A little slice of luxe safari life where the food sends you away jolly…

A top-notch dinner in Dubai Sports City is rarely discussed in online articles and magazine features because it doesn’t really exist. DIFC or The Palm, they always say, as if a brilliant evening with inventive food couldn’t possibly be found over several speed humps in suburbia.

That is no longer the case thanks to celebrated restaurateur Serg Lopez (of Tom & Serg, and Sanderson’s fame). Over two years ago he began work on a mind-bendingly ambitious project that’s taken over an entire building – which he had built – and parachuted in passionate Aussie chef Troy Payne to open The Pangolin, a two-storey plus veranda behemoth, at The Els Club.

The Pangolin sees itself as a sustainably-focused community restaurant where Serg and Troy work alongside many of the country’s local producers to provide a farm-to-table menu. Design-wise, the ground floor brasserie is beautiful. The booths serve as a nod to African Safari fleets with leather straps buckled to the cushions while the soft-backed, luxe camping chairs add to the luxury safari motif. The stained-glass mirrors, charming cloth fans swirling overhead, and vintage shutters all work together to transform the space into a colonial villa. We expect to see the same attention to detail on the second floor – where there’ll be a fancier dining room, bar, veranda and private dining areas – when it opens later this year. 

The menu consists of several quirky sections, from grandma’s chicken noodle soup, salads, sandwiches and boasties (burgers), to over embers (barbecue bits) and paper bags (smaller mains), as well as iron pots, pasta and bunny chows (a South African speciality featuring hollowed out loaves filled with curries). This is food that aims to feed you and send you away nostalgic and jolly.

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On the Thursday evening we visited, it was pleasingly busy, which was surprising because trying to get a reservation through the main switchboard, email and Instagram account had involved an arduous maze of dropped calls and missed emails, possibly because the staff were all too busy since opening earlier this month.

We began with the most delicious buttermilk chicken wings, coated in kataifi crispy sticks. Next up: a boastie of chicken kiev with buttery garlic and herb paneer, thick tomato slices and black garlic mayo bookended with toasted rectangular
white bread. Simple and tasty, but we should have ordered some triple cooked fries to go with it.

The next offerings were from the sea: two generous skewers of coal fired, tender chili squid, marinated in garlic, lime and thyme with vine tomatoes. Intrigued by the sides (which included Brussel sprouts with biltong (Dhs45), and battered plantain (Dhs39), we ordered the cream and cheesy baked cracked corn (Dhs45). Akin to cauliflower cheese, it was gooey and naturally a bit sweet.

If you’re expecting the usual Dubai-style run-of-the-mill menu (one burrata, ribeye steak with fries, cheesecake thanks) then perhaps The Pangolin won’t be for you. If instead you’ve a curious palate and are willing to join Chef Troy on a fun culinary adventure then The Pangolin is suitably a wild ride.

The Pangolin, Els Club, Dubai Sports City, Sun to Thur 8am to midnight, Fri and Sat 8am to 1am. Tel: (054) 4438 288. thepangolindubai.com