Let us categorically state that Rainforest Café, for those who haven’t heard of it, is very much a family restaurant. If you don’t have kids, there are far saner establishments that offer much better food. But if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to have ankle-biters in tow, then this could be just the sort of entertaining eatery you’re craving.
Food aside (we’ll get to that later), the setting is impressive – pure plastic kiddie heaven. More like a jungle theme park than a restaurant, the tropical music blares from the speakers, but not quite loudly enough to smother the deafening thunderstorms, the screeching of ear-flapping elephants or the gorilla grunts emanating from the undergrowth (although if your dining companions are a noisy crew of under-10s, this is not necessarily a criticism).
The fun starts from the moment you enter through the merchandise shop, where diners are greeted by a rather snappy croc and a large, slithery python. You’re then forced to navigate rocky outcrops and fake rope bridges to reach the eating area where, from most seats in the house, there’s a fabulous view of the Dubai Mall aquarium. When I visited with my kids, I found it took a while to settle down with so many fascinating jungle nooks and crannies to explore. But once we were seated, the little ones got to grips with a whopping 10-page book of colouring, puzzles and fascinating facts about jungle animals such as Cha! Cha!, the red-eyed tree frog, and Ozzie, the orang-utan, leaving my dining partner and I plenty of time to peruse the menu in peace.
As expected, the food took a back seat to the setting. We skipped over the token pages of healthy soups and salads and headed straight to the artery-busting selection of burgers, pastas, grills and Mexican fare. We opened with a plate of ‘Raging Thunder Buffalo Wings’ (hint: the clue is in the name) and boy, did they pack a punch. My companion, who I suspect has an asbestos tongue, couldn’t get enough of them, though I wasn’t so sold (I prefer to leave a restaurant with the skin on my lips intact). He also got stuck into a huge portion of do-it-yourself fajitas, which boasted slivers of tender grilled beef, crunchy onions and bell peppers. I, on the other hand, struggled to slice through a tough fried tortilla and consigned myself to picking out the chicken filling, which was juicy and well-spiced.
The cutesy kids’ menu was awash with silly names, such as the Rainforest Rascal with Safari Fries (burger and chips) and the Gorilla Grilled Cheese Delight, though really the fare was pretty standard. Yet it proved no less delightful to the little people at the table.
We all left room to share ‘The Volcano’, which, according to the menu, is a feeding frenzy of three warm, giant brownies piled high with cream, ice cream and caramel sauce. But when it arrived, accompanied by an embarrassingly half-hearted fanfare from a bevy of waiting staff, our volcano was dry, cold and without the promised sparklers (‘temporarily unavailable ma’am’), leaving it sadly dormant and certainly not revived by perhaps the worst coffee we’ve tasted in Dubai.
For nippers, Rainforest Café is an absolute blast and we guarantee they’ll be raving about it for days. For grown-ups, though, the whole experience is a little like our volcanic dessert: it looks great, is a lot of fun, but leaves you a little disappointed.
The Dubai Mall, next to the aquarium (04 330 8515). Open daily 11am-midnight. All major credit cards accepted. Unlicensed