Restaurant review: The Black Lion at The H Dubai offers pub grub with bite

There is much to enjoy at The Black Lion in Dubai, despite serving its upscale fare with a side of Atlantic confusion

The Black Lion’s modern interior wouldn’t feel out of place in an upscale London borough, though the restaurant bills itself as having an American influence. Courtesy The Black Lion
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It’s reckoned that in the UK, the quintessential home of the pub, The Black Lion is the 18th most-popular name seen swinging on signs countrywide, with about 200 premises boasting the moniker.

Admittedly, it’s no Red Lion – the No 1 pub name, with about 600 examples – but the choice of title at least gives this particular noir big cat, the Dubai H Hotel’s swish new gastropub, a steady grounding in traditionalism. So far, so straightforward, except The Black Lion claims its inspiration is from the opposite side of the Atlantic, something that seems rather confusing, given that despite a healthy American influence, many of the dishes and drinks are of a decidedly British persuasion.

Nevertheless, the “gastro” in that self-declared categorisation requires swanky surrounds and a healthy helping of ­forward-thinking cuisine to add to the head nods to spit-and-sawdust establishments. And as it is in a five-star hotel, it’s no surprise to report that The Black Lion has both covered in spades. Indeed, with its modern fonts, pop art and red-and-black-dominated interior accents, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a done-up den in gentrified London.

The food maintained the impression, too, particularly in our starters. The short-rib hash, liberally interspersed with three fried quail eggs, was a delicious and well-sized place to begin; as was the sweetcorn and basil broth, even if its thicker, soupy consistency stretched the definition of “broth”. The two accompanying cheesy sweetcorn fritters – their shape could equally make a case for dubbing them “croquettes” – set the whole thing off perfectly, as well.

Considering the main menu is the same for dinner as it is for lunch (there’s also a niftily titled “lock in” menu for late-night bites), we were slightly worried that three courses might be a little too much for an early-­afternoon visit. We needn’t have fretted, though, because the mains were firmly slanted towards the “gastro” side of the equation, rather than aiming for any filling, hearty classic pub fare. That said, at Dh120, the deluxe fish pie initially seemed unfavourably small for the price. But there was so much Atlantic cod, shrimp and crab within the delightful little blue cooking pot it was presented in that we ended up fully sated – after waiting for it to cool from a truly volcanic temperature. More splendid seafood was served up with the Scottish salmon, with the moist main event mounted atop three juicy braised endive slices and a creamy purée of Jerusalem ­artichokes.

There were only four dessert choices. This could be considered restrictive, and mainly stuck to a path of traditionalism: deep-filled apple pie, baked vanilla cheesecake or dark chocolate brownie, with the only slightly out of the ordinary option a blueberry fool – a combination centering around cream and pureed fruit.

We had no complaints with our choices: the brownie was made more extraordinary thanks to a scoop of sour-cherry ice cream; the blueberry fool was a ­super-saccharine but surprisingly deep delight.

Despite that name, then, The Black Lion won’t have visitors from certain parts of the world reminiscing for days past back home in no-nonsense watering holes, whether American or British. It does, however, give another well-­executed option on Dubai’s growing ­gastropub scene that ably fulfils expectations at any time of day.

Our meal for two at The Black Lion, The H Dubai, cost Dh483. For more information, call 04 359 2366. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito

aworkman@thenational.ae