Historically, The Palm Jumeirah has been a destination of extremes – either Bidi Bondi or Riva on the trunk or Atlantis on the crescent – not much in between. (Except if you were there on NYE one fateful year – then it was the opposite way round.)
Dubai is nothing if not progressive, so over the years, The Palm Jumeirah has started to get a little more user-friendly, and is definitely more of a destination than Jebel Ali Palm.
The Club Vista Mare development came out of nowhere, or at least for me, it did. It snuck up like a saleswoman in a Dubai Mall pharmacy. One minute you’re happily looking at hair products and the next minute you are in the cash line with organic ear candles.
With plenty of parking out front, there is a short walk down a passageway lined with beautiful, framed black and white photos of historical Dubai. However, they seem a little out of place in a beach front development on a man-made island in the middle of the Gulf, if I’m honest. A case of filling up an empty wall prior to an opening ceremony, I think.
As you walk down the passage towards the light, a faint murmuring of noise becomes louder and louder until you emerge onto a large, bustling boardwalk bathed in bright winter sunlight. What is surprising is the amount of people that have already found their way to this destination. The place has been open for like ten minutes and already it’s a hive of activity.
Seven licensed restaurants, with views over the shimmering water and bleached white beach, serve a demographic that epitomizes affluent Dubai.
Out of the seven restaurants available, we chose The Tap House – a gastro sports bar promising contemporary European food. With one of the largest terraces out of the seven (it pays to sign the lease first!) The Tap House has both outdoor dining tables as well as lower lounge seating. It was also tellingly busier than the neighbours next door.
We sat at a table on the terrace and were handed large double sided menu cards by the friendly hostess. She took our order for drinks immediately and told us our waiter would be with us shortly.
Tap House was fairly busy – it was a weekend afternoon, and from our vantage point we could watch as the staff learned more about their new restaurant. For example, the restaurant door banged open and close with such frequency that Ricky Martin wrote a song after it. They also learned that transporting ice cold pints needs both hands, and opening a door handle with your forehead is difficult.
The staff rushed about with vigour and enthusiasm, but little else. I mentally prepared myself for an experience that was going to be enthusiastic but slow, friendly but riddled with mistakes. I leaned back and looked out over the water and made peace with that. The view and ambiance can make up for a multitude of sins.
Our waiter could have been an extra on Netflix’s The Get Down, wearing a light, tight denim blue shirt, braces and big smile. His smile arrived first at the table, followed by the rest of him. The first thing he said to me was, “You look awesome today, sir.” This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about. The Serb deflated my ego after he left by telling me that he probably says that to everyone. I told her that jealousy makes her ugly.
We ordered chicken tikka empanadas, smoked skewers, roasted squash quinoa salad and the Asian duck salad. I wasn’t quite sure if our waiter understood everything we ordered, but who am I to question someone who thinks I’m awesome?
I had a quick wander inside The Tap House to try provide these ridiculous reviews with a modicum of research and substance. Inside was an industrial interior, with Edison lights (don’t get me started) exposed fake brick and a few TV screens for the sports. The dark restaurant with the wood, brick and filament bulbs contrasted to the beach vibe outside. The bar was atmospheric with an impressive selection of draft taps, serving both commercial and craft hops. However, it was largely nothing out of the ordinary – an interior that could be described as nice followed with a pleasant shrug.
Reminding me to never judge a book by its cover, the food didn’t take as long as I expected, (although a little long), and the order was correct. The plating was suitable for the concept, slate and wood boards for the starters and large, open bowls for the salads.
The chicken tikka empanadas were moreish – delicious little half-moons of buttery pastry, with a creamy, delicately spiced filling. The skewers were nothing of the sort, unfortunately – dry, chewy and plunged into a vat of sticky sweet sauce, like some last minute culinary baptism. It did little to save the dish, drowning out any smokiness it might have had. However, the mango relish garnish showed some sophistication, though, spiced yet sweet and soft with some bite, but if the garnish is the best part of the dish, then it needs work.
The salads hit the mark, and I would say my crispy Asian duck salad symbolized the start of the winter season for me. Bright and lively, with a sweet, hoisin dressing, it was a wonderful outdoor, Dubai winter salad. The crispness of the cabbage and carrot, the pop of the pomegranate and the softness of the duck meat came together rather nicely. However, at a punchy 85 dhs, I would have expected little else.
The Serb, interestingly, had the roasted squash, quinoa and rocket salad. Another visually impressive dish, with good use of colour, from the bright green rocket and milky white feta to the sunburnt squash. It was good, the squash roasted long enough to soften the vegetable, and the quinoa adding a depth and body to the bowl.
The Tap House are still learning about how things work, and I guess a few changes will be forthcoming. The system for serving food and drink from inside to out will need to improve because that door will eventually give up the will to live. There is an acoustic battle that rages on the terraces, where all the various music genres of each restaurant clash like a scene out of West Side Story. The service will need to get a touch slicker, as there are going to be busier days ahead for them and the kitchen will need to make sure they can produce that menu and maintain quality when they are knee deep in the weeds on a hectic Friday afternoon.
Overall, though, fun food, great vibes, and cold drinks. There are few places better than Dubai in the winter time, and once they find their stride, places like the Tap House at Club Vista Mare make it even better.
Did I tell you that I looked awesome?