It might be nearly 12,000 kilometres from Glendale to Dubai, but IHOP's outpost in Mall Of The Emirates tries to offer an authentic slice of casual, classic California in the Arabian Desert.
The International House of Pancakes has been stacking 'em up in the U.S. since 1958, so even though it's only three years old in the UAE, this feels like a spot-on choice for hearty pancakes with house-made sauces in a family-friendly setting that seems right at home in a mall, with sunny service & comfortable booth seating that would work for a brief pit-stop or hours of lingering.
With seven pancake recipes to choose from, we were reasonably curious about the savoury version with eggs, hash browns and beef bacon, as well as sweet ones with cinnamon, chocolate, blueberries or bananas, but our top temptation was the New York buttermilk layered with cheesecake pieces, powdered sugar, strawberries and whipped toppings. The price - Dhs42 or RM50 - is extremely expensive for Malaysians, who're accustomed to paying half of that for a plate of pancakes at most cafes, but then again, three patrons could easily share this portion, and the ingredients bear sufficient hallmarks of reliable quality.
There's (much, much) more to this place than pancakes - our favourite orders turned out to be the rolled omelettes, which are distinctively eye-catching and unexpectedly loaded with dense fillings & tasty toppings, from crispy beef bacon, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses and diced tomatoes (Dhs46) to Tex-Mex chicken fajitas, salsa and sour cream (Dhs40). These have a tried-and-tested feel to them, so the flavours prove well-tuned & expertly balanced, while the textures are satisfyingly complex. Each omelette feels like a complete meal that could easily pass off for an ambitiously constructed lunch or dinner that tastes more wholesome than it sounds. We can imagine someone chowing down on this after a work-out at the gym.
We like how there's space for customisation at IHOP - from omelettes to French toasts to crepes, the kitchen can handle specified sets of mix-and-match requests. We have mixed feelings though about the French Toast with blueberries & cream, plus a side of eggs, veal sausages and hash brown - the savoury components are delicious, with perfectly prepared eggs (again, you have a say in how you want them done), veal sausages - not something we've seen in KL - that look rustic & are simultaneously nuanced & punchy in their seasoning, & hash browns that taste kitchen-made, not supermarket-bought. But the French toast turns out to be the weak link - not eggy, not fluffy, nowhere near what makes for a memorable interpretation.
The chicken and waffles (Dhs45) also have hit-or-miss elements; the all-white meat is a bit dry & bland for our preference (though in all fairness, they are meant to be complemented by the honey mustard sauce anyway, not eaten on their own), but the waffles make up for it, with the lightly crisp bite of the flavoursome exterior yielding to a soft but not soggy chew within.
IHOP borrows inspiration from across America - the Philly cheese steak (Dhs44) offers the quintessential taste of PA, with the benefit of convincingly tender and tasty beef. We'd also have liked to try the Jambalaya pasta with smoked turkey sausage, shrimp and peppers, a unique fusion concoction that seems infused with the spirit of Louisiana with an Italian inflection in the use of rigatoni, but we didn't notice it was available while ordering, since it's on a separate menu that we had overlooked.
The savoury crepe stuffed with scrambled eggs, spinach, Swiss cheese, mushrooms & onions, topped with hollandaise sauce and diced tomatoes (Dhs45) is very pleasant - if you expect that you'll enjoy this, based theoretically on the list of ingredients, you most likely will; it's very well-prepared. We can't really complain about the beef burger (Dhs44), since the house-made patty, brioche bun and onion rings are all competent, but the ensemble lacks an extra something to help it genuinely stand out - perhaps a more compelling sauce or toppings that feel less nondescript than lettuce, tomatoes & cheddar cheese.
The Never-Empty Coffee Pot sounds like magic - java that keeps getting replenished, the perfect potion for caffeine junkies (Dhs17). But predictably, coffee isn't the real reason to head to IHOP. Personally, we might not necessarily return for the pancakes either, since there are multiple independent, home-grown venues in KL that promise pleasurable pancakes with creative accompaniments, but we'd recommend IHOP for its fine omelettes, Philly cheese steak and robust veal sausages.
IHOP, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai
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