Renowned British chef Simon Rimmer made his debut in the UAE last year with The Scene, a trendy eatery on the fourth floor of Pier 7 in the Dubai Marina. The food at Rimmer’s first venture outside the United Kingdom is classic British grub with a modern twist. You won’t find Rimmer toiling away in The Scene’s kitchen – he lives in England full-time – but you will see his influence throughout the restaurant. Rimmer designed the dishes with head chef Dominic Robinson, and the result is a well-rounded menu of British favourites (with a few surprises) that will keep you coming back.
The Scene’s expansive interior is filled with vintage wooden tables and second-hand chairs. There’s a 1950s-era mock living room at the front – complete with a fireplace and vintage sewing machine – that you’re more likely to find in a crazy old aunt’s house than a trendy Dubai eatery. The walls are plastered with comic strips, which add to the playful vibe. The entire space – eclectic, colourful and inviting – works and instantly makes you feel welcome.
I chose a rickety chair at a distressed wooden table outside on the roomy terrace with stunning views of the marina. My waiter, a friendly British chap, knew the menu well and was happy to answer my questions. But as friendly as he was, it’s worth noting that every aspect of service at The Scene needs improvement. The handful of waiters I encountered fell short on attention to detail, speed of service and general awareness. For example, my main dish came sans utensils. I waited. And waited. And then went to retrieve them myself. A few waiters spotted me grabbing utensils from the service stand, but no one seemed to care – nor did they offer help.
I started my meal with an aromatic roasted beetroot salad that was a bit uninspired; also the larger chunks of beetroot were under-roasted. But the bed of cooked spinach had a fresh-from-the-garden essence without that lingering bitter aftertaste that often accompanies cooked spinach.
The Welsh rarebit came with a layer of toasted Montgomery’s Cheddar over an ample smattering of sweet, caramelised onions, all of which was piled on to a piece of multigrain bread with perfectly toasted edges and a soft centre. This dish is a good example of Rimmer’s ability to make classic British food exciting by adding a modern twist – this time in the form of the vegetarian black pudding that came as a side. The hard, crunchy domes are a textural playground filled with pungent, herby notes and new flavours in every bite. I’m still not sure I’m a fan of black pudding, but I’ll take this version over the original every time.
Next up were the delicious bubble and squeak croquettes. These potato-based parcels are packed with flavourful bits of veal and veggies (mostly cabbage). They were perfectly paired with a delectable roast-onion mayonnaise that left me wondering why all mayonnaise isn’t served this way.
My main dish – a leek, mushroom and cheese-filled crispy pancake – was another comforting surprise. In the description, the menu states: “don’t worry, it’s not Findus” and, coming from Rimmer, you can rest assured it’s most definitely not. This pancake is a crunchy shell wrapped around smoky cheese, sweet leeks and soft, earthy mushrooms, served atop a beautiful lime-green coloured potato and leek purée. This is one of those rare vegetarian dishes for which I’d gladly bypass my usual carnivorous choices and order again.
The dessert list is a collection of traditional offerings such as sticky toffee and date pudding and classic, Eton mess, alongside more unusual finds such as the honeycomb cheesecake with blackberry compote and a chocolate and peanut butter fondant with salted caramel. My rhubarb and custard buttermilk pudding came with ginger nut ice cream (a palate-pleasing balance of spicy and icy), set over a thick layer of tangy rhubarb that was perched on a mildly sweet, deliciously creamy buttermilk pudding.
If you take service out of the equation, The Scene by Simon Rimmer mostly hits the mark, but service, as always, is a big part of the package. The food alone will take me back, but next time, I might take my own set of utensils, just in case.
• A meal for two at The Scene, Dubai Marina, Dubai, costs Dh450. For more information, call 04 422 2328. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito