Is Gary Rhodes’ new restaurant in Dubai here to stay?
Gary Rhodes is going through a tough time of late, or perhaps that’s just the perception. Not only did he close most of his UK restaurants (bar one in Plymouth) and relocate to Dubai (mind you I don’t blame him, sun and a tax-free lifestyle helps) – but his restaurant, Rhodes 44 at the St Regis Abu Dhabi ever so quietly shut its doors recently, whilst Mezzanine, his top-end signature dining at Grosvenor House closed for a revamp last year. In Mezzanine’s place, now sits Rhodes W1, ironically the namesake of his restaurant at the Cumberland hotel in London…which, yes, you guessed correctly also shut shop. You’d think his branding team would pick a less ominous name, especially as London postcodes don’t hold much cachet here – but I assume it’s a nod to the British concept. Incidentally, some marketing blurb refers to the restaurant as RW1.
So for the sake of this review we’ll go by the full name Rhodes W1. Media interviews claimed Gary wanted to ditch Mezzanine’s frills, and focus on wholesome British cuisine in a more casual space. Well the ever so bright all-white décor remains, but the previous Sketch-like interior (a take on Pierre Gagnaire’s London restaurant) is replaced by a botanical conservatory theme with touches of yellow and lime – think grass covered walls, mock shrubs, butterfly and parrot murals, rose plants on the tables, and waiting staff decked out in sunshine yellow…and braces. The lighting (enhanced by a glass chandelier of trickling butterflies) is too severe and seriously needs dimming, otherwise Rhodes W1 would make a better lunch spot…but it only opens for dinner. The interior may be inspired by an English summer garden, but it does not scream quintessential British as the website states. It is however a fresh and cheerful spot sans white linen tablecloths – definitely more chic than casual though. For a mid-week dinner, there’s a gentle buzz amongst a multi-cultural clientele.
The menu really does deliver on British classics, interspersed with the odd twist. The famous or perhaps infamous white tomato soup is long gone (yes I was a fan) – but the pork belly, jam roly-poly and mini scones remain.
A traditional pork pie, one of two starters we order, is not too fatty yet still sinfully nourishing, and arrives beautifully presented on a platter with a chunky honey apple sauce, a fresh, crisp coleslaw and Cumberland sauce in a teeny jug for drizzling. On the other hand, our second appetiser is a little more creative. A toasted, buttered crumpet topped with a wonderfully seared duck foie gras, a fried, runny egg and lashings of hollandaise sauce is exquisite. So much so, we mop up the rich yet slightly sweet sauce with slice after slice of baguette. With this dish, there’s no denying the French influence that Gary has infused in the past. This could become the new eggs benedict; shame you’re not open for brekkie.
My shepherd’s pie main course is made the old-fashioned way with slow-cooked braised shoulders of lamb, not an inch of mince here, and topped with smooth, velvety mash of course that has a hint of cheese. A side of homemade HP sauce makes for a tangy accompaniment to the beautifully succulent meat. The steak and kidney pie also goes back to basics with a traditional suet pudding that falls apart at the touch of a fork. A veggie side dish of the day comes complete with steamed and al dente swede, sugar snap peas, carrots, asparagus and peas, whilst the steamed baby potatoes are dotted with a little butter.
Gary’s warm mini scones for dessert are as soft and crumbly as they have always been when served as petit fours. My only complaint, two are not enough to accompany the generous portion of a delightful lemon curd clotted cream mousse and strawberries.
From the moment we are seated at our round table (and good news there are a few, as there are banquettes), service is efficient and knowledgeable, with just one glitch when we have to request the bill twice. The waiter seems more interested in showing off the terrace and its bar. With a bill of AED254 per person without alcohol (there’s an ample wine list, but only a teeny selection by the glass), Rhodes W1 offers excellent value for money within Dubai’s mid-range restaurant market.
Whilst the elevated gastro pub food at Rhodes W1 is faultless, there’s a slight mismatch with the plush interior which still oozes a little of that Mezzanine flavour. For a quick fix, dim the lighting which may help detract from the all-white glow, and see how you fare. And then you may just be onto a keeper here Gary, along with Rhodes Twenty10 at Royal Meridien. Here’s to a 3.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.
Are you a fan of Gary Rhodes’ past and present restaurants, and his cooking?