As British expats living in the UAE we are prone to the occasional pangs of homesickness that are to be expected when you live half way around the world! These can be triggered by the distance from family and friends, or by familiar things such as food. Which in our case is VERY important! Having resided in the Middle East for the past half decade we are still yet to find a worthy fish and chips or a traditional Sunday Roast, which is strange because these typically British dishes are fairly simple creations, but when the ingredients or cookery technique are not quite right, it really shows.
We were therefore very excited by the arrival of The Scene from British celebrity Chef Simon Rimmer which opened in Yas Marina during F1 weekend late last year. The waterfront gastropub claims to serve quality pub grub with a retro twist, so on a recent visit out to Yas Island on a sunny Saturday afternoon we decided to indulge in a weekend roast with all the trimmings.
Chef Simon Rimmer is probably best known for his role on UK television, where he hosts Channel 4s Sunday Brunch with Tim Lovejoy, alongside noticeable appearances on The Great British Menu and more recently, Strictly Come Dancing. A Chef first and foremost, Rimmer is no stranger to the UAE dining landscape, having opened the first branch of The Scene in Dubai Marina’s Pier 7 back in 2014.
The Scene Abu Dhabi feels a little different, having taken up residence in a spot previously occupied by Cafe D’Alsace. The new venue is made up of picnic benches and wooden palettes dotted with potted plants and it all feels rather temporary. Like a summer fete or garden party that’s about to be rained off! Service is prompt and efficient but not particularly memorable. Our initial drinks orders are forgotten and then turn up wrong, which is unusual because the team is shared with adjacent Mr. Miyagi’s (both venues are owned by the same company) where the staff appear to be more jovial. Perhaps at The Scene they are trained in the quintessentially British ‘stiff upper lip’ which must be utilized as soon as they cross the threshold between the two venues.
A pleasing menu of pub grub features many expected favourites. Chicken wings (AED 49), Cheesy Chips and Gravy (AED 45), Veal Sausage Roll (AED 49) and the Chip Butty (AED 39) are present and correct. It’s these UK high street staples that take us back to school day lunchtimes, when a trip to the local chip shop for a butty or sausage roll was far more appealing than the food being dished up in the school cafeteria.
The Mac & Cheese (AED 39) starter certainly sounds interesting. Transforming the cheese laden pasta dish into a deep fried croquette stuffed with beef cheek and served with a truffle aioli. The dish has the potential to be a real crowd pleaser but the flavour of both the meat and the cheese requires ramping up to really make an impact. As it currently stands, the dish falls a little flat. The Thai Fish Cakes (AED 45) however, wonderfully encapsulate the aromatic flavours of the South East Asian cuisine that can now be found in pubs throughout the British Isles. The three fish cakes arrive piping hot, stacked on-top of one another and garnished with slices of red chilli and coriander leaves. The fragrant lemongrass really shines through without overpowering the delicate fish which has been portioned generously and the fish cakes are predominantly fish rather than being bulked out by potato as is so often the case.
Yet it’s the weekend roasts that we really came for and it’s pleasing to see that they can be ordered on both Saturdays and Sundays for a very reasonable AED 99. Choose from roast sirloin of beef, half a roast chicken or Simon’s nutloaf. Each served with traditional British side dishes of roast potatoes, roast parsnips, red cabbage, cauliflower cheese, ponchmipe (mashed potato and swede), a Yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy served in a small ceramic jug.
The sides transpire to be better than the meat which requires a touch more seasoning to really make an impression. The golden roast potatoes should be commended for their crisp exteriors which give way to a light and fluffy interior. A Yorkshire pudding can easily make or break a roast dinner (us Brits are that particular) and those at The Scene are well risen, plump and soft. When drowned in the rich gravy, it’s more than enough to satiate the roast dinner cravings we’ve been suffering from in recent weeks.
What’s a weekend pub meal without a dessert to round out proceedings? The Scene offers a concise selection of four – ice cream, sticky toffee pudding, choccy fondant and apple crumble. As traditionalists we opt for the crumble which is served with a double cream custard and it certainly feels home-baked. The apple is slightly tart and has been cooked with cinnamon and sugar before a generous topping of crumble mixture is applied. It’s a good dessert but one where the custard should be served hot rather than lukewarm.
The dark chocolate fondant is accompanied by a raspberry sorbet which helps to cut through some of the sweetness and the sponge offers the expected ‘ooze factor.’ The crumble remains the winner though in our books.
As expected from a gastropub there is quite a varied selection of beverages. Including the usual craft hops (hooray for Brewdog), grapes and ciders. From the rather eclectic cocktail selection we’d recommend the Bees Knees (spiced rum, ginger, agave and pineapple juice) and the Plonkers Passion (tequila, passionfruit, lemon and basil) each priced at a rather reasonable AED39.
Backed by a soundtrack of 90s BritPop and pleasing marina views, The Scene manages to encapsulate a feeling of nostalgia while also offering value for money. Yet the venue lacks atmosphere on the occasions that we’ve visited and it seems a British gastropub cannot compete with the juggernaut that is Mr. Miyagi’s next door. A venue which Abu Dhabians have taken too with such gusto.
The Scene certainly has potential but as of this moment it feels like it opened too soon.
Out & About UAE were guests of The Scene. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.
The Verdict: The Scene
Our hopes of finding an establishment in Abu Dhabi offering a quality weekend roast have been met somewhat BUT The Scene feels like one of those places where you need to know what to order to avoid disappointment.