Friday Brunch is an institution in Dubai, with most hotels offering their own version of it. It often involves way too much food, and unless you have a very well-organised plan about what you are going to eat (and more importantly what you are NOT going to eat) you may end up with a stomach full of an uncomfortable mix of sushi, creamy pasta, Thai chicken curry with rice, roast beef with potatoes, Chinese noodles, and at least 6 types of desserts. And that’s before you realise you’ve missed the grilled meat and decide to go in again. Leaving all that food in there to fight it out is not a good way to start the weekend.
I often find that after a typical hotel Friday Brunch in Dubai I feel extremely full but then in about an hour I feel hungry again. In an effort to try everything available I end up grazing a little here and a little there, and ultimately I walk away without having eaten a unified meal. I know that for some people, Friday Brunch is just an excuse to drink a lot of alcohol early in the day, but for me it really is all about the food.
Last Friday, my family of three were invited to try Shangri-La Hotel Dubai’s Friday Brunch. It is called ‘We Don’t Call It a Brunch’, which I found rather intriguing. I had to find out what this non-Brunch was all about.
The idea behind it is that unlike many Friday Brunches in Dubai which offer a huge variety of dishes from all over the world, Shangri-La keeps its focus tighter. In their own words, “We Don’t Call It a Brunch diminishes mismatched dishes and unusual cuisine combinations to a distant memory of Fridays past.” So, did they live up to their promise? Yes, almost.
The food at Shangri-La is very good with some great healthy options. The staff is excellent and attentive. The Brunch takes place across three restaurants and diners are welcome to eat from what is on offer at all three:
– Dunes Cafe
– Shang Palace
– Hoi An
We sat in Dunes Cafe, a bright seating area on the ground floor directly off the lobby. The Head Chef of Dunes Cafe, Harry, has an enviable pedigree of hotel experience and is committed to making authentic food by ensuring his chefs cook food from their own region. Most of the buffet food, salad bar and desserts are located in Dunes Cafe.
Shang Palace is on the first floor and has a Peking Duck station and a Chinese Noodle Soup station.
Hoi An is on the first floor as well and has a Pho station and Vietnamese Papaya Salad station. Out of the three restaurants, I think Hoi An is the most atmospheric.
My first stop was the salad bar, which was divided into 4 sections. On one side, there were martini glasses of three types of salads:
– Scallop and Orange Ceviche
– Crab Salad
– Prawn and Melon Cocktail
The second side of the salad bar had a presentation of different fresh salad vegetables along with 5 salad dressings for diners to create their own salad. Aside from some shaved fennel bulbs, everything else was pretty much what you would expect and there were no surprises.
The dressings were all made in-house: Honey-Mustard, French, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Pesto, and Sweet Chilli.
Personally, I have never been a huge fan of make-your-own salad bars although I know many people like the freedom to compose and dress their own salads. My preference is for prepared seasoned salads which I can just tuck into. These were well represented on the other sides of the salad bar. There were platters of Seafood Salads:
– Octopus Salad
– Scallop and Orange Ceviche
– Smoked Salmon
– Smoked King Fish.
And then there was a section of Turkish and Middle Eastern Salads (they had some chefs over from Shangri-La Istanbul so were taking advantage of their expertise). The Turkish salads were delicious, and I particularly loved the Tahinli Patlican (Turkish Smoked Eggplant Salad) and Acili Ezma (Spicy Pepper Tapenade).
While these salads were healthy and delicious, it made we wonder whether they tied in with the “We Don’t Call It a Brunch” idea which the hotel is promoting as a sort of antithesis to the traditional Dubai Friday Brunch of mismatched dishes. I asked Chef Harry about it, and he said that they often have Asian-inspired salads but this week they went with Turkish salads because they had Turkish chefs from Shangri-La Istanbul in the kitchen. I do respect that using the chef’s expertise rather than sticking to a fixed menu is a very good sign in a restaurant, but it does sway from the idea of “We Don’t Call It a Brunch.” I would have loved to try the Asian salads as I’m sure they would have been very good.
Other than salads, there were a lot of healthy options available.
There was a sushi bar with a huge 43kg tuna.
The grill was very good and I really enjoyed the white snapper. There was a also a juicy Roasted Salmon with Roasted Vegetables.
Who doesn’t love the umami kick of Asian soups? Well, Shangri-La Dubai had Vietnamese Pho, Chinese Noodle Soup, and Miso soup on tap. The Vietnamese Pho in particular was amazing. I’ve had Pho a few times in London, and always thought it was just ok. But this was truly delicious. I could easily have eaten 3-4 bowls of it.
Other healthy dishes which were made to order upstairs included Vietnamese Summer Rolls and Papaya Salad.
The Brunch also offers tasting dishes from Shang Palace and Hoi An which can be ordered off a menu as part of your brunch. Here is the menu:
We ordered a mix of steamed Chinese and Vietnamese dim sum dishes which came in generous portions of 6 pieces each, definitely something for the table to share.
We also ordered Ca Nuong La Sen (oven-baked sea bass) and Chinese steamed red snapper. The portions are small taster versions of the a la carte menu, so you can try many different dishes. I really loved the sea bass.
The dessert table had everything you could hope for. In terms of the healthier options, there was cut fruit and fruit salad with three types of sauces (vanilla, raspberry, and I think mango). I felt the fruit could have been better – it wasn’t as sweet as I like my fruit to be. But there were some fragrant strawberries on a stick next to a chocolate fountain which were delicious.
There was also raspberry sorbet and strawberry ice-cream. Although not made in-house, they were both very tasty and the sorbet is a good healthy option.
There were plenty of other desserts, which I loved, in particular the lemon tart, chocolate tart and Date Sticky Toffee Pudding.
In terms of the food, all three restaurants are very good. The only inconvenient thing about the Brunch is the fact that it is laid out over two floors. It means that people sitting upstairs in Shang Palace or Hoi An need to go downstairs to get salads, buffet and most of the desserts. And people sitting in downstairs in Dunes Cafe need to go upstairs to get Pho, Summer Rolls, Papaya Salad, Duck Pancakes, Noodle Soup or Crepes. There is an elevator and stairs, but to me it feels kind of strange getting into an elevator with a plate full of food. The staff are very helpful and are happy to help get the food to your table, but if you want to go and have a look yourself then it’s a bit of a trip for you.
In terms of clientele, we arrived at the opening time of 12:30pm and the restaurant was still quite empty. However, by 2:00pm all three restaurants were 50-75% full. I also noticed that this was not a brunch where people came to drink themselves legless, they seemed to actually come for the food.
Which brings me to my final opinion regarding Shangri-La Dubai’s “We Don’t Call It a Brunch.” As an idea which tries to overcome the mismatched nature of dishes, I love it. The quality of the food is very good to excellent, and the staff are attentive and fast. The only downside is the upstairs/downstairs issue. I realise that it’s just the way the hotel was designed and the restaurants are trying to work around it. I feel that if the entire Brunch was moved upstairs to Shang Palace and Hoi An, it would have more of a unified feel. Dunes Cafe’s food could be served upstairs and it should focus a little more on its Asian-inspired dishes to tie all the three restaurants together and to make this brunch truly live upto its name “We Don’t Call It a Brunch.”
‘We Don’t Call It a Brunch’ is available every Friday from 12:30pm to 4pm
AED 299 per person with a selection of soft drinks
AED 399 per person with a selection of premium house beverages
AED 499 per person with champagne
Sheikh Zayed Road
Telephone: 04 343 8888
Full disclosure: I was invited as a guest to eat at Shangri-La Hotel Dubai. All content reflects my honest opinion.