Brunch. A combination of breakfast and lunch that is usually eaten around mid-morning, but can sometimes extend into the early afternoon. The concept is simple enough, yet it’s a term that has gained notoriety over the border in the UAE.
Steering away from raucous reputation brunch has earned itself, I decided to sample an evening brunch, or “drunch”, while I was in Dubai for a Spartan race [see P40 for my adventures], in the hope that it may prove a more sophisticated experience.
The venue I’d set my sights on was The Black Lion, one of seven eateries on offer at The H Dubai, a five-star hotel right next to the Dubai World Trade Centre. Self-proclaimed as Dubai’s first British gastropub, and a relative newcomer to the scene, The Black Lion seemed a suitably stylish bar and restaurant at first glance, with chic painted brick walls and dim lighting that created a cosy ambience.
Evening brunch comes in two packages (AED250 for food and soft drinks and AED335 for food and house beverages), giving you access to an unlimited amount of starters (providing you have finished what is already at your table), one main and one dessert per person, plus bottomless drinks.
The cuisine on offer at The Black Lion is a sophisticated fusion of British favourites and a handful of exotic dishes from around the world, resulting in a wealth of choice for diners. I never thought I’d see beef pie and mash on the same menu as Thai green mussels, but there they were, sitting side by side proudly.
We were happy to go with our server’s recommendations of tikka tenders, short rib Korean buns and smoked beef wraps to begin with and play the rest by ear.
One thing I liked about the set up at The Black Lion was that it felt like a proper restaurant. Brunches can often be buffet-style affairs, where you are largely left to your own devices, but here the food was brought to our table by helpful and constantly smiling staff.
Thankfully, our waiter’s suggestions turned out to be spot on. The smoked beef was wrapped around mild but salty feta, with the occasional tang of semi-dry tomatoes, and the chicken was deliciously tender, just as advertised, with a slight crispness around the edges and an unmistakable tikka taste that went perfectly with the accompanying mango chutney.
The indisputable stars of the starters, however, were the two short rib Korean buns. The pulled rib meat was melt in the mouth and complemented by a sticky Korean glaze and kimchi slaw. The crowning glory was the soft, doughy bun that all this was served in. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The only disappointment was that there weren’t more of them, although the voice in my head reminded me not to fill up on the first course.
The haggis bhaji and miniature Cornish pasties also caught my eye from the starters selection, although I had to resist for the same reason.
After a lengthy wait, my dining partner and I felt ready for round two and reassessed the menu for mains. Being in a British-style pub was bringing out the national pride in me and so I opted for something that instantly reminded me of home – the battered sausage and chips with homemade brown sauce – while my friend went for the glazed short rib with sweet potato mash.
When the food came, I found the homemade brown sauce had been sneakily substituted for ketchup, and while brown sauce would’ve suited the dish better, I was not going to make a fuss.
The chunky chips came in irregular shapes and sizes, usually tell-tale signs of being homemade, and were probably the closest thing I’ve had to proper British “chip-shop” chips since being in the region. The batter was pleasantly light, although the sausage inside was of the frankfurter variety, whereas I would’ve preferred something with a bit more meaty substance.
The huge hunk of rib went down a treat with us both, with the meat simply sliding off the bone after the slightest prod with a fork. Tender and bursting with a flavourful glaze, it was a pure delight. The soft bed of sweet potato mash was a simple, yet fitting accompaniment. This is a dish that didn’t need dressing up with bells and whistles.
As much as I would’ve loved to sample the restaurant’s sweet offerings, I found the prospect just too daunting. I’ve heard on the grapevine that their baked vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel crumble is among the best on offer in Dubai, but alas, I was done!
I’d happily return to The Black Lion in a heartbeat thanks to a menu that warrants extensive exploration and the superb staff, who were never far away and often on hand to offer advice, top ups and just a bit of friendly chat.
Stylish setting for a great all-round experience
The Black Lion
The H Dubai
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Tel: +971 4359 2366
Opening hours: Daily from 11am-3am (evening brunch served Friday 6pm-10pm)
Price: Packages start at RO26.2 (soft drinks only)