A soft shell crab dish you must eat
Once or twice a year I come across a dish in a Dubai or Abu Dhabi restaurant that is so addictively delicious, it warrants a review in its own right. There are three words that make my stomach rumble every time I spot them on a menu – soft shell crab. But in this case it’s not as a typical sushi roll, or as Q’bara’s moreishly good soft shell crab saj, or even Nobu’s version in ponzu sauce, but an integral ingredient in a simple Caesar salad – along with a crispy poached egg and fresh anchovies peaking out of baby gems. We’re at newly opened Crab Tavern in the Media One hotel – a concept created by the folks that brought us Reform, La Residence and Asia de Cuba (plus newbies Spirito and Black Lion).
But back to soft shell crabs for now. Unlike popular perception, they are not a separate species but simply crabs that have shed their shells in order to grow. After moulting, it takes 24 hours for a new shell to form so crabs have to be caught and retained early on until they reach soft shell stage. This means that almost the entire crab can be eaten, making for less-fussy dining. And good news they are in season now :).
Sprawled across this main course portion of a Caesar salad (AED95) sits this wonderful creature of a soft shell crab, all intact with its deep-fried crisp coating. The texture contrast with the succulent, sweet crab meat is sublime. The same crisp crust is replicated on a softly poached egg which oozes rich yolk at the cut of a knife. Beneath lies layers of crunchy baby gem lettuce, and a smattering of fresh anchovies with croutons. A good, classic Caesar salad is a timeless dish anyway, but this twist of delightful soft shell crab (and runny egg) makes it pure soul food – a dish I would struggle not to order next time I visit.
The deep-fried soft shell crab extends to other dishes too, including a burger that my friend orders. Don’t expect a crab cake as a patty, but yet again a straggly, succulent, soft shell crab sandwiched between a soft white bun roll. For an appetiser we order a jumbo shrimp cocktail that is designed for sharing between three to four people, but frankly it’s just about enough for us two. If you’re hungry you can eat it all alone. Served in a giant-sized cocktail glass, yet it’s not brimming with shrimps, so that in itself makes it look like a mean portion. But lean and mean on the pricing it isn’t – at AED115. What it does allow you to do though, is to mix the ingredients yourself. Whilst the shrimps are plump and juicy, and the shredded lettuce crisp and fresh, the cocktail sauce should be spiked with Bloody Mary (according to the menu) but it has zero hint of this flavour.
Crab Tavern has much-coveted diner booths aplenty, high top counters, a bar, and a floor-to-ceiling views across to the Westin and Palm Jumeirah. Exposed brick walls, warm wood and caramel-toned leather upholstery give it a posh, gastro-pub feel. Incidentally, shortly after our waiter presents us with the menu the lights are considerably dimmed, so much so, it makes reading the menu tiresome. We alert the waiter and he promptly adjusts the lighting. At that point, only two tables are occupied with another filling up later (in all fairness it’s a Sunday night), but despite so, Crab Tavern still manages to retain a degree of ambience that no doubt would be enhanced with more punters. Our two waiters are jovial, helpful lads, but a little too attentive, partly I expect because the restaurant is practically empty.
Expect to pay AED250 for three courses excluding alcohol, which makes it a tad on the pricey side given Crab Tavern is very much a casual establishment, not a fine dining restaurant. To help lessen the impact on our wallet, it has been added to the Entertainer app (or the book provided you have registered) which gives us two main courses for the price of one, and a seamless redemption process.
Crab Tavern scores highly on its main courses, location, décor, atmosphere and in most parts service, but the starter and the pricing require tweaking. Here’s to an above-average 3.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating. Go there for the soft shell crab Caesar salad.
What are your go-to dishes worth seeking out in restaurants? Any I should try?
Note – as you may have seen on FooDiva‘s social media channels, I am on week two of a three-month, low-carb diet and I am determined to prove that you can still dine out and eat healthily. Luckily I don’t have a sweet tooth, but my guilty pleasures cheese and champagne are allowed 🙂 More on this diet here.