FACT Review: Can Hawkerboi’s secret supper club succeed as a restaurant?
Hawkerboi reveals itself as a good vibes Pan-Asian restaurant with a glimmer of more to come.
After a “who is it, what is it?” marketing campaign, Hawkerboi reveals itself on the second floor of The Park in Jumeirah Lake Towers. So off I traipse with a discerning friend in tow to yet another pan-Asian restaurant. Upon entry, we sift through at least three greeters, each handing us over like batons until we sit. What is with this ‘pass the parcel’ in Dubai now? We did not need supervision getting to the restaurant, why once we’re in it?
We’ll be good. This is a soft opening, which is industry-speak for “we are still figuring it out. Please bear with us”. No issues. Indeed, some of what we ate felt like the first generation of something better to come. And that’s the thing about Hawkerboi. You sense that good times lie ahead.
You see, JLT is a celebrated corner of Dubai’s culinary scene. Its free zone status eases entry for some of Dubai’s best-loved concepts like FACT Award winners Pitfire Pizza and Mythos. Dining in Jumeirah Lake Towers generally embodies mostly scrappy neighbourhood fare but Hawkerboi and others are changing the times.
We sit inside Hawkerboi’s dining room. The main restaurant lies under a rash of red neon lighting, facing a fast-action, open-plan kitchen churning out popular Thai beef salads (AED 65) and spiced tamarind charcoal short ribs (AED 178). A large bar flanks the far end with high tables and an outdoor patio that whispers, ‘come back during the cooler months’. Hawkerboi’s uninterrupted park views are the yin to the yang of an all-happening kitchen. The bar is currently unlicensed, but we are assured that the license application sits on a decision-maker’s desk. Meanwhile, tamarind-laced Takir Lemonades and an Aarsh Spritz of orange and apple cordial are on hand.
Hawkerboi’s menu features mostly small plates with three mains and, amusingly, a Supper Club. The Hawkerboi concept has come full circle, from a fully-fledged supper club to a restaurant serving variations of the popular supper club menu. Admirably, most dishes are under AED 100. A greatest hits of Pan-Asian favourites pop while scanning the menu: crystal prawn dim sum dumplings (AED 65), creamy beef massaman curry with caramelised coconut and curry leaf (AED 82), barbecue satay chicken skewers with chilli vinegar (AED 65), and the de rigueur Pad Thai (AED 69).
Our five duck gyozas with ginger and ponzu sauce lyse with juicy meaty fillings (AED 60). A trio of impossibly-tender lamb ribs entombed in a bolshy, cumin-forward Xinjiang crust delights, but deserves a sauce (AED 70). Cereal-crusted chicken wings with spiced salt and pickled garlic meet quiet approval (AED 65). The more fiery dishes like the smashed cucumber salad spiked with Thai basil (AED 65) and Penang roast duck curry with coriander and cashews (AED 82) do not deliver eye-widening spice, but some will disagree. A half Peking Style Roast duck arrives on a metal platter (AED 250). Like me, it’s plump, having likely lived a good life, but crispy duck fans may miss the synonymous shredded crunch built on the memories of THAT version of Peking Duck pretty much everywhere. The mango sticky rice tickles my dining partner just right as we politely fight over the fried, sweet paratha (AED 45). Unlike the duck, we waddle out, stuffed.
So who should come to Hawkerboi? JLT residents looking to avoid the Marina’s traffic. JLT office workers seeking after-work respite on their doorstep. Date nights, good vibes and good times seekers.
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