September is a good time to be a food blogger. Not only because it’s great to be back in the UAE following an extended summer vacation but more importantly, the start of the winter season marks a period of restaurant openings and old favourites launching updated menus, to entice both new and loyal customers.
Having never visited California Pizza Kitchen previously, we expected a typically West Coast experience. Well aware that pizza is not an American innovation, this fusion of Italy’s most famous dish with the sunny surf culture of Los Angeles (and beyond), had us intrigued as to exactly how the concept would work.
California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) has numerous outlets spread throughout Dubai and this location at Dubai Festival City marks the brands fifth outlet (and second to open this month) and is without a doubt, the largest restaurant space in the mall.
A bright entranceway promises a sun kissed experience, with palm trees marking the way to the companies distinct logo, looking like a bright yellow road sign, it sits proudly on the right hand wall. Guests are greeted by friendly staff and an open plan kitchen, so the first thing that catches your eye are the flames of the pizza oven and the rows of fresh ingredients that overwhelm the countertops.
Seating is situated beneath rustic lanterns and free-standing wooden structures. Yet the area at the front of the restaurant is most impressive. Punctuated by a more private area constructed from hanging ropes and green upholstery. The design is distinctly modern and upmarket and not at all what one would expect from a causal dining restaurant, especially one in a mall.
With green apple mojitos and strawberry coolers presented in vibrant glassware (complete with miniature umbrellas) we were left to explore the restaurant floor and ask questions of the passionate team of CPK staffers.
Taking over such a large space, shows a confidence in the brand to meet the insatiable hunger of Dubai’s ever-expanding dining culture. The restaurant goes back a long way in terms of square footage and has capacity for several hundred diners. Yet the pinnacle of the space is the outside terrace overlooking the forthcoming ‘mega media show.’ A sound, light and water show that is rumoured to be bigger than the Dubai fountains at Burj Khalifa. This is likely to be an optimum place to dine once this spectacle starts operation before the end of the year but for now there are still the fantastic skyline views.
Despite being a media launch, the team at CPK and House Of Comms had a few surprises for us and really made us work for our food. Diners were provided with grey aprons and an unmarked ‘mystery box’ full of fresh ingredients. Once opened, we had to create signature menu items, based purely upon the unmarked ingredients. Thankfully the chefs were on hand to assist and ensure that we didn’t go too far from the intended recipe.
Team Out and About, always up for a challenge, accepted with glee and soon found ourselves covered in flour in an attempt to create pizzas from scratch. Some fared better than other and hand stretching the pizza dough was the most difficult part, aside from the optional flipping and tossing.
Not only was this a great interactive exercise, it also gave the assembled media an opportunity to learn exactly how the dishes are created and trust us when we say, it’s not as easy as it looks.
With quinoa strawberry salads and a variety of pizzas created It was time to sit back and enjoy some of California Pizza Kitchen’s popular appetisers as we waited for our culinary masterpieces to cook.
Dynamite shrimp is a favourite no matter where you dine and is a dish that really seems to resonate with the UAE market. The version at CPK follows the standard formula of plump shrimp accompanied by crisp noodles and slathered in a creamy dynamite sauce. We really enjoyed it and found it to be spicier than the interpretation found as other similarly themed outlets.
We personally favoured the spice and were pleased to see that CPK are unafraid to use flavour in their other menu choices. The jalapeño bites were another firm favourite, comprising jalapeño peppers stuffed with a fresh cream cheese and topped with crisp veal bacon. While for those looking for something with less of a kick, the simplicity of the tomato bruschetta works wonders on the palette and is full of delightful Mediterranean inspired elements.
Now onto the heavier and more doughy stuff. The garlic cheese focaccia impressed us and was really elevated by an accompaniment of fresh Roma tomato salsa, that when spooned onto the mozzarella and garlic focaccia, worked so well.
Surprisingly, our pizzas turned out much better than expected and tasted really good, even if they were not exactly as intended on the menu. The vegetarian Wild Mushroom was the standout with it’s shaved cremini, shiitake and portobello mixture. Topped with scallion, parmesan and cracked black pepper. With no rich tomato sauce, this was simplicity at its very best.
Our hand-crafted interpretation of ‘The Works’ was also decent, due to a combination of Italian fennel beef sausage, fresh oregano, homemade marinara sauce and black olives. We also appreciated the deep fried mac and cheese for its creamy on the inside/crispy on the outside texture, though seasoning was severely lacking. Which is no fault of the restaurant as it was made by the assembled team of bloggers.
Our only really disappointment of the evening was dessert. Despite offering a great selection of after dinner treats, including an impressive looking salted caramel pudding and a banana and brownie combo. The one dessert that we did try, The Nutella cake, screamed of pre-packaging and was served straight from the fridge and oh so cold. A little standing time at room temperature would have vastly improved the moist cake that looked the part but was ultimately lacking due to it’s apparent mass-produced origins.
We thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to California Pizza Kitchen and are likely to return again to sample the other menu items that caught our eye. Specifically the Jamaican Jerk Pizza, fried calamari, Asian inspired lettuce wraps and of course… the lotus and salted caramel pana cotta.
A review of the food itself is quite tricky to write, based on the fact that the majority was actually assembled by the media in attendance. Though the few dishes that were prepared fully by the team of friendly kitchen staff (the dynamite shrimp, jalapeño bites and bruschetta) were all of a very good standard.
With CPK marking one of numerous new food and beverage outlets in Festival City Mall. Competition is likely to be stiff with competitoos like The Cheesecake Factory, Serendipity 3 and Sugar Factory all in close proximity and vying for customers attention. As a family friendly casual doing spot, California Pizza Kitchen ticks all the right boxes, with it’s Hollywood inspired thematics and imagery of boulevards lined with slender plan tress.
For a brand with 25o outlets in the USA and 80 international stores CPK at Festival City is a next chapter restaurant that feels both innovative and welcoming. Offering global favourites in a welcoming environment to create “A little piece of home.”
Location: First Floor, Festival City, Dubai
Social: Instagram / Twitter / Facebook
Hours: 10am – 10pm weekdays / 10pm – midnight (weekends)
Phone: 04 453 5234
We were invited to dine at California Pizza Kitchen. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.