Zabeel House Hotel is located in the Onyx Tower, in the Greens.  It’s the kind of uber-cool, chillaxed hotel where you don’t know if that’s the doorman running to open the door for you, or a guest late for a meeting.

We walked into the lobby, and I looked for some signage for Lah Lah.  The Serb immediately approached someone to ask for directions, which is very pragmatic and a last resort in my book.  However, it’s quite useful.  Lah Lah is on the fourth floor.

As we walked to the elevators, the Serb looked back and said, “I hope that lady works here.”


Lah Lah is up on the 4th floor, round a tight little bend to your left.  The terrace was closed because it’s an inferno outside.  The bare, warped, dusty furniture we could see through the window was living proof of the harsh realities outdoor furniture face every summer.

Lah Lah is a pan Asian restaurant, serving food from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.   This means a menu of rice rolls, dumplings, soups, wok dishes, noodles and Haagen Dazs Sorbet.

There was no-one at the entrance, so we wandered in, hand in hand, on the hunt for someone who could help us.   We got as far as the walk-in freezer in the kitchen before we found someone.

No, that’s a big fat lie, but we did almost make it out the other side of the restaurant before we met someone who showed us to an empty table.  We assumed he worked there.

The service was functional, but little else and certainly not reflective of the self-proclaimed “community hotel” label they’ve given themselves.  Restaurants miss a trick when they don’t make an effort to connect with their guests, and in this market, it’s almost suicidal.

I learnt more from their Instagram and website than I did from actually visiting them.  I couldn’t tell you what Lah Lah meant, because no-one bothered to explain it to us.  Maybe they don’t know.

Also, they grow organic vegetables, and we could pick our herbs from their “living” dining table to flavour our food.   I got that exciting titbit from Google, which was not the name of our waiter.

I flagged our waiter down to order some drinks.   He stared at us, nodded once, and wandered off.  Maybe he wasn’t a waiter, but a guest on the way to the bathrooms.  You can never tell in these kinds of hotels.

Lah Lah was quiet for lunch – a few business tables here and there, but mostly empty.  The décor is a mix of modern murals with traditional trinkets.  There is a pleasant residential feel to it, with a backless bar and plenty of natural light.

The Serb and I hadn’t been out for quite some time (ask the Serb about that), so once again, my enthusiasm dictated our ordering.

We ordered the vegan rolls, corn fritters, duck gyoza, BBQ rib bao, the satay chicken skewers, and a berry blast.  I reeled this list off to our waiter who wrote nothing down, seemingly committing it to memory.   I was seriously beginning to think he was really a guest, who was too far committed to this charade to come out with the truth.

Our food arrived in no particular order, but the flow and timing were spot on.  We got the two vegan dishes first- the vegan paradise and corn fritters.  Perhaps vegans are known to be always hungry, so their food is prioritized in the kitchen.

The vegan rolls were made of avocado, quinoa, cucumber, and pumpkin.  They were average, and the drizzled relish was nice.   However, the corn fritters won the vegan battle – greasy, hot little fried disks of corn and tofu with the chunkiest peanut sauce I have ever seen.

Next up were the chicken skewers which were dry, rather dull and a bit meh.  Luckily the duck gyoza potstickers swooped in and saved the day.  Crispy gyoza skins, stuffed with aromatic, flavourful duck meat and a sweet, sharp soy sauce.  Simple but delicious.

The BBQ ribs to bao buns ratio was crazy – eight ribs for just two buns.  There was no way I could fit four ribs into a single bun.  I tried though and judging by The Serb’s expression, maybe a little too hard.  The ribs were great, although the BBQ sauce was a touch too sweet for me. A good BBQ sauce is tangy and should confuse your taste buds.

“Do you think the staff will start singing and dancing soon?” The Serb asked, with half a duck gyoza impaled on a chopstick.
“Why would they do that?” I asked carefully, pretty sure I knew where this was going.
“Because they do in the film,” she replied.  I was right.  She was thinking of Ryan Gosling again.

No-one stopped by to ask us how the meal was, but to be honest, I wasn’t expecting anyone to.

Lah Lah is a reasonably good hotel restaurant.  Overall, the quality of the food is strong enough to warrant a repeat visit, but I hope that Lah Lah at night is a little more engaging and “community” friendly than lunchtime Lah Lah.

As we left, I’m pretty sure I saw our waiter pick his car up from valet.

LAH LAH - Zabeel House by Jumeirah Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Food.  It’s bloody complicated.  Its impact reaches every single living thing on the planet.  Religion, land, money, and even Dubai fitness influencers can’t hold a candle to the influence food has on this planet.  We are a community of 8 billion people, and food is our biggest vice.

There is no doubt in my mind that our species has given nothing positive back to this planet.  We are acting like hyperactive children in a playground.  Sure, the see-saw might be working now, but eventually, it’s going to break.  The ironic thing is, if we did act a little more like our children, we could probably fix this planet.

Therefore, I have recently been trying to make better, more ethical choices in life.

For example, in the rare times that I remember a reusable bag for my supermarket shop, I tut judgmentally at the person in front of me for using plastic bags.  Yep, I am delighted to get on my high horse, whenever I can.

I installed an under-sink water filter from Liquid of life, but that was because those six-packs of Masafi are bloody heavy.

I try to eat less beef as I have a hygienic issue with the amount of cow flatulence in the world.  If we can breed a fart-free bovine, I would happily eat beef every day.

I haven’t eaten foie gras for years, because, holy sh*t, poor geese.  Nutella leaves orangutans homeless.  Sausages equal instant cancer, and sausage cancer is the worst.

But now that I am an adult and can sit in front of a computer screen for 16 hours a day,  I took the opportunity to explore this topic further.

I wish I hadn’t.

There is an internet thing where you google “Florida man” and then your birthday and post the first headline that appears.  It seems a Florida man is doing something newsworthy every day of the year.  Mine is, and I kid you not, “Florida Man arrested for hanging on traffic light and sh*tting on cars passing underneath.”

Inspired by my Florida man, and combined with my new ethical standing, I invented an internet game.  Google search “The dark side of [enter favourite food item here]”, and you will almost be guaranteed of a result.  However, as I mentioned before, I wish I hadn’t.

First up on google was avocados. Smashed, baked, guac, with eggs, in smoothies, these versatile fruits have taken the world by storm in recent years.  They are like the Ed Sheeran of fruits.  Slightly odd-looking, but smooth and delicious on the inside.  However, in Pecora, Chile, avocado production is causing a massive problem.  In Chile, it takes on average 320 litres of water to produce one avocado. One. Single. Avocado.

Rivers have dried up, and groundwater levels have fallen, causing regional droughts as farmers struggle to respond to the insane demand from the west for smashed avo on toast.  In comparison, a tomato takes just 5 litres, and an orange takes 22 litres of water.  So, that’s me off avocado from now on.

Nuts were next on google — amazing little things, full of good oils and fats and a good source of protein.  There was even a Harvard study that said eating nuts decreased mortality rates by 20 percent.  Alas, no, take your nuts off the table.  California, which produces 82 percent of the world’s almond supply, suffers regular droughts and you can blame the almonds, quite frankly.  A single almond takes 4 litres of water to grow. Imagine a Pecora avocado and almond nut smoothie – just a cool 360 litres of water used for that little morning pick-me-up.  A packet of filter-free Lucky Strike might be a better choice at this stage.

Cashews used to be my favourite nut, but nut anymore.  They are now my nutenemy.  Between two layers of their hard shell is a vicious acid that is causing permanent damage to the hands of the ladies who work in the cashew factories.  No-one has time for cashew acid.

Next up on my Google search was coconut oil – the healthiest way to fry your eggs, surely.  Pah – it’s stuffed with saturated fat.  About 90% saturated fat, which is the stuff heart diseases love.  Butter is only 64%, as a comparison.  So, that’s coconut oil kicked to the curb.

I googled pizza, because, surely pizza is safe from the dark side.  No, pizza is going to hell too.  In Sao Paulo, Brazil, there are about 8,000 wood-burning pizzerias producing almost a million pizzas per day.  These pizzerias use 18.5 acres of forest every month, to keep up with demand.  That’s 14 football fields of forest every month gone from the face of the earth, thanks to a Hawaiian with extra cheese.

Quinoa is rocket fuel for hipsters, millennials, and vegans the world over and a healthy replacement for junk fast food.  Before we got our greedy little hands on this miracle grain of the Andes, quinoa was a staple food item to the people of Peru and Bolivia.  However, thanks to our crazy demand, prices have tripled, and many Peruvians and Bolivians can no longer afford to eat their staple food.  In a horrible twist of fate, imported junk food is now a cheaper option.

Farmers markets, we love them.  We love that feel-good, farm-to-table feeling and brown paper bags of slightly disfigured tomatoes and courgettes and small jars of local honey.  Think again – your farmers might not be so local.  Thanks to the inflated, privileged prices of farmers markets, farmers are travelling great distances with their products to make more profit, leaving their own communities hungry and without food.

The more I googled, the more depressed I got.  The poke bowl, farmed salmon, cheese, eggs, it was never-ending, and no food item was safe.

I typed one last food item into google but couldn’t bring myself to hit search. I couldn’t do it.

I am all for ethical eating and desperately want to do my part to help save the planet, but there are some things I don’t want to know. Some things need to remain pure and sacred; otherwise, what is it we are living for?

So, please, for the love of God, don’t google Shawarma. Let’s not ruin it. I don’t think I could handle it.

The role of the restaurant maître d’ is slowing dying. It has become a critically endangered species in the industry, and it should come as no surprise that it’s one of the most challenging positions to fill in a restaurant. It takes years to accrue the skills needed to be a maître d’. Not only do you need someone who has high-level technical skills and an in-depth knowledge of food and beverages, table service, management, organization, event planning, and time management, but you also need someone who has charm and charisma, a love of service and a genuine heartfelt sense of hospitality and kindness. You show me a restaurant with character and loyal clientele, and I’ll show you a talented maître d’ that runs it.

In an earlier life, I worked at an iconic hotel in Washington, DC for a few years. My family, duty-bound, visited me while I was there. They made two trips, with about 18 months between the two visits. On both visits, we dined at the Willard Room, the hotel’s historic fine dining restaurant, run by the legendary maître d’, Francisco.

Our first meal was made memorable by Francisco pulling out all the stops to make a colleague’s out of town family feel special. He fussed over us and flirted with us and whispered secret anecdotes about the history of the great dining room we were in. He had this old school authenticity that elevated every interaction.

The second time, we walked in without a reservation. Francisco recognised my family immediately, gave a little clap of genuine delight and greeted them individually by name. He danced us to the same table we had on our first visit because he remembered we liked the view. He informed us that he had the Châteauneuf-du-Pape in stock this time and would be delighted to bring us a bottle. He recalled what we ate last time and recommended similar dishes. He was charming and engaged and attended to our table like an artist attending his opus. He was the last great maître d’ that I ever worked with – part gate keeper, part confidant, part concierge. He was the heart and soul of the restaurant.

Sadly, over the years, this position has been replaced by a host or manager who merely makes the rounds at the end of a meal – a ticked box on a check list. The responsibilities have been diluted across several different positions in the restaurant.

Baring a few outliers, it seems the great relationship building skills have been largely forgotten, with a reliance on technology that provides us with speed and efficiency, but often at the cost of quality and authenticity. I’ve yet to see a social media strategy that alone creates long-lasting relationships with their customers. Social media can create awareness, but the real connection is built face to face.

I am a massive advocate for restaurants and food businesses upping their game when connecting with their audience and community, and I urge them all to look within their organisation to see where their heart and soul is. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a maître d’ is an old-fashioned role of an old, stuffy fine dining era. The title may be antiquated, but I would argue that the responsibilities are needed more than ever now.

MacDonald’s have recently spent $300 million acquiring a tech start-up called Dynamic Yield. This technology and its “decision logic” will change the drive-thru experience. As an example, Macdonald’s will scan your car plate, recall your order history, and offer up a screen with your favourite order before you even open your mouth. CEO Easterbrook calls it “mass personalization.” We’re no longer human, but a binary code of behaviour traits, habits, and statistics. Can anyone say Black Mirror Season Now?

Technology and algorithms and A.I are all very impressive and can tell us a great deal about our customers and their habits. However, they can’t tell us everything. They can’t tell us how each guest is feeling at any given meal. They can’t tell us if they’ve had a bad day, or what they are celebrating for, or commiserating over. Life can get messy sometimes, and technology does not work well with human emotions.

Because that’s what it boils down to – an emotional connection, making us feel truly included and welcome and part of something special.

Francisco used to tell me, “make every single person who comes through that door feel like they’re the only ones, and they will always come to see you.”

That’s what a good maître d’ will do. It’s a shame there aren’t many left.

Pizza is possibly one of the greatest things to ever come out of a cardboard box.  It is a single object, no complexity to its makeup and has no liquid components to spill, unlike curry.  It doesn’t degrade much in quality, even when put into its delivery box and driven through Dubai traffic for 40 minutes. Unlike breaded or fried foods, which suffer tremendously from car sickness and arrive soggy, emotional wrecks.

Pizza is a perfectly portable food; it doesn’t need a knife and fork, it can be reheated multiple times without a discernable loss in quality and by changing the toppings of vegetables and meat, it can easily be a single-dish meal that makes the entire family happy. Or just you – no one is judging.  

Yet, this is not about the pizza, but the vessel in which it arrives at your doorstop – the humble pizza box.  Typically, in my haste to get to the pizza, I usually don’t stop to appreciate the box in which it comes in.  The box is the unsung hero of the pizza experience.  Everyone focuses on the pizza and that little dollhouse plastic table that unexplainably comes free with some pizzas.

No one ever cares about the box.  Even Detective David Mills in the movie Seven only wanted to know what was in the box.  However, there are a few pizza joints that have been using the pizza box as a canvas for more than the ubiquitous cheerful chef running across the box carrying an oversized pizza clipart.

Globally, there have been some amazing examples of awesome artwork, with some pizza places collaborating with famous artists for limited edition pizza boxes.  I have my favourites – One is a Japanese Domino’s pizza box, one is the Pagliacci Sasquatch pizza box and the other is the Ed Hardy illustrated box for Tony’s Napoletana Pizza in San Francisco. 

However, looking locally, there is one Dubai based pizza place that is also creating fun and fresh pizza box artwork.  Pitfire Pizza are leading the way in rotating box art and work with some of Dubai’s best known and unknown artists.  Their inspiration is to give people a “little artistic solace and good vibes injection every time they order.” 

They have partnered with local artists like Dina Sami @creativebeingdina, Paul Bruwer of @thedominodubai, and Jelena Vucicevic from  @tobemadeofdarkness.  Even Bill, co-founder of Pitfire Pizza personally created one of their earlier designs.  He assimilates, gets inspiration and then creates.  His mind in an encyclopedia of visuals, according to his partner. 

For founders, Michelle and Bill, it is all about collaboration.  Through their artwork, they hope to remind people about the power of collaboration.  They say that collaboration “is the best way to progress. If you find the right individuals to collaborate with, you can elevate your business while focusing your energy on what you excel at. Whether you are in the restaurant business or not, we hope this can be a reminder that together we can do so much more.”

Have a look at their pizza box artwork below.

I’m going to be straight up with you. With so many well-known chefs in the kitchen, I was expecting a little more drama. Something to write about, you know.  Take Nick and Scott, for example – both from the Gordon Ramsay school of cooking – you would think they could have mustered up a minor meltdown.  No. Not even a finger raised in anger. They were as chilled as a Cheshire cat on a Friday afternoon. With all the ICCA students helping out in a unfamiliar kitchen, you would expect at least one minor workplace incident, but there was nothing. No burnt fingers or grated knuckles.

For one sweet moment, I thought it was going to kick off.  Word came from the kitchen that Greg Malouf, the oracle of Middle Eastern cuisine, had rejected the falafel, as it wasn’t up to standard.  This was fantastic news – the menus had been printed, and it was too late to come up with something else.  This was the drama I was looking for.  Maybe Greg would throw falafel mix at Mohammed Orfali and mayhem would ensue.  No, of course not. A simple phone call, new ingredients on the way and they would make it again. Problem solved without a blood vessel bursting.  I sulked back upstairs, bitterly disappointed with their professionalism.

No one screamed, no one cried, and no one walked out after throwing their apron at Tom Arnel.  I would love to say that Chef Reif sabotaged Chef Liz’s dessert by swapping the vanilla extract with soy sauce, but I would be making that up completely.

In fact, 20 minutes before their guests were due to arrive, they found time to drink coffee, hang out for selfies and chit chat about blast chillers and convection ovens. Where was the panic and mayhem that would have made this article dramatic and exciting?

Well, dear readers, you can blame the chefs, because they smashed out a four-course menu for 150 odd guests without really breaking a sweat.

If you were there, you know how good the food was. It wasn’t fancy, pretentious or pompous. It was classy, authentic and bloody delicious.  The menu really was a collaboration between all the chefs, and we wanted to try put Dubai on a plate.

They took flavour inspiration from the region and garnished it with international influences. They chose the best ingredients possible, including as much locally grown produce as they could get their hands on, and applied a variety of cooking techniques and methods to them. From the finesse of the hen egg with sumac, Medjool dates and malt vinegar caramel to the DIY, spice rubbed backyard roast lamb, all facets of Dubai’s lifestyle were represented in the menu.

As Tom mentioned in one of his speeches, Dubai is a city that embodies the ‘anything is possible’ mentality and makes it a contagious mindset.

The whole event was the result of unparalleled support and a coming together of scores of industry professionals, who put aside personal agenda and stepped up to support this event in the name of Dubai Cares.

Vegetables and produce from Emirates Bio Farm, cucumber and basil gelato from Canvas Gelato, Mardar farms and Meat and Livestock Australia for the lamb, Flying Elephant for the audio visual and stage, Fink 22 for the amazing artwork, 3 fils for the drinks, Mirzam for the chocolates and specialty coffee and the list goes on and on.

Last night, the Tom and Serg team welcomed into their house, the whole of Dubai, figuratively and almost literally, and Matt, Alex and the team were the perfect hosts, efficient, hospitable and gracious.

Let’s not forget what EAT DXB’s mission is. EAT DXB works on three core values – Celebrate, Support, and Strengthen. We believe the food and beverage dynamic is the heartbeat of Dubai. It is a true reflection of the spirit of the time and place. Dubai is a collection of districts, a melting pot of cultures and a series of moments. It is a mass of moving parts with millions of heartbeats, stories, and memories, all colliding and crashing into one another.

Yet it is food that is our union, and restaurants are the great connectors between us all.

EAT DXB is a collection of like-minded individuals who want to make Dubai an even better place, through the creation of a thriving F&B industry. With a focus on everything local; restaurants and their customers, business owners, and their landlords, suppliers, and chefs, our community is concerned with the relationships that affect us all.

Last night was the start of EAT DXB. Tonight, we deliver EAT TALKS, an evening of storytelling and discussion, and tomorrow we continue developing our voice and community. We look forward to going on that journey with you all.

Sorry again for the lack of drama. Although the charcoal octopus looked pretty dramatic, so there’s that.

Her name was Beasty, which I think was an ironic nickname, as she was anything but. She took me on my first real food adventure, proving that if you look hard enough, you can find adventure in the most unlikely of places.

The year was 2001, the place was Oxford, England. She was on the same university course as me, and we did group work together on some of the modules. She was street smart; I was book smart-ish. We were both well-travelled, and both loved food. However, the difference between us was she had explored, whereas I had just visited. She could tell you where the best brochettes in Fez could be found, or who sells the freshest Trdelnik in Prague. She knew where to go for Falafel in Borough Market or Räksmörgås in Stockholm’s Östermalms.

However, nothing about her was boastful, and she never tried to paint herself in a superior light. This was in a world before Instagram, and so her narrations of the dishes were the only way she could story tell her experiences. Beasty was and remained one of the original and purist foodies I have ever met. She wasn’t all high or mighty either – she also knew the best full English was at St Giles Café and the corner shop Spar sold a pretty good samosa in a pinch.

So, when she announced that she was taking me for lunch on Saturday, my heart beat a little faster. It was like going to The Louvre with Tom Hanks.

“We’re going for Yum Cha,” she said. “But we have to get there early because they get super busy and sell out quick. You’re gonna love it, I promise.”

“We’re going for what?” I asked. She had already hung up.

Throughout the week, I was trying to research more about this Yum Cha, but because I didn’t even know if I was saying it right, I had no idea where to look. Plus, I was a student, internet cafes ruled, and we still played snake on our Nokia phones. This was pre-Netflix, and I don’t think the term foodie had even been invented yet.

I saw Beasty again mid-week, briefly at a lecture and casually asked where we were going again for lunch as if I had forgotten and just remembered in passing.

“Yum Cha,” she said again. “Tea and Dim Sum,” she explained as if that should clear it all up. I was none the wiser. I had genuinely never heard of Dim Sum before. My food experiences had been restricted to British pub food and Lebanese and high street “Ethnic” cuisine. Mutton korma with mango chutney and sweet and sour chicken and prawn crackers was about as exotic as it got.

Little did I know this was going to be one of my most powerful food memories. A meal of the strange and unfamiliar. An experience that took me to faraway lands and exciting prospects. Languages, smells, sounds, flavours, and textures that were all alien to me and my mind and mouth tripped over each other, trying to comprehend everything.

I can’t even remember the name of the restaurant – Hidden Dragon Opium Bar, or something like that. I have vague recollections of a small entrance, through the back of a laundromat, past tattooed old men playing with dice and snakes. Of course, my memory has clearly been influenced and diluted over the years – this was Oxford, England – the City of Dreaming Spires. There is no way they have laundromats there.

The room was chaotic and loud, hot, and full of character and movement and smells. We sat at one of the few remaining tables, and I let Beasty take the lead. From the kitchen, a lady wheeled out a trolley of bamboo containers so tall, she could barely see over them. Beasty flagged her down like a trader at an auction. There was a flurry of conversation, a mix of English, and what I could only assume was Cantonese. It was a short, violent exchange ending in smiles and several seemingly random bamboo baskets being placed on our table.

“Har Gow, Xiaolongbao, Shumai, cha siu bao,” she said in a high pitched shrill and placed four different baskets on the table.

Beasty put one hand on the lid of the bamboo steamer baskets and looked at me dead in the eyes. “Before we begin, I have something important to tell you,” she said.

“Chopsticks,” she announced, holding up her set, in case I was not familiar with them. “A few rules you need to know about chopsticks. Never stick them straight down into your food. It’s considered bad luck. It resembles incense sticks for the dead and will bring bad health.”

“Don’t bang the sticks against your bowl,” she continued. “Beggars used to do this for attention, and it will bring poverty to your family.”

“Always eat the last grain of rice in your bowl. This means your future wife will have smooth, perfect skin. Never lean across the table for food. Serve tea to others before yourself. Never take the last dim sum without permission and don’t use your hands.”

As I sat there in front of those towers of bamboo containers, trying to remember all these rules, Beasty poured me the first of many cups of fragrant, floral jasmine tea. It was light, clean and refreshing and a million miles away from the milky Tetley’s or Lipton I was used to.

I lost track of how many different Dim Sum we tried, but four stuck in my memory, and I can recall how they looked and tasted, with considerable accuracy.

Har Gow is the purse shaped shrimp dumplings, with perfect pleating, evenly crimped along the edge. They had smooth, tacky skin, with a fleshy shrimp filling that was toothsome and lusciously tender.

Shumai was a meaty, crowd-pleasing little open-faced dumpling, with minced pork, shrimp, mushroom and bamboo shoots. A thin egg dough wrapper with an orange garnish dot of crab roe and carrot top. This dumpling was bouncy, fresh, and slightly sticky with delicious juices that coated your mouth.

The Cha Siu Boa blew my mind. Maybe it was all the antioxidants coursing through my veins from the tea, but I was in awe of these little clouds of perfection. Soft, pale, steamed bread buns, (steamed bread, what a time to be alive!) ever so sweet with piping hot, sticky sweet BBQ filling. Even today, they still provide me with a considerable amount of satisfaction when I tear them in half.

I broke a cardinal rule by reaching over to grab another one. Beasty stabbed me in the back of the hand with her chopstick.

The Xiaolongbao to this day remains my favourite. I had never experienced anything like that before. A pork and crab soup dumpling. So many questions raced through my mind, as the gyoza skin burst in my mouth and the hot, salty soup coated my tongue and throat. Who makes these? How did you get the soup in there? Why have I never had these before?

The trolley kept on coming, the bamboo basket towers depleting as they made their way across the busy room. Our teapot was refilled continuously, and the noise was relentless. It was a blurry few hours of sensory overload. It was magnificent.

We stumbled out into the murky sunlight and walked back to the bus stop. I felt as if we had returned from somewhere exotic and alien. I felt like we had been part of a secret club. I felt we had been on an adventure, and it was then I realised the power of food, with its ability to transport you thousands of miles with a single mouthful.

Amazing.

Google started in a garage.  Amazon started in an empty swimming pool.  Apple started in a cupboard beneath the stairs by a boy with a lightning scar on his forehead and a dark coloured turtleneck.

EAT DXB started in Lowe.

The other night, some of the top chefs in the city, each one of them an expert in their chosen discipline came together around a quiet table in a back room of Lowe for a few hours of food, connection, and discussion.

Artisanal chocolates, ramens, charcoal and black cod, puffed pita bread with wagyu, lamb saddle, dark chocolate caramel kibbeh, bone broth, baos and falafel.  These are the dishes these chefs produce, and yet these chefs are not defined by the dishes they make.

The invite was for a 7:30 pm Iftar. So, of course, we started at 8:15 pm.  Arriving late is a chef’s way to compensate for always having to send food out on time in their own restaurants. It’s how they balance their lives.

Jesse Blake and Kate Christou, the chefs of Lowe very kindly agreed to host the dinner – a big ask, considering the audience they were serving.  You would have thought they would roll out their most tried and tested dishes – the big hits that would have the audience raising their lighters and singing along.  No, they announced that the recipes they were serving had never been tried before.  Not once. “The flavours all work – in my head,” Jesse said, while nonchalantly seasoning something in a bowl.

David Chang of Momofuku fame tells a story of how he visited Joe Beef, a restaurant in Montreal and ended up talking to chef-owners David McMillan and Frédéric Morin at the bar.  They had never met before, but sought each other out, as like-minded individuals are prone to do.  Their conversation ended with Chang stepping into their kitchen and showing them how to cook fried cauliflower the Momofuku way.  A coming together of talent, a sharing of knowledge, an improvement of the industry.

As founders of EAT DXB, our message was clear – we must look up from our day-to-day to see the change-making connections that lie beyond.  Restaurants must serve more than just food.  We have a responsibility to contribute to a better life for everyone, and we believe in this strongly.  This is at the very essence of EAT DXB.

The menu, much like Kate and Jesse themselves, was all about contrast; The Ying and the Yang.  One of the “never-served-before” dishes was a cured king scallop with yuzukosho with iced horseradish.  It was like dunking your head into the icy waters of the North Sea – refreshing, bracing and deeply satisfying.

There is something powerful about breaking bread together – it builds trust and confidence in your fellow diners, and a special community is born if only for a few hours, allowing each person to relax and speak freely and passionately about what infuriates and excites them.  Each one of the chefs represented a hugely diverse array of experiences and yet found connection and commonality in their conversations with one another.

One of the mains we had was the lamb collar with pureed roasted cauliflower.  If the scallops were of the sea, refreshing, light and tangy, the lamb was all about the earth, full of umami, terroir, soil, and substance.

Out of the hundreds of mini-conversations that were had over the evening, one topic resonated loudly and frequently.  Support – and not just those within the industry supporting each other, although that is much needed too.

There is a need for support from the extended community as well.  Support from landlords, suppliers, and customers – the full ecosystem.  Support from government and industry reform.  Support to deal with mental health and abuse in restaurants, to develop and coach the leaders of the future, to create and innovate.  Support to find a healthy work-life balance and to make home-grown F&B a viable career in Dubai.

Jesse and Kate took a few moments to explain to their guests about their food philosophy and their ambitions for Lowe.  They spoke with sincerity and gratitude that they were able to create and innovate in their own kitchen.  They spoke of growing their own produce on site and have plans for an aquaponic system so they can farm their own fish.  They acknowledged the support they had received by the community as well.

They also explained that the dessert was designed as a palette cleanser, a soft refresher to bring the meal to a gentle end.  If that was a gentle end, then they should have written season 8 of Game of Thrones.

If the scallops were the North Sea, the dessert, sour gooseberry, sweet ginger, and persimmon was like a chemical peel for the mouth.  It was sharp, intense, and concentrated.  It was also delicious.

When it comes to support, in my opinion, the F&B industry globally, has a habit of disconnecting itself from other industries, and within itself becomes isolated and distant from one another.  The industry suffers significantly from the weight of expectation.  The expectation that restaurants are the magic bullet that will save retail, that the restaurant industry will solve over-farming, and sustainability and our world’s oceans or that restaurants can survive the crippling effects of disruptive online business models.  But perhaps most importantly, the expectation to single-handedly keep Instagram filled with content.

However, what is clear is that support is a two-way street, and people in other industries have faced similar challenges in their past.  We would do well to take inspiration from parallel industries, from overcoming obstacles,  introducing regulations, and collaborating so we can power through to a better tomorrow.

What struck me most was this was a table of highly influential individuals with talent, drive, and ambition.  More importantly, these were people with purpose and determination and a vested interest in Dubai’s F&B landscape.  If talent like this is leading the charge for local home-grown F&B, then we are in safe hands.  A new wave is coming, Dubai.

Thanks to:
Kate Christou, Jesse Blake and the team at Lowe.
Tom Arnel for hosting
And the attendees: –
Liz Stevenson, Reif Othman, Alex Stumpf, Mohammad Orfali, Scott Price, Neha Mishra, Kathy Johnston, Paul Frangie and Akmal Anuar.

Tom Arnel and I met over a good morning smoothie and a chia pudding at Comptoir 102.  It was like a one-sided blind date.   I, of course, knew what he looked like.  He was the Lord of the Flat White, the King of the Smashed Avo and the Protector of the Cafe Culture.  However, he didn’t know what I looked like, so I told him I would be reading a copy of the 1977 New York Zagat Guide and wearing tweed.  Ok, that didn’t happen.  I actually just waved at him from across the restaurant.  My tweed was at the dry cleaners.

We decided to create EAT DXB.  Not immediately, because we spoke a lot about the industry and our aspirations and hopes for it.  In fact, our conversation lasted about a year, on and off, but it all lead to EAT DXB.  Below is a years conversation, paraphrased into a single page.

The restaurant industry.  Three simple words, yet a world that is far from simple.

Dubai is home to 3.1 million people, which swells to 4.3 million during the day.  Every lunchtime, millions of meals are prepared and consumed across restaurants, cafeterias, dining halls, vending machines and office desks every single day.

It’s difficult to comprehend the number of meals needed to feed such a hungry city.  If everyone eats at least two meals a day, across 7 days, over 43 million meals are prepared, cooked and eaten by people of over 200 nationalities every week in Dubai.

It is a monster industry of supply chains, logistics, agriculture, farming, labour, and manufacturing.  It is a behemoth whose enormity is difficult to fathom.

Yet, zoom all the way down and focus on a single dining table in a restaurant and you will find a world of magic and hope.  The restaurant industry is as much about emotions and identities as it is about production lines and food chains.

The food and beverage dynamic is the heartbeat of Dubai.  It is a true reflection of the spirit of the time and place.  Dubai is a collection of districts, a melting pot of cultures and a series of moments.  It is a mass of moving parts with millions of heartbeats, stories, and memories, all colliding and crashing into one another.  Yet it is food that is our union, and restaurants are the great connectors between us all.

For centuries, we lived in village communities, that were characterised by intimate relationships, shared experiences and limited degrees of separation.  Through urbanization, all that is being challenged, and we find ourselves becoming alienated from our tribes.

However, we see the F&B industry as its own community, with the power and responsibility to contribute to a better life for everyone.  The responsibility of our industry to support and elevate our community is of utmost importance to the survival and longevity of the many elements that make up the ecosystem.

It’s time to reconnect and support local.

This is why EAT DXB was created.   A local food movement with three core values.  Celebrate, Support and Strengthen.

Celebrate the talents and efforts of the local F&B community – the restauranteurs, chefs, servers, suppliers, and customers that help create this industry that connects and inspires us all.

Support the larger F&B space at all levels with insights, events, community, time and space to allow the industry to thrive.

Strengthen our city’s offering as to establish it as a globally recognised food destination, where global and local talent is nurtured to innovate and create at the highest possible level within the Dubai F&B landscape.

We want to be united in passion, aligned in our goals and understanding of our diversity.

EAT DXB is a collection of like-minded individuals who want to make Dubai a better place, through the creation of a thriving F&B industry. With a focus on everything local; restaurants and their customers, business owners, and their landlords, suppliers, and chefs. Our community is concerned with the relationships that affect us all.

We are launching in June 2019, with two powerful events.

EAT THE CITY – June 16th, 2019.

A collaborative dinner prepared by some of the city’s most successful and renowned chefs, in partnership with students from the International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA). A special set menu offering. Ticketed event with all profit going to Dubai Cares. Each course will be explained by one of the guest chefs, imparting know-how and sharing experiences of working together with his/her apprentices.

EAT TALKS – June 17th, 2019

Recognising that the food and beverage industry has the opportunity to participate in improving some of the city’s most pressing challenges. A speaker lead event featuring key F&B change makers from Dubai and the broader region.

EAT TALKS is an industry and consumer event and will appeal to all with a social conscience and appetite for exploring the best ways of working.  Chef and owner of Bull&Roo cafes & restaurants Tom Arnel will play host to the first significant gathering of EAT DXB.  A speaker line up of chefs, restaurateurs other critical parts of the food puzzle will contribute with informed discussion on food in the city now and in the future.

The food community of Dubai is coming together for EAT DXB.  Engaging discussions, events, and activations promoting creativity, curiosity and shared know-how between different parts of the food ecosystem.

Join the change makers and trend avoiders; a group of like-minded individuals who aim to make Dubai a better place, one meal at a time.

Save the dates, ladies and gentlemen.  Booking details and full speaker line up to be released very soon.

Back in 2006, Jumeirah Beach Road underwent a “Beautification” upgrade.  Little did we know that it would become a strip heavily dedicated to boutique concept stores, health-driven cafes, cosmetic and dental clinics, and posh chocolate and flower shops – which is everything you need to be beautiful, right?

Mad Tailors is part café, part restaurant.  The all-day breakfast items scream café culture; however, the tapas and Mad mains show a more serious restaurant side.  Time will tell whether it can balance both genres.

The Serb and I visited early one chilly April evening and through positive thinking en route, managed to snag street parking right out front.  Life is good on the Beach Road.

There is a large, illuminated “X” hanging from the façade of the building with a small outdoor seating area.  The temperature was below 26 degrees, and The Serb demanded we sit inside as she had left her Northface Thermoball Arctic jacket at home.  Inside Mad Tailors are around 15 tables, making a small but cozy space that wouldn’t be out of place in a hip residential neighbourhood of New York.

According to their Facebook page, Mad Tailors is inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and serves intimate MADiterranean food.  The décor is rough-luxe, and the distressed walls are brought to life by an ethereal, ghostly chandelier in the center of the room.  The dining room is framed by an arresting brass metalwork arch that gives the restaurant a new age renaissance cathedral feel.  The coffee counter at the head of the restaurant has an altar-like quality to it, backlit with an ecclesiastical glow.

Mad Tailors is the creation of Fad Jokhadar, a Syrian/Greek interior architect who has emphatically stamped his distinct personality into this restaurant.

The man behind the menu is the very talented Mohammad Orfali who is what I call a thinking chef.  Not only does he whisk and flip and broil and bake, but he also seeks out knowledge and understanding of cuisine and culture as well.

Chef Orfali also partners with other culinary talent, using Mad Tailors as a pop-up playground for him and his chef friends.  He has partnered with Omar Rodriguez from Slab and Reif Othman from Play and Zuma for various pop-up dinner events and you should definitely keep an eye out for future collaborations as well.

(On a side note, Chef Reif is a busy man at the moment and has been associated with roughly 80% of all GCC restaurants recently.  Rumour has it he has managed to clone himself, hence being able to be in Beirut, Dubai, and Egypt seemingly simultaneously.  Either that or Mad Tailor’s Cathedral Archways create a portal to the Quantum Realm.   Yes, I did just watch Avengers Endgame.  I’m not crying.  You’re crying.)

Mad Tailors wasn’t busy when we entered, and we were  quickly shown to our table by a welcoming waiter.  The manager on duty was energetic, switched on, and she gave Mad Tailors a good neighbourhood restaurant feel to the place.  I like managers that have a waiter’s pad in their back pocket, ready to take an order themselves, rather than politely offering to “fetch my waiter for me.”

The menu teeters between progressive and conservative.  Dishes like the baby gem pistachio were inventive and refreshing, but the chicken avocado salad is a reminder that they still need to serve “commercial” food.  Overall, the menu is a robust bistro menu with some bright flavour combinations, like horseradish and salmon, and chicken with truffle crumbles.

From the tapas section, we ordered the Patataes and the Cordon Bleu croquettes.  We decided to opt for a salad and mains to share.  We ordered the Halloumi & Herbs salad, or as the Serb calls it, the squeaky cheese salad.  For the mains, we went with the beef stroganoff, which, as everyone knows, was Michelangelo’s favourite TV dinner after a long day of upside-down painting.

We also ordered the sourdough bread as well, because I suffer from Carb FOMO.

Have I told you how much I enjoy balls?  Well, ball-shaped foods more specifically.  Arancini, cheese balls, Xiaolongbao – stick anything in a ball shape and I’m in.  The cordon bleu croquettes arrived, dutifully following the unwritten rule that food must be served in odd numbers only. Three little crunchy balls filled with a rich, creamy chicken and cheese puree, topped with a mushroom mayo.

The patataes, (which is how you say potato if you’re a frightfully posh Surrey farmer or from Boston), were triple cooked fries and delicious.

The halloumi and herb salad was fresh and spritely and the herbs combined to create a choral symphony of flavours in my mouth.  The coriander played off the mint, that gave way to the parsley that allowed the halloumi to squeak falsetto, as halloumi is prone to do.

Although not an obvious choice for a MADiterranean food direction, the stroganoff was rich, thick and well balanced.  The beef was tender and soft, and although the dish appears to be simple comfort food, it requires several hours at the stove to get it right.  The sauce has to be slightly tangy, which is where a dollop of sour cream comes in and the seasoning requires a delicate hand.  Mad Tailor’s kitchen got it right – it was a delicious and generous portion.  However, as a winter comfort dish, I am not sure how it will fare the coming summer months.

We finished off with a Chocolate Mille Feuille and the lovely manager brought over a complimentary Torrija as well.  The Torrija is a Spanish French Toast and was head and shoulders better than the Mille Feuille which should have been delicate and light but unfortunately wasn’t.  The Torrija brioche bread had a crème Brulee style shell which gave a satisfying crack each time you took a spoonful.  It was a heavy dish, and one we couldn’t finish after our equally heavy stroganoff – not if we wanted to walk out with any grace and dignity anyway.

Mad Tailors, is a 40-seater restaurant that proves you don’t need to be highly polished to be beautiful, especially on Jumeirah Beach Road.

 

Mad Tailors
Dinner for two – 350 AED
04 2557255
Opposite Mashreq Bank,
Jumeirah Road,
Umm Suqeim

 

Mad Tailors Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

One more thing – I’d like to invite you all to my Facebook Group. It’s different than a regular Facebook page. It’s more interactive, and personal. It allows you to see fresh content quickly and directly. It allows you to cut through all the unnecessary social media noise. Be a part of a food community where you have access to reviews, articles, supper club invites, The 86 food journal and much more. Click below and be a part of community where humans and food connect.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/FoodSheikh/ 

Just by looking at the number of food delivery drivers zipping between cars and darting around the communities of Dubai, you know that food delivery and third-party apps have made a massive impact on how we consume our food.

According to a recent KPMG report, 60% of UAE consumers use a food app on their smart phone.  There is no doubt about it – food delivery has become part of our everyday lives.

If you were to believe a recent Capital Economics report, 3rd party apps are contributing positively to the F&B industry.  According to Capital Economics, a company specialising in both commissioned and independent economic reports, Deliveroo is supporting 3,200 jobs across the UAE and providing 399 million dhs of incremental revenue for the restaurant sector.

However, I’ve spoken to many local restaurateurs about this situation, and they tell a very different story.

If you go beyond the façade of convenience and instant gratification, there is an argument that says third-party delivery apps are slowly destroying the restaurants we love.  In fact, one local restaurateur, who preferred to remain anonymous, describes them as aggressive, arrogant and heartless.

For smaller restaurants that run on incredibly tight profit margins, it paints a desperately sad story.

Here’s how it works.  All the third-party delivery companies reach out to as many restaurants as possible and offer their services.  The objective is to be the platform with the most choice and variety.  The ordering, payment and delivery service is known as the “full stack” solution.  With some platforms, you can take their delivery option or not, with others, the full stack is the only option.

They all want you to sign exclusivity, meaning you can’t be listed with anyone else.  To encourage that, they offer you a lower commission rate of 25%.  If you don’t sign exclusivity, it will be 30% commission or upwards.  In some cases, restaurants lose money on these orders.

David Chang, from Ugly Delicious and Momofuku, said of this subject, “I think it’s fool’s gold for the restaurant owner. The reality is, you’re only helping out the delivery company. You’re not helping out the restaurant.”

Then, because the app’s listings are a hot mess of thousands of restaurants, some real, some just kitchens, it becomes almost impossible for the consumer to make any meaningful choice.  So, it becomes a sterile, price-driven marketplace – each restaurant is encouraged to offer more and more discounts to get noticed and obtain orders, and the survivors are the ones who can control their margins better.

One restauranteur I spoke to likened it to being a drug addict.  As a restauranteur, you become dependent on an income stream that might ultimately be running you into the ground.   It’s also worth noting that despite crazy growth and high revenue streams, most delivery platforms are not profitable yet.  There is a hope that through sheer volume of restaurants and orders, profit will eventually come.  (An indicator of this is that already these companies are looking to diversify into running their own kitchens – perhaps as a further attempt to find profitable revenue streams)

The combination of an industry that has very thin margins with an industry that has upside-down margins is not a wise or healthy combination.

Another local restaurant owner said, “These are platforms owned and run by tech experts or accountants who only see numbers without feeling or connection.  The amount of sweat and blood, people with families, depend on this craft and life.  It hurts me as a restauranteur, seeing my fellow restaurant owners suffering like this.”

As the income of these restaurants gets chipped away by commission and discounts, they are forced to take measures to merely survive.  It is this state of survival that is doing the most damage to our industry, in my opinion.  Restaurants will compromise on ingredient quality, reluctantly ordering cheaper and cheaper ingredients to make their margins.  They will spend less on marketing, relying on their exploitative delivery partners to bring them customers, thus making them even more dependent on them.  They will hire the cheapest of labour, thus diminishing their service standards.  They will cook and produce food that is commercially safe, thus killing creativity and innovation and all that will be left are functional food spaces that are barely holding on.

Let’s not mention the amount of plastic used in delivery.  A container for the salad and another one for the dressing.  One for the croutons and one for the grated cheese.  Such irresponsible waste, but it costs money to use ethical packaging, and when your margins are so low, you have to choose the cheap plastic that kills our planet.

It seems to go deeper and deeper the more I talk to restaurant owners.  With the rise of these so-called virtual kitchens, restaurant operators are effectively handing over their recipes and know-how to these companies.  One 3rd party delivery company is now offering what they call “food brokerage” where they negotiate bulk deals to get restaurants cheaper prices from suppliers.  Sounds great, but in reality, you are handing over your entire supply chain to them, and at some point, you have to question what part of your business are you left controlling? So, I ask the restaurateurs of Dubai, do you want to be the operator that these companies learn from, for them to be your direct competitor tomorrow? Actually, let me correct that – they’re your competitors today.

So, are these online delivery companies good or bad for restaurant business?  Why do so many restaurants sign up with them if they are so bad?  These are valid questions, and there are obviously some advantages to partnering with the third-party delivery guys.

To illustrate this, a restaurant boss I spoke to claims that if he doesn’t use these delivery platforms, he would have to shut his doors tomorrow.  Another restaurant went from almost zero delivery orders to over 1,000 in their first month of signing with a 3rd party delivery company, so clearly there are positives to come from this kind of partnership.  Furthermore, they have an enormous audience reach and have invested billions into logistics and technology infrastructure, and it is clear there is an optimal way to benefit from them.

However, I think the advice is never let them overtake your own in-house and take away business, which must remain your priority.  Develop a strong brand first, with a good following and the delivery platform should just enhance your existing business.  If your biggest customer is that electronic device that feeds you anonymous orders, then you need to re-work your business model because you’re heading for trouble.  Restaurants have already lost their direct connection to their customers, so they need to think twice about handing over access to their recipes, techniques, and supply chain.  These are what makes them unique and special.

Finally, if you have been paying attention over the years, you will know that I am a big advocate for community dining – I believe restaurants are the lifeblood of a community.  It is where I learnt my trade, where my family celebrates milestones and where countless stories and memories are made.  So again, I urge you to support local – visit your favourite restaurants and allow them the financial resources to re-invest into their businesses and community with training and innovation and expansion.

#SupportLocal.

 

 

There are two sides to a city.  The public side and the private side.  The public side is what the tourists, investors and other governments see – The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, desert safari, free zones, sports tournaments, etc.  This public side of Dubai is critical to generating tourism spend and foreign direct investment.

However, the private side of a city is that which is experienced daily by the city’s residents.  Our communities need to deliver on this, on everything that makes living in a city a pleasure.  It is intimacy, human scale and the relationships people have with their districts that make a city truly liveable for its residents.

Enter stage left, Lowe restaurant at KOA Canvas, a new development out past Al Barari and the popular Farm restaurant.  I love pulling off the 311 onto that single-track lane surrounded by mature hedgerow and foliage.  It reminds me of the single winding lanes of Devon in the UK, except you don’t have to worry about a slightly tipsy farmer coming the other way after a few pints of IPA at The Maltster’s Arms.  Just someone tailgating millimeters behind you, flashing their headlights like they’re at a car rave.

Lowe is a dining all day neighbourhood restaurant.  A restaurant that has a story, some purpose, and character behind it.  Headed up by New Zealand and Australian chefs Jesse Blake and Kate Christou, and real estate developer Mohammed Zaal, who believes his communities should contribute to the soul of a dynamic new Dubai.

Lowe means a warm light, especially one produced by fire and the menu showcases seasonal produce cooked naturally by fire.

I followed the directions of The Serb, who has got much better at navigation since she agreed to give me at least 15 meters warning before announcing any turns or exits.  Eventually, we arrived from the jungle depths and approached the gates of KOA Canvas, a new mixed-use residential development that promises to be a collaborative hub for creatives and home to Lowe.  In keeping with the whole fire theme, the security guards gave us a proper grilling before we could enter.

“Good Evening, Sir.”
“Hello, we’re looking for Lowe restaurant.”
“Do you have a permit pass?”
“Permit pass? No, do we need one?”
“No. Welcome,” and with a wave of his arm, the barriers lifted.

We pulled into an empty car park and walked the short distance to Lowe.  The open kitchen greets you as you enter with a charcoal grill, rotisserie and wood-fired oven sitting proudly front and center.

The restaurant is empty when we arrive, and the hostess has the common sense and dignity not to ask us if we had made a reservation.  Instead, she gave us a warm, welcoming smile and walked us into the dimly lit restaurant and showed us our table. The interior is Scandinavian Chic, clean lines with smoothed grey concrete and lots of wood and rattan.  With just 75 covers, it is warm, welcoming and intimate and will age well with time.

The menu is sharing plates, of course, so I crack on and order far too much food without consulting with The Serb.  It’s often better to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.  I ordered some cucumbers, whipped aubergine, duck salad, roast chicken and charred cauliflower.  The Serb threw in the French fries at the end.

The menu is honest and clean and straightforward.  It is transparent in the sense that it is ingredient led, rather than technique heavy.  The menu has a clear focus on local produce, seafood, and vegetables with big earthy flavours coming from influences around the globe.  The service team was led by a very active and engaged manager, who I think took almost every single food order himself personally.  Such was his efficiency, half the staff could have had the night off.  I bet they can’t wait until they are busier, so they get to take some orders as well.  

The pressed cucumbers were fresh and lively, with a slight sourness that danced on the tongue.  Dipped into the smoked labneh and they became crudites extraordinaire, a delicious sharing dish that was gone before we realized it.

Aubergine is a vegetable (well, technically a berry) that I have a hard time building a relationship with.  Although I often order Baba Ganoush, it’s because I like saying the word, rather than because of any enjoyment I get from the dish itself.

However, Lowe’s whipped aubergine with puffed grains gives me hope that there is a future for me and the eggplant.  It was bloody delicious, a little airy cloud of aubergine, soft and dreamy in the mouth.  The crunch of the grains kept you grounded, and the drizzle of pepita oil added depth.  It was one of my favourite dishes.  The Serb liked the bread that came with it.

We also ordered the broken wheat salad, with crispy duck leg toasted seeds and spiced labneh.  I would imagine that this will be their most popular dish.  It was well balanced with great flavours – hearty, but not too heavy.

The cauliflower is the Skrull of the vegetable world.  It is incredibly versatile and can mimic a whole range of other foods, from rice, to puree, to even pizza bases.  Its neutral flavour also means it plays well with others too.  Lowe’s cauliflower, however, is dug from the ground, rinsed under a tap and charred over a naked flame.  It is served with a coriander yogurt and golden raisin chimmi.  However, it’s far too big for two people to eat alone, especially if one of them filled up on bread and wasn’t hungry anymore.

The chicken arrived last, glistening straight off the rotisserie, juicy, moist and tender.  It was the dish that had the mildest flavour but was brought to life by their deep emerald green garden sauce.

Landlords take note – this is the future of neighbourhood dining.  As communities, we’ve lost touch of our neighbours.  Due to urbanisation, the web & the third-party delivery guys, social media, and the globalisation of products, we have rendered ourselves alienated from our communities.

It is places like Lowe that offer hope that all is not lost in community dining.  They tick so many boxes that it makes me want to cry.  I won’t though, because that would be dramatic and utterly unnecessary.  The food was spot on, the timing and sequence of service was without fault, the staff were trained and enthusiastic and the pricing was considerate to the fact that most of us are broke this year.  All in all, a strong all round game.

So, I say directly to Mohammed, Jesse and Kate if they are reading this, stay the course, see this through and be part of the change that’s happening in Dubai’s F&B scene.

And to the others reading this, please go down there and spend some money with Lowe.  They deserve it, Dubai needs places like Lowe and you don’t need a permit pass, I promise.

 

 

Lowe Restaurant
KOA Canvas, Wadi Al Safa 3
Dinner for two – 295 dhs

NB- I stole some images from Lowe’s facebook account. You can probably guess which ones!

Lowe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I recently went for lunch with the Serb to a new place on Beach Road that looks like the love child of Comptoir 102 and Al Serkal Avenue.  A repurposed villa with some beautiful design detailing.   However, this isn’t a review of the lunch we had.  Our lunch was unfortunately farcical.  It was missing serious fundamentals of service and hospitality, and it just wouldn’t be fair to review it as it was.

Obviously, they were newly opened, and at the end of our ordeal, I asked how long they had been open for business.  The dreaded “we’re in our soft opening” reply came back at me from a waitress clearly out of her depth.  I asked what the difference would be once the soft opening period ended.

“We’ll have more staff and a new menu.” She said.  I nodded as if that made sense.  It didn’t, though.

I paid our bill, (420 dhs for two) retrieved my camera lens cap from the pot wash after the waitress had cleared it for some reason and left that beautiful villa behind along with a little piece of my soul.  My only suggestion for them is to close the doors for a few more weeks of training.

There is “soft opening,” and then there is simply “not fu*&@#g ready.”

This got me thinking about the restaurant industry’s’ “soft opening” claims.  It is unique to the hospitality world – I can’t think of any other industry that does anything similar.

Imagine a soft opening in the theatre.

“Welcome to our Broadway musical of The Lion King.  We’re in our soft opening, so the cast might not remember all the words, and we skip a few scenes as well, including the bit where we lift Simba up on that big rock.”

I’ve done many soft openings in the past, and they should be used to iron out any operational issues, and hopefully minimise any cock-ups when we open.  They also give the team a bit of confidence, so they don’t end up shaking in the corner on opening day.  All the training and testing and menu development should have been done pre-soft opening.  A restaurant’s soft opening is about tweaking and perfecting, and it is of utmost importance to do it correctly.

In an ideal scenario, there will be two days of “friends and family,” partly as a way to celebrate a little as it gives the team an opportunity to show off their new restaurant.  It also minimises the risk of lawsuits in the case of food poisoning.

Often, restaurants also invite the contractors, project managers, designers, etc who played an important part in building the place.  This helps when the dimmed lighting system starts acting like it’s a schizophrenic nightclub, as they have the right people there to fix it.

Then they run three days of dry runs, where they operate an invite-only guest list, and in exchange, they ask for honest opinions and feedback about everything, from the service, food & bathroom cleanliness to perceived value for money.  Each session increases in covers and complexity until they are operating in the same environment that will be the norm.

All the dry runs, dummy runs, friends and family days are complimentary, and there is an understanding that in exchange for free food, there is a certain understanding and flexibility from the customers and an expectation for honest, constructive feedback.

After all this is done, a decision is made on whether the restaurant is ready to start charging full price for their product and services.  I’ve been in situations where we have had to go back to the training room after this week of soft opening because we just weren’t ready.  However, make no mistake about it, as a restaurant, if you engage in a transactional exchange, you are open for business, soft, semi or hard.

What you shouldn’t do is open your doors to the public, charge full price for the menu, request no feedback from the guests and then hope a “soft opening” excuse will allow forgiveness for a miserable experience.

Anyway, I’m off to a dentist appointment at my new local clinic.  It’s a soft opening, so he can only offer a light flossing.

Back in the 1990’s celebrity Chef Keith Floyd opened a small pub in Devon and called it “Floyds Inn” with the word ‘sometimes’ in brackets underneath.  A tongue in cheek acknowledgment that he would most likely be drinking a big glass of red somewhere on the French Riviera.

Torno Subito reminds me of the same – a translation to “I’ll be right back” in Italian is a cheeky nod that Chef Massimo Bottura is most likely in Modena, Italy – but he’ll be right back.

However, it’s important to note that this restaurant doesn’t feel like a typical celebrity chef outpost. Massimo’s name is not blazed across the entrance like a homing beacon for culinary tourists.  The menu makes no mention of him, and the staff act as if he doesn’t exist.  Massimo who? they reply when asked. The only reason you would know he’s involved is the single graphic of him staring at you as you enter.

This is manager Barbara and Chef Bernado’s restaurant.  Massimo has clearly handed the keys to his Alfa Romeo to these two.

Torno’s design is inspired by the Italian Riviera of the 1960s as seen through the eyes of Massimo Bottura.  Tucked away at the end of a sci-fi corridor at the W Palm, Torno Subito is playful, eccentric and quirky.  There are touches of Riviera glam alongside cartoonish, Alice In Wonderland style elements.

The light shades are oversized beach balls, the booths remind me of the colourful beach huts you could rent, and the floor is polished to look like a sandy beach.  I don’t think there is quite a restaurant like it in Dubai.  The designer, Dubai based Paul Bishop, did an excellent job of understanding Massimo’s view of the world, which is complex, profound and often filtered through a child-like wonder and enthusiasm.

The open and breezy seaside feel is helped by the open plan kitchen and bar, giving a beautiful flow to the space.  Being able to see the kitchen communicate and create is a magical thing.  Many open kitchens struggle with keeping the noise down, but as most Italians talk with their hands only, Torno’s kitchen was almost silent.  Except in the back of the kitchen, out of sight, it sounded like there was a parsley chopping competition going on.  Based on the tempo and enthusiasm of the chopping, these guys were some of the finalists – it didn’t sound like amateur hour back there.

Our table was served by five different people, who all were very friendly and chatty, but I like to build a rapport with one person.  It helps me connect with the restaurant and provides me with a comfort and consistency that I desperately need in my life.

One of our servers was a young Italian man who had just arrived at our shores.  He mentioned that he was worried about the Dubai summer heat.  We told him he was likely to burst into flames at any time between June through to October.  We had a good laugh about it together, but I think I saw him sobbing by the gelato cart as we left.

We ordered the beef tartare to start, followed by the Torno Subito pizza and the tagliatelle ragu.  Another one of our servers, a bright, cheerful woman from Modena, expertly sold us on a side order of a cheese stuffed baked potato, because we clearly hadn’t ordered enough carbs.

The ragu is apparently the same that is served in Osteria Francescana, Massimo’s flagship restaurant in Modena.  According to one of our friendly and smiley servers, it is slow cooked for a million hours and uses 3 hundred different cuts of beef.  Or something like that.  Torno’s ragu is not minced beef, but chopped, in the same way a tartare is chopped.  It has a creamy, smooth, silky texture as if Chef Bernardo cooked it with a velvet spatula while Andrea Bocelli and Ed Sheeran sang Perfect Symphony over his shoulder.

You can order medium or large portions of the pasta, but it is so decadent and rich that a medium portion was plenty for The Serb and me.  Mainly me.

We also got their gourmet signature pizza, because, Dubai.  The pizzas are not subtle or delicate.  They mean business.  A large sourdough base with an explosion of creamy stracciatella cheese, Italian ham and apple mustard.  Unfortunately, the ham hadn’t arrived from Italy yet, so it came with slivers of zucchini carpaccio instead.  Which also meant they remove

d the apple mustard.  It was still good, but you really can’t go wrong with bread and burrata in my opinion.

We ended the meal with some gelato, which was overindulgent and utterly unnecessary on our part. However, such was the playful nature of Torno that I felt compelled to mix a spoonful of my hazelnut ice cream into my espresso.  I took a sip and looked proudly at The Serb.  She rolled her eyes and asked for the check.

Torna Subito is a great little Italian. It has bags of personality and a serious kitchen team managing the recipes.  It’s well worth a visit, and if it was on the mainland, it might even turn into my regular haunt.

Well done Torno Subito – I’ll be right back.

 

 

 

Lunch for two – 410 Dhs
Torno Subito – W Palm
04 42455555

Torno Subito - W Dubai the Palm Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My January media feed has been quite revealing about how 2019 is going to play out. Two things are happening that I want to comment on.

Firstly, restaurants are finally understanding the power of collaboration and experience.

Second, delivery apps are learning about the limitations they have in talking to and connecting with their marketplace.

Already in 2019, I have seen more collaboration between Dubai restaurants and chefs than I saw in the whole of 2018 combined.  It appears restaurants are finally fighting back with the biggest weapon in their arsenal – the experience.

Chef Reif has been on a mini-tour of Dubai, partnering with talented chefs in their own kitchens to bring one off exclusives events to the foodies of Dubai.  He has partnered with Chef Roberto from Waka and Craft Café, Chef Omar from Slab, the team at High Joint, Chef Luigi at Akiba Dori and the guys at Roti Rollers.

I asked Reif why he has embarked on this little food tour.  He explained to me that it was partly to remind his followers that he is still alive and cooking, but also to work with home grown brands, give motivation to a slow market, and provide some inspiration to his fellow chefs. According to Reif, it’s not about ego, but about sharing knowledge, pushing boundaries to do what they love to do and to share it with the people of Dubai.  If that’s not inspiring enough, part of the sales of these events are going to Chef Reif’s foundation that supports a school for children in Zanzibar.

Foodiva has reformatted her dine around dinner event and is collaborating with Nick and Scott from Folly et al. Chef Alex from BB Social and Chef Matt from Boca Dubai all in one kitchen, serving one delicious experience.  Chef Matt is also collaborating with Bahraini chef, Tala Bashmi at Boca for one night only.

Pitfire Pizza and Sticky Rice are mashing together their cultures to create something special and unique for their communities and Chef Mohammad Orfali and Tom Aikens are partnering up with an East meets West collaboration at Pots Pans & Boards.

I’m even getting in on it – I mixed a BK Whopper with some MaccyD fries the other day. What a time to be alive.

Jokes aside, this is super encouraging and shows the resilience and determination that the restaurant industry is known for.   Perhaps finally our restaurateurs are understanding where their strengths are; in storytelling, experiences and community.

On the other hand, January has also shown off the glaring weaknesses of the third-party delivery apps.  Over January, at least four times per week, I received push notifications for discounted delivery meals.  Get 10% off your next order.  50% off up to 20 Dhs.  Use code Eat50 for an additional 50% off.  When trying to stimulate their audience, all they have to offer is bulk discounts and brand dilution.

So, here’s the thing – when properly motivated, restaurants are exceedingly powerful.  They can stir emotions, create memories and inspire communities with flavours, stories, textures and tastes.

All the delivery apps can do at the moment is to offer discounted poke bowls and hope Netflix drops another TV series.

Ding Ding – round two.