Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. That’s the vibe Sergio Lopez is going for at The Pangolin. The restauranteur, who co-launched Tom & Serg, The Sum of Us and Common Grounds in Dubai, and Sanderson’s in Abu Dhabi, is no stranger to launching venues that stand out in the UAE’s crowded culinaryscape. Partnering once again with chef Troy Payne of Sanderson’s, Lopez threw open the doors to The Pangolin on Monday, October 5.
This here is a “lifestyle complex” rather than a restaurant, say Lopez and Payne, housing four distinct dining areas across two levels, a swimming pool and a terrace fitted out with an open-fire pit for barbecue season. Ideal, then, for your next daycation. The Pangolin is located at the Els Club in Dubai Sports City and sits on a sprawling 5,575-square-metre plot.
The restaurant on the ground floor, Lopez says, is more family-oriented, for breakfasts and casual dining. A deli will serve up freshly baked bread and brined meats, while the outdoor area will open soon so diners can eat by the pool as the weather cools. The Pangolin’s first-floor restaurant, which will open next month, will be more upscale and feature a bar and terrace.
Saving the pangolin
Back to that Africa connection, though. “My wife is from Zimbabwe, so I’ve always been fond of African-style safaris,” says Lopez. “If you were to take a trip to Victoria Falls, this is the kind of restaurant or hotel you’d find there.” That translates to high ceilings, wood and vibrant tiles on the floor, pops of greenery, ceiling fans, upbeat jazz-lounge music and framed animal depictions on the walls. A television on one end plays fascinating safari footage on loop and, of course, the pangolin also makes an onscreen appearance.
Of the scaly mammal, native to South Africa, that lent its name to the place, Lopez says: “The pangolin is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. It really is a lovely animal, like a cute armadillo. My wife and I wanted to try and do something to look after it which is why a part of our profits is going towards a trust to save the animal.”
The restaurant is doing more than just championing the adorable anteater, though. The menu, devised by Payne, takes the concept of supporting local very seriously. The Pangolin will source all its vegetables and meat from local farms, thus supporting the industry even while offering guests “fresh-as-can-be food”.
The ground-floor restaurant, for example, offers dishes such as avocado mousse with halloumi croquettes and local tomato salsa on grilled sourdough.
Another promise is to serve products made from scratch, from the rye sourdough to the pasta. Cured meat and cheese will be prepared on-site, and available for sale via the deli.
“It’s all going to be healthy, preservative-free and good for you,” says Payne, who has worked alongside celebrity chef Greg ¬Malouf in Melbourne, and helped Malouf open Cle in Dubai. “The menu will change according to the season and produce. If we run out of produce from a local supplier, I’m not going to have it imported.”
Lopez adds: “When I opened my first restaurant seven or eight years ago, about 85 per cent of ingredients used to be imported. But that’s no longer the case,” says Lopez. “The UAE is home to beautiful farms. You can find absolutely anything here.”
Despite the hardships faced by the food and beverage this year – that pushed The Pangolin’s opening from March to October – Lopez believes restaurants are still capable of doing well, so long as they believe in their concept. “The higher the hurdle, the higher we jump,” he says with a laugh. “People may not be willing to travel as much, but there is real movement in the community. People want to explore their neighbourhood.”