After everything that’s happening in the world at the moment, I yearned to be welcomed into the bosom of somewhere polite, friendly, comforting and kind. I needed to feel safe and welcome. I needed Canada – I think the world needs Canada right now.
Luckily for us, a small piece of Canada is here in Dubai, in the form of Weslodge, a self-proclaimed ‘creatively cool, rock and roll chic’ saloon. I have no idea what a Canadian saloon is, but I’d like to think, rather stereotypically, that it’s a place where cowboys and Mounties drink sensibly and apologise to one another. Weslodge is located on the 600th floor of the JW Marriott Marquis. The lift doors open and you stagger out, light headed, into what can only be described as someone’s home office. It is not, of course – that would be ridiculous – it is, however, the reception of the restaurant and two attractive ladies are there to welcome you and guide you through to your table. Such is the size of the restaurant; I was tempted to drop breadcrumbs to ensure our way home.
Weslodge is spread over three separate rooms, and as you meander through the restaurant and bar, (which looks like it deserves another visit) you get the impression you are in someone’s living room. A very large living room, admittedly. Or, as the Serb put it, “they’ve turned the presidential suite into a restaurant.”
We were offered a table in the corner, a single bench for two facing the restaurant. So, we sat next to each other, underneath the portrait of what could have been the chef’s great great grandparents and looked out into the room. It was like we were driving, but without the steering wheel – or the car. It was like I was riding side saddle on a horse – it felt rather odd, and I probably looked quite odd too. The Serb, however, handled it with her usual effortless grace.
The restaurant is elegant, a little bit old school, quite feminine, but with some rough edges. It is a master class of design – herringbone hardwood floors with mosaics tiled areas accented by rugs and carpets. Framed old world artwork adorns the light wood paneled walls with chandeliers and animal skulls that contrast against the industrial chic trend that plagues other restaurants. It is a series of contrasts that harmonize. It is an eclectic collection of consideration. I don’t even know what that last sentence means.
Our server for the evening escalated herself from waitress to BFF host, with feel-good affirmations of our food choices and good, honest conversation about Dubai and Canada. She was knowledgeable about the menu, attentive to our needs and there wasn’t a Canadian apology in sight. We almost wanted to ask her to join us for dinner, but she couldn’t because three people sitting side saddle is just weird.
Weslodge is part of a small but growing group of restaurants that are successfully exposing Dubai to the modern American menu. For example, there is devilled crab with apple and jalapeño and roasted beets with burrata, orange, hazelnut and Niagara vinegar. They have an impressive steak section that would be the pride and joy of most menus. For Weslodge, it is merely another bit part actor in an all-star cast. From grilled Welsh lamb chops with red onion chimichurri to a range of steaks all cooked over hardwood and charcoal, this menu is as good looking at the room it’s eaten in.
Weslodge has applied a considerable amount of technique to the menu, yet when the food arrives, it is unfussy, stylish, modest and approachable. It’s not easy to make this kind of food look easy.
Our meal consisted of the lobster poutine, ahi tuna ceviche, southern fried chicken, branzino, and s’mores. A signature Canadian dish, the lobster poutine is French fries, covered with gravy, and in this case, hollandaise and lobster meat. The Canadians chose the worst dish in the world to Instagram as their national food – but it is pretty moreish in their defense. I know lobster is expensive, but I would have enjoyed a little more meat on this dish. Despite me being greedy, it was a good dish to get dirty with.
The ceviche arrived and after being diced into small cubes, the raw ahi tuna is tossed with a yuzu hot sauce marinade and sesame, served with an avocado puree and black (squid ink?) crackers. It fizzed with flavour and freshness, just as a ceviche should.
The southern fried chicken had the coating of a Rocky Mountain outcrop – deliciously cratered and rough with sharp crispy edges. The chicken had probably been brined and marinated in buttermilk as it oozed juice and flavour with every bite. The breasts fared better than the leg when it came to taste and texture. Yes, I am still talking about the chicken. The breading was delicious, and it clung to the meat like a shower curtain on a wet body. Tabasco honey was drizzled over the meat and provided a wonderfully confusing contrast of sweet heat – like being punched in the mouth by an award winning hand model.
The branzino, a seabass, arrived whole but filleted, with a spicy jalapeño relish. The usually silver skin was blackened and charred by the charcoal and wood it was cooked over. This allowed the delicate, white flesh to absorb a smoky depth that was offset by a sharp lemon dressing drizzle. I’m not usually one for fish, especially one that arrives still with a head, (would you serve a chicken with its head?) but Weslodge’s branzino is further proof that rock and roll chic has a place in my dining calendar.
The S’mores were unnecessary, but utterly indulgent and totally the Serbs influence. The cracker layers seemed to have some cinnamon or nutmeg undertones, and paired well with the table side poured chocolate and the soft marshmallows. Weslodge is an experience of contradictions – the music, the décor, the contrasting flavours – none of it should work, and yet it does. It works brilliantly, and although we are only in July, we might have a contender for best new restaurant. Well done, Weslodge. Take a bow.
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Below is our side saddle table for two.