Goodbye golf course; hello hotel. Terra Firma steakhouse has relocated from Al Badia Golf Club to the InterContinental Festival City. Why, we’re not quite sure, but it seems that some Dubai diners, having trekked to Festival City, couldn’t quite bring themselves to travel that extra distance for a cut of prime steak. Lazy beggars.

For our part, we rather liked the view of the golf course’s rolling greens – it provided a decidedly different steakhouse experience to those offered by the low-lit, masculine-red restaurants littered about the city. But while there’s nothing wrong with the slim, high-ceilinged setting of the new Terra Firma, it doesn’t leave a great deal to the imagination: considering the fierce competition across Dubai, it’s surprising more hasn’t been done with the decor. As it stands, it feels as though there was a space to fill at the InterContinental, and it was filled with a steakhouse.

On the upside, the venue boasts a rather nice outdoor terrace, which makes a great place to eat steak in the sunshine. However, we opted for a seat inside – not because of an aversion to fresh air, but because we’d been told that drinks couldn’t be served on the terrace. (It was only until after the meal that we discovered we’d been misinformed and outdoor imbibing is cheerfully tolerated.) With the exception of a lonely business traveller dining in the company of a bottle of red, we had the restaurant to ourselves; a luxury that also meant the undivided attention of the busy, somewhat overenthusiastic waiters. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t for their insistence on using an iPad for the drinks menu – there’s a time and a place for technology and a restaurant is neither. It didn’t help that our waiter was as disinterested in the gadget as we were.

The arrival of the no-nonsense (non-electronic) food menu was a relief, and it wasn’t long before my date settled for the baked goat’s cheese with walnut and berry compote, while I plumped for the pork and scallops. We’d selected two simple dishes, which were nonetheless artfully composed. I was presented with a slither of pork belly flanked between two juicy scallops – a demure appearance that belied a powerful contrast in flavours. Too powerful, I found. All I could taste was the fishy flavour of the scallops, which overpowered the pork and ultimately unbalanced the dish. My date fared better with the goat’s cheese (in my opinion, it’s hard to go wrong with goat’s cheese), which was tempered by the sweet flavour of berry.

Our main course was preceded with a flurry of gimmicks, from selecting our steak knives from a dangerous-looking weapons rack to a mind-boggling selection of condiments and salts – eight different kinds, no less. We were offered (deep breath): Smoked Viking (from Norway), Fleur de Sel and Fleur de Sel Grilled Spices (both from Madagascar), Chilli Salt (France), Persian Blue (Iran), Diamond Salt Pink Crystals (Pakistan) and Hawaiian Black Lava. Gimmicky, maybe, but in my opinion salt is the best condiment for steak, and the Fleur de Sel grilled spices proved the perfect accompaniment to my medium-rare 16oz US rib-eye, a delightfully delicate, tender cut of beef. My date’s 12oz tenderloin was good, though she would have been better to order it rare – it was a little dry, in spite of its rosy-red hue.

As stuffed as we were, greed induced us to share an over-the-top cheesecake – quite a contrast to the sturdy, no-nonsense dishes we’d enjoyed beforehand. Perhaps this contrast was indicative of the lack of coherence at Terra Firma. There’s no doubt that the food is good, but it seems that the knives, condiments, salt and other embellishments are in place to distract from the afterthought that is the venue.

The bill (for two)
1x Water
1x Pork belly and scallops Dhs78
1x Goat’s cheese Dhs68
1x Rib-eye 16oz Dhs188
1x Tenderloin Dhs238
1x Cheesecake Dhs48
Total (excluding service) Dhs650