What to eat and drink at the Dubai Rugby 7s
The Dubai Rugby 7s is one of the biggest weekends in the calendar, especially popular among expats. I remember first visiting in 1995 when you could stroll along the open sided main pitch and find your place in the sparsely filled stands. The side pitches were all sand and the teams mainly local and from around the region. These days it’s a huge event with international teams as well as local, women’s tournaments and school teams battling it out. It used to be all about the rugby, the dressing up and the drinking. Food was an afterthought with huge queues for a cheap burger or greasy fish and chips – except for in corporate hospitality where everything is a bit too fancy (although we’d sneak in for the shawarma stand). Now, thank heavens, food has improved a lot even in the cheap seats – OK it’s not Masterchef but there are some reasonable choices and even healthier nosh. I did a good trawl round of the eating and drinking options last time and have snaffled a sneak peek of what’s coming up this year. Whoever is the ultimate tournament winner, 2014 looks like the best yet for grub.
Raise a fork for pork
Sharing the most exciting news first. Regular readers will know the pleasure I derive from eating a sausage in the street when I’m in the UK so ‘The Big Breakfast’, a stand dedicated to pork, is music to my ears. Fancy Irish smoked back bacon, griddled to perfection in a soft white bap? Or ‘The Full Monty’ where said bap contains Irish bacon, British banger and black pudding? They even have a ‘hog burger’ in a Welsh soda roll. Race you there?
Hot for dogs
If your tastes for meat in a bun are more US-driven there are many options. There will be American Hot Dog carts serving Classic American Hotdogs (their capitalisation not mine) with onions, mustard and ketchup. Plus within Bidi Bondi there’s a Champions Hot Dog Menu which offer a South Pacific Island Dog (topped with mango and pineapple slaw), a North American Dog (with onions, mustard, pickles and tomato sauce), a South American Dog (with chimichurri and beef chorizo salsa) and a French Dog (caramelized onions, wholegrain mustard aioli and Gruyère cheese). As outside the pork zone the dogs are made of chicken. However, I could be converted.
The Rugby 7s is now massively popular with families, with a special stand dedicated to children-friendly, non-drinking fun. No need to resort to the usual junk food offering with Giraffe around – they even have salad on the menu!
This is the kind of thing you can expect: Pasta Margherita (Roasted cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and rocket), Giraffe Deluxe Veggie Burger (broad beans, peas, potato and spinach), Popcorn chicken (chicken fillet bites with skin on fries), Fish Finger Burger (breaded haddock goujons, with tartare sauce, tomato and lettuce in a soft white bap), Tunisian Feta Salad (marinated feta, quinoa, green beans, red pepper, cumin roasted squash with mixed leaves and Salsa Verde) and Thai Green Chicken Curry (with roasted butternut squash, green beans, and fragrant rice). I like that they offer two sizes of many dishes so you can cater for little tummies without waste (and at lower cost).
Bidi Bondi has more on the menu than just hot dogs too.
Fast food favourites
Burgers and fish and chips still have a place at the festival. Left Bank, the popular casual eatery and bar at the Madinat, is flipping and frying again this year.
At the Left Bank Fish and Chip Shop, the fish is hand-battered pollack from New Zealand served with chunky chip shop chips (thankfully not fries). Curry sauce and gravy are optional extras.
There’s a choice of three at the Left Bank burger joint. The Cheeseburger is made of New Zealand Angel Bay beef, the chicken burger also comes with cheese, onions and tomatoes and the Veggie Burger is ‘a rustic mix of broad beans, peas, potato and spinach, seasoned with aromatic spices.’ Veggie teen will be delighted.
If you fancy a pie you can get one from the Pie Face Cart.
Yes, they self-censored when they came to the U.A.E. The chain with the whizzy green bikes and pro-biotic, 10 grain crust is back at the 7s again. Their opening was possibly the first blogger event I was ever invited to!
If you manage to snaffle a ticket in hospitality a range of catering awaits you depending on which section you are in.
If you fancy a sandwich see Costa info below…
All the food stands sell the usual sodas and water. They are harder to obtain at the booze outlet. Do make sure you drink enough water throughout the day as dehydration and sunstroke is not pretty.
Costa Coffee is on hand for your caffeine fix with four main locations and a Costa Ice station. They will also serve fresh food including a festive turkey, cranberry and stuffing sandwich.
My favourite hang out is at the MMI Wine Bar which overlooks pitch 2. Don’t expect fine wine tasting just quaffable wines from Australia which are not overpriced (for a Dubai event). A bottle of Aussie Sauvignon Blanc is AED 120, with the wines on offer predominantly by de Bortoli Wines (from cool climate, Yarra Valley, close to Melbourne). There was a nice rosé that which I sipped as the sun went down last year…
As always there are very popular Heineken bars (which turns into a packed, noisy and very funny party as the night goes on) and Strongbow Cider Garden area. If you can’t be bothered to go to a bar (or leave your place in the stand) there are mobile Heineken men to pour you a drink from the tank on their backs.
Other things to know
- As always, cash should be exchanged for drink tokens on arrival. If you don’t spend them all there is a range of places to spend them after the event including Al Hamra Cellar in Ras Al Khaimah. Update for 2016: vouchers give way to new Fastpay wrist bands (the same system applies).
- Fibber Magees is does back of house catering – worth knowing if you are an international player, social player, ref or ball kid!
- You’ll be able to check out the menus, location, leave pictures and reviews on zomato.com/rugby7s – I’ll post the link when it’s live.
- Dress up – or at least have your camera ready – the costumes get wilder every year.
I’m not saying that the Dubai Rugby 7s is a gourmet paradise but the food is definitely moving in the right direction and catering to a broader family audience. What would make it better? A street food village would be awesome with a few more Asian flavours on the menu – where is the curry? Push the boat out more with the classics – I’m thinking about the amazing pickled eggs served by Brisket Belle for instance, wouldn’t they be great with the fish and chips… and some really good herby, fresh, tartare sauce plus some calamari on the menu? I’m sure there is a market for cocktails at the rugby too. However, the quality has improved, the choice is better, the huge queues are a thing of the past.
See you at the Rugby 7s? I won’t be the one dressed as a prawn!