The Esquire Review: Miss Lily’s, Dubai
If someone put an eclectic mix of colours and flavours into a cannon and shot you point-blank in the face with it, the resulting blind panic and ringing in your ears would be Miss Lilly’s.
To describe the concept here in a cohesive manner is almost impossible, as it appears to combine elements of a New York-style deli with Jamaican/Caribbean street food, silly-named cocktails and a club, all under one (incredibly low) roof.
Disco balls hang alongside faux neon advertisements for vintage sodas and colour televisions, while entire walls are covered with retro-styled posters and vinyl albums. Basically, think of the hippest man you know (or if none come to mind, just go with a picture of Donald Glover wearing a sparkly cape); he’d look barely ‘average’ sat at one of the booths here.
Miss Lily’s is a New York export, and this location in the heart of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Dubai is its first international outpost.
So how does the original concept translate here in a city that is already home to a huge number of quirky, out-there-restaurants (who often put style first, and food second)?
Miss Lily’s: What’s the vibe?
Did you read the bit about the face cannon? That’s the overwhelming vibe the moment you walk out the lifts and into this restaurant (seemingly hidden inside faux shipping containers on the fifth floor of the hotel).
Miss Lily’s is dark and grungy, not in the “we’ve been around for thirty years and will never change” kind of way. But in the “we’ve carefully designed our restaurant so whoever walks through the door can’t help but take a picture for Instagram” way.
But a little social media never hurt anyone (just ask pepe the frog) so we can’t penalize them for that. And it certainly attracts the punters; we arrived on a Tuesday night to find the place near bursting with well-dressed groups – hands and selfie cams at near constant outstretch – sat near the bar or inside one of two dining rooms.
Well, we say full. The place is cosy, to say the least. One man leaning against the bar would make Miss Lilly’s look busy, but that’s no bad thing. Most restauranteurs in Dubai favour the 400-person super-venues; making this is a refreshing change.
And of course, there is also the obligatory DJ.
Miss Lily’s: How about the food?
You know when you go to a restaurant and the waiter warns you that the food “is going to be a little spicy” and then it arrives and you can barely taste the heat? Miss Lily’s is not this place. Not at all.
The hot pepper shrimp is not to be trifled with, and neither are the so-innocently-named glazed lamb ribs. They must go through the hot-sauce quicker than neon lightbulbs at Miss Lily’s, but this isn’t criticism. Indeed, the food here is some of the most authentic Caribbean cuisine we’ve ever had, especially in a city that’s known to water-down dishes for the sake of getting bums on seats.
The jerk chicken is definitely of note here. That’s down to the flavor and the char on its skin, and certainly not for its abhorrent self-title as being “world famous”.
Scratch away at the retro-styled surface of Miss Lily’s and there’s quite a lot to like. The food is on point, especially if you can stomach proper Caribbean spices, and while we’d rather it dialed the concept back just a little, Miss Lily’s does enough to make it not just unique in Dubai, a city awash with clichéd theme restaurants, but well worth a visit.