JB’s Gastropub: does it do exactly what it says on the tin?
The word ‘gastropub’ is often misused to superficially glam up pub fare, without really making any effort to differentiate with the menu and elevate the quality of the food. It was a term coined in 1991, when new management took over The Eagle pub in London’s Clerkenwell district reinventing the menu and uplifting boring pub grub to affordable, gourmet levels. And since then, gastropubs have mushroomed globally, Dubai included – it’s gone beyond a trend. So I was very sceptical when I made a reservation at JB’s Gastropub, a relatively new opening at the Amwaj Rotana Jumeirah Beach Residence. Was it going to do exactly what it says on the tin?
Firstly, JB’s entrance on the Walk itself is a bonus for a licensed venue – you cannot access the restaurant from the hotel. So people walking on the street can easily spot JB’s and pop in – not that the crowd was particularly touristy on a Thursday evening. The ‘pub’ was buzzing at 8pm, with a packed out air-conditioned terrace, a busy bar area for the smokers and drinkers, and an elevated restaurant area, which by the time we left was full. An 80’s and 90’s play list made me love the atmosphere even more – you can tell my age 😉
The international menu is divided into easy-to-read sections – bar bites; small plates; mussel pots; cheese and cured meat boards, pork included; sausage by the metre! (or half); build-your-own mac and cheese; sandwiches and burgers; salads; traditional Brit staples; and lastly, grilled, griddled and smoked dishes. It’s one of those menus where you want to order everything.
After much deliberation, I settled on shellfish to start with. My char-grilled Spanish octopus was uber tender. A topping of diced roasted peppers, capers, and potato added plenty of texture and umami-like flavour. Not many high-end restaurants in Dubai, let alone casual concepts can perfect octopus like this. My dining companion’s crab starter was served two ways – a plump Alaskan king crab in its shell – and dressed jumbo lump crab, basically the large chunks of meat from the muscle that connects the crab’s back legs – alongside a simple green salad. Juicy and exquisite.
A generous portion of Atlantic salmon was perfectly seared (admittedly I did stipulate how I would like it cooked). Some crushed olives, tomatoes, basil and a celeriac puree were a light and excellent match for a fillet of fish that is rich in flavour. The only real slip in the service came when our waiter, in trying to sell a beef short rib, described it as a steak. When I corrected him, he backtracked. That said, I am glad we tried it. Braised for nine hours, it fell off the fork beautifully. Along with a wonderful horseradish spiced mash, al dente grilled broccoli and carrots, it made for a very wholesome dish.
For dessert, we ordered a warm chocolate torte with Madagascan vanilla ice cream, which was good – but it wasn’t a fondant so the gooey centre wasn’t quite molten enough for me. In reality, it’s a cake best eaten in the afternoon with a cup of tea, rather than to end a meal.
JB’s food is very much comforting soul food with generous portions that are well executed, full of flavour and beautifully presented – exactly what you would expect from a true gastropub. Perhaps going in to review with low expectations helps, as anything above average is deemed a bonus, but I really did not expect the food to excel as much as it did.
There is a happy hour, which ends at 8pm, but I would steer away from those wines unless you like drinking vinegar. And with an excellent Peter Lehmann Shiraz on the regular wine list at AED50 a glass you don’t need to worry. The Pisco Sours were pretty decent too.
Apart from the knowledge glitch with the short rib, service was well versed and friendly. For three courses per person without alcohol, expect to pay around AED260. Now it’s not as cheap as you would expect from a casual concept, but quality shines through at all levels of the experience – from location, décor and atmosphere, to food and service. I do think it’s worth every dirham. JB’s Gastropub does exactly what it says on the tin. I can’t wait to return to try out more dishes. Here’s to a high four out of five FooDiva knife rating.
What’s your expectation of a gastropub? Any favourites in town?
— FooDiva (@FooDivaWorld) May 23, 2016