As bone-idle as the average expat may be, and as ridiculously pansy as it sounds, it is a heck of an ordeal making it to the Habtoor Grand. The great big edifice lurks amidst a blasted landscape of construction work, idle cranes and scary-looking pieces of machinery.
Arriving at the impeccably tasteful, glam-pot tower, our nerves were frazzled, our stomachs rumbling and our lips dry and in need of some quick slaking.
So it’s a relief that the arduous trek ends up here, a jolly dark-wood and muted-toned type joint, with plentiful knick-knacks and cheesy décor cheerfully proclaiming the restaurant’s South African theme. At this time of year, the outdoor terrace is where you should be heading.
An acquaintance had raved about the astonishing views, which surprised us slightly – unless you are a student of Middle Eastern a/c units of the mid-90s era, there’s not a lot going on vista-wise. But it was dark, and besides, who needs a view with such a cosy, comfortably-appointed little spot?
Given Dubai’s healthy South African expat population, we weren’t surprised to hear many of them present tonight – repeated lusty choruses of ‘Happy Birthday’ echoed about the place throughout the evening, from within the interior and reports of dancing waiters filtered out to us.
Out on the balmy terrace, such fripperies were thankfully absent. Instead, we were looking through a menu that rounded up the usual grill house suspects – a selection of SA steaks, chicken and a smattering of seafood – no snoek in this place – alongside regional specialities such as bobotie and something intriguingly called bunny chow.
Our friendly waitron patted me on the shoulder reprovingly when I hurried to start with the dull predictability of three oysters on ice and promised me I should enjoy the bunny chow very much. Pushing an image of rabbit droppings from my mind, I trusted our new friend and when the starters were wheeled out, I had to shake his hand. A robust team of flavours, the dish packed a mild chicken curry inside a large chunk of bread, topped off with some tangy chicken bites, and a brisk mango pickle on the side.
An exciting and swift entrée, it was matched by my friend’s bobotie, which is best described to newcomers as a little cottage pie, replete with a suety lid, curried beef and some hunks of lamb shank nestling on top. A dollop of banana curry ice cream sits confrontationally to the side and the dish is best sampled with a scoop of this icy, spicy confection for maximum effect.
Naturally, one would expect that the Grand Grill was only just getting started at this stage – a sort of rolling up of the sleeves, ahead of whacking us with a one-two double punch that would leave us reeling with joy and gasping for mercy.
Sadly, this didn’t quite happen – a chunky beef espeteda revealed itself to be a forlorn affair, a steel skewer of meat hanging over an empty plate, was a procession of flabby, tough cuts marinated in some under-whelming unguent, while my friend’s steak – an exemplary example of SA fillet – was cooked short of the specified doneness and remained so, despite a quick trip back to the kitchen. Sides – fries, wedges – were pretty mundane and a small dollop of mustardy sauce went little way in bringing some excitement to the meal.
Our disappointment was complete when the beaming waiter repeatedly tried to clear plates, the nanosecond our cutlery was lifted clear – a highly annoying and completely unnecessary practise, especially if one’s companion is still masticating gloomily across the table.
With little redemption offered by desserts – the waiter brings a plate of little cakes and things to the table for you to pick out – we wondered if there was a better day ahead for this consistently highly-rated restaurant. If you’re in the mood for meat, and lots of it, then there are plenty worse places to be. But in the current steakhouse wars, it seems Grand Grill could do with a good hard look at refreshing its mains and maintaining consistency throughout the menu.
The bill (for two)
Mineral water Dhs24
Bunny chow Dhs35
SA fillet steak (300gm) Dhs145
Beef espeteda Dhs95
Side dish mixed veg Dhs18
Chocolate mousse Dhs35
Pistachio White Dhs38
Total (including service) Dhs443