DUBAI: The Pangolin — yes, bold name choice considering the year those critters have had — is an ambitious new “lifestyle destination” (or restaurant and lounge for those not fluent in PR-speak) that recently opened in the Els Club at Dubai Sports City.
As soon as you enter, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a five-star hotel in South Africa. The warmly welcoming 60,000-square-foot area is furnished with wood, rattan and leather furniture and extensively decorated with an assortment of plants and animal statues. The wooden ceiling fans complete the rustic look.
The restaurant is actually split into two areas: The lower floor — the Lowlands — has an airy casual vibe and offers dishes fit for a family lunch. On the first floor — the Highlands — there’s a menu more suited to sharing dishes on an evening out in a lounge-bar setting (there’s also a veranda if you want to enjoy some fresh air).
The Lowlands also has a room dedicated to curing meat, which then appears on the menu once it’s ready to be served. The Highlands, meanwhile, will apparently soon feature a cigar room too.
Australian head chef Troy Payne has worked in the UAE for more than six years, and has built up a network of local farmers in that time, which he uses to great effect at The Pangolin, incorporating local produce to create a more sustainable menu for his new venture (which is run by Serg Lopez, formerly of Dubai favorite Tom & Serg).
Payne has created a number of interesting and creative dishes, including our choice of starter — the mountain tomato salad. It came in a transparent dish with intricate glasswork in which a scoop of cold olive oil ice-cream sat on top of chunky tomatoes, basil and dried candied olives, creating a delicious fresh mixture of subtle sourness, milky richness and slight sweetness. The olives also added a delightful dry crunch to the salad.
We also sampled the excellent savory samosas with curried potatoes with pea and paneer (Indian soft cottage cheese) lemon dressing. The warm and flavorful potato filling was encased in a pleasantly crispy pastry, and the sweetness and spiciness was balanced by the creamy sourness of the sauce.
For our main dishes, we ordered a charred and poached eye fillet with a side of potato puffs and grilled leeks in jus. The meat itself was perfectly cooked, with a crunchy charred exterior hiding the juicy and tender fillet, and layers of flavor coming from the caramelized sauce. The potato puffs were delightful; crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside, flawlessly complementing the mixture of flavors and textures of the steak. However, this dish is not suitable for Muslims as the steak is poached in red wine. The restaurant does offer a wide selection of other meat dishes which are suitable for Muslims.
We also ordered a side of corn. The dish was flavorful and satisfying, with the corn drenched in a cheesy sauce — which bore close resemblance to the French-style white sauce, béchamel — and came with a side of crunchy breadsticks baked in-house.
For dessert, we chose the banana ice-cream, which was delicious — creamy, fluffy and light with an intense flavor, and the banana-caramel combination was perfect, with the caramel adding a crispy texture and a sweet flavor to the slightly sour, soft and chewy cooked banana. The mixture was also complemented by a drizzle of crunchy nuts.
The Pangolin offers delicious food suitable for a wide range of ages and palates. The food is hearty and homely, but still delivers an excellent dining experience thanks to a number of creative touches, and the prices are reasonable, particularly when you take into account the quality of the dishes and the welcoming, relaxing vibe.