This restaurant has had a little bit of an identity crisis. It used to be called ShishFish, which was much too exciting and unique – so they went through a rebranding, initially advertised themselves as Meat the Fish and then finally settled on Meat’n’Fish. This is how the conversation went down, the morning of the opening. Verbatim, of course.
“Let’s name the restaurant after what we sell. Keep it simple.”
“What, Fish and Meat?”
“No, of course not – that doesn’t work at all – how about Meat and Fish?”
“Too long. It’ll never catch on.”
“I’ve got it! Ready? Meat’n’Fish.”
“Perfect – open the doors.”
It reminds me of those old Omani shops that were named after what they sold. Literally. For example, a clothes shop was ‘Sale of Ready Made Garments’, and a toy shop was ‘Sale of Novelty Items’. So the good thing with Meat’n’Fish is you know exactly what you are getting. No irony, or ambiguity or imagination here.
Located in Box Park, that winter retail park in Jumeirah, Meat’n’Fish is a restaurant that plays life with a straight bat and avoids controversy at all costs. It is a Mediterranean restaurant with Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese influences that showcases a large menu of cold and hot appetizers and mezze, meats, and fish. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy or on trend and not a hipster in sight. Slightly refreshing, in an old-fashioned way.
The interior is pleasant but safe. They kept the design work to a minimum, with light woods and some nice accents of Santorini blues and whites. The tables have ridiculous hanging lights that threaten to knock out the serving staff every time they come close to the table. The music playing was Spanish and delighted our Spanish dining companions. However, to put it into context, they were happy just to find parking, so they clearly find happiness in the most simple of things.
The waitress was very chatty and helpful with her recommendations on what we should order. I am sure it was just a coincidence that her recommendations were also the most expensive items on the menu. She also showed considerable bravery and a high threshold for pain, as she suffered fourteen different blows to the head from the hanging lights while talking us through the menu. The management should issue crash helmets as part of the uniform.
The menu is substantial, and with that many choices, either the chef has eight arms, or knows a few tricks on how to manage so many options.
Seeing as there were four of us and the Serb was particularly excited about a restaurant with meat in its name, we went to town on the orders.
We tried a smoked eggplant salad, which was prepared tableside. Well, as close to the table and the hanging lights allowed. The burnt eggplant was cleaned, chopped and mixed with tomatoes and dressing. It was a solid dish – the smokiness of the char controlled by the acidity of the tomato.
We had the grilled halloumi cheese with a lime dressing and a popular sizzler dish – the prawns and mushrooms in garlic. We also added a Romano stuffed pepper for good measure. The halloumi passed the squeak test, but the honey lime dressing was too watery and too sharp to pair well with the cheese.
The Romano pepper had a wonderful, deep red colour, that contrasted brilliantly with the white of the feta cheese. It was served cold, as it is meant to, but personally, I think it would have benefitted from a quick blast under the grill to allow the flavours to mingle a little. The breadbaskets were a little dull and could do with an injection of imagination.
We also ordered a mixed grill, a pita bread set, and a whole sea bass, cooked in a salt crust.
The mixed grill was presented nicely, and the variety of meats were juicy, well cooked and tasty. But again, it was a safe play by the restaurant, focussing getting the basics right, rather than on innovation or menu creativity. There is often a beauty in simplicity, and Meat’n’Fish produce very simple Mediterranean food in a confident and unpretentious style.
We ordered the salted fish on the suggestion of our waitress. If you have never had a salted fish, it is basically a whole fish that is covered in a sticky rock salt paste and baked in a very hot oven until the paste becomes a crust.
I feel bad for what we put that poor sea bass through. Firstly, it was plucked from the waters, and shoved into an ice display for a couple of days. Then it is manhandled from its ice bed, encased in a salt sarcophagus and baked in a kiln oven for 30 minutes. Then, what I can only describe as an archeological autopsy was performed, where the waiter used brushes, pickaxes and hammers to remove the fish from the salt crust, which, to make matters worse, was on fire, by the way. He then performed a tableside autopsy, removing the head, tail, skin, and bones and finally serving the fillets to us on a nicely decorated platter. Primary conclusion – that fish had a really bad week. Secondary conclusion – the fish was cooked perfectly – moist and juicy. However, it would have benefited from being stuffed with a fragrant herb of some sort, and because it wasn’t, it was unadventurous and lacked flavour.
There was a lot of food – Meat’n’Fish are not stingy with their portions, but they utilize an avoidance strategy with average, consistent Mediterranean cuisine. I now know how they manage to keep so many items on the menu – they keep it straightforward and uncomplicated, and don’t waste unnecessary effort on fancy recipes. They are textbook and standard – traditional and reliable. The staff were friendly, attentive, knowledgeable and hospitable, despite the continuous head trauma from the hanging lights.
Do Meat’n’Fish do enough to be heard in the noisy restaurant scene? For me, I’m not totally convinced, but for my easily pleased friends, they seemed, well – pleased. As for the Serb, you had her at ‘Meat.’
A nice, solid job done by Meat’n’Fish.