Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trader Vic's- Smashed Potatoes And Astronomical Prices

I'm planning a few changes to the outlook and setup of the blog in the near future hence from now on the restaurant reviews will be posted on the main page with links on the Riyadh Restaurant Reviews tab. A modified version of this review also appears on www.riyadheats.com.

I've been a frequent visitor and fan of this restaurant since Trader Vic's landed a branch in Riyadh a few years ago. Previously I had gone to their branches around the ME, my favorite being the one on the beach at the Oman Intercontinental Hotel. I love the exotic concept of this restaurant and the decor and music reminds me of holidays spent in the Pacific Islands and Caribbean..

The Saudi version of Trader Vic's is similar to its counterparts worldwide but it has certain "Saudi modesty" to it. Believe or not they actually have a separate bar complete with a long table and bar tender accompanied by an impressive range of cocktails, all non-alcoholic of course. Surprisingly open to females as well.

Trader Vic's is a refreshing change to the usual restaurant set ups in Riyadh. It's laid back and the atmosphere is relaxed. Background music is played although they don't have live bands like some of the other branches do. That might be pushing it too far for conservative Riyadh. Keeping true to Saudi culture, customers can choose from open area or the closed booths. There’s even a large room which can be reserved for parties and the restaurant can also do birthdays at request.
The restaurant is located at Panorama mall and it’s hugely popular with families and young Saudis, especially groups of women often frequent the family section of this restaurant. It's a little problematic to enter, because the entrance is actually outside the mall and you have to walk some while to get to it and by car on weekends this area is always very packed.
This restaurant has an indo pacific cuisine mixed with international foods. The selection of mock tails is broad and probably the best in Riyadh.
As an avid fan of this restaurant I was excited to visit again. To my disappointment there were many changes that had taken place from the last time I visited and all for the worse.

First off they had changed the menu. It used to look nice and match the theme of Trader Vic’s, full of creatively named and exotic foods. The new version however reminded me of something that would be handed out at a cheap American diner. It was plasticky and ugly and the foods were all tackily pictured. I found it off-putting especially with the price tags that came with it.

The prices had all been hiked up a notch. Trader Vic’s was always on the mid to high side of the price range but now we were talking about five star hotel prices. I asked the waiter and he confirmed the change to the menu and prices occurred recently. To my disappointment many of the main courses and appetizers had been removed from the list and replaced with boring stuff like spaghetti bolognese and burgers, as if Riyadh needs any more restaurants that serve a range of burgers.
My all time favorite dish from Trader Vic’s, the Norwegian Salmon had a new price tag of 125sr. One of us ordered it to be able to compare it to previous times. The service here has always been immaculate and there are plenty of waiters present. A young and very polite Filipino waiter attended to us. We ordered some mock tails from the extensive selection. The Blue Tea was so syrupy and sweet I couldn't finish it but the other drinks were much better, albeit borderline too sweet.
When the main courses arrived it became apparent the waiter had made a mistake on the order, bringing a STEAK instead of the ordered fish. He said he had heard "steak" instead of "hammour". Hmm..
To replace it took around 15 minutes during which I was drooling over my friends salmon dish.

Another setback for Trader Vic’s, the salmon was not served the same as it was on previous occasions. The taste was still good but the mashed potatoes, instead of being served on the side fluffy and whipped, were literally SMASHED underneath the fish in the most unappetizing way. So small a pile it was that we didn't even notice it at first and asked the waiter where the mashed potatoes were! Hiding under the fish and served with a few pathetic pieces of carrots and squash a portion size more suitable for a midget. Being a Scandinavian I have a good idea how a Norwegian salmon should be served and this was a far cry from it.
When the hammour filet finally arrived it was yet again another disappointment, it was extremely salty. The fish had the same pile of smashed potatoes under it and was served with those few tiny sticks of vegetables. Thankfully the pasta dish was much better in appearance, taste and the size of the dish was satisfactory.

The desserts were all delicious but the waiter made two more mistakes on our order, bringing one wrong dessert and coffee. We thought he might have been new but he also made the mistake of not repeating the order back which might have prevented the mishap. They did offer our coffees free of charge but regardless the bill for three persons was 550 sr. The price tag seems astronomical compared to what kind of food was served.

All in all I must say, sadly Trader Vic’s can no longer be placed on my favorite restaurants in Riyadh list. Although the place is great for the d├ęcor and the atmosphere, the hacking of the prices and the new style of menu and foods just seem to me like the place is only trying to cash out on its popularity, forgetting what made it popular in the first place.
The only reason I would go back to Trader Vic's is for some of those drinks at the cool bar!

Overall: ** 3/4
Ambiance: ****
Decor: ****
Food: **
Service: ***
Value For Money: *

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