A Key to Nothing

2nd Level,
The Dubai Mall, 
Downtown Dubai, Dubai

20th January, 2017

With great expectation comes great disappointment” – Moviegoers after watching Suicide Squad.

The ‘Days without Bad Meals’ board above my bed read an impressive three weeks, six days, fifteen hours, thirty minutes, forty-five seconds (or thereabouts!). The last time I had had a bad meal, my subconscious conjured up a nightmarish serpentine dream that had me screaming the famous SLJ dialogue “I’ve had it with these (insert bad word here) snake….” Sigh! It’s time to rub the board and start the countdown once again. It was good while it lasted.

Concept Dining. One of the many recent fads circling around the very many food hubs across the world. Just what in the living daylights is ‘concept dining’ and how is it so different from normal dining? To answer my own question, I had to do a little research of my own. It turns out, there’s not much of a difference between the two. To be frank, add a theme to any common restaurant and you’ve got yourself ‘concept dining’.

Two weeks, five days, twenty hours, forty minutes, fifty-five seconds since I was last sober. Parents if you’re reading this, do not fret, I was only kidding. I’m not a teenage drunk wasting his life writing pointless restaurant reviews. On the contrary, I’m a mild-mannered, unemployed, young adult wasting his life writing immersive and captivating  restaurant reviews for the benefit of you readers. Forgive me, I’m deviating from the main topic. The count does not pertain to my sobriety (which I can assure you is the same as an Englishman on a pleasant/rainy/sunny day). Rather it pertained to the last time I met my friends, a count that I hoped to end at the fifty-sixth second, given that I was to leave Dubai the very next day.

Let me take you back to 2016 – in particular December 2016. It was a chilly evening, and under a clear, moon-lit, starry sky, our car raced through a pretty empty Dubai-Al-Ain road, en route to our final destination – Downtown Dubai. “Have you heard of this place called Parker’s?” asked my sister, taking a momentary break between a game of ‘Phone Stare’. The rest of us stared back at her, oblivious. To ease you readers as to what transpired over the next few minutes, I’m going to style the next para in the form of a scripted dialogue.

Preeti (my sis!): So…it’s a different kind of restaurant.

Me: What do you mean different kind?

Preeti: So you need to hunt for a key to eat at the restaurant.

Me: How do you find this key?

Preeti: You need to follow Parker’s on Snapchat and each day they place keys in a particular place and you need to find it based on the clues.

Me: And what do you do with the key?

Preeti: Only with the key can you enter this restaurant.

Suddenly I pictured Indiana Jones, the Legend of the Hidden Temple, and Aladdin. This was certainly one adventure I was not going to miss.

19th January 2016 – Fast forward a month later. Sitting at home, in front of the laptop, it was time to contact the group and ask for everyone’s availability. There was no way that I was going to leave Dubai without having one last meet-out with the guys. Given everyone’s busy schedule, it was up to me to plan the whole thing (again!). “Hey guys, who all in for Friday?”. “I’m in” chimed one. “Friday should be ok” went the second one. “Let’s see” said the third. Three out of four. Not bad. Ding! “What’s the plan though?” asked someone. “Uhhh…we look for the key tomorrow evening, and then we go have dinner at Parkers.” I replied, unsure if we would even find the key!

20th January 2016 (1:00 p.m.) – Bored. Packing done. I had gone through my favourite website at least five times. I looked at the time on my laptop. Another three hours before Parker’s release their clues. I picked up my phone and opened Snapchat. I scrolled down to Parker’s and noticed an unusual image in the icon beside Parker’s name. It wasn’t a picture of food. My heart racing at the speed of light, I opened their Snapchat page. “Come and collect you key….”. I could not read the rest as my heart just dropped. The clues were supposed to be posted at 4 p.m., not 1 p.m.! 4 p.m.! Rather than send everyone into a dizzying frenzy, I decided to wait till 4 p.m. if Parker’s sent another set of clues. Perhaps this was just a teaser.

Two and a half hours later, I was on the road with my family to do some last minute shopping. Every second, every minute, my eyes wandered to the clock on the dashboard, and my fingers tapped on Parker’s snapchat account, refreshing to see whether the clues had been posted. We were half-way down to Mirdiff City Centre when I noticed a change in icon. The clues had been updated! The location of the keys – Downtown Dubai. SURPRISE! Taking a cue from Steven Gerrard and his infamous stamp on a Manchester United player, we took an immediate U-turn and headed in the direction of the key’s location. Multi-tasking has always been considered a key and vital skill by some of the top companies. If only they had a camera attached to the inside of the car, they could’ve seen me in my prime. Messaging the location to my friends, while simultaneously deciphering the clues to the key hunt. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I received several offer letters (I wonder if they would let me work from home too!). 

4:00 p.m. – The key hunt was in full flow. Three keys had already been placed in three distinct and totally unrecognizable locations. And we were still en route. This seemed a mission too impossible even for Tom Cruise and his gang! My friends were nowhere in sight, and I had been given the go-ahead to find the key by myself (the lazy fools!). As soon as we turned the corner to Dubai Mall, I noticed a new update from Parker’s. The keys were hidden in Burj Park! In a food truck! I knew where I was headed. Prompted by my father, I immediately got out off the car, and fast paced it to Burj Park, each step bringing about thoughts of rejection, tardiness, and ultimately failure to find the key.

4:25 p.m. – I finally made it to Market OTB! Parker’s key, here I come! I looked around for Grind Coffee, the last location of the key, but in the midst of this food truck fiasco, I was unable to find it. I stood on the ground for a minute, went into my mind palace (Yes Sherlock fans, you know what I mean!), and voila! In the snap, I could see Burj Khalifa, which meant that the truck was on the other end of the park. Huff and Puff! Not the Big Bad Wolf, but me, walking…nay….running towards the truck. By the time I reached the food truck, I was nearly out of breath, but I had enough energy to walk up to the counter and ask the waiter for a Parker’s key. “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have it.” Heartbreak! “But you can check with the food truck beside us. I think they have it.” A second chance! A New Hope! I rushed next door and asked the waiter outside if they had a Parker’s key. He had a ‘deer in the headlights’ look. I couldn’t believe my luck. Now I would have to scour the rest of Downtown to find the other keys (if they were still there!). No sooner had I turned my back than I heard someone say “Madame, this is a key that will help you enter the restaurant.” A Parker’s key! Giddy like li’l Charlie Bucket about to receive the Golden Ticket, I turned around and saw the key hanging from the waiter’s fingers.

A second later, the giddiness turned into horror as the waiter handed over the key to another couple. Not a moment to lose! I walked up to the waiter and asked her if she had a spare key, praying to the ‘key Gods’ that she did. Guess what? She did! Giddiness to horror to absolute delight! Great Snakes! I’ve got the key! “But only on one condition”. I read the words coming out of her lips. Condition? What condition? I’m too tired! “You need to buy an ice cream from us!” After a long walk from the car to the park, and a longer walk waiting for me, from the park to Dubai Mall, hearing those words was the icing on the cake, or in this case the crumbs on the Pistachio Cheesecake Gelato!

I grabbed the key by its tail (American voters, you know what i’m talking about!) and walked out of the food truck, a satisfied customer. It was now time to walk it back to the mall and rejoin my family for some last minute shopping. Fortunately, I had Mr. Gelato to accompany me for the long walk. It was on this long walk, that I happened to pass by the other locations where the keys were kept and I was even more fortunate to have found an untouched key hanging from the rails. Greed, for a lack of a better word, is good. Before I get to reviewing dinner, a brief review of the gelato. I’m not sure whether it was the hunger in me, or the long walk that was forthcoming, but those two scoops of Gelato had to be the best ice-cream I have ever had in a long while. Smooth (despite the topping of crumbs!), not overly sweet (despite the caramel sauce!), and surprisingly on the lighter side (despite the cheesecake!). You never miss something until it is actually gone. It was only when I tossed the cup into the trash that I felt the urge to make the long walk back just to have another taste of the gelato. In hindsight, I was definitely glad that the waiter had persuaded me into buying the ice-cream.

5:30 p.m. – Goodbye. Farewell. Au Revoir. Auf Wiedersehen. I said my arrivedercis to my parents and made my way upstairs to the cinema hall, where my friends were awaiting my presence. ‘Just keep walking’ should be the slogan for Dubai Mall, for it took me almost 20 minutes to reach the cinema hall, nearly covering half the circumference of the mall.

6:00 p.m. – It was too early, even for an early dinner. What to do now? Kinokuniya – the Book Store? Highly Unlikely! Collection Stores? Been there, done that! Walking around the mall? My feet were hurting! When all else fails, there’s always coffee! Down the escalator we went, and straight into the closest Starbucks. It was during the one hour ‘chilling’ period, when I gave my friends a detailed walkthrough of my entire key hunt. When I was done, not only was my feet hurting, but so was my jaw. 

7:00 p.m. – It was now time for dinner. But first, we had to find the restaurant. When Parker’s and it’s unique concept was described to me by my sister, I immediately imagined the restaurant to be hidden away in a forbidden part of the mall, enclosed by bushes and gates, only to be found and accessed by those who possess the key. What we got, was a semi vine-covered restaurant situated near a TGI Fridays! You can imagine the look on our faces (No? Then look to the image on the right!).  With slight trepidation, we made our way towards the entrance of the restaurant. Surely, the key we (I) collected would come of use. After all, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to just leave purposeless keys lying around everywhere. WRONG! It turns out you just need to show the key to the receptionist to gain access into the restaurant. What a pity! Such potential…Much disappointment! Already critical of the restaurant’s appearance, only good food and service would be enough to sway this already disappointing dine into a much awaited second visit.

7:30 p.m. – I told my friends to go inside and find a table, while I went to help another friend with directions to the restaurant. When I returned, hungry as ever, I found that my friends had found a nice table, hidden inside the restaurant. Thump! My buttocks hit the seat and there was no way I was going to get up anytime soon. Except I had to, if I wanted food! Turns out, Parker’s may look like a restaurant but operates like a fast food chain. Specifically, diners are expected to order their food and drinks at the counter, rather than have waiters approach them and take their order. At this point, I was furious, and had half a mind to walk out. A disappointing restaurant with hardly any service. But we had made it this far, and if the food was good, then it would not have been a futile hunt.

 ( From left to right ): The PFC Burger; Back To School; Parker's Burger; Jalapeno Shawarma; Lime Hot Pasta
(From left to right): The PFC Burger; Back To School; Parker’s Burger; Jalapeno Shawarma; Lime Hot Pasta

There was a short queue at the counter, though due to indecisive customers, the wait to place our order was a long and frustrating one. “Sir may I take your order?” Finally! “Yes. Thank you. We’ll have 1 Lime Hot Pasta, 1 Parker’s Burger (hold the onion!), 1 PFC Burger, and 1 Jalapeno Shawarma Slider.” Not wanting to stand in the queue again, we decided to order our dessert then and there – the Back To School. We paid our bill and returned to our table, eager to try out the food. It didn’t take too long for our food to arrive. First came the Parker’s Burger and the Lime Hot Pasta. The portions seemed decent and enough to quench our hunger. Next came the Jalapeno Shawarma Slider. The slider resembled a shawarma as much as I resemble Leo DiCaprio. Moreover, we were shocked by the petite size of the slider and the fact that there was only one on the plate. Who do they think they’re serving? Anorexics?! Last came the PFC Burger (I almost wrote KFC, but it would not have been too different). Of all the items, only the latter had a hidden element as it was packed in a McDonald’s Happy Meal-like box (as if to say, you’re not welcome here. Get out!).

Disappointing restaurant, disappointing decor, disappointing service, and disappointing presentation. If the taste followed a similar trend, I would not be mistaken if I called it an overall disappointing day. Time to taste! The first bite tells you all, I believe. And the first flavour that hit my mouth was Salt! Lots and lots of salt. Enough salt to remind of the first time I swallowed sea water. Due to the hunger residing deep within my stomach, I had no option but to bite through the salt and complete my dish. I also had a taste of the Pasta and the Parker’s Burger (I couldn’t taste the shawarma slider as I would’ve finished it in one bite and left my friend hungry). For a dish called ‘Lime Hot Pasta’ it was surprising to find the dish devoid of any lime flavour. The only flavour that I could taste was tomato sauce, which isn’t the most appealing of flavours. The burger, on the other hand, had the required flavours though the patty in itself was dry. I think the dish was best described by my friend (and Bite Me co-founder) as an “Al Kabeer burger” – the frozen burger patties found in your everyday supermarket. Disappointing restaurant, disappointing decor, disappointing service, disappointing presentation, and a disappointing main course. Even if the dessert was to completely blow our minds, it was not going to be enough to redeem the entire evening. Fortunately, the dessert was the best dish of the evening.

Back to School – an apt name for the dessert – had an intriguing presentation. Placed in the centre was a chocolate fondant covered in gooey, melted, hot chocolate. On the left were two crayons – a dark chocolate crayon and a white chocolate crayon. On the right was a sharpener big enough to sharpen even our fingernails. It was lucky that we were all smart people, for some might have taken a direct bite out of the crayon and not known that the sharpener was kept in order to create chocolate shavings on top of the dessert. It was in line with the disappointing evening that our waiter failed to mention the above fact. Once the chocolate crayons had been shaved (only slightly!), we dug right in. The dish was hot, gooey, sweet, and sticky – all the ingredients required for a good chocolate fondant dish. The gel inside was the perfect blend of chocolate, caramel, and nuts – though the first thought that would come into the diner’s mind would be “Hmmm….this tastes like Snickers.” Personally, I felt that the nutty component was slightly on the higher side, which left an unsavoury after-taste in the mouth. However after the horror of a main course, this was certainly a welcome sight! Disappointing restaurant, disappointing decor, disappointing service, disappointing presentation, disappointing main course, and a slightly redeemable dessert.

 Eager to put this horrendous mistake behind us, we wasted no time in exiting the restaurant. Parker has always been a brand synonymous with excellence and luxury (in case you’re confused, I’m talking about the pen here!). It is a real shame that a restaurant of such quality had to adopt such a prestigious name. When I was told about the restaurant, I thought to myself “What an idea, sir jee!”. But that’s all it was….an idea! Concept dining without the ‘dining’! Now that’s unique!!

The four of us were ready for an adventure, but in reality it was a horror show! Walking back to the parking lot, we discussed the possibility of handing back the “purposeless” key to the restaurant or creating a ‘key hunt’ of our own. It was only when I was alone and waiting in the taxi queue that I realized that I had another key with me. Oh well! I guess I have space on the wall for a framed memorabilia – The Key to Nothing!

Parker's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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