I had the opportunity to meet Darren Velvick today at his new restaurant, The Croft. Darren has worked alongside British greats including Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing, but graced Dubai’s shores two years ago as Chef Patron at Table 9. However he left soon afterwards to launch his own restaurant at the Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites which opened in August this year. My neck of the woods. Lucky me!
The Croft follows the trend of more relaxed and informal restaurants, and they do this very well. From the moment you walk in the door (after you pass the shoe rack with two wellies and some umbrellas), you feel like you’re at home. (Your rainy London home.)
The decor is quirky and casual, from the wellies at the door to the naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling to the open plan kitchen where you can see the chefs at work.
The staff is unpretentious and friendly – from the charming restaurant manager Jane (pronounced Yanni) to Darren himself who is so down-to-earth. He was happily chatting away, telling us stories about food he grew up with that inspired his menu. And that makes me like this restaurant even more.
We got to sample variety of starters and light bites prepared by Darren.
I can’t remember what kind of cheese is on top of this savoury scone, but it was yummy nonetheless.
A plate of crispy mushrooms with a garlic aioli.
Devilled chicken skewers with Stilton cheese dip. They tasted like Buffalo wings but far less messy to eat.
Tempura prawns with a soy dipping sauce.
For mains, we had the organic chicken for two. This dish is made to order and therefore takes 45 minutes to roast. Never in a million years would I have ordered this from the menu. The description doesn’t sound overly appealing, and it certainly doesn’t do this dish justice. The crispy skin, the succulent meat, plus a delicious layer of stuffing between the two. I’ve never tasted a roast chicken this good.
The stuffing sandwiched between the skin and meat is a fois gras and truffle stuffing. The dish is served with a creamy pearl barley risotto made with mascarpone, parmesan and blackened sweetcorn. The combination of flavours and textures works so well that I’ve been dreaming about this dish ever since and have already planned a time to go back to have it again later this week.
Just when I thought this meal couldn’t get any better, I was presented with an upmarket version of my favourite British dessert – Darren’s version of the Eton mess which he calls the Neat & Tidy. It’s a giant, pink meringue filled with an elderflower cream, served atop a raspberry coulis with fresh raspberries, mint and in true British style – gin jelly! At the risk of sounding overly effusive, dare I say that this ranks as the best Eton mess I’ve ever eaten?
One of the surprise highlights at The Croft is the outdoor terrace overlooking Dubai Marina. With a casual kiosk-like bar, wooden picnic tables, some mismatched chairs and a bit of AstroTurf, you could mistake it for a beer garden in London – except here you’re guaranteed sunshine. Happy hour lasts from 5pm to 7:30pm with drinks starting at AED 26. Don’t tell Mr. S or else I may never see him again!
Not so hard imagining yourself here.
Verdict: I am over the moon at this new find so close to home. I love the vibe, I love the food, I love the beer garden, and I love the people. This is a restaurant that you’d feel comfortable enough eating at several times a week. Or drinking at everyday.
Note to self: Book a table for Thanksgiving because your turkey is never going to taste as good as Darren’s chicken.
Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites
Chow for now!