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England, Dubai and the theory of Pie - By Rebecca Wicks

The idea of walking to the pub was one I left at home in the UK, along with my scarf and welly-boots (stupidly). Now, I don’t mean to whinge. It’s very nice that we have a pub at all here, let alone one in walking distance from my flat, but Nelsons, in the new Media Rotana (TECOM) is a very confusing place, housing some very confused people. Let me set the scene.

I’ve been twice now. The first time I arrived it was slap bang in the middle of happy hour and every male English expat over the age of 30 seemed to have taken on the obligatory “propping up” of the bar. The place was loud. The smoke was so thick you could barely smell the fresh paint. The DJ span “everything that those crazy Brits just love” - Westlife, Phil Collins and the Bee Gees. Grateful wives who hadn’t been for a bevvy in months gyrated in the corner as the DJ beamed in delight, and bemused hotel guests watched from the sidelines, wondering when Dubai started building places that should, by all rights, be sitting on a wind-savaged street by a train station, surrounded by the homeless.

The dark mahogany paneled booths, reminiscent of a set of 1940’s train carriages were simply calling out for a pub quiz huddle. A girl in a hat read a romance novel and sipped a Guinness between the gaps in her teeth. And as a frazzled waiter knocked my chair in his hurry I realized, perhaps I’ve changed a little, forgotten my roots, but “home” isn’t really where the heart is at all.

When it comes to service, I was ignored for about 10 minutes at the bar. Finally, after questioning several other members of staff on my behalf, my server still had no idea if they served white beer or not (FYI they don’t). Second time round we sat in a booth with a table for food, although no one cared to offer us a drink, menus or cutlery until we asked. After ordering, our waiter forgot us. We asked again. Or drinks never appeared. A waitress approached. We ordered again. No drinks arrived. We ordered again. She bought my wine and asked, for the fourth time, what my friend had ordered as... whoopsie, she’d forgotten.

Being nestled at the bottom of a world class five star hotel, you’d expect the food to be excellent. And thankfully, it really is. One should note however, if you’re an avid pie enthusiast, the chef hasn’t quite grasped the concept of such a dish, in spite of creating a daily “pie of the day” (AED 65). The first time I asked for it, I was presented with a mini casserole dish full of pie-filling. Not a pastry flake in sight. No sides, no top, no nothing. The second time, my lamb and veg concoction was topped with potato. Absolutely delicious, but still, not a pie. Calling it a pie is dangerous. There are people who would travel further for such a promise. (My friend’s fish and chips were fab though).

The funny thing about all this is, I’m not entirely sure whether this strange new world of incompetence, ignorance and mayhem is offensive beyond all comprehension, or thrilling in its English authenticity. The service in English pubs is supposed to be terrible. The entertainment is supposed to make you cringe and the crowd are expected to kill all serenity usually associated with having a nice drink, away from home. When you’re not being ignored by a skin-head called Clive with a tattoo the size of Satwa on his forearm, you’re getting your bum punched by an 18-year-old wobbling about with a jelly-shot, or serenaded by an eager karaoke DJ, who’s set up the popular weekly “Songs with John” because no reality TV talent-show, record label, or even cruise ship dared to trust him with a microphone anywhere else.

Nelson’s is one of those places that could definitely claim to be unique, at least in Dubai, but will probably never bother. I have a feeling that it might keep luring me in until I can actually figure out how I feel about it though; at least until they grasp the real meaning of Pie.

Posted: 15 January 2009

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