When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was a cowboy. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. I was going to be a pretty cowboy, who ruled the Wild West from the saddle during the day, and then would drape myself over a saloon piano by night. I’d have a gun in my suspenders and shoot the hats off anyone who didn’t behave. And the prince of Spain would want to marry me because I was so beautiful and powerful, and not like any of those silly little princesses from where he came from. The Act came remarkably close to an injection of dream déjà-vu. It’s got the piano, black and rickety, gaping with its musical teeth. It’s even got a buxom lass in a cheeky tulle bustle lingering seductively alongside.
The room envelopes one like a circus tent would, high and round, with only the tiniest of lights gleaming at the exit. But it’s warm and wooden, reminding me of the pictures I’ve seen of the Globe theatre. There’s no Shakespeare within earshot, but I get the impression he would like this place – a dash of the debauched, a lashing of luxury and a red velvet curtain indicating there’s thespians in the vicinity.
Railings line the upper circle. Perfect heckling positions, and a part of me waits for the spot to fall at some stage of the evening on that balcony to shine on a winsome wench wailing or waxing lyrical. It’s however not to be. The ground floor is for the genteel. Crystal glassware and filigreed cutlery twinkle in the candlelight, while waitstaff wiggle between tables, banquettes and loveseats to deliver plates of ceviche and tiradito, and goblets of wine or other chosen “poison”, which ranges from whiskey by the bottle to champagne by the glass and Pisco Sours by the gallon.
Like any supper club in Dubai, it’s pointless to arrive early. The 8:30pm show starts closer to 9:30, and the venue is hushed and tightly restrained until then, the only noise some gentle Ella Fitzgerald and the clinking of crystal of the other few diners who might need to rise at 6am as I do. The “Toys in the Attic” Act, bizarrely, is only on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so no matter what way you look at it, that’s a school night. It seems The Act has two personas. Thursdays and Sundays are a traditional supper club, with glamorous dresscode, licentious behaviour, food wine and dancing into the wee hours, and snippets of acts to kick you into the mood. Fridays and Saturdays the venue sleeps. But Mon-Weds, the show is centre stage, the food and wine appreciated and analyzed, and the dancing only the job of 5’8 Barbie dolls, a wind-up boy and a sword-swallowing, pole-dancing pirate.
Despite current trends and predictions for immediate-future dining demand, The Act is one of the only venues in Dubai to call itself Peruvian. It’s an unusual mix, this gaudy-gorgeous saloon atmosphere and Inca gourmet, but essentially it’s very well done and the acid of the traditional citric-cured dishes cuts and compliments the luscious lasciviousness of the ambiance.
There’s plenty of alternatives if you don’t dig raw fish in lime (you know, its not really raw – the acid cooks the fish in a chemical reaction). There’s papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), empanadas (pies), camarones (prawns) and all manner of more simple meat and chicken dishes. There’s even a duck a l’orange, here called arroz con pato (duck and rice), and differing from the French version in basic flavours, and traditionally accompanied by coriander-flavoured rice. Health nuts will enjoy the ever-present quinoa, which finds itself risottoed, crumbing prawns and thrust in a salad. and There’s also a slow-cooked osso bucco that will have you licking those gluttonous drips off your partners chin if you don’t know how to restrain yourself. Desserts are simple, and not the highlight, but you get them included in the deal. Tres leches (three milks) cake is a given on any South American menu. The strawberries with balsamic and pepper are a lighter option, but the suspiro was our choice – caramel ice cream with chocolate crumble and some probably unnecessary berries.
But we all come to The Act for the show. Currently it’s a Toybox theme, and Cosmo takes guests through an indulgent reminiscence of his youth (which was much closer than mine). His rendition of “pure imagination” from Charlie and the Chocolate factory is a genuine treat for me, and I sing along. Loudly. He’s got a trapeze-loving rag doll, a ballerina, and a cheeky negligee- clad doll with a wind-up man-toy she likes to bump and grind with. There are roller-skaters in fluoro spandex and leg warmers, and a dude in a tron suit. The barbies are hilarious – four plastic-fantastic Glamazons launch out of man size packaging to do the robot and fight over a wedding dress.
There’s a lumberjack, who played at aerial silk – a slightly incongruous match, sure, but not the least bizarre act of the night. That award goes to some lads who launch onstage in a Pilates plank, with bodies draped in shadow, shoes on their hands and costumes on their arms. A little politically incorrect, I suppose, as they seem to imitate dwarfs, but the effect is more than a little amusing as they throw themselves around like puppets, “run” on fit-balls and “kick” each other in the heads, then do the YMCA.
However, the star is most definitely the pirate. Yes, you read it right before. He pole-dances. But he doesn’t just swing around it – he does the moon walk up the bloody thing. He does things on that pole I’ve never seen before (not that I see a great deal of pole dancing, I must admit). As his closing move, he swallows a 50cm sword, scales the pole upside down, then, after a dramatic drum roll, plunges face-down at speed to halt abruptly with only the power of his thighs, with the sword still between his teeth and down his gullet, and the handle only an inch from the ground. I nearly spew my tiradito up in fright.
So – the verdict.
This was an evening comped by the venue, and so I can’t really rate the dishes and the service, as they knew I was in to review (It was all good by the way). I will say that the menu is a good one – it’s interesting and balanced (except the desserts were a little uninspiring), and other diners looked happy. The pricing, which is set on show nights (you can order a la carte on Thursdays and Sundays) seems expensive at first look. It starts at 300 for 3 starters, 3 mains and 1 dessert. If you want up to 5 of each, then it will set you back 495 per head for food only. However, the pit is bottomless, so if you feel you didn’t get enough of that yellowfin ceviche (that was an utter highlight), then you can always ask for more. Here you pay extra for variety rather than quantity, so you definitely wont leave hungry, no matter what you choose. Don’t forget you also get the show though, so I’m very happy with the value. 4 choices of each with a couple of sides and desserts was perfect for a table of 4 and priced at 380AED. Wines were not cheap, but there were a few good options under 500AED a bottle. We did pay for 2 on our table of 4, and all our alcoholic beverages and would come again happily to pay full.
Toys in the Attic at The Act runs until Ramadan starts at the end of June. There is no cover charge, and dining prices start at 300AED per head not including drinks. Set menu only. Monday to Wednesday only. Bookings essential
The Act is also open Thursdays and Sundays. Dinner is served from 8:30 pm, and is both set menu as above, and a la carte. It is possible to enter late and just drink at the bar. Bookings essential for tables. Dress code is strict. Think designer, expensive and sexy (I’ve heard stories of ladies in flats being refused entry).
Rating: NA (complimentary dinner)
Pros: Fun show, unique experience, plush surroundings, interesting food, easy location
Cons: pricey (but ultimately good value), can get very busy on Thursdays, expensive wine list.
Reservations absolutely necessary
ph. +971 4 355 1116
Shangri La Hotel, Trade Centre Area, Sheikh Zayed Road. Map