Renowned restaurateur Sergio Lopez has teamed up again with Aussie Chef Troy Payne for their second venture since Sanderson’s in Abu Dhabi – The Pangolin, a new “lifestyle complex” at The Els Club Extension in Dubai Sports City. This ground floor casual dining restaurant is the first of four dining areas and is fashioned to look like one of the many upmarket colonial, safari-style lodgings and eateries in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – I feel in love with its interior from the minute I stepped in. There’s a dog friendly outdoor dining area spread around the swimming pool which will feature an open-fire barbeque pit in the near future. Also scheduled to open soon is The Pangolin’s first-floor restaurant, bar and terrace which is tipped to be an altogether snootier affair.
Much emphasis is put on the farm-to-table nature of the locally sourced ingredients used in The Pangolin’s menu. Commendable as that may be, leaf past the marketing blurb (and God knows, due to the Lopez-Payne celebrity, there is much of it) the menu itself reads like a mishmash of ideas put together on trip down the rabbit’s hole – some African, some European, some Australian.
I have visited the ground floor restaurant twice, both for lunch. The first time with my food buddy Jack and the second with my entire family. On both occasions I was less than happy with the food, nightmarishly so on the second visit.
Jack and I started with an earthy but bland Green and Grains Salad. He moved on to a Pulled Rib Boastie; their version of a burger, which uses thick sliced toast instead of burger buns, while I had the Paper Bag Battered Bass; fish and chips to you and me. Both were good but nowhere near what I was expecting from a Troy Payne kitchen. We ended our meal with the Toblerone Tiramisu Fried Ice Cream; obviously an acquired taste because my pallet couldn’t come to terms with it. Surprisingly nor could Jack’s and he has a wicked sweet tooth. So, two dishes were “meh” and two were “bleh” – hardly a good score (I’m a blogger and keep score).
The problem at this stage was that I had taken a liking to The Pangolin, its interior felt so familiar, so nostalgic. I liked the people there from the chatty, super friendly manager, Frank, to the bubbly African hostess whose name means ‘thank you’. If I were to review the restaurant based on this visit though, it would not be positive. So, I did something I try never to do – I showed favouritism in the form of a second visit. This time with my family. As it turns out, the blogging gods were watching…
My second lunch started with a pint of Sella; always a good way to start. Thank You, who remembered me from my first visit, patiently waited through our family squabbling to take our order. We ended up ordering all the salads plus a focaccia in a cast iron skillet. My wife, who must have been a rabbit in her previous life, was in her element but admitted later that she agreed with the rest of us, that none of the salads stood out particularly. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the Blood Orange Salad – the others were notably underwhelming, especially the Quinoa Salad which was annoyingly under seasoned.
We ordered five mains including the one recommended by manager Frank (on my first visit), the Charred Red Wine Poached Eye Fillet, for our steak-loving daughter. It arrived cooked the medium she asked for but was as sweet as something we would have had for dessert. Personally, I would have returned it to the kitchen but my daughter is too soft-hearted and George McFly (not very good at confrontations) to do anything of the sort; she suffered through as much as she could and then turned her attention to the chips from her mother’s fish and chips.
The rout really started when Pasha showed us the inside of his Smoked and bbq’ed Duck Crown – pink is one thing, this was raw.
Melissa, already annoyed by the salads, showed-as-a-way-of-complaint the excessive chewy fat on the side of her plate from the Slow Roasted Lamb Neck Dolmade (dolma). She was livid. I had the same problem with my Twice Cooked Veal Belly but having been the one who recommended coming here, said nothing. Even my wife, who is similar in temperament to our daughter (or is it the other way around?), was in full meh-mode too because of what she called, “excessively fishy-smelling fish and chips”. I can’t remember the last time I was at a table which got five misses out of five.
It was too much to take to Thank You or even Frank – the full sweep would have been too hard to believe and/or to handle. But that’s how it was, and I am devastated as a result. This was a restaurant I broke sacred blogger vows for. It was a restaurant I desperately wanted to like. Will I go back? Most certainly…for the charming interior and the friendly service…but for drinks at the bar or at one of the terraces (upstairs or pool sides) rather than to dine at this ground floor restaurant.
#1 Blogger on Zomato Dubai in 2018 and 2019 and beyond…
Xerxes physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join me on Instagram @ravenousxerxes or email me on email@example.com.