Giraffe is a staple of the UK high street and a popular choice at airport concourses worldwide. A colourful and casual affair, whose main draw is their family friendly nature and a menu that caters to the health conscious.
Giraffe at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Mall is the only UAE outlet accessible to the general populous, with the other hidden amongst the departure gates at terminal three of DXB airport. The Yas branch can be found in Town Square, a premium location in the mall, beside the cascading waterfall of the central atrium with it’s Arabic inspired mashrabiya glass ceiling. Despite being in a mall, the design of Giraffe doesn’t feel generic, in fact it’s a playful and often inspired design. An abundance of wood greets diners and presents them with an almost tribal atmosphere, in which a canopy of wooden trees fan out like the branches of the African Baobab. Lanterns hang from ceilings, beaded curtains prevail, foliage abounds and a number of sculpted giraffes appear, as though they’ve just wondered in from the African savannah.
Giraffe offers families a fun and relaxed place to dine, away from the fast food and other less healthy choices associated with food courts. Inclusion is the key and it must be said that Giraffe is possibly the most family friendly place that we’ve dined in the capital. Usually when dining with children, the most you get are some coloring sheets and some crayons. At Giraffe you get these and so much more, activities, face-painting, balloons and perhaps even a visit from Giddy the companies mascot.
When Giraffe opened their first outlet in the UK back in 1998 the intention was the create a space where people could relax while having great coffee and freshly cooked food at any time of the day. 18 years later and this ethos still remains and having been some time since we last visited Giraffe (it was actually the first London restaurant we visited after our first daughter was born, somewhere we knew it wouldn’t matter if she screamed the place down) and we were eager to return.
Giraffe have always prided themselves on providing quality adventurous dishes from around the globe and although we’re big fans of their breakfast pancakes, we’ve always believed that the menu sticks too closely to the American fare of other casual dining restaurants. The new menu has completely blown that perception out of the water, leaving behind much of the American-inspired food and moving into a distinctive Asian territory.
The new menu compiles the very best of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian fare. While still retaining the much-loved burgers and flatbreads that have become a staple of the Giraffe menu. We begin with Chicken Yaki Gyozas, the popular Japanese dumplings, partially fried and partially steamed that are a distinct favourite of team Out and About. The gyoza shell is beautifully prepared and of the perfect thickness, though a touch more seasoning on the chicken would’ve enhanced the dish. Fear not though, as the orange and miso glaze makes up for this and when dipped in the nouc cham sweet chilli sauce, provides an abundance of flavours. All the more impressive for the fact that Giraffe aren’t specialized in Asian dishes.
An appetizer of Grilled Halloumi Skewers shows how vegetarian food can be just as tasty as anything carnivorous and these salted cheese skewers are of the correct soft consistency (not overcooked and chewy) and elevated by the enhancement of sweet aniseed. Sat atop a bed of rice and quinoa tabbouleh, this twist on the Arabic mezze is a wonderful invention and makes for a refreshing change from the usual fried appetizers you usually find in a casual eatery like this.
We weren’t intending to order a third appetizer but on the insistence of manager Yasir, we delighted in the Prawn Saganaki. A dish of tender king prawns tossed in a rustic garlic, chilli, white wine and tomato sauce and accompanied by toasted Turkish bread. The flavours were good but it was the addition of crumbled feta that really set this apart and with the name ‘saganaki’ referring to the two-handled pan in which it’s served, this is one distinctive plate.
Traversing the Turkish inspired saganaki, we moved into North Africa for our main courses and indulge in the Marrakech Market Salad. A beautiful plate of fresh herbs, red and white quinoa, kale, sweet potato, roasted red pepper and chopped almonds, that’s reminiscent of summer. The dish has a colorful vibrancy from the bejeweled pomegranate seeds and spiced cauliflower that matches the zesty flavours from the lemon and honey dressing. Usually not a fan of salads, we would certainly make an exception for this one and despite the lack of meat (we’re carnivores at heart) it’s a food bloggers dream for all its colours and textures.
Sampling the signature Tuk-Tuk Duck Stir Fry we were pleased to see the dish veering away from the usual ingredient of chicken or beef. A bowl full of impressive flavours – coriander, mint and Thai basil – which is heightened via the clever use of a chilli jam that not only adds an intense burst of sweetness but an additional textural dimension. With pak choi, sugar snaps, red peppers and crispy shallots all vying for attention, we did find the duck itself to be a little dry which was a shame, as the rest of the dish was so good.
We also liked the look of the Miso Lime Salmon and the Vietnamese Chicken Pho (with pho being a notoriously difficult dish to find a good version of here in the UAE) but instead we decided to move onto desserts. With the kids filling themselves with chocolate brownies and ice cream, we opted for a hefty slice of the Red Velvet Cake. Presenting thick layers of deep red sponge, the red velvet at Giraffe is not breaking boundaries. Call us fussy but we would’ve preferred a butter cream frosting as opposed to a cream topping.
Beverages are just as impressive as the food. From the hot beverages, we absolutely adored the Rosewater Cappuccino. Taking inspiration from our Middle Eastern location, the cappuccino mixes rosewater into proceedings, offering just the slightest hint of a floral fragrance to offset the coffee. Being a family friendly establishment, we received the design of a Pikachu (Pokemon) traced in chocolate on the froth.
The kids loved their drinks that came with a giraffe toy (almost surreal with its ultra-elongated neck) and we must applaud the culinary team at Giraffe for embracing current trends and offering their own version of the Freak Shakes, the most popular new food item of 2016. The Banoffe Shake in particular was impressive for its blend of banana, vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce. Tasted exactly like a liquefied bannoffee pie, the shake was certainly indulgent but not overtly sweet. Freak Shakes originated in Canberra, Australia and involve toppling the milkshakes with a ridiculous abundance of sweet treats (we’re talking everything from ice cream cones, to entire pecan pies) and although scaled back, the one we sampled at Giraffe was adorned with pretzels and plenty of popcorn!
As parents of two young children, we know all to well the trauma of dining out with kids and let’s me honest for a minute, it’s often unpleasant and not worth going out at all. Unless fully entertained the children struggle to sit still and eat without getting bored! As we said to the manager this weekend, dining at Giraffe was one of the most pleasurable experiences we’ve had eating out with the kids. A no pressure establishment where kids are welcomed and well catered to, where the service is fast and efficient and the food portions are generous.
With a menu that really embraces inclusion and moves away from fried junk food, we admired the innovation. While the restaurant itself is casual and colourful and much like the wooden jungle theme and bold artworks on the walls, Giraffe is about statements, with the statement being that casual dining can be fun!
Even better, kids eat FREE every Friday and Saturday in November. Or failing that, Giraffe are featured in the Entertainer.
We were invited to dine at Giraffe. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE with the exception of the cover photo which is used courtesy of Zomato