It's easy to quickly feel at home when visiting the Rivington Bar & Grill. The simple, informal style of the decor - white walls, polished floorboards, dark wood and strategic lighting - and cosy, youthful, buzzy atmosphere in both the upstairs bar and the restaurant below mean that customers immediately feel at ease. When I visited on a Thursday evening, it felt like a very happy place to be.
The restaurant opened at Souk Madinat Jumeirah a couple of months ago, no doubt as a result of the enduring popularity of Dubai's first Rivington Grill at Souk Al Bahar (the brand is, of course, originally from London). With this latest spot, an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude seems to have been adopted, both in terms of the interior (fair enough) and the menu, which is pretty much identical to the original.
And that, I think, is a little bit lazy. Rivington Grill is known for serving simple, British-style food using high-quality seasonal ingredients - so far, so good - but there are plenty of British classics to go around and it would be nice to see a bit more creativity here, otherwise it starts to feel like you're eating in a chain restaurant.
From the concise, no-messing-about starter selection, my friend's classic prawn cocktail looked good in its generous-sized tumbler - it was pleasing to see that rather than just being piled on top, the prawns were threaded throughout. The shredded iceberg lettuce still had plenty of crunch, suggesting that the dish had been put together to order. My friend's only complaint was that the Marie Rose sauce had a slightly synthetic edge and could have done with a touch of lemon juice to lift it.
Likewise, my steak tartare proved to be another simple but well-executed dish - the diced meat was fresh and chopped shallots added bite, but I wished the flavour had been ramped up a bit, with a greater proliferation of capers, cornichons and parsley, or at least the option to add more (these accompaniments are often served on the side).
My friend's smoked haddock fishcake main course came topped with a perfectly runny-in-the-centre poached egg and a rich, béchamel-style mustard sauce, which had a nice kick to it. Although pleasant enough, the fishcake wasn't great: the texture was too watery and the mashed potato was notably under seasoned. Obviously the smoked haddock brings its own saltiness here, but nonetheless, the other ingredients still need to be seasoned, otherwise they just taste bland. Don't get me wrong, the dish was enjoyable, but it wasn't perfect.
My main course of Atlantic prawns in garlic butter, chosen from the specials board, was unfortunately a bit of a disaster. At first glance, the dish looked fabulous: three very large prawns piled on top of each other, bathed in a delicious-smelling sauce. As soon as I pulled the head off the first prawn though, problems arose. I hadn't been given a finger bowl or a dish to put the shells in. After struggling for a few minutes to get one of the waiting staff's attention, I asked for both - only the finger bowl arrived and my plate was soon littered with discarded pieces of shell. Even more unfortunately, two of the prawns were decidedly undercooked - we're talking grey and quivering at the extremities.
For dessert, we shared the mint chocolate crackle ice cream, presented like an old-school sundae, complete with long spoons for digging right to the bottom. The addition of Space Dust to the ice cream (the crackle in the title) added a sense of fun and the fudge pieces of chocolate sponge hidden halfway down were a nice surprise, but we did wish the ice cream had been as vibrantly flavoured as it was coloured.
This restaurant has an enviable location - an outdoor terrace will add to the appeal in winter - and with its unpretentious atmosphere, I'm sure it will continue to be filled with people, night after night. I just hope this doesn't mean that complacency will become commonplace, or that long-term standards suffer as a result of brand expansion, because our meal here was certainly not perfect.
A meal for two at Rivington Bar & Grill, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, costs Dh490, including service. For reservations, call 04 366 6464. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are carried out incognito