It’s never advisable to tinker with the ingredients of a tried-and-tested recipe – an extra dash of salt here or a few more sprinkles of spice there and you end up with something that has little resemblance to the original, and tastes nowhere near as good. If only this apt culinary allegory had been considered when Summer Place, formerly of the Metropolitan Hotel, reopened at the Habtoor Grand at JBR. The former was an unashamedly kitsch and fun venue, serving cheap-and-cheerful Chinese food. The venue even had an alcohol licence, meaning it offered one of the city’s more authentic Chinese banquet experiences. However, such an unpretentious concept would never do at the Habtoor, a hotel that longs for a sleek venue to rival the likes of Okku, Zuma and nearby Toro Toro.

Alas, serving Summer Place’s simple Chinese fare in ‘supper-club’ surroundings was never really going to work, especially since the decor itself isn’t particularly convincing. There’s a great view from the 25th floor, not to mention a nice blend of black and dark-red furnishings (lest guests forget they’re eating in a high-end Chinese restaurant). The disco lights, spewing luminous flashes of green and purple, were wholly out of place, as was the DJ who was stoically spinning rather loud house from 7pm on the dot. It was quite unnecessary: everyone knows the party set never turns up at 7pm. The only people out at that hour are people such as my date and I, and it felt as though we were dining in an empty disco.

Though our host was visibly disappointed when we declined his offer of cocktails on the terrace (‘How about at the bar?’ No, not at the bar either), he finally gave way to a mild-mannered waitress who took our order and chuckled nervously when I asked (before realising there was a DJ) whether the ‘pop music’ could be turned down. Her nervousness increased when I nearly had an aneurism after looking at the menu – a bowl of steamed rice cost Dhs45.

There was mention of a chef’s special, an elaborate (and expensive) lobster dish, though I was quite happy to stick to what I knew: spicy Sichuan mapo tofu, zesty sweet and sour chicken (aptly referred to by the Chinese as ‘foreigners’ favourite’), sizzling king prawns, and broccoli and mushrooms lathered in oyster sauce – Chinese classics that the original Summer Place did so well.

I wasn’t sure whether I was pleased or disappointed when each dish came out exactly how I expected it to look. On one hand, I was happy for a no-nonsense Chinese meal; on the other, I’d expected the kitchen to try something a little more in keeping with the faux-fancy setting. As it stood, the food was very much in the style of the Summer Place of old, which was pleasing enough to the palate, but would be disappointing for anyone expecting something a little more, well, ‘contemporary’.

‘It tastes like food from the Chinese takeaway in the UK,’ mused my date mid-way though a king prawn. And while I looked for a more eloquent description, she had hit the nail on the head. The only difference was that a meal at the Chinese takeaway in the UK wouldn’t cost anywhere near as much as what we’d just eaten. Either the kitchen needs to get creative, or the venue needs to drop its pretensions and prices.

The bill (for two)
1x Large sparkling water Dhs25
1x Sizzling king prawns Dhs140
1x Sweet and sour chicken Dhs75
1x Broccoli and mushrooms in oyster sauce Dhs58
1x Ma po tofu Dhs68
1x Boiled rice Dhs45
Total (excluding service)