The British pub is an institution and a place that for many expats, provides a familiar feeling of home. Back in the UK we’re used to frequenting places such as Cooper’s and though we’ve never spent enough time in any one establishment to consider ourselves a ‘local.’ Cooper’s certainly promotes that feeling.
Ask anyone in Abu Dhabi and they’ve likely heard of this British pub located in the Park Rotana complex. Cooper’s has a strong reputation and whether you’re a fan or not, it’s extremely likely that you’ve visited on at least one occasion.
As food bloggers we’ve never considered Cooper’s to be a dining destination. In our opinion the food has always been an after thought. One that comes secondary to the alcohol, in a move reflective of the venues target audience of thirsty expats. It’s evident that they know their demographic very well and the place always seems to be buzzing no matter the day of the week.
As a British expats we must say that Cooper’s does an admirable job of recreating the aesthetic of your average British boozer. Dark wood in abundance, checkered black and white floors and plenty of leather upholstery. Stereotypical perhaps but walking through the glass frosted double doors, it’s easy to believe that you could be in Britain. The central metallic bar is the focal point and always a hive of activity and while the standard British pub is not generally associated with great service. Aside from a (possibly) friendly landlord, typically the team of waitstaff is made up of moody teenagers. At Cooper’s however the staff are vibrant and energetic, engaging customers in friendly conversation and ensuring drinks are replenished at all times.
With it being the festive season, Cooper’s really impressed with their Christmas decorations. A large tree is complemented by banisters and woodwork wrapped in foliage and twinkling lights. Reminding us of the Christmas party season, one of the things we greatly miss while living in Abu Dhabi at this time of year. The bar is busy with a crowd of young customers enjoying the festivities and it’s rammed even though it’s early evening on a week night. Despite the lively interior, we chose to sit outside on the terrace. Wanting to make the most of the UAE’s limited winter months and are surprised to discover patio heaters on in full force. The terrace is slightly lacking in character and less smokey than the bar but additional lighting may be required as we struggled to read menus (this is also the reason for a severe lack of photographs to accompany this review).
We were invited to Cooper’s to sample both their festive offerings and a newly launched menu. The menu itself is humorous in fact that the front side contains comedic phrases such as “I drink to make other people more interesting.” Taking a brief glance at the one page offering all of the expected dishes are present – cottage pie, butter chicken, fish and chips, steak and ale pie and a selection of burgers and sandwiches.
The menu (much like the interiors) is a stereotype. An expected collection of dishes selected with the primary objective of tapping into a notion of familiarity and nostalgia. We begin our meal with the Calamari Frito, which arrives promptly and within a few minutes of ordering. A cone of lightly battered calamari served with a lemon and garlic dip that received no complaints from us. The sharing portion of D Macho Nachos are available in servings for two or four people, provides crunchy tortilla chips topped with piles of beef chili, cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream and black olives. The portion is more than generous and despite not being as good as what you’d find in a Mexican restaurant (it’s the authenticity of the guacamole that makes or breaks a nacho dish), it’s passable and works as a glorious means of soaking up the copious amounts of alcohol that are likely to be consumed in a place like Cooper’s.
Moving onto main courses, our dining companion opted for a dish found within the platters and paddles section of the menu. From The Grill is a selection of typical fare – bbq beef brisket, baby back ribs, lamb merguez, veal bratwurst, coleslaw and corn on the cob. As big fans of BBQ and smokehouse cuisine, this offering at Coopers was adequate but unfortunately pales in comparison to other casual eateries such as Famous Dave’s.
Our Festive Plate with all the trimmings was much better. Maybe because it was Christmas and the first time we were having a turkey roast this year? The generous slices of turkey were juicy and nicely seasoned and the plate comes piled with asparagus, pumpkin, roasted new potatoes and a chestnut, sage and onion stuffing. With lashings of gravy, the plate (and decor) certainly helped to inject us with the much needed ‘Christmas feeling’ we’d been severely lacking this year.
Desserts are limited to two options and upon asking for one of each. We ended up with one of each, each! So that’s two ‘Ice Cream Sandwiches‘ and two ‘Not Yo Mama’s Apple Pie‘ between two people. The apple pie though hearty wasn’t as good as your mother would make (maybe that’s our British bias coming into play) and the addition of custard as opposed to ice cream would’ve been a nice touch. The ice cream sandwich meanwhile, was a monstrous thing that we struggled to finish due to its sheer size and despite a nice chocolatey taste, didn’t really work as a pairing with our pint of cider.
One thing we did appreciate were the ‘Adult Shakes.‘ Something we adored in London (where they’re referred to as hard shakes) and had not seen in the UAE until we visited Cooper’s. These milkshakes add a dash of liquor to proceedings and are better than either of the desserts on the menu – tequila brûlée, vodka strawberry cheesecake or rum cookies and cream.
In all honesty the food at Cooper’s is exactly as you’d expect it to be. Hearty, reasonably priced and generously portioned as a means to accompany your chosen beverages. It’s neither the best or the worst that you’ll have but it’s perfectly in keeping with an establishment like this.
We’d love to see Cooper’s take it up and notch and adopt a gastro-pub approach. Much like the recently opened Copper Dog in Dubai, there is a gap in the market that someone could really capitalise on in Abu Dhabi. Maybe Cooper’s isn’t the right fit due to it’s specific clientele, who may not appreciate a more upmarket venue.
People in Abu Dhabi know Cooper’s and it has a good reputation throughout the city. For us as food bloggers, we need to take each establishment on its own merits and draw fair comparisons. We’re torn about our opinion. No doubt Cooper’s is a fun place to be and the drinks promotions are good but as a dining destination, it offers little more than a means of filling your stomach while you drink.
Walk into Cooper’s on any night of the week and it’s busy, thanks to some strategically targeted promotions – a popular quiz night, extended happy hour and the fact that it’s ladies night every night! We can only really sum up the experience with another quote from the menu: “This house runs best on love, laughter and beer.”
Our visit to Cooper’s coincided with a festive delivery from the team at the Park Rotana who it’s been a pleasure to work with this year. Thank you to Brian and the team for the festive hamper stuffed full of chocolates, candy canes and other seasonal goodies.
Location: Park Rotana, Khalifa Park Area, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 2:30am
Phone: 02 657 3325
We were invited to dine at Cooper’s. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, with the exception of additional images used courtesy of Time Out Abu Dhabi and Visit Abu Dhabi