A Dubai source has given me the very sad news that “Barry’s Bench” is no more. The Mexican-style restaurant that sat inside the very pleasant Arabian Courtyard Hotel (located opposite the Dubai Museum) has closed. This was my favourite restaurant in the whole wide world. I once considered holding our anniversary party there (after we had already moved back to London). I am totally gutted. It has, I am told, become a pizzeria.
Now, my sense of what is good in the world has been circumscribed by too much time spent in the Middle East. When we lived in the UAE, finding any restaurant with character, aside from de facto male-only joints rejoicing in such names as “Pak Express”, was a difficult exercise. Barry’s managed to utilise the advantage of being within a hotel (booze was on the menu) without actually seeming like you were. In fact you could enter and exit directly from or onto the bustle of Bur Dubai in the old Creek area of town. Location was very much part of Barry’s charm.
Seating was mostly in spacious booths. This modest-sized restaurant was designed for comfort, not to cram as many punters in as possible. An undoubted factor in the particular appeal of “Barry’s Bench” was the almost obligatory Margaritas. These we enjoyed whilst waiting for our mains, with our mains, and as desert. They were lovingly prepared at the enticing restaurant bar where the odd punter would sit. I, for one, have not tasted better.
The food? Oh yes…that was always superb (I did once eat there sober). The burritos and tacos tasted as authentically Mexican as anything I ever had on the west coast of the US, and I never (knowingly) saw a Mexican in Dubai. The staff who served you in the restaurant were south Asian men and a Filipino woman. They were friendly and attentive, but not overly so. Unlike most waiters in 4 or 5 star hotels in Dubai, they respected your space and your need to take your time. Perhaps that is why it closed. However it was always busy when we were there.
I never did find out who Barry was, and exactly what or where his bench was either.
“Time Out Dubai” lists a “Barry’s Bench Express” as located within the Times Square shopping centre on Sheikh Zayyed Road. It seems the legend continues. However a fast food version located in a mall without being able to savour Margarita Time would really not be the same. Not at all.