As East-Londoner’s in the UAE we were pleased to discover that an East London themed gastropub had opened right here in Dubai.
Excited about the prospect of some traditional British cuisine in a familiar environment, we slipped out of work on a quiet Sunday lunchtime, to sample the offerings of the Black Lion. Plus we had been keen to try one of their signature Freak Shakes that had been blowing up our Instagram feed (but more on that later).
The Black Lion can be found within the H Hotel, located on the dreaded Trade Centre roundabout (a place that strikes fear into even the most confident of Dubai drivers). Having circumnavigated the roundabout in relative safety, we were more than relieved to have arrived.
The H Hotel is a contemporary five star property, situated at the prestigious address of Number One Sheikh Zayed Road. Valet stuff greeted us with a quick “welcome to Dubai” and we were unsure if we should be offended, seeing as we have been living and working in the Emirates for almost three years now! Is this the standard greeting at The H? Or dd they think we we tourists?
Entering into the hotel lobby, one can’t help but marvel at the glittering crystal panels than adorn the ceiling, but veering right we arrived at the Black Lion.
From the outside, the Black Lion is an unassuming venue, but venture through the gloomy entranceway and you will discover an charming East-End boozer. A complete replica of countless properties you would find in Bethnal Green, Bow or Whitechapel.
Having spent much of our youth in East London, we couldn’t help but feel a familiar pang of nostalgia, for the interior decoration was all about attention to detail. Walls are hung with retro advertisements from a number of beverage brands, whilst ample leather seating sits up against the traditional green ceramic wall tiles, that can be found throughout East London’s Victorian-era properties.
Don’t get us wrong, this is not a run down English pub (like countless others you will find throughout the UAE), The Black Lion is a modern twist on the stereotypical pub and exudes a distinct hipness. From walls cladded in black wood to the Victorian fireplace, each decorative touch has been clearly planned and this precision pays off in it’s authenticity. It genuinely feels like a slice East London has been transported to Dubai.
The central bar is a prominent feature and its positioning means that it’s easily accessible from wherever you’re seated and that the attentive staff can see you at all times. Above the bar hangs a quirky light-fitting, comprising of strung lightbulbs that is part Medieval torture chamber and part chandelier. With wooden floors and large glass mirrors, The Black Lion is atmospherically and aesthetically, a sound replication of an East-End boozer!
Having perused the menu online prior to our visit, we were slightly disappointed to discover that not all of the items were available during lunchtime service – so none of the pie, mash and liquor or fish and chips that we had been craving! Instead the selection included sandwiches, pizzas and the traditional roast dinner. Showcasing a nice variety of dishes, whilst not straying too far from their traditional English roots. Without so much as a second thought, we ordered the roast beef – well it was Sunday after all and being such a British institution we simply couldn’t resist.
The staff were kind enough to explain how long we could expect to wait for the food and animatidley talked us through the vast array of grapes, hops (including British favourite London Pride), house beverages and soft drinks available. Being a gastro-pub the alcoholic beverages are take preference, so it was unfortunate that the soft drink options were severely lacking – no Coke (only Pepsi – eurgh) and no sign of a ginger ale either.
The Black Lion is most definitely riding the current hipster wave to the point of excess, meaning that even the Pepsi that we begrudgingly ordered, was served in a mason jar complete with chunky straw.
The food arrived a short time later, accompanied by a gigantic Yorkshire pudding which was crispy on the outside, with a soft interior and not at all oily (thankfully).
Trying to please two British expats who grew up on this kind of food is no easy feat and we’re excited to report that the roast dinner offered by the team at the Black Lion, is one of the best that we have sampled in Dubai (and trust us when we say that we have tried our fair share)! With generous slices of roast beef, lashings of gravy (to soak up all that meaty goodness) and ample vegetables, including the love/hate addition of Brussel sprouts – the meal is certainly hearty. In addition to the large plate piled high with meat and veg, we were provided a side dish of cauliflower cheese and the only accompaniment for roast beef – a fiery horseradish sauce. Our only negative observation with the roast, was the fact that the roast potatoes were not quite as crispy as we would’ve liked, but this is a minor complaint when the rest of the meal was so good.
Bar manager Reka, remained in close contact, ensuring that we were enjoying the food and that all our dining requirements were met. Though she seemed a little surprised that we were going to sample the ‘Freak Shakes’ after consuming such a huge main course.
There’s no point in lying, despite the funky East London vibe and great roast dinner, the real reason we had ventured all the way from Media City, was to sample the Freak Shakes (or Freak Sheikhs as they are also known). An Australian concept that will make you question everything you know about desserts! Is it a milkshake? Is it an ice-cream sundae? Who knows? One thing is for sure though – these outrageous sweet treats are a guilty pleasure.
Available in distinct flavours like raspberry Eton mess, maple and pecan, chocolate and cookies and pistachio and white chocolate Even the most courageous diner will struggle to decide! We eventually settled on the pistachio white chocolate and the maple pecan.
The freak shakes do take a little time to prepare, but are most definitely worth the wait. Made with three scoops of ice cream, 200ml of milk, copious amounts of cream and decadent toppings – this may well be diabetes in a jar, but it was worth it!
What arrived at our table were two sumptuous looking desserts, with milkshake oozing out of the large mason jars (the dessert was seemingly uncontainable within its glass presentation prison and looking for an escape) and stacked with half a pecan pie and a whole white chocolate blondie. Quite frankly we were unsure as to how we were going to devour these beasts.
Diving in we determined that both freak shakes were delicious without being overly sweet and despite our trepidation at eating the whole thing – they were devoured within a matter of minutes. These Freak Shakes are devilishly good, to a point that even Jack The Ripper would be proud!
Overall we throughly enjoyed our experience at the Black Lion and cannot recommend the food highly enough. With an enticing menu of high quality dishes, the restaurant represents more than just the freak shakes – though they are a great way to get people through the door.
The Good: The menu is The Black Lions crowning glory, offering really good quality food We also loved the East-End influenced decor and the relaxed and inviting atmosphere. Entertainer vouchers are welcomed here.
The Not So Good: Prices are on the high side (Freak Shakes range from 50AED – 80 AED), more choices in soft beverages need to be offered and crispier roast potatoes please!
The Black Lion is a welcome addition to the Dubai gastro-pub scene and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for this East End themed venture. We felt like we had been transported back to the Shoreditch/Hoxton/Dalston hangouts of our youth – and for that we are appreciative.
Reka and her team are successfully bringing innovation to The Black Lion, via a number of distinct theme nights. We have the Lock In (a very British concept) menu that is served between 11:30pm and 3:00am each night. Brick Lane beats is a funky Tuesday club night. Chip shop lunches are offered on Thursday’s, complete with chip butty’s. While weekends provide Friday brunches and Saturday roast dinners.
Seemingly The Black Lion has all bases covered in attracting a young and trendy clientele,. just perfect for this hipster hangout. We will be back, if only for more Freak Shakes and to sample the cocktail menu.
Location: H Hotel, Trade Centre Area, Dubai
Hours: 11:00am – 03:00am
Phone: 04 359 2366
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.