***Temporarily closed***
Trader Vic’s has been serving its signature concoction of mixed drinks and Polynesian-themed revelry worldwide since the 1930s, and already has two branches in our city, at the Madinat and the Crowne Plaza Dubai. So when the long-awaited Festival City branch opened, I decided to head down to see what the fuss was about.

After being greeted at the venue’s nondescript entrance (a glass-clad hallway dividing Trader Vic’s punters from mall-goers), my friend and I were guided into the elevator and up one floor to the restaurant proper. We strolled past the reservation desk and the wood- and rattan-toned bar area into the long, narrow dining space, located between the sushi counter and the outdoor terrace.

Oddly proportioned as it is, it’s an attractive space, coloured in tones of green and brown evocative of exotic nature, with high-backed wicker chairs and vintage prints, including maps of Hawaii and a depiction of the death of Captain Cook.

We settled down at a table near the sushi counter, where we could see the chefs at work. We’d heard the sushi counter was the key new addition to set this branch apart from other Trader Vic’s in Dubai, so we decided to start with something from the sushi menu: the extreme California maki was a recommended signature from the list. There was nothing amiss with the flavours and the generous portion of eight rolls was unusually and attractively presented, with a mayonnaise-moistened dollop of matchstick-thin shards of crab placed on top of each roll.

We also sampled a few sharing starters: the beef cho cho, the Hawaiian ahi poke and the vegetable Vietnamese spring rolls. The rice-paper skin of the latter was thin, translucent and nicely soft, while the vegetables inside were fresh and crunchy. The ahi poke, a ceviche-like salad of raw tuna, featured sweet and nutty soy and sesame tones, with juicy ruby-red cubes of tuna.

The beef cho cho was presented as skewers, allowing guests to ‘cook their own’ on a hibachi grill. It seemed strange that the cooking device (essentially an open flame from a flammable gel in a pot), which could have created a sense of drama, arrived at the table with little to no explanation. The result was a process of trial and error: my friend inevitably (and understandably) was put off this dish entirely when the first few attempts came off the flame looking a little raw.

For main courses we tried the barbecue vegetables and tofu, and the seared tuna steak. The former was a decent Chinese style creation in a thick, slightly spicy soy-based sauce. The tuna was accompanied by a delicious coconut rice concoction that was so sweet, smooth and spongy, it was almost like eating a dessert. Yet the tuna itself was a little watery, and the pink peppercorn and sesame coating was rather gritty in texture.

The service, although friendly and attentive, was a little intrusive and lacked any intuition. The waiters asked if they could take away (and refill) glasses that were barely half full, repeatedly and to the point of despair. Yet perhaps the greatest disturbance of the evening was the live music, which boomed out so loudly from the bar that we ordered our desserts from the terrace in an effort to escape. Still, the guests in the bar certainly seemed to be having fun.

The bill (for two)
1x extreme California maki Dhs60
1x cho cho beef Dhs48
1x vegetable spring rolls Dhs47
1x Hawaiian ahi poke Dhs63
1x seared tuna Dhs104
1x barbecue veg and tofu Dhs59
1x crème brûlée trio Dhs32
1x chocolate spring rolls Dhs32
2x mocktail Dhs72
1x large water Dhs20
2x coffee Dhs36
Total (including service) Dhs573