Built to not last. Times of Arabia.

…It was a soulless angry stare which said “I hate you and I could destroy you but…

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. I believe in second chances though. To err is to human and everyone deserves an opportunity to improve upon or correct a mistake they may have made. That was perhaps at the back of my head when I walked into the Times of Arabia restaurant in Dubai Mall after having had a completely forgettable meal coupled with some second-rate service at their Madinat Jumeirah branch.

That may not be the complete truth. I do believe in second chances but not in the service or f&b industries. There are just too many good people out there doing a good job waiting for that first chance; which they may never get because somebody with a gaudy restaurant in a fancy location would be stealing their business despite their sub-standard service.

I had wandered into the Dubai Mall restaurant because it just happened to be there. I had guests from out of town who were starving after having had to walk the whole day while I made sure that we explored everything there was to see in the massive mall.

This was in December, at the peak of tourist season but the ‘Times of Arabia’ was quiet empty. That seemed like a good thing at the time because we did not feel like waiting to be seated. We were greeted by a hostess/seating supervisor who was busy talking to someone on the phone. She raised her finger while briefly making eye contact with me while she jotted something down on a paper. My guests had a good day and we started talking about their shopping and the dancing fountains while we waited. The hostess put her phone down and gestured the beautiful young woman standing beside us to follow her in. While we stood there wondering what had just happened because we were clearly first in line (if there was such a thing) the beautiful woman’s diamond earrings unashamedly danced past us. Her lingering fragrance only giving way to the self-assured musky scent of her older companion as he walked past us as well.

All this happened very fast and I don’t think there was enough time to process anything. We were hungry and tired and the restaurant was 97% empty. So we had to wait a couple of more minutes. What else could go wrong?

We were eventually summoned by the hostess. My guests followed her towards the inner section of the restaurant while I stopped just short of the entrance because I saw a table that I liked (which was of course empty). As my guests were about to be seated, I went in and asked them if they would rather sit outside. They readily agreed and we all looked towards the hostess who stared back at us like Edward Cullen stared at Jacob after he had seen him kissing Bella. It was a soulless angry stare which said “I hate you and I could destroy you but I won’t do it because I am not allowed to”. Then she said two words – “not allowed”. “Not allowed by whom” I asked her. “Not allowed by management”, she said abruptly. I tried to ask her to reconsider or talk to the ‘management’ but she just repeated the same two words several times. “Not allowed” she said. At this point, I feared that this was a magic chant of some sort and if we did not concede, she would banish our souls to some abysmal dungeon below the restaurant. We almost agreed to be seated wherever she saw fit while being secretly in awe of the restaurants theme and its ability to transport us to some far off fantasy land where mystical creatures had suddenly come to life.

After getting the table we desired, we ordered our hearts out but the food that followed was once again forgettable and the service cataclysmic. A part of me felt really sorry for the owners of the restaurant. They had spent so much money on this huge place but there is no excuse for negligence and I knew the staff were going to destroy it sooner or later. Someone told me last week that the restaurant has shut down permanently. I hope everyone involved learnt a thing or two that may help them do a better job in the future. On a parting note, I would like to say that not everything about our visit was terrible. There was a tanoura dancer who was passionate about his job and was giving 100%. He was quiet entertaining and did manage to bring a smile to our faces.

Times of Arabia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday Rendezvous @ Giardino. Palazzo Versace Dubai. 

..having driven past this replica of an Italian palace earlier, I felt that the fashion powerhouse had thrown all its might behind the Palazzo.

This brunch did not need a theme or ‘creative’ name to stand out in the clutter – It had us at Friday. It was after all being held at one of the only two Versace hotels in the world and having driven past this replica of an Italian palace earlier, I felt that the fashion powerhouse had thrown all its might behind the Palazzo. If only they had chosen a location which was a little less off the beaten track, this restaurant would have been packed – in fact it would have been bursting at it’s seam. 
 
The Palazzo Versace truly is a neoclassical masterpiece and it’s majestic architecture draws inspiration from 16th century Italia. For a moment, the high ceilings, marble floors, mosaic walls, designer furnishings and gold accents made me feel like I was a guest at Tony Montana’s mansion. I am pretty sure I heard Al Pacino saying “First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the woman” in his unmistakable Tony Montana accent somewhere in the hallways. It could just as easily have been Casa Casuarina, the Miami mansion outside which Gianni Versace was shot but this over the top, opulent, Versace wonderland would not be at home as it is in Dubai in any other city in the world. 

versace
 
We were greeted upon arrival with a fresh ginger and apple drink with fizz and surprisingly, nobody asked us for any money. I agree that I have not been to every one of the two thousand seven hundred & fifty three Friday brunches that Dubai has to offer but I am also pretty sure that there has never been a brunch where I have not been asked to pay before I eat. I do not know how many people had skipped paying the bill before this became the norm in Dubai but considering the amount of liquor that is consumed at these brunches I think I understand why this had to be done. The Giardino brunch at the Palazzo Versace though, is all about class. Nobody runs away without paying the bill here. It is a classy joint that welcomes classy guests. The rest line up to choose and pay for their packages at the other Friday brunches. 
 
An original Versace print adorned the uniforms, table mats and everywhere else possible. It was a bright vivid green which along with the white walls and ample sunlight flooding through the alfresco terrace recreated the atmosphere of Palazzos, where the bright internal court was the informal space to meet, dine and enjoy the weather. 
 
One thing that really stood out was the service. We requested to move to a bigger table and it was taken care of within 2 minutes. The waiter even helped carry some of our stuff (Yes we Pakistanis don’t travel light…even to a brunch) and before I knew it one of the chefs at the live cooking stations was teaching me the correct pronunciation for gnocchi. If you do not know, gnocchi are soft dough dumplings which in this case were stuffed with pesto and paired with aubergine and mozzarella. Not sure about Gianni (high calories and all), but Tony would absolutely have killed for this dish. 

sushi2 
It had far too many dishes for me to mention but the oysters, live lobster and dessert selection were truly worthy of an Italian palace. I did wonder why they had an Indian food station but realized that this was marketed as an international brunch and that’s what it was trying to be. I only wish it had not. I only wish it had stuck to its Italian roots and seafood but most of the other top 10 brunches want to include a little bit of everything too.. it is the land of excess after all. 
 
I don’t think it matters if they all end up having the same menu anyway, Tony Montana only roams the hallways outside Giardino. 

Giardino - Palazzo Versace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato