Maine Oyster Bar and Grill takes its name from the State of Maine, in North East America – a state famous for lobsters, clams, and rolling coast lines.
The restaurant, however, is located in the SoMa area (South Marina) in the car park of the Double Tree Hilton. I’m not a big fan of oysters, so I didn’t think I could ever write a review about an oyster bar without trying the oysters. Then I saw Trump run for President – so here i am, reviewing an oyster bar without trying the oysters.
We were greeted by three smiling, well-groomed ladies, who after a moment of confusion, turned out to be guests also waiting to be seated. The real hostesses were no less groomed or smiley though and we were taken quickly to our table.
The room, an exact square, is classic contemporary – New England meets Le Petite Maison. The pillars are clad in white wooden slates; the floor is polished concrete, and the back bar is distressed white brick. On the left is the open kitchen and raw bar and on the right is the bar with good looking bartenders serving good looking cocktails. The banquettes and couches have the type of throw cushions I would use at my Hamptons beach house. If I had a Hamptons beach house.
Maine is extremely popular with the ladies, and that was proven by me being one of the only men in the restaurant. No wonder the manager walks around with a big smile on his face. I too, know what it feels like to be able to comp a bottle of champagne to a table of pretty ladies! Not all heroes wear capes; some also bring bubbles.
The bar allows smoking, and early evening I could catch a whiff from our table in the restaurant. However, it is said that our senses are heightened when hungry, especially our sense of smell, so maybe I was just a hungry smoke ninja when I first sat down.
The Serb insisted on calling it Maine Ostrich Bar and Grill. Maine is not known for their ostrich, and I pointed this out to her. As soon as she said it, she asked me not to put her comment in the review as she would sound silly. I assured her I wouldn’t.
There was an acoustic battle that raged on throughout the evening between the increasingly loud chatter of guests and the ever increasing warbling of the playlist. In the end, there was no winner, just noise.
The menu plays out like a Billboard top 40 list – safe, comforting and familiar. Chef Liam’s strategy is obviously not to reinvent or waste time following food trends, but to deliver all the classics as they were meant to be.
The restaurant landscape has changed so much – menus have got intense and exciting, culinary inventions are abound and new ways of doing things are around every corner. Therefore, it is somewhat comforting to read a menu that grounds you, allows you to catch your breath, and brings some solid land beneath your feet.
For starters, we ordered the Crabocado, and I had visions of a disaster movie with a tornado of crabs, for some reason. We also tried the lobster roll, because you can’t go to a Maine-inspired restaurant without trying the lobster. That’s like going to an oyster bar without trying the oysters. Who does that?! We also threw a truffle pizza onto the order because we’re Fatty McFatface.
The lobster roll was good, but it is hard to mess up a lobster roll. The bread was toasted to a fragrant char – crispy on the first bite, with a chewy finish. The lobster flesh was fresh and sweet, and it was served with thin potato crisps.
The pizza was earthy and musky, sweet but savory. Truffle paste with shimeji mushrooms and a glistening sheen of fontina cheese. You either like truffles, or you don’t. The crab meat in the Crabnado was cold, fresh, clean and seasoned correctly. It was served on a bed of crushed avocado with a lemon half.
Pricewise, the menu seemed well placed – premium but not over the top. Except, the Dover sole swam in at a cool 255 dhs. I don’t know if that’s a Brexit price, but I steered well clear.
We ordered the fish and chips, and the battered cod arrived looking like a wooden clog made by IKEA for an NBA player – but in a good way. It was a generous, flakey piece of fish, in a thick, crunchy batter. However, there was a lot of oil hidden in that crust and after few mouthfuls, you could start to feel it. The chips were hand cut, probably double blanched and definitely very good.
The spicy shrimp linguini was an enjoyable dish. The linguini was cooked just past al dente and the sauce was lively, fresh and a touch spicy. The sauce coated the pasta without drowning it, and the shrimp had enough size to bring that fleshy bite to the bowl.
Service was enthusiastic however, banter and conversation were attempted and discarded all in one breath by our server. Perhaps it was my personality that put him off, but I doubt that because I’m pretty damn charming. If one was pedantic, there were a few service flaws, but nothing that ruined the experience. Changing knives and forks between courses isn’t going to plunge the place into chaos, for example.
You know a restaurant has impressed the Serb as she always says it reminds her of New York, regardless of the concept. We could be in an Igloo in Eastern Siberia eating whale meat sushi with some Eskimos, and it would remind her of some restaurant in Lower Manhattan.
However, The Serb, as usual, is right. Maine Oyster Bar and Grill is a cracking little restaurant, with a well-executed menu and a lively and attractive atmosphere, despite being deep into Ramadan. Well done to Joey and the team.
Welcome to Maine. The way life should be.
Oh, and also, I would love your vote at the BBC Good Food Awards as best food blogger. Vote for me, if only to see how I manage to maintain my anonymity while collecting the award. That should be fun! Click here, if you have the time. Thanks!