April 5, 2016 / Leave a Comment
Ever since I moved to Dubai, China Grill’s Toy brunch has been on my radar. Often talked about as a quintessentially ‘Dubai’ brunch experience, I had been waiting for the right moment to pounce upon this unique An automated Wofood fiesta. It appeared to have a wacky party atmosphere while having good food too from what I’d seen around. Well, I was correct on one of those points – it certainly has a party atmosphere (and it’s wacky indeed)! This is not a brunch for the faint of heart…literally, if you have a pacemaker you should probably strike this one off your list. Those with an aversion to strobe lights should probably also give this one a wide berth – in fact, it should probably come with a health warning in general.
Our strange experience began from the moment we walked in to the dark venue – bizarrely, we couldn’t even find anyone who would actually show us to our table, and ended up wandering around a bit lost for a while. There were people who appeared to possibly work at the venue, but they showed absolutely no initiative to help – leaving you wondering if maybe they were just a guest after all. Around ten minutes later someone finally notices we are getting frustrated and eventually locates our table. The table we are seated at however isn’t really suitable for dining, sadly. We seem to be sat in what would ordinarily be a lounge/bar area outside of brunch hours and it’s really not cut out for the occasion, with low chairs and an equally low table that’s really only suitable for perching a drink on. The marvellous start to our experience continues.
Looking to get on with the order of the day (dining and imbibing) we enquire about food and are told small plates (mostly just dumplings) will be brought to our table, which they are, very haphazardly and sporadically. The food felt very much an afterthought here, and taste wise didn’t really impress. The drinks were kept well topped up (that’s fantastic), but strangely, only with bubbles of the non-French variety (ok – it could be worse I guess). We struggled to order any other kind of drink when we asked – it seems pretty strange to have a sparkling wine only brunch? We were well over the bubbles by glass 3…we just wanted a wine – a still one that is. After some serious persistence and talking to multiple staff members, we managed to get some rose to the table. Perhaps their ploy is they want you to fork out for the very pricey bottles of spirits and cocktails once you tire of the one trick drinks list? One thing that becomes apparent as the day wears on and the music ramps up – next to no food and bottomless bubbles ends rather badly for some of my fellow brunch diners. Not great host responsibility.
Towards the end of the brunch we mentioned to a member of staff that we were starving as hardly any food had been brought to our table. They informed us there was a small buffet at the opposite end of the dark room, which no one had informed us about when we arrived. To say we were not impressed is putting it politely. By the time we actually got to this small bug, what food was there was cold, hard….and there was only about 15 minutes to go until the end of the brunch so not much time to enjoy it anyway.
So, drinks being average and food below average, we are left with what saves the day at China Grill, the entertainment. Pumping house music starts off tame but by half way through has ramped up considerably, leading to a crescendo finish and a push to carry on the partying at the adjoining bar (not included in the brunch price). A multitude of odd acts parade around the venue throughout the day – a tap dancer with a giant full head smiley face mask on dancing table top for a rowdy group of men, a live Barbie doll dancing in a Barbie doll box, Daft Punk-esque spacemen moving through the crowd for selfies with drunken brunch goers, light up photo frames, general insanity. If you’re with a group that likes to have a good time, you’ll probably be up out of your seat for the last hour cheering on the festivities. Atmosphere is certainly high at China Grill – it’s a shame the rest of the offering doesn’t pass muster. Being such a popular party brunch spot, I’m hoping they have made some improvements to the offering as I’d like to return to see something more well organised in the future.
On to our second experience, the Social Sunday promotion. Sounded fab! It got off to bit of a rocky start when the lady taking the reservation informed us we would have two hours then have to vacate our table. I for one really do not appreciate pressure to vacate to turn tables. Even if it is a type of ‘unlimited food’ package, people can only eat so much – and after I eat, I’m happy to keep buying drinks too which generates revenue for the venue. There’s also no table time limit mentioned on their website.
There seems to be a menu for the night that you don’t see (we asked to see a menu and were refused), but you can advise ‘more meaty’ or ‘more vege’ – ok, not the end of the world, and the service was friendly. We opted for ‘more meaty’. Knowing we had a two hour window to get outta there, we were not stoked that we had no food arrive at the table for 30 minutes, and even then it was edamame and avocado sushi – items that I would think are relatively simple to get on a plate and out to the diners quickly (also there were only two other tables dining at that point of the night).
Following this there were mostly hits, but a few misses. We absolutely loooved the lamb ribs (wow!) and hungrily had two portions (tasted just like my fave Japanese rib joint Tatsumi in Auckland…yum!!!!). The eggplant and burrata was nice (one of my fave combos), but in this iteration the eggplant was extremely sweet and we couldn’t finish it. The duck gyoza were really fab, and the vege pot stickers were delish too. The chicken skewers were kind of a miss – bland meat with crazy tangy salad.
Like almost every single restaurant in Dubai, the mains were a step down from the starters. The Beijing Duck was sadly, and I hate to say, this I really do – not, well, not good. Please, please go back to the drawing board on this recipe, something is not quite right. Peking duck is one of my all time favourite dishes that I often order and was really looking forward to, so that was a shame. Also the wasabi mashed potatoes we were brought to the table didn’t go with the courses they were delivered with – they went uneaten, bit of a waste, and I hate seeing dishes wasted. The tofu was also a miss and was delivered rather honestly saying, ‘A lot of people don’t find this their cup of tea but see how you go’. We sadly fell into the ‘a lot of people’ group. Tofu can be so good though!
The final point would be ….well….the decor. It is….dated. Both on the terrace and the inside restaurant you walk through to go to the terrace. Didn’t give off the vibe that I thought this venue was trying to market – sexy and modern. They are serving (mostly) great food and have great potential so the right fit out would be a huge plus. They have great views to the marina skyscrapers from the balcony – though ask for a table that faces that vista and not the big illuminated billboard to the left of the balcony.
In the end, a real mixed bag from China Grill. I really want to love it, but they just don’t seem to have fully sorted themselves out yet. I’ll keep hoping for the future, and I’ll probably give them another crack as they do seem like they will get there and knock my socks off one day. I hope they do! (oh and in the end, we weren’t forced to vacate at the 2 hour mark…so why make people feel stressed?)