The man behind The Maine and Barbary has achieved success with unlikely concepts in unlikely locations. And he’s ready to open two new restaurants in 2019
Barbary’s new brunch menu goes back to the original concept initiated by the English and gluttonously perfected by the Americans: simply a big breakfast for lunch
Walking through a dark and dingy entrance, with only a red neon sign flashing ‘Adults only’ lighting your way, it feels like time and space has weirdly warped and thrown you into an unknown place. With the heavy overtones of the red light districts ubiquitous throughout Europe and sought out by pleasure-seeking travellers, you have to ask yourself: “Is this really Dubai?”
And then, as you reach the top of the saturnine staircase and step through what looks like a no-entry door, Barbary opens up, and you realise that yes, this bar-cum-delicatessen-cum-contraband era-dance floor is very much Dubai. An absolute hidden gem you don’t expect to stumble into in the now-named Barsha Heights — formerly Tecom, an area infamous for its late night smattering of business cards left under every available inch of space underneath car wipers and windscreens.
A hidden gem though it is at the moment, it won’t stay for long — owing both to menu and venue.
What’s immediately striking about Barbary is the interior. High-ceilings, a pared down design reminiscent of the popular New York art studios found in the meat packing district, the classy teal and violet velvet coverings on the dining sofa and cushions, and the glitzy overhead chandeliers, all of which is overseen by a gorgeous mahogany bar lining one side of the interior: the combination of the eclectic aesthetics produces something that is both 1920s clandestine Parisian underground bar, and a swanky prohibition era American party joint. And this setting conjures up perfectly what Barbary is all about: an indulgent taste of opulence from two distinct cultures that clash and combine to create a welcome sense of affordable extravagance.
The new brunch menu — which Debonair was invited to try out before it goes live to the public — is called ‘The Brunch Affair’. Sounds more salacious than it actually is, but the epithet is in keeping with the illicit ambience created by the Montreal gastropreneur Joey Ghazal — the brains behind the Barbary outfit in Barsha Heights.
In essence, it’s a menu that eulogises and revives the original concept of brunch: generous portions of breakfast fare that you indulgently feast on for lunch. And so it is with Barbary.
For starters, you’re brought a rather plain-looking Bloody Mary in a mason jar — which, it must be mentioned is not everyone’s cup of tea. The thinking here is that, given this is a Friday, you’re probably still nursing the after-effects of a hefty Thursday night. Mary’s are, after all, the ultimate hangover cure. But then comes the fanfare: your Bloody Mary doesn’t remain plain for very long.
Your waiter promptly brings out a three-tiered stand full of food accessories which you use to pimp your Mary. They call it their Build-a-Bary concept. (An instruction the builders working on Barrymore’s swimming pool were given).
Some of the food items here are rather out there for what is essentially a strong, iced tomato juice. Olives, carrots and celery — you’ve seen them in a Bloody Mary before. But have you ever thrown into your BM some cold cuts, cheese sticks and a hamburger? No. Well, we’re in the same boat. Neither had I. Until Barbary insisted I try it. The result is surprisingly okay on the palette — provided you don’t go too crazy — but ultimately good fun. Construct your own Bloody Mary? Why not.
If you find a more extravagant Bloody Mary in all the land, send word — carrier pigeon is fine, you're not likely to have WiFi reception wherever you chance to find a BM to trump this one.
Finlay & Co
Moving onto the food, and your opening spread is brought out — from French toast with custard, homemade donut beignets, steak tartare, mac and cheese balls and Montreal poutine — there’s plenty to tuck into.
You’ll notice the blend of Parisian and American flavours all thrown together in what could appear to be a whirlwind cluster of an opening. But for all the mix and match going on here, the variety is excellent and the food itself cooked well. It’s the sort of concept a brunch thrives on: a variety of good food that you can pick and choose from while conversation is beginning to pick up and the Bloody Mary sweeps away the cobwebs od last night.
Onto mains. You’re to choose from a set list that offers more hearty breakfast fare — a bells and whistles Full Breakfast, Buttermilk Pancakes and Eggs Benedict (recommended). But you can also opt for a more traditional a la carte option. Steak and eggs, the Barbary Burger and the Classic Dog are all fulsome and filling Yankee-style dishes that take you to the precipice of unbuttoning your slacks to make more room for dessert: the which is mysteriously called ‘Sweet Romance’, and the only clue as to what you end up with is that it will be the Chef’s Dessert of the Day.
Given the unlimited flow of prosecco and house beverages that accompanies the deal — which runs for an excellent five hours from 12pm-5pm — this is one brunch that you have to embrace: dodgy alleyway, red-light entrance and all.
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