x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Downtown Grill: best face forward

Good steaks and a comfortable atmosphere make Deira's new Downtown Grill one of Dubai's most pleasant restaurants.

Great Mabuzza prepares steak at the Downtown Grill.
Great Mabuzza prepares steak at the Downtown Grill.

Perhaps I've got one of those faces. Maybe instead of a cheery smile I unintentionally have a dreary glower hewn into my features at all times. I might think I'm transmitting positive vibrations to the world via a sunny, beaming grin, but in reality I'm grinning disconsolately like a toothless pit bull in a butcher's shop.

It's the only reason I can imagine why on six (or was it seven?) occasions during my meal, four different members of the Downtown Grill & Bar's staff approached to ask me whether everything was all right. "Yes, everything is just fine. Really," I replied each time. But nobody seemed convinced. It was as if I was being intensely monitored. Any minute now, I thought to myself, they're going to stage an intervention, bundle me into a heavy blanket, throw me in a station wagon and drive me to a secure unit...

Or maybe the people at Downtown were just a little overenthusiastic about getting things just right. After all, the restaurant is new and, judging by the empty tables about the place, people have yet to take it to their hearts. Besides, I had every reason to be cheerful. I was back in Deira - the rapidly beating heart of Dubai, where the streets bristle with excitement and activity, and the prices remain on the sane side of ludicrous - just.

In this old part of town, new restaurant openings are regrettably rare. Maybe it's the stifling traffic that keeps the punters away, but I was more than happy to check out this latest addition to the local scene. It's a steakhouse with a distinctly South African feel. I could tell that by the chrome antelope heads fixed to the walls and the inclusion of bunny chow on the menu. The traditional Durban delicacy of a hollowed out loaf filled with curry seemed a dangerously substantial appetiser before the steaks arrived, but I ordered it anyway. The crisp, fresh, sesame seed bread was dripping with mild curry stacked with tender chicken pieces and accompanied by a tart mango achar or pickle.

Across the table, my friend was tackling the Zulu prawns, which presented a couple of modestly proportioned and slightly overcooked sea creatures on a bed of slightly acidic cucumber salad drizzled in a spicy sauce. My friend evidently doesn't have a face like mine, as she managed a smile afterwards. Strangely for a South African steakhouse, not a single slab of meat on the menu hailed from South Africa. So my companion chose the 200g Australian fillet steak produced by the golf legend Greg Norman. Whether this particular cut had been sliced by Norman himself, I'd doubt, but it was exceedingly supple, tender and soft nevertheless.

I opted for the 550g Silver Fern T-bone steak from New Zealand, which was suitably gargantuan and saturated with flavour. Both steaks had arrived at the table cooked perfectly rare, as ordered. But the plates on which they were served were so scorchingly hot that the meal transformed into medium rare steaks right before my eyes. And that really did make me grimace. Fortunately, the side orders of sautéed mushrooms were pleasantly fat and buttery; the onion rings were addictively crunchy; the steakhouse fries agreeably crisp and chunky, and the creamy mashed potato was exactly as advertised. All of it was at some point slathered in green peppercorn and fruity monkeygland sauces, which were satisfactory but never really likely to engender an upwards curve of the lips.

By the time the desserts came, the waiters had stopped asking me if I was enjoying the meal (perhaps my gritted teeth and maniacal stare saw to that), so I was left to enjoy a rather good cheesecake with blueberries and a firm biscuit base, and my dining partner made light work of a chilled and charmingly presented chef's special layered chocolate mousse cake. If my chimp-chewing-a-cactus expression was the cause of the waiters' persistent quest for approval, then maybe I've got a problem. But if the staff have any insecurities about Downtown Grill & Bar, then maybe they could do with a boost in confidence. So here goes: the food is good here. The decor is bright, modern and comfortable, if a little tacky in places. And when I wasn't being pestered for confirmation of my enjoyment, the service was good also. So good, in fact, that I might show my face in here in the future - however it looks.

Metropolitan Palace Hotel, Deira, Dubai, 04 228 9466. Average cost of a meal for two: Dh500-600. jbrennan@thenational.ae