh – it was always an after theatre favourite when my parents came over to visit. Will add it to ever growing list of places to eat out that might possibly be nicer than my garden….

    • FooDiva January 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      Great to know Susan. Need to compare Dubai to a UK one on my next visit. In the meantime, can I review your garden please? 😉

      • Susan January 28, 2013 at 5:43 pm

        Any time 🙂

        • Mita February 5, 2013 at 9:13 am

          Can I be invited to your garden please? If the photos on Facebook are anything to go by, your dinners sound very very good

  8. Susan February 5, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Of course you can Mita! Its an open invitation! Just get well enough to enjoy it!

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