Sunday, March 30, 2008

Where Not To Eat

Guest Guru Eye On Dubai reprises some of the UAE's Let Downs...

The preparation of food is a deeply personal act. At its finest, it is a gift of love from one human being to another. Food cooked with passion and skill is one of life’s greatest pleasures, something to be appreciated with every sense. You only have to watch the chefs in Lang Kwie Fong doing battle with a wok burner to appreciate their dedication.

And then there are the cynics, the kitchens run by those with an eye only on the bottom line, staffed by the inept, the untrained and the overwhelmed. These poor souls are the diner’s last hope, but theirs is a losing battle.

Truly awful restaurant experiences are fortunately almost as rare as great ones, but I do recall a few stinkers. Most often, though, it is cack-handed service that turns a pedestrian meal into a disaster, where inept or untrained staff are put in the front line, then not given the resources or responsibility they need to handle a deteriorating situation with authority. It is not often that we are presented with food so bad we’re moved to complain, but things turn pretty ugly very quickly if the server starts to argue! If something is unacceptable to me, saying “that’s the way it’s meant to be” simply stokes my ire. I don’t want a scene, I want a replacement.

So, where did it all go wrong?

First up, j’accuse Courtyard by Marriott at the Green Community. This is a perfectly functional business hotel, clean, modern and as comfortable as you would expect. Having hosted several functions there, I know that the kitchen is capable of turning out stunningly good spreads and buffets, so much so that one guest was moved to photograph the dessert display and put the picture on his blog.

So when a couple of friends suggested we dine at their ‘all you can eat buffet’ one evening I was not too perturbed. Actually, it was a very good ploy by the hotel, because nothing on display was remotely edible. Limp salads, tough chicken, messy display and burnt offerings from the barbecue, with added sand. At least the waiters had the grace to look embarrassed as they cleared away barely touched plates of dreck. They didn’t take it off the bill, though…

Another trusted name that I just don’t get is Il Rustico at Rydges Plaza. Most of the outlets in the hotel are pretty good, and Coconut Grove on the 8th floor is genuinely excellent, consistently serving some of the best curries in the whole city. And yet, Il Rustico leaves me cold. Plenty of people have sung its praises, calling it friendly and romantic, serving traditional, authentic Italian food. I’ve had authentic Italian food, and this ain’t it. Soggy spaghetti, doughy pizza, carafes of something they call wine that would be better used to clean the stoves in the kitchen. And all served up in a sort of stygian gloom that makes the whole sorry mess impossible to see.

To see just how far from authentic Italian Il Rustico really is, try Belucci in Wafi City. Yum!

But I’ve saved the best, or worst, till last. There is in Ajman a Kempinski Hotel, rather grand and slightly old fashioned, but an excellent (if expensive) alternative. And next door is the Ajman Beach Hotel. Friends who will remain forever nameless decided to lunch in the latter “because it will be cheaper”. Ahh, the thorny debate between price and value…

It was cheap. Cheap, nasty, tacky and incompetent. The carpet was sticky like a ‘70s student union pub, and the place reeked of disinfectant, burnt oil and cigarettes. Formica topped tables and mis-matched cutlery presaged the horrors that were (eventually) plonked before us. Whatever it was, it was nasty. I drank my lunch from the bottle.


Mme Cyn said...

Good point about Il Rustico. I last ate there -- oh, about five years ago-- and found it not bad, but rather indifferent. Food, service, choice -- everything was sort of OK. Glad I haven't been missing anything.

We do, however, like the BOGOF Suday nights at Billy Blues upstairs at Rydges. It may not be the fanciest steak house in town, but they serve a good cut at a good price, and the view of the Satwa Roundabout makes for amusing conversation at times (OK, so we're weird). And the wait staff is very pleasant, which is always A Good Thing.

I wish they'd bring back the peanuts in the shells, though. I miss the crunch underfoot as I toddle off to the ladies'.

alexander said...

I have to confess to being a Billy Blues fan... it ain't fine dining, but it's great grub for when you've got those drinking boots on.

And yes, I miss the peanuts too!!!