The Sportsman’s Arms is Abu Dhabi’s first gastropub and a welcome addition to the cities thriving dining scene. A versatile venue that caters for breakfast. lunch, dinner, live sporting events and now brunch. Taking inspiration from the American/Irish pubs of Boston and transforming the concept into a casual dining experience for the entire family.
The charm starts as soon as you set foot inside (it can be tricky to find tucked away on the first floor of the international tennis stadium in Zayed Sports City), as we were warmly greeted by staff in a personable manner, in which they offer their name and genuinely take interest in you as a diner.
Interiors are cosy and feature a mixture of booths and wooden tables. A long bar runs down one side of the informal dining area, while large windows provide great views over the surrounding tennis courts. Sports screens fill every nook and cranny and are even suspended from the ceiling, while black and white ceramic tiles complete the look. Successfully replicating the ambiance of countless sports bars the world over.
What sets this sports bar apart, is that this is not an adults only establishment. Far from it in fact, as children and families are not just welcomed, but actively encouraged to enjoy everything the Sportsman’s Arms has to offer. This was not our first visit and we were pleased to see that it was very busy, full of families out to enjoy the afternoon together.
Brunching with the kids has always been a nightmare, so we were please to discover that the concept for the ‘Family Friday Brunch’ is pleasingly simple. All dishes are served to the table, so no need for quests to the buffet or long lines for food. Instead, diners are presented with sharing platters for starters and desserts and the only choice to be made is the main course. Which is selected from seven of the Sportsman’s Arms tried and tested signature dishes.
Kids are immediately armed with colouring books and balloons and were often the centre of attention when it came to service. The children’s needs were catered to first and then the focus switched to the adults – which worked perfectly and made the children feel very special.
The children start with puffy dough balls accompanied by a smooth garlic butter. While the adults can dive into a mixed appetiser selection of fresh items (all of which are crafted in house), presented upon a rustic wooden board. The vegetarian friendly, caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlets were the standout, featuring a delightfully flaky pastry and the completing flavours of the sweet onions and the tangy goats cheese.
The pulled beef croquettes were gloriously golden and these large spheres housed a wonderful pulled beef mixture, that though slightly under seasoned, worked well with the sides of piccalilli and fruit chutney.
Smoked haddock fish cakes had a powerful fishy flavour and despite being deep fried, were (thankfully) not saturated in oil. Meanwhile an alternative take on fish, came in the form of a pastrami cured smoked salmon, specially presented with a selection of tear and share breads. Regular readers will know that bread is a weakness of ours and the three freshly baked breads didn’t last long on the table, with the rosemary and salt iteration being our preference.
The final item from the starters was a farmhouse terrine. Now, we have always had a slight issue with terrine (it’s a textural thing) but were pleasantly surprised by the offering here which was packed full of flavour.
Children pick from four main courses, which include penne pasta, chicken fingers and beef burgers. Our bundles of joy opted for the Margerita Pizza and the homemade fish fingers. The pizza was huge – to a point that even two adults would have struggled to finish it – coated with a rich tomato sauce and stringy mozzarella. It was delicious and the wood fire taste of the thin crunchy base had us all enamoured.
In our experience, children’s food in restaurants tends to be plain, awfully simple and slapdash. Thankfully time and effort has clearly been put into each dish at The Sportsman’s Arms and the fish fingers were a great example of this. Using a fresh light batter over chunks of quality cod, these fingers were plump and appealing and the children certainly agreed (they were devoured in minutes0. The children’s meals are completed with popcorn and ice cream.
Adults, have a choice that includes a spring pea risotto, beef Irish stew and a selection of pizzas. For us though, the choices were simple. The pan seared salmon, which is likely the healthiest choice on the menu, was cooked just right and served upon a bed of crushed new potatoes with a light lemon butter.
The traditional roast dinners here have become a bit of a talking point, with many regarding them as the best on offer in Abu Dhabi. We are inclined to agree, due to the juicy and well-seasoned roast chicken, coming with all of the trimmings, a thick rich gravy and even a Yorkshire pudding. As British expats, a roast dinner is a big deal to us and despite some of the Americanisms (the cauliflower cheese and sweet potato mash), this is as perfect a roast dinner as you are likely to get in the capital.
On a separate visit we also sampled, the USDA black Angus cheeseburger and the fish and chips, which are both of a very high standard and are included in the selection of main courses in the brunch.
Feeling more than full, we had to hold back on the desserts for a little while to allow our bodies time to recover (this was brunch after all). While most places offer a trio of desserts, The Sportsman’s Arms pull out all the stops by serving not three, not four… but five desserts! With a fruity sorbet to refresh the palette and then some of the most sinful brownies ever. Not forgetting the sticky toffee pudding, apple pie and fruit tarts that also require your attention and with a number of sauces to pick from, there is no point in counting the calories.
If hot beverages are you thing, we thoroughly recommend the matcha latte which we have not seen elsewhere in the city and tastes amazing.
The Sportsman’s Arms is a breath of fresh air when it comes to family dining and no longer must families be confined to soulless mall food courts. It is more than just pub grub done well, it is a welcoming environment for families, that resulted in one of the most enjoyable dining experiences we’ve personally had with the family. If the kids are happy, then the adults are too and with a playground on the outdoor terrace, our little ones were enraptured for hours.
The Family Friday Brunch runs every Friday from 1pm – 4pm and is priced at 195 AED (soft drinks only) / 275 (unlimited house beverages) and 60 AED for children.
After brunch why not stay on for the killer happy hour. Running from 4pm – 7pm every night of the week, with selected beverages starting from just twenty dirhams.
We were invited to dine at The Sportsman’s Arms, though views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.