The Alshaya Food Tour: iHop + P.F.Chang's

I willed my stomach into ordering something from the dinner menu, 'it's just for tasting purposes', I convinced myself despite the gut's relentless protest; something about being over fed. I ignored it - then my mind wondered to the additional paragraphs I had to add to the growing review. *Groans*

If you think there's such thing as a free lunch? There isn't.

As part of The Alshaya Food Tour that has journeyed across half the globe to taste test 4 American-based brands, iHop, Shake Shack, Texas Road House and P.F. Chang's, who coincidentally have set their sights on stepping foot into the South East Asian market; we had to do our due diligence.

Reports before 11pm every night? I'm on it!

Read on for the low down on what to expect should you be lucky enough to have these giants embrace our shores.

IHOP has been around for almost 57 years now. An American diner concept, made famous by dishing out pancakes and a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner items catered to the fancies of all age groups, one step into it's lofty interior, furbished with classic booth seats on the sides, and instantly you'll be washed over with a certain sense of comfort.

Better yet, service is amicable and personable; each server taking the time to introduce themselves to the table before the start of service. Now, that's something we don't see in Singapore everyday. It's all a little bit.. aloof.. if you know what I mean.

Portions here are festive and generous. The New York Cheesecake Pancakes (DHS 42) for example raises the bar with its fluffy innards and slight tang arising from the use of buttermilk in the mix. I didn't quite fancy the aerosol can derived whipped cream crowning, the canned strawberry compote adding unnecessary sweetness to the delightfully simple combination. 

The Chicken and Waffles (DHS 45) is a  description so completely familiar to the ear, yet so disparately incongruous to the eye. Would have loved for the waffle to be kept whole, instead of sliced into quarters; the chunks of crispy chicken breast piled up high over the Belgium waffle and drizzled with maple syrup instead? The whipped butter is genuinely exciting but would have done much more in teasing the palate with the inclusion of a smidgen of maple syrup. Also, ignore the accompanying condiment of overly sweet and somewhat watered down,  honey mustard sauce - you're better off without it.

Did somebody say Turkey Ham? I'll pass. 

However, being a halal food establishment does have its disadvantages; sacrificing porcine product being one of them. That aside, I wasn't entirely impressed by the Eggs Benedict (DHS 49), it's lackluster Hollandaise sauce missing that mischievous glimmer and fell a little flat in terms of flavor.

If it's eggs you're after, make a run for their Chicken Fajita Omelette (DHS 40), a hearty omelette stuffed with all manner of good things from seasoned chicken breast strips, onions, fresh green peppers with a spicy salsa and a blend of cheese. This monstrous dish exudes a strangely healthy vibe from its expert hand in supervising seasoning levels. Definitely a dish I would return for again.

Unfortunately, the rest of the dishes didn't quite follow in the same path of success. The Strawberry Banana French Toast (DHS 39) could have used a longer time dabbling in the custard mixture; the presence of canned strawberry compote once again ceding the dish with an artificial sweetness. Then there was the CINN-A-STACK Pancakes (DHS 39), which suffered doughy cores and stodgy centers. I was more amused by its lively description than its actual manifestation.

After spying on some electrifying red shrimps on the lunch/dinner menu, we knew we had to get our hands on the Volcano Shrimp (DHS 42) ; however, we were mildly disappointed by its lack of resemblance to the menu rendition. The sauce missing a certain shade of vibrancy so pivotal to proving its worth.

Of course at an American diner, there has to be burgers. The Smokehouse BBQ Burger (DHS 46) did nothing to up the happiness quota. The hand pressed patties marginally dry and the bun roof overhead dry and compact, almost like a pretzel bun of sorts, slathered with so much more butter that it should be deemed illegal.

A better choice would be the Surf and Turf ($99), which may not quite be for the impatient ones as the kitchen tends to encounter some inconsistencies with cooking times, hence resulting in steaks being sent back. You admire the grilled prawns, the use of fresh rosemary and sea salt overhead adding to the pageantry of the dish. 

Would I return to IHop again? You bet your bottom dollar, I will. Those fluffy omelettes and solid pancake fare panders to my occasional cravings for comfort food. Chances of survival on our local shores are high too, especially if they stick to their path of serving up halal certified foods; we might get to see the next Swensens in the making.

Mall of the Emirates
Barsha, Dubai
t: 04 385 0891

Operating Hours: 
Daily 8am - Midnight


After a rigorous afternoon spent in sweltering 42 degrees heat, traversing the back alleys and charming souks, bustling with activity in the Old Dubai, Deira region; we were ready for a scrumptious dinner. My appetite climaxing to a crescendo as we made our way across the expanse of Dubai mall at snails pace (can't avoid the many distractions along the way, especially for the members, who are new to the glitz and glamour of Dubai Mall) and step foot into the warm enclaves of P.F. Chang's.

Finding the right tone for an American restaurant dishing out Chinese dishes is fiendishly complicated. Especially in Dubai, where the delivery of concepts rule over execution of the dishes. As expense and ambitions increase, so do complications, and P.F. Chang's is both expensive and ambitious. The menu comprising of appetisers, mains broken down in sections; prawns, chicken and noodles/rice and so forth - proves to be intimidating at first. Our previous 2 meal experiences forcing me to avoid dishes which clearly states 'sweet' in its description; especially mindful of the Middle Easterner's strong palate for the sweeter side of life.

Point to note, service staff were friendly, too friendly, till the extent that it bordered on intrusive at some point. Servers bending over backwards to accommodate your every want, interpreting any sudden movement over the table as a call sign for assistance and then proceeding to transform themselves into a circus act of monkeys as they stoop over a spillage crime scene along the stairwell, vigorously wiping away, impervious to the attention they were garnering. I say, get your act together, son...

Moving back to the topic of food, anybody whose taste buds are in working order could work up a good appetite for those Dynamite Shrimp (DHS 47) - crisp from its tempura shell, but succulent, and shiny in a glistening coat of spicy Sriracha aioli. The next course brought what has to be one of the best dishes I've had throughout the trip, Chang's Asian Short Rib (DHS 125), supremely flavorful and juicy. Slow-braised and wok-seared with a tangy Asian barbecue sauce, there's much room for improvement in the balance of the sauce, and a tinge of smokiness would have been a nice addition. Still, these are the two dishes that I would swear by, the rest, condemning the meal to a slow degradation of standards.

I would advice you to avoid the chicken dishes, the flagrant usage of chicken breasts throughout the recipes bringing new definition to the term - rubbery. Yes, you can slather on as much sauce as you want. But a dry chicken dish is not acceptable, at least not in my books, it ain't. The Chang's Spicy Chicken (DHS 55) and Cantonese Lemon Chicken (DHS 57) are two such dishes, the latter - long slabs of wet crumbed chicken breast beaten into submission and then cooked well beyond its prime, served with a lymphatic lemon sauce on the side. One bite in, and I called it a day.

Another noteworthy offering is the Chang's Chicken lettuce Wrap (DHS 44). Touted to be one of P.F. Chang's signature appetizer - wok seared chicken meets mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts over crispy rice sticks.This frivolous concoction of textures to be enjoyed in a crisp receptacle of a lettuce cup. 

Ma la Shrimp (DHS 82) lacked conviction. The promise land of spicy numbness from Sichuan peppercorn, chili peppers and various spices simmered in oil, totally absent in the dish. That being said, the shrimp in sweet sauce was delightful. Pun intended.

I shared a love-hate relationship with the Mongolian Beef (DHS 71), shying away from its sticky sweet notes at first, however, several bites in, I start to nurture affection for the dish. Thick slices of flank steak ringed with a narrow band of marbled fats were a perfect vessel for the sweet, soy glaze. The minced garlic adhering to its hide to create ethereal edges of charred umami-ness. Eaten together with the accompanying threads of spring onion, this dish had a lot of potential. If only it just had some chili padi thrown in and a wee bit more soy sauce, that would be a game changer.

Chang's Spicy Chicken
We rounded up the night with the Pad Thai combo (DHS 50) , chock full of succulent shrimp and chicken silvers from an alternate universe; dry as f**k. The rice noodles lack the certain wok hei, its limp consistency made worse with the sweetish ketchup like sauce it was tossed through. The absence of fish sauce in the dish alienating it from its status as Pad Thai. I rest my case.

Desserts, do not even go there. The Chocolate Bochi sounded weird on the menu and was weirder on the plate. It was like watching a bad date. I kept waiting for the kitchen to redeem itself, but twice it arrived at the table with raw doughy innards, the recipe far from perfect. Then there was the Brownie,  I've never been one to turn down a chocolate dessert, but WOW, this restaurant achieved this near miracle by creating a situation in which I felt compelled to politely refuse. The chocolate square lacked integrity and structure, dissolving fast and furious on the palette, and Haagen Daaz vanilla ice cream? I beg to differ... the accompanying scoop of ice cream devoid of any vanilla flavor whatsoever. In fact, pull the wool over my eyes and I'm convinced its a milk gelato of sorts.

I left the joint feeling cheated and high strung. P.F. Chang's portrayal of itself as a out-of-town-tryout mode, and its consequential charging of Broadway prices for mediocre food, leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Right now, I'm just craving for a decent bowl of fried rice.

Pad Thai
P.F. Chang's
Dubai Mall
Waterfall Promenade
Lower GroundLevel
t: 04 4190210

Operating Hours:
Daily: 11am - 11pm

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