American diners share a culture with gas stations, hot rods and drive-ins. They boast of stainless steel, a casual atmosphere, late operating hours, art deco design and Americana food. They’re significant in pop culture too – remember Grease, and Happy Days, Seinfeld and Back to the Future? American diners are the James Dean of the restaurant world. I’ve always thought how cool it would be to be called James Dean. It’s simple and timeless but edgy and hard at the same time.
It’s amazing what a name can do. I’ll give you some examples. When I saw The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, I knew it was going to be an entertaining read – Or take Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter Thompson as another example. Cool titles and cool author names.
Incidentally, The Da Vinci Code sold 80 million copies, worldwide – if it had been called ‘Museum Symbols’ by Nigel Button, I highly doubt it would have shifted so many copies. If a Nigel Button reads this, please get in touch directly. I have a book idea for you.
So when I knew that Michael Mina was opening a new restaurant called The Firebird Diner, I was already sold. The Firebird Diner by Michael Mina – how utterly cool in a grown up way.
It’s at the new Four Seasons hotel at DIFC. Drive past the Zuma valet parking and it is there on your right.
Michael Mina runs a bunch of restaurants in the US, a few are replicated in several cities, but Mr. Mina prefers to create individual restaurants of substance and personality.
Firebird Diner is inspired by the 1940’s American diners. However, gather all your preconceptions about them – take the juke box and the booths, and the stainless steel and the counter stools, and jazz them to the moon and back. Polish them, smooth them out, add some spit and shine and you’ll start to get an idea of what Firebird Diner is all about.
The floor is a glossy canvas of black and white marble, and the tables are crafted from highly polished solid teak wood. The seating is a collection of custom made booths and chairs upholstered in quality red and cream leather, and the bespoke chandeliers are a stroke of art deco genius. Sia would be proud. Music plays from a working juke box; the servers tap their feet to the tunes of Elvis, Lynn Anderson and Billy Lamont, and the chefs cheerfully greet you from the kitchen as you walk in with a New Jersey “How ya doin’?”
The menus cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, we were given the brunch menu – a mix of breakfast and lunch items ranging from Elvis toast – (French toast with cinnamon custard and a spiced peanut caramelized banana) to a sweet pepper frittata.
The brunch menu also offers steak & eggs, power salads, ice cold shellfish and wood fired burgers. But the steaks and eggs weren’t ordinary steak and eggs – they were Firebird steak and eggs. Again, note the power of a cool name. Stick Firebird on the front of a food item and it’s immediately sexier and cooler and is worth at least 30% more on the menu.
I was a little disappointed – not with the brunch menu itself, but with the obligation that every restaurant feels it has to cater for the brunch crowd. The Friday brunch is due for a massive overhaul. Someone is going to come up with an alternative that will disrupt everything – because let’s be honest; there hasn’t been an original brunch since Fairmont’s Moet brunch back in the noughties.
We had a look at the lunch menu, which is not available during brunch, unfortunately. However, there are some great sounding dishes, such as a Trio of Picnic Eggs, Popcorn Shrimp, Lobster Pot Pie and the amazing sounding Chicken Fried Wagyu Steak. I don’t think I can even imagine what that would be like. A chicken fried wagyu steak…. Nope.. No idea.
However, what we really ordered was much more grounded – both in reality and in texture. On a side note, some people have been commenting that I don’t order enough food for each review. I order what I think I will enjoy, and try to sneak a few extra items in wherever possible to give a more complete view. The Serb is her own force of nature and any issues there should be taken up directly with her.
With that said, we had an enjoyable spiced lamb burger with squirts of cucumber yogurt and a thick scoop of tangy tomato relish. The lamb wasn’t as spiced as I expected, but the French fries were cracking – cooked in duck fat and well seasoned, they were crispy and well-seasoned.
The Serb hadn’t had a burger since the night before, so she ordered the All American burger, with smoked Gouda and a sweet onion marmalade. Oh, and Chef Michael’s secret sauce. Yeah – I’m not sure if I’m OK with that, either. Both burgers came in a semi-sweet brioche bun and ketchup on the side.
Judging by The Serbs reaction, I think she had eaten better burgers elsewhere. She claimed it was too soft. Confused, I took a bite, (any excuse) and I immediately knew what she meant. The bread was soft which is great. However, the onion marmalade was also soft, as was the patty and the cheese and therein lies the problem. The great thing about both the Serb and I having a full set of healthy teeth means we can handle a little crunch, bite and texture in our food.
We also had the mac and cheese, which was a perfect example of how simple comfort food can punch above its weight class. The macaroni pasta had a little bite to it, (my teeth were particularly happy about that) and the cheese had a smoky depth and flavour that brought the dish together.
The Firebird Diner has just opened, and for once I am ahead of the curve in reviews. For once. The Serb did ask if we should wait a few months to give them a chance to settle in, but my thinking is that if they are comfortable charging me full whack on the bill, them I’m comfortable going full whack with a review. And full whack they do go on the prices – 120 dhs for the burger, 40 Dhs for a bottle of water and 400 dhs for the whole meal. That’s a 32 US dollar burger.
I understand that a couple of mediocre burgers can’t reflect the success of the rest of the menu, but with Michel Mina behind the recipes, the chances are pretty high that the rest of the menu is going to have some winning dishes.
The Firebird is a seriously classed up American diner, and they’re not messing around. But don’t take my word for it – visit them and see for yourself, but just remember, this is a particularly pricey option for those Happy Days feel goods.