Sunday, 24 June 2012

Would You Like An App With That, Sir?

English: Apple iPad Event
English: Apple iPad Event (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had sworn off going out to eat following my last pocket-emptying plate of Dubai restaurant mediocrity, but was talked around and so the weekend saw us once again approaching a crisp linen table in a mood-lit temple to gastronomic indulgence. I feel compelled to write about it and as The Fat Expat is dead, you'll just have to put up with it being posted here.

The restaurant was called Terra Firma and pals had found it in that timeless tome for the cost-conscious consumer, The Entertainer. For those who don't know it, The Entertainer comes in many editions, all of which are basically books of special offer coupons, typically of the 'one main course free when two dine' variety.

The first hitch was the fact the restaurant had moved. Nobody had thought to mention this when we booked, so there was a certain amount of confusion at the Al Badia Golf Course when we tried to find a restaurant that had, in fact, been moved to the Intercontinental Festival City late last year. The second was the menu was significantly more expensive than the sample menu in The Entertainer. The third was it came on an iPad.

Yes, an iPad.

So you swipe your way through the menu, with an illustration of each dish against it available by tapping on a button on the screen. There's a wine list, too. You can't actually order from the iPad, you just browse using it. I confess to finding the idea gimmicky to the point of being mildly offended by it. There is no earthly reason to present a menu on an iPad, except perhaps that the restaurant lighting is so gloomy you couldn't read print. It's actually more onerous to navigate the screens than hold paper.

And then we get to the prices. Dhs150 and more for a starter. One of the starters, the Beluga caviar, was almost Dhs 1,000. Mains were similarly hefty on the wallet, with steaks starting in at around the Dhs 250 mark and climbing steeply. And the wine list was outrageous, kicking off at Dhs200-odd for the stuff they slosh out at cheap brunches, typically Dhs25 at 'street' prices. I can live with five times cost (grudgingly) but this was way beyond that. At least you find out how they managed to pay for all those iPads...

It was here I was on the point of leaving and striking out for the Belgian Cafe. It was a touch and go thing for a while. We stayed, but only because of the vouchers. I had a very nice smoked haddock saffron chowder, probably the most affordable starter on the menu at Dhs60. We all had steaks and sides and these were truly excellent (although one didn't come as ordered, which as Gregg Wallace would say, 'isn't good enough at this level'), if slightly pricey. The Entertainer vouchers took care of that, though. If the selection of salts and mustards was trying a little too hard, it was so overshadowed by the iPad stunt it didn't stand out. The mustards were very nice, in fact.

And then back to the iPad farce for dessert. I wanted cheese, but balked at paying Dhs150 for a cheese platter. That's twenty five quid for some cheese! Are these people mad? We asked for the maitre d' and enquired what was so special about the cheeses? Washed with virgins' tears? Made of milk from cows fed on cheese? Imported from the Scapa Flow Ice Cheesery? Nope, just some Brie and stuff with quince jelly. Now you feel free to tell me I'm being unreasonable about this, but I can't see it. I'm not a mean person, at least I think I'm not, but I can't see where Dhs150 for a plate of cheese works at all. I asked if I was the first person to complain and apparently I am.

Deciding we couldn't face dessert in the face of The Great Cheese Disaster, two of us went for Irish coffees. These were made by someone who has never seen an Irish coffee - two lukewarm white coffees with foamed cream on top and some undissolved brown sugar on the bottom. They might have contained the magical ingredient, they might have not. They were the worst Irish coffee I have ever seen, although Sarah assures me she was served a worse one once in Kenya in 1988. Apparently the chef is Irish, which just makes the insult to Shannon International Airport's gift to its American visitors even worse.

We got the check, which didn't come on an iPad. The vouchers meant it added up to Dhs1,800 for four. We had eaten well and hadn't stinted on the sauce. The food had been very good indeed. But we had picked our way carefully around an outrageously expensive menu and wine list - you could easily have burned through a thousand dollar dinner for four.

And I'm simply not paying that. I was right the first time. I can cook. I'm staying home.
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17 comments:

Mich said...

That's why I stick to Bou Qtair!!! Outrageous!

PK said...

Hmm, so true.. hate these high priced let downs!! You may want to check the coupon book - The Entertainer or The Explorer ??

Mike English said...

I agree entirely with your sentiment. My wife and I used to eat out twice a week in Dubai for over 25 years until the hotels started to get greedy with these ridiculous prices. It is simply profiteering by providing mediocre food and wine at 3 Michelin star prices. Nowadays we refuse to eat out and simply dine at home.

Alexander McNabb said...

Changed, PK, it is indeed The Entertainer. The Explorer just outed me on Twitter! :)))

Gerry said...

yep, it's nuts--my wife and I lived in abu dhabi, but we became seriously disillusioned with the eating options, which were never terrible but also never worth what we were paying. (the exception being local stuff like lebanese flower) scenes like the one you describe are a recipe for insanity....

Luke said...

I totally agree. It's just not enjoyable paying prices like that in the knowledge that it isn't worth it. It's not about being able to afford it, it is about getting what you pay for.

On an aside, the BBC iplayer has a great documentary series entitled "The Men Who Made Us Fat" at the moment. Crank up your VPN, it is worth a watch.

Sherif Abaza said...

Well, you could have gone for the Terra Firma Tomahawk Challenge which gives you the opportunity to eat for FREE! Yes FREE!

All you have to do is order the Tomahawk Steak (Menu price AED 650 - weight: 2KG of steak cooked to your liking) and consume it within a 60 minute perioud and it's on the house!

It's easy and has been done :)

Christopher said...

I have no idea who is paying these prices. The only option for a reasonably priced night out is now Waxy's or the George and Dragon, neither of which is compatible with Mrs Saul's tastes.

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Next time you visit the Mother Ship pop along here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18490459

Grumpy Goat said...

HOW MUCH? I think Beloved Wife and Goat will stick with Chilis, followed by G&T (catering pack) once we get home.

Luke said...

@Sherif Abaza. I find that kind of offer repulsive. The restaurant should be boycotted on that basis alone. I can only imagine the repugnant type of individual who might take on this over-eating challenge. It really isn't something to be proud of. I find it childish, something to boast about in the playground.

Research now shows that it isn't lack of exercise that is driving up obesity in children and adults. It is a combination of portion size and high sugar (especially that corn syrup stuff) and/or fat intake. Blame the food producers and restaurants for portion size. Blame yourself for letting yourself be conned by them - whether by taking the "value meal" or the "large" cappuccino on offer, or rising to a 2kg steak-eating challenge.

And why I am so angry? I have three kids and every day is a battle. A battle between the food producers trying to persuade children to load up on excess, empty calories, and parents, who have to constantly say, "No".

Luke said...

Let me qualify the word "parents" in the last sentence with the adjective "responsible".

In a world of cheap calories, your child's weight is your responsibility.

Gerry said...

@luke: it's also not exactly the kind of offer you'd expect at a "high class" restaurant, right?

Luke said...

Wafer thin mint anyone?

Phillipa said...

Maybe they charge so much because they have to cover the cost of buying and maintaining iPads. What a dumb idea. I would have left at that point, (although I don't mind the Japanese plastic models of food.)

Lizzie English said...

See my husband has posted on here already. Ridiculous prices these restaurants charge even with vouchers it sticks in the gullet (no pun intended) to try and swallow them. The wine costs are a particular bug bear of ours as it is yours Alexander.

live sports said...

nice

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