What do most people want from a brunch? We’re guessing lots of choice, lots of drinks and lots of fun. But do people care about the quality? Or is the overall vibe more important?
Marina Social’s new Friday offering (there’s also a similar deal on Saturdays) certainly does not try to fit in with the perhaps overcrowded brunch scene in Dubai.
Firstly, it has adopted a booking policy that means your brunch package lasts for three hours from the moment you take your seat. It’s a strategy we’re happy with, as a noon start can take its toll. It also makes perfect sense when the food starts coming out of the kitchen.
Secondly, this is no international buffet. In fact, the menu is small, but perfectly formed. You have a choice of five starters, six mains and three desserts. Each person at the table chooses one from each course and they’re brought out to share. You probably think that doesn’t seem like a lot for a brunch, but in reality, it’s more than enough and puts the traditional glut of buffet stations firmly in their place.
Happily for us, there are a few options in each course that we want to try. However, if someone in your group doesn’t really fancy something on the menu, we suppose it could make for a disappointing afternoon. That said, the options are stone-cold classics. From beef tartare in the starters to shepherd’s pie and fish and chips in the main course section, and apple pie and custard for dessert, we reckon almost everyone will find something to like. And while these dishes all sound simple, they really aren’t. The chefs at Marina Social take ordinary-sounding meals and elevate them to new levels.
Staggering start times means there’s time for the kitchen to make sure each dish is cooked to as high a standard as you’d expect from somewhere with Jason Atherton’s name above the door.
Starters arrive in jars, and while we’re not always convinced of this style of serving, the table is set up with a cute picnic blanket so it fits with the sharing theme. The tartare is the highlight. Hand-chopped chunks of beef are dressed in balsamic vinegar and sit on top of pickled cabbage. Our other starter – a salad of snow peas, feta, mint and radish – is a refreshing and almost healthy-feeling dish. Served alongside the jars is a brilliant garlicky flatbread, big squid-ink “Quavers” (for want of a better description) and goat’s cheese churros with a honey dip. All absolutely excellent and enough to seriously fill us.
Main courses are a struggle after we polished off all of the starters, the mac ’n’ cheese with beef cheek is a mightily meaty and filling dish, the beef as rich as the pasta and sauce. Our other main, the pulled lamb pizza, is loaded with toppings, and though the base is a little too doughy and chewy for us on the day, we would have devoured it if not for filling up on the starters earlier. The chips – with actual Sarson’s vinegar, no less – are absolutely knockout.
Desserts are another nostalgic nod to UK homes, especially the vanilla-flecked apple crumble with “Bird’s” custard.
Drinks are also a hit, with a parade of trolleys serving inventive mixed beverages in addition to hops (served in pewter tankards) and grape.
In true Marina Social fashion, this takes the traditional Dubai notion of brunch and lifts it to another level, and does it pretty much perfectly.
The bottom line
Don’t be fooled by the three courses, this is rich, filling food to share, with excellent accompanying drinks.