Downtown Sports Bar & Grill

My date and I had barely entered the lobby of the Metropolitan Palace hotel when a big, friendly bloke sprang forward and shook me by the hand, introducing himself as the manager of the Downtown Bar & Grill, our dining destination that evening. I’d called ahead and booked, and now he was welcoming me and calling me by my first name before I’d even spoken. Had he flagged me as a reviewer? We entered the restaurant and immediately I relaxed. Clearly he was just excited to see a customer. The staff, too, was falling over themselves to greet us, but their chummy banter was more endearing than annoying. It reminded me of somewhere I’d been before. I opened the menu and it clicked. This was the new place from the people behind the Habtoor Grand’s Grand Grill steakhouse. The atmosphere also embodied a similar warmth and cosiness to the Grand Grill, an effect the lack of customers didn’t detract from. Despite the Saffa-theme, the décor seemed more New York City than Cape Town, decked out as it was in trendy blacks and reds, with funky mood music playing over the speakers. Scanning the starters for my favourites from the Grand, I was disappointed to see they didn’t offer its traditional bobotie, shards of lamb shank, which they serve up with banana curry ice cream. This menu seemed to play it a little safer, but as luck would have it, my dinner date could point me towards the South African staples, being a native herself. The bunny chow – hollowed out bread filled with chicken curry – was pleasant, but according to my companion, was too bland; the promised Durban curry more an inoffensive brown gravy than the fiery red tongue tingler we’d expected. The boerewors, sausages served with pap (a solid block of largely tasteless maize), was similarly standard – not unpleasant, but missing the distinctive aromatic flavour any self-respecting Durban-dweller would demand. Disappointed but not yet defeated, I pinned my hopes on the mains. I’d always wanted to try the Grand’s surf n’ turf, aka, steak and prawns served with a sambuca sauce. The prawns – all three of them – were meaty beasts, as tender and juicy as my medium rare steak should have been. That the steak was cooked as perfectly pink as I’d desired, but was somehow still tough and tasteless, pointed to bad produce over bad chefmanship. Meanwhile, the sauce I was so excited about masqueraded as mayonnaise for a good 10 minutes before I realised the pot of thick, white gloop must be it, and its cold, vaguely aniseed touch did little to conciliate. My date’s chicken and ribs combo, however, was another story. The portion was so gargantuan it provoked wide-eyed fear, followed by incredulous hysterics. Happily, the chicken was tender and the ribs laden with succulent flesh. We ate it for lunch for a good two days afterwards. It was a nice touch that our waiter brought out a dessert tray so we could choose our sweets by sight. Though they looked good on the tray, they didn’t quite deliver. A lemon cheesecake proved too tart, and an order of crème brulee spongey rather than creamy. It was a bit heartbreaking, because the management and service were so lovingly friendly, and because my date and I, as a result, really wanted to love this place. There were high moments throughout the meal that showed promise in the kitchen, and we hope the staff can ride this to make the food that much better. If they could, the restaurant would be a lovely spot for friendly, inexpensive Saffa bites. In the meantime, it might be best to satiate any bobotie cravings at the Grand Grill. The bill (for two) 2x Large water Dhs40 1x Bunny chow Dhs38 1x Boerewors Dhs40 1x Chicken and ribs Dhs95 1x Surf n’ turf Dhs185 1x Cheese cake Dhs38 1x Crème brulee Dhs38 Total (including service) Dhs474

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