FOOD REVIEW: The new Ship's Wheel steers a familiar course
IT WAS NUMBER one on the list of favourite office outing destinations for us for at least a decade. A late finish at the end of the week and we'd pile into a car and make our way down the highway, past Ibn Battuta, to a place (cue the Cheers theme), where everybody knew your name. It's safe to say the old The Ship's Wheel at what was then the Jebel Ali Club claimed prime real estate in our heart next to second hand books and tacky souvenir fridge magnets. As you can probably tell by the objects we hold dear, we often enjoy things labeled very 'un-Dubai.' By that we mean places or items that don't possess any glitz or glamour. This notion perfectly encapsulated the old The Ship's Wheel. It wasn't much to look at, appeared to have been built, and subsequently remained in, an early 1980s time warp and smelled of a combination of smoke and an overworked deep-fat fryer. It was magical. In a town known the world-over for five-star luxury, here was a little corner time forgot. This was its USP and it proved popular. Full pretty much every night, the food was excellent, everything on offer was considerably cheaper than anywhere else in town and the community spirit fostered was palpable.
You cannot, however, halt the march of progress and late last year the old Jebel Ali Club shut its doors to be replaced by the shiny Jebel Ali Recreation Club complex right next door. Thankfully, for the sake of posterity, it contains the Jebel Ali Clubhouse wherein lies a new The Ship's Wheel, which is where we recently ended up to see if it could be adopted in place of the old friend we lost.
In short, they've done a great job at keeping the traditions alive. Although smaller than its predecessor to make way for a greater variety of eateries in the development, The Ship's Wheel has imported classic elements to retain a sense of familiarity. The crests from warships which used to have their crews pile in decades ago have made the trip over, the booth and high table layout and, most critically, an exact replica of the carpet, which believe it or not pulls the whole experiment together, are all pitch perfect.
Actually besides the lived-in feel, the restaurant retains many of its core values - notably the great service and food. Prices have gone up a bit, but they're still in-line with the establishment's contemporaries, if not better. It's a pub, right, so we had to go for pub grub although there is now also much fancier fare on offer. Starters including dynamite shrimp (is that pub grub?), duck spring rolls (likewise) and Buffalo wings allowed us to settle into the evening. The dynamite shrimp and wings in particular were superb and, after polishing off the lot, we relaxed. We were back in business at The Ship's Wheel. Huzzah! It felt oddly nostalgic considering the venue has only been open a few months. An enormous Southern fried chicken burger and a portion of sizzling chicken fajitas later and we were already planning our return visit. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Where: The Ship's Wheel, Jebel Ali Recreation Club
Best dish: Buffalo wings
Cost per person: Around Dhs150 (starter and main)
Occasion: Informal fun any day of the week