Irish Village Riverland. Cead Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcome)

Ireland was never cold, wet or foreign for me. It was warm, mostly sunny and familiar. It was our hangout when we were chilling out, our office when we were working, headquarters when we were planning a night out and our hideout when we were bunking class. For all the kids who went to college in Garhoud during the late 90s and early 2000s, the Irish Village was a large part of growing up. It was our own slice of paradise complete with greasy food, chilled drinks and good company.

In ancient Ireland, hospitality was decreed by law. Welcoming a stranger was an enforced cultural norm and if anyone refused to be hospitable, they could be reprimanded for it. This old practice has left a cultural imprint on the Irish as they recognised the advantages that come with a friendly and outgoing personality and giving strangers a warm welcome. It is a little less common to talk to strangers in Dubai but I think this tradition lives on in the Irish Village. Despite being the introvert that I am, the number of people I have striked up a conversation with in the IV is astounding. I guess there was something in the narrow cobbled streets and old world charm of the place that brought about a change in me; plus I always believed that when in the Village, do as the Irish.

My trips to the village became less frequent after I moved to the other end of town so imagine my excitement when I found out that a brand new IV had been set up at Riverland. This magical place lies before the Legoland entrance at Dubai Parks and Resorts, the Middle Easts, largest theme park destination. I have a feeling I will be returning there many times as there is much to explore and share.

Not taking the outdoors section (or the village terrace) into account (of which Riverland has 250000 square feet of), IV2 is at least 3 times bigger than IV1. It is spread over two floors and in case you have had too much of a good time and are unable to find the stairs, it also has a private elevator. It is essentially the same wooden pub with original Irish memorabilia albeit a little more character because of the high ceilings and lights. The menu options seem to have been reduced for some reason. The panini melts are no longer here and since the only meat (besides all kinds of sea creatures) that Mishal eats is chicken, we noticed that most of the chicken dishes had also been cut out.


I know that a panini or a parmesan chicken breast are not representative of Irish food but then, neither are sitting in the sun and sipping on a Guinness while you feed the ducks representative of your typical afternoon out in Ireland. Besides, I know that the greasy stuff here is great and we always polish a plate of onion rings while we wait for our food. The problem here is that the paninis at IV are good and so is the parmesan chicken breast. I tried to look for the sea bass which I know is very good as well but sadly that too had been cut out. So we ordered a grilled salmon with dill mustard sauce and a brocolli and cashew nut stir fry. The fish was done nicely. Ever so slightly charred on the outside and juicy on the inside though I am pretty sure it was not caught from the river outside. Let’s just say that it had done its fair bit of travelling from Norwegian (or maybe Irish) farms and had stopped along for pictures along the scenic route before it ended up in the chefs kitchen in IV2. Speaking of which, please do try the salmon at any of the Ikea restaurants. It flies business class straight from the farm to the chef’s kitchen every day.

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I do end up ordering something stupid every time I am out but its not because I like to torture myself or ruin my night out, I just like to see how much the chef can push the limits and go out of his/her comfort zone. So please do not judge this kitchen based on my experience with the next dish. First rule of any stir fry is, you add the chicken or meat and after it is half cooked (or even more) you add the vegetables or you just stir fry the chicken and the veggies separately. My broccoli and cashew nut stir fry however was done the other way round. To be fair, it was done in the exact same way it said so on the menu. Broccoli florets, green chili and onion combined with Chinese noodles and light soy sauce. Topped with roasted cashew nuts. Add organic chicken. If only the chef had not literally followed that exact order and added the chicken earlier – this dish would have been a lot more edible because I would probably not have been able to smell the chicken. To mask the smell however, a larger than usual amount of sweet Thai sauce had been added to the dish as an afterthought. It failed to cover up the smell but did end up making the dish (how should I put this delicately) a little too sweet for my liking. Once again, I love the food at the IV1 and it would be unfair to judge the IV2 kitchen based on this dish but I also believe that if it is on your menu, it is your job to do it well.

There are two things however that nobody does better than the Irish and those are smiles and Guinness and both of those are in abundance at the Irish Village in Riverland. Today is St. Patrick’s day, the one day that everyone except the Scottish becomes Irish (The Scottish are always just Scottish). The IV had a bit of Green everywhere last night and I was told that there was a big celebration planned for today. So if you are still indecisive about tonight, head over to Riverland and make it a weekend!

The Irish Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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. 

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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. 

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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