Farmhouse-style fun at The Croft
British celebrity chef Darren Velvick may have come to Dubai to take over Table 9, the award-winning restaurant from chef duo Nick & Scott, but it is with his new venture that he seems to have truly come into his own. The Croft, located at the Mariott Harbour Hotel & Suites, is his interpretation of rustic England (a croft is a small farm), which means a British-inspired menu and a relaxed vibe.
The décor is contemporary, with chalkboard style inscriptions on the entrance wall and pillars, and retro light bulbs. The staff wear khaki turn-ups and blue blazers, and are friendly but not deferential, adding to the smart café vibe.
But the theme really comes to life in the outdoor terrace - complete with faux grass and baskets of plants hanging from the walls - which they’ve named the Juniper Garden. With Marina views (as well as those of a construction site; this is Dubai after all!), it is rightfully busy in this alfresco-perfect weather.
The menu is fuss-free, hearty British food, but given a gourmet makeover. I was also pleased to see there were a fair few vegetarian options across starters and mains.
Before we got into our starters, we were brought warm, fresh bread served in mini cloth sacks, and two types of butter. My request for gluten-free bread was met with promptly, and it was really good. While the plain butter was excellent, the caramelised brown butter (an in-house creation) had me in raptures. Rarely do I even go down the route of having bread before a meal, forget enjoying it so much, but I could have gone home happy with just that. The manager mentioned that they plan to start retailing this butter. I can’t wait!
Clearly the meal had got off to a good start. My entrée choice of crispy mushrooms with a jalapeno salsa continued the happy vibes. Perfectly seasoned and delightfully crisp on the outside, this dish is the ideal bar snack. What’s more, taking my preferences on board, they made this gluten-free too (using tapioca flour) and it was none the worse for it. My dining partner’s starter choice of crispy egg with fried potatoes and homemade baked beans had us both excited, but ended up paling in comparison to the mushrooms. It was tasty, but the egg was cooked a touch over, and the beans weren’t quite balanced (too sweet) and somehow, lacked oomph. Maybe adding a hint of garlic could give it that extra level of flavor?
For mains, we were intrigued by the veggie fish and chips on the specials menu, so ordered one. Basically turning the Italian specialty arancini into a main course, this dish was beer-battered risotto cakes served with potatoes and mushy peas. While well-intentioned, the dish missed the mark, as the risotto was too dry. The chunky chips were great, and the peas were clearly fresh, but the main component of the dish needs some work.
My main course choice, on the other hand, Senthil’s mum’s curry with rice, was spot on. Inspired by one of the Indian chefs in the kitchen, this chickpea and aubergine curry in a tomato-based gravy (not dissimilar to channa masala) had big, bold flavours without being overpoweringly spicy, and the delicate biryani-style rice topped with fried onions offset it just so. Who knew you could get such good curry in a non-Indian restaurant? A shared side of steamed broccoli with chilli and garlic had a good bite to it, and was flavoured to perfection.
We were quite full, but couldn’t resist at least one dessert, as they all sounded interesting. We settled on the quirkily titled Neat & Tidy, which is essentially a humorous repartee to the popular Eton Mess. A similar concoction of meringue, berries and cream, with the addition of a delicate elderflower gin jelly, this dessert is plated prettily to make it more pavlova-like and make it the visual antithesis of the Eton mess. And it is delicious.
While there were a few misses on the menu for us, with The Croft ticking so many other boxes, I will definitely be coming back, if only for the butter!
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: X
Pros: Decent variety of vegetarian dishes, fantastic atmosphere and service, good food
Cons: The construction site next door ruins the view
Price: $$ (50 - 200 AED)
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