For a seaside city, too few of Dubai’s restaurants offer real, actual, on-the-beach dining. We’re not talking on decking or from behind the confines of a picket fence, we’re talking about the kind of place that allows you to feel the sand between your toes while your fingers de-shell a prawn. Enter Palm Grill, The Ritz-Carlton Dubai’s unexpectedly gloriously low-key beach bar and restaurant, which opens up right onto the hotel’s JBR Beach-facing sands.
And there’s more to be said for this setting than you might expect. All that vitamin D seems to be working wonders on the staff, who are – across the board, and from arrival to departure – among the warmest and most charismatic we’ve encountered anywhere. Conversation flows forth when the Chill & Grill’s set-up is explained and the package options detailed, while the soothing vocals of the resident singer-guitarist sets the mood against a sensory backdrop of gentle winds and the sparkle and rumble of the waves.
It’s a fairly simple offering, all based around the main outdoor barbecue station, which wafts fragrant, flame-grilled aromas over diners as they enter. While there’s not much for vegetarians at this station (save for a few grilled peppers, baked potatoes and a small pile of suspiciously sweet and inedibly dry corn on the cob), carnivores can choose from seafood including barbecued prawns, salmon fillets and baby squid, as well as burgers, beef boerewors and chicken wings. Surprisingly, but not unwelcomely, there’s also a small carvery section, shearing off slices from joints of both beef and lamb.
Inside, a salad buffet and dessert stand find shelter from the elements. The former is made up of two halves, one a build-your-own section featuring bowls of different ingredients, the second a table laden with prepared salads, including an Asian chicken, Italian tomato and mozzarella and a mayonnaisey pasta mix.
It’s all very... okay. The prawns are robustly marinated, but their squeaky, crunchy texture is just a bit off – ditto the spicy but slightly mushy South African-style sausages and the leaden, iron-y oddly biscuity burgers. On the contrary, the grilled salmon is sensational – crispy skinned, perfectly charred, well seasoned and still beautifully moist. Desserts are also well worth saving room, or at least a lick, for, particularly in the case of the kulfi ice-cream – an unusual flavour to get your palate around if vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are your usual chomping ground.
You should also absolutely get intimately acquainted with a jar (or three) of the mango cheesecake, which looks modest but is in fact so thick and creamy you could stand a serving spoon up in it.
Mostly, however, as far as the food goes, Chill & Grill falls some way short of knock-out (though previous visits suggest dining à la carte offers a vastly different experience). But there are three things that together mean this Saturday brunch isn’t even nearly a disaster. Firstly, the almost unbeatable setting for a Saturday lunch in the sun, secondly the staff, who make you feel like family (okay, second cousins once removed, but still) and thirdly the mellow live music, all combining for a truly transporting afternoon out. You could very well be on holiday, just like half the diners on nearby tables. Yes, it’s Sunday tomorrow. But right now, you’ve got prawns all over your hands and the sand between your toes.
Dhs250 (soft drinks), Dhs300 (five mixed drinks), Dhs350 (five selected drinks). Sat 1pm-4pm. Palm Grill, The Ritz-Carlton Dubai, JBR (04 318 615004 318 6150).
The bottom line
Decent food in a super setting.