The Hilton Garden Inn has a pub that no-one knows about, The Garden Bar! It is a secret. Shh! Don’t tell.
There is a nippy chill in the air these days in Dubai, so if you are looking for a bolt hole to cosy up in, have a few pints and some decent pub grub, then I may be able to make a small recommendation. Tucked away, slightly off the beaten track, next to the Mall of the Emirates is a great little place called The Garden Bar. Pretty standard stuff as far as pubs go. One might even say nondescript. But what sets apart this find is the quality of its dishes and uber-chilled vibe. So, if you are looking for something supremely unpretentious and low-key then this place might do it for you. It is the proverbial ‘old faithful’, a good local where people know your name and the food is done with care and attention. We went on a Thursday evening when there is live music playing and though never packed to the hilt – which was rather nice – it was steadily busy with most of the tables full.
Overseen by Chef Gautam Sethi, the menu is a mixture of what you are probably looking for in pub grub – Lamb Rogan josh, nachos, quesadilla, buffalo wings. It’s all there. But what lights it all on fire and brings the magic is Chef Gautam. As he explains the menu and recommendations, his clear passion for what he does comes across. Originally from the Punjabi region of India he explains that he makes his own spice mixes and takes great care to get the spice levels right for each customer. Not just that, he wants complexity in his flavor profiles too. After this pitch, our expectations and curiosity levels skyrocketed.
First up, we went for the Caesar Salad. Not exactly typical. But it was a strongly suggested by the barstaff so we thought it best to give it a bash. Our server raved about it and said it is the one thing on the menu that he orders over and over. So, with such a glowing recommendation we couldn’t resist.
I am a fan of this classic and happy to say this one didn’t disappoint. The nice surprise was the addition of kale, sautéed in a little olive oil to bring out its flavor, and Chef Gautam explained that he insists on using fresh white anchovies instead of the red kind. They lent a wonderful saltiness and a touch of ocean freshness. The pumpernickel croutons also worked well with the bacon bits; altogether satisfying and something I would probably order again if given half a chance.
The Asian style crab cakes (the chef’s specialty) were served piping hot. Tasty and flavorsome and served alongside a decent sized helping of the restaurant’s own special chilli sauce. Tasty as heck, I cheekily asked Chef Gautam for the recipe but he neatly sidestepped my request. Oh my! Perfectly spiced, with a rising warmth that never threatens to scald, it is apparently the honey he adds which helps to tone down the sharper notes of the heat to give a nice overall warmth to the sauce; giving it that umami quality.
Next up we tried the butter chicken. Apparently, there are all sorts of ways of doing this curry, but we were informed that this spice mixes including chilli and fenugreek. Served with the works including 3 different types of chutneys, including a rather tasty mango variety and some yoghurt, salad and poppadoms. One serving is definitely enough for two and we had trouble finishing ours. The magic ingredient is undoubtedly the fenugreek, which adds depth to the tomato makhani gravy. Very satisfying.
With a live singer playing golden oldies such as Cat Stevens and a few more contemporary tunes, this pub has an animated atmosphere. It is not particularly big but you can pitch up in your shorts or a hoodie and no one will look twice. In Dubai, where it is all about the glam factor, this made for a refreshing change. At The Garden Bar, it is all about being comfortable, enjoying your pint and having some good old fashioned decent nosh.
Looking for more bars and clubs in Dubai? We have written an article about Top 10 bars and clubs in Dubai.