It’s been a while since Dubai has experienced such a dizzying frenzy over a new restaurant opening. Considering the number of US chains constantly ‘coming soon’ to The Dubai Mall, when the arrival of The Cheesecake Factory ignited Dubai’s social media channels with lactose-induced excitement, it wasn’t quite the reaction I’d imagined its launch would provoke.

The venue has become notorious as the workplace of failing actress-turned-waitress Penny from US TV series The Big Bang Theory; maybe this popularity explains why our arrival at the reservation desk was
met with a 90-minute wait. That’s an estimated 90 minutes, with the possibility of extra time, and a request that after leaving our names we return half an hour later to collect a pager, which would then call us when our table was (finally) ready.

When we finally sat down to an unexpectedly late dinner it was nearly 10pm, yet the huge dining room was still heaving – a surprise considering it had already been open for a week. Grandiose and golden, it was an odd space: old fashioned and over the top, designed like an American jazz-age salon, glossed over with a glitzy sheen as if to satisfy Dubai’s love of bling. The biggest clash with this epic, ostentatious decor was the menu – this long, chaotic list of deep-fried, Americanised all and sundry was peppered with ads for other venues.

Lost in this mire of east meets west meets deep fat fryer, we looked to the waitress for recommendations. Well meaning and well mannered as she was (and obviously still under the tutelage of her American counterparts, who had been flown in to oversee the opening), she seemed at first to be almost as lost as we were.

So we ploughed on with a plate of fried courgette to start, which was decent enough in taste and texture, but paired with an awful, acrid and artificial-tasting dip. The Vietnamese tacos were more successful and imaginative. A ‘taco’ only by way of suggestion, these little pouches of fluffy, soft Asian-style steamed bread were stuffed with cubes of beef and a Vietnamese-style salad of carrot, cucumber, coriander and chilli. There was a good flavour spectrum of fresh, hot, aromatic, pickled sourness and sweetness. It was a good dish (and one of the best of the evening), but if it had been refined a little to avoid the extremes of sour and sweet, it would have been much better.

Highly recommended was the insane-sounding (and stereotypically American) concept of a fried ball of macaroni and cheese in a burger.

The sweet potato fries that accompanied it were thin and crispy, with just the right amount softness inside, but the burger itself was a letdown. The meat patty, sweet bread bun and salad were all bog-standard fast-food affairs (the meat was particularly lifeless and watery). The fried macaroni ball was surprisingly good, like an ostentatiously rich and creamy arancini (Sicilian stuffed rice balls)having an unhealthy blow-out, but whoever thought of shoving it in a burger needs to go on a diet.

The other main course we sampled was entitled ‘Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta’. I was a little concerned for Evelyn: if the dish really is her favourite, she has clearly never lived, let alone been to Italy. While the vegetable-packed mix (broccoli, aubergine, peppers, artichoke, olives and pine nuts) was an admirable attempt to add something healthy to the mix, the pasta was slimy and salty and tasted as though it had come out
of a tin, or brine, or both. Finally, oddities such as ‘oven-dried tomatoes’ and broccoli made this seem like an anachronistic ’70s concept of Italian cooking.

We then turned our disappointment to the famous cheesecakes, choosing two of the 50 varieties on offer.

As much as I’d love to tell you otherwise, the white chocolate and raspberry truffle cheesecake was a sickly and overly sweet affair. Finally, with ‘Craig’s Crazy Carrot Cake Cheesecake’, we were treated to a dish worth waiting for. A layer of smooth creamy cheesecake was topped with a soft, moist carrot cake sponge, which tempered the richness and added another dimension to the taste and texture, with the cheesy sweetness mirrored again in the topping of cream cheese frosting. Of the whole cheesecake family, clearly Craig has the palate we should trust.

The bill (for two)
2x fruit lemonades Dhs36
1x large water Dhs21
1x fried zucchini Dhs26
1x Vietnamese tacos Dhs29
1x burger Dhs58
1x Evelyn’s favourite pasta Dhs74
2x cheesecake Dhs64
1x espresso Dhs14
Total (excluding service) Dhs322