Don an apron and get cracking with the hammers for an unpretentious seafood meal at this cosy converted dhow in Dubai.
Aprons & Hammers: Straight-up seafood
Aprons & Hammers is not your average restaurant. For a start, it is located on a converted dhow, meaning that our evening began with a sunset meander up a long jetty inside Dubai International Marine Club. There's nothing like a salty sea breeze for working up an appetite.
Inside, it's all rather cozy and relaxed with plenty of wood panelling, fishing nets dangling from the ceiling, chopping boards and those all-important hammers decorating the tables.
Although there is a separate list of seafood-dominated main courses (fillet of the day, fish and chips, marinara pasta, etc), it's hard to ignore the list of crustaceans under the "What We Do Best" heading. This includes prawns, mussels, crab and lobster, served in small or large portions with a selection of sauce accompaniments. We decided to take the menu at its word and ordered prawns, mussels and crab along with a variety of sauces and side orders of fries and coleslaw.
Before all that, we shared a portion of crunchy, lightly breaded calamari and a dish of steamed clams. These were great: small, chewy and briny, spiked with lemon juice, a lick of garlic and a dusting of chopped parsley.
No sooner had we finished the last one, then three large pots piled high with prawns, mussels and crab, all steaming hot and garnished with wedges of lemon, descended on the table.
There is no standing on ceremony or swapping of plates or cutlery between courses here; it's all about getting involved and enjoying the experience. We donned our aprons, brandished our hammers and set about doing just that.
Cracking open the crab claws and extracting meat from their bodies is certainly fun, but unfortunately, the small crabs had been overcooked and as a result, the meat was rather mushy. Not terrible by any means, but just a little disappointing after putting in the effort to extract the flesh.
The prawns, on the other hand, were excellent: large, supple and meaty, charred on the outside and succulent in the centre. They tasted equally good eaten alone or dipped into a piquant garlic and chilli-soused olive oil dressing. The lemon-butter sauce was also nice: rich and glossy with a welcome citrus tang, and the coleslaw was creamy and crunchy, just as it should be.
The only real let-down of the whole meal were the mussels, which tasted, rather scarily, as though they had been left to sit, uncooked, in their own juices for far too long. Mussels are supposed to taste of the sea: fresh and salty. These had a very pungent, off-putting flavour and were best avoided.
Although friendly and well meaning, the service was pretty slap-dash and could do with an injection of energy. Given that the restaurant wasn't busy, we waited far longer than necessary for our order to be taken and despite asking two different waiters, my friend's request for extra lemon wedges and mayonnaise took so long to arrive that we'd finished eating by the time they did.
That said, I would definitely return. In a city filled with expensive restaurants with fine dining aspirations (which often fail to deliver on their promises), this unpretentious seafood shack is a very welcome addition.
A meal for two at Aprons & Hammers, The Dhow, Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina costs Dh320, not including service. For reservations, call 04 4547097. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.