Doesn’t time fly – life whisks past so fast that if you’re not careful, you’ll be old and wondering what the hell happened – which is where I find myself today.  I remember reading about the Clinton St Bakery opening and making a mental note to visit.  That was over two years ago, back in January 2014 and this is the first time I have been.  Where have the last two years gone?! I feel like I’m late to the party with this review, and all the other restaurant reviewers will be mocking me for not being more on the ball. There is fashionably late, and then there is FoodSheikh late, I guess. In fact, you don’t really need to read on – this is like me writing a review for Star Wars, the original one.  Spoiler alert, Darth Vader is Luke’s father.  Nothing new will be said here today.

The Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant made its name in the Lower East Side in NYC largely due to its stellar breakfast and brunch line-up. Founded by a husband and wife team back in 2001, they eventually expanded to lunch and dinner, and Chef Kleinberg, showing significant business savvy made sure his tried and trusted breakfast was available all day.  The fanboys and girls were ecstatic and their enthusiasm spread across an entire city – The Clinton St. Bakery legend was born.

Fast forward 15 years and Clinton St. has expanded its empire across the globe, with outposts in Singapore, Tokyo and of course, Dubai.  Clinton St. Bakery lives in Burj Views, the seemingly permanent construction site wasteland behind Downtown proper.  An odd and remote location for such a cult classic, but perhaps that is their strategy.

“Come find us,“ they seem to say. “We’re that good.”

Their location doesn’t seem to be affecting them, however, and with only around fifty-five seats, the cozy little restaurant fills up fast – especially late mornings through lunch.

With my newly found concern for my procrastination skills playing heavily on my mind, I was eager to get seated and place my order.  Which perhaps is why it felt like another two years before someone came to take our order, although it was probably only 5 minutes in reality.  I’m all for a leisurely Friday breakfast, but I have to work on Sunday.

You probably all already know this, but Clinton St. Bakery is all about the breakfast – half of the menu is dedicated to breakfast items, serving uninhibited, unfussy comfort food.  These breakfast items are the real deal – comfort food, moreish and rather quite brilliant in their simplicity.

We ordered the organic oats with roasted apple and almonds, the buttermilk biscuit sandwich, the Venezuelan chocolate pancakes and a couple of coffees.  Yes, all that food was just for myself and the Serb.  It sounds like a lot of food – and yes, it is.

As all of you know, the restaurant design is a modern diner – high-quality booths and banquette seating with white washed brick walls and a semi-open kitchen. Our server was splendid and had the confidence of knowing that the food she was about to serve was probably going to be the best thing we would eat that day.  The coffee was hot and strong and was re-filled frequently.  The other diners were a collection of nationalities, all young, hip and relaxed. Life is good at Clinton St.

My buttermilk biscuit was crumbly, buttery and had a salty sweetness to it. One-half was smothered in scrambled eggs and melted cheese – the other half was smeared with a tangy homemade tomato jam.  There was a spatula scoop of hash browns, crispy and hot off the griddle.  The stringy, overly brown beef bacon was left to one side, but the rest suffered from no procrastination from my side this time.  It was a deliciously satisfying meal.

For the Serb, the oats were a healthier decoy for the real prize, the chocolate cherry pancakes.  The oatmeal could have been warmer, but it was thick and sweet, and the dried apples and roasted almonds added a good texture to the bowl.

Clinton St. pancakes were voted best pancakes in New York by New Yorker Magazine – twice.  Apparently, they dominate the pancake scene in NY.  I don’t know if there is a pancake scene here in Dubai, but if there is, they would probably dominate here too.

A three-stack of American style pancakes with whipped cream, cherry halves and Venezuelan chocolate held pride of place in the middle of our table.  They were fluffy, chewy and crispy – an astonishing contradiction of characteristics.

Clinton St Bakery knows what their strengths are and quite rightly, that is where their focus lies.  A solid execution of unpretentious food in a charming environment with confident service.  But who am I kidding, you all knew this two years ago.

minilogo Clinton St. Baking Company

As I confidently pulled into the Grand Hyatt hotel, we quickly realized that we had arrived at the wrong Hyatt.  Luckily for me, I can depart just as confidently as arriving.

La Tablita is in the heart of Healthcare City, and as I drove past the obesity clinic on the corner, I told the Serb how hungry I was and that I couldn’t wait to skip the chips and put my face straight into some guacamole.

La Tablita is in the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights hotel, and to be honest, I think that’s all there is in that hotel.  Getting there is difficult, there are no sign posts except for the Grand Hyatt, but we’ve already established that’s the wrong hotel.  Once you arrive, however, someone has been brilliant with floor signage and a little Mexican breadcrumb trail leads you directly to the restaurant. Where was this guy when we were circling the building for ten minutes, I wonder?

The hostess led us to our table, and by the time we were seated at our booth, she had charmed both of us into submission.  She took us through the rather complicated menu and taught us how to place our order.  The Serb made notes, and I focused on finding the head sized bowl of Guacamole on the menu.

The idea of the menu is very on trend, even if the execution is not particularly user-friendly.  They have a menu card called the Taco Shop & Ceviche Bar, where you fill in your choices for tacos or ceviches yourself, and then they have another menu where you verbally place your main order with the waiter.  Here’s a little life hack for those planning a visit.  You could probably give your entire order to the waiter and bypass filling in the card yourself. FoodSheikh is always looking for ways to make life easier!

Unfortunately, the restaurant space and design is nothing to write home about, and so I won’t.

What I will go on about are the service team and their attitude.  The team are energetic, charismatic, and you leave feeling like you’ve made some new friends.  They know their menu inside and out and are splendid at making favourite personal suggestions which, purely coincidently I’m sure, are the more pricier options. I think it‘s genuine enough, though, as the team kept coming back to check if we enjoyed their suggestion as if they had a competition going on.

The tacos are all individual, all priced at 12 DHS and with fourteen to choose from, it’s a good starting point.  The Serb was on taco duty that night – she ordered four kinds, two chicken, one beef and one seafood.  Unsurprisingly no vegetarian tacos made it onto the list.  They all had very authentic sounding Mexican names, such as the Dorado, and the Texano and the Al Pastor, which in reality probably translates to gringo gobbledygook in Spanish.  The crispy fish taco was excellent, especially with the Valentina hot sauce liberally applied.  The chicken, however, was overcooked and quite dry. The sizes were great – the same size equivalent as a slider in the burger world. They are taco sliders.

The camarones al ajillo, (shrimp, garlic & mushrooms) comes out sizzling and it’s a punchy, confident dish.  The garlic is strong – like Yoda and The Force strong – and possibly overpowers the more delicate flavours of the shrimp.  However, wrapped in the soft flour tortillas, it is a great combination with wonderful textures and one of the highlights of the meal.

The queso con chorizo is melted mozzarella cheese in a chorizo meat sauce – wrap all that up in a soft corn tortilla, and it makes for a heavy, artery thickening little meal.  However, in fairness, Mexican cuisine is not known for its delicacy and lightness.

You’ll be pleased to know that I got my guacamole as well – La Tablita’s guac is chunky, smooth and plentiful.  I opted for the crispy duck topping because I’m greedy, but in hindsight, it didn’t make the dish any better.

You have a special treat this review – I don’t usually order or comment on dessert, but because I had made some new Mexican friends and they insisted that we try one of their desserts, I felt I couldn’t refuse.

The tres-leche vanilla cake with jalapeño ice cream is a contender for an award.  The sponge is light, airy and moist, and once in your mouth, it explodes with smooth, creamy and sweet milk made from condensed, evaporated and heavy cream.  Mexico is a country that celebrates a surprisingly joyous holiday called Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead – where they take the favourite food of the deceased to their graves as an offering.  Apparently the tres-leche cake is popular offering on this day.  I just feel that perhaps if the deceased hadn’t loved this cake so much, they might have lived a little longer.  It is deceptively light and airy, but must whack a mean calorific punch.

In Mexico, the skill of cooking can be translated to “sazon” which literally means seasoning and meals are seen as an important way to preserve relationships.  Due to the sazon of the chefs and the passion of the service team, I definitely intend to maintain my relationship with La Tablita – even if I can’t remember what hotel it is in.

 

minilogo La Tablita Mexican Restaurant

Lime Tree Café.  So, for those of you relatively new to Dubai, you wouldn’t have remembered the phenomenon that was Lime Tree Café.  They opened their doors in 2001, which was only a few years ago, I thought, until I did the maths.  2001 was fifteen years ago!  To survive fifteen years in an industry as cutthroat and fickle as the restaurant industry is no mean feat.  But then again, these New Zealanders are a cunning nation.

When Lime Tree Café opened, it was unlike anything Dubai had seen before.  It was new, cool and fresh, serving home cooked quality food with an emphasis on ingredients and health. It very quickly became the hottest place to be seen.  A Friday lunchtime at Lime Tree, in their iconic Jumeirah villa, was the equivalent of the red carpet event at Cannes film festival.  On a Friday, people woke hours earlier than they normally would during the week, just to perfect that, “just got out of bed” look.  Lime Tree café was a place where the maids weren’t invited because the baby was an important accessory.  I can imagine the conversation back in 2001.

“Have you been to Lime Tree, yet, Tarquin?”

“Poppy darling, not yet. I’ve been meaning to, but I’ve literally, just been so busy. Lettice says they have a cheeky Irish girl working there? Is that true? Is it any good?”

“It’s amaazzing, Sweets. You have to order your food at a counter, and then you have to find your own table. It’s quite the adventure!”

Lime Tree were first movers in many things that the industry now claims as standard.  They insisted on counter service with limited table service.  They insisted that their food display fridges would be a visual feast.  They embraced a healthy, fresh approach to their menu, and according to some, they invented the carrot cake.

For many years, Lime Tree ruled the café scene, they were the caterer of choice for the Jumeirah Jane lunches and the weekend brunches.

The latest Lime Tree Cafe branch is on Sheikh Zayed Road in the Umm Al Sheif district and walking in, it felt familiar and friendly.  Concrete flooring, industrial fit out, exposed ceilings, galvanized steel tables and an outdoor terrace.

The menu choices are what you would get if a posh farmer from Surrey and Jamie Oliver had a love child and he became a chef.  Lots of quiches and salads and toasties and cakes adorn the cabinets, and to be fair, they all look very appetizing.

I ordered the eggs florentine, and the Serb ordered the flatbread sandwich – turkey, brie and cranberry.  As mentioned, you order and pay at the counter, and I felt that the girl taking the order could have been a little more cheery and engaged.  There was no real greeting or experience level that I couldn’t have got from the new Macdonald’s self-order kiosk.  Where was the Irish girl that welcomed you with a cheerful smile and a cheeky wink?!  We took our number and had a wander round the restaurant.

They have a retail section that sells pricey foodie things like cookbooks that you’ll never try, and designer aprons you’ll wear once as a joke after too much Pimms one evening.  The interior of the café is quite earthy and modern; they have indoor trees and a stone wall.  There is a kids area (I think) and thankfully a separate dining room far enough away from the kids to avoid cross contamination.  When I pointed out the indoor trees to the Serb, she seemed unimpressed and admitted to me that she frequents this café quite often as her nail spa is upstairs.  You think you know someone.

We finally chose our table, in time for our food to arrive.  My eggs were cooked well, bright yellow yolk that oozed out over the bread and spinach.  The spinach was far too wet, though, and that’s just laziness from the kitchen.  Drain, dab or squeeze the spinach, but never put it directly on bread straight from blanching it. The bread instantly became a soggy spinach water sponge.

Apparently the Serb always orders the turkey sandwich, and it was crisp and tasty, although the ingredients aren’t always uniformly spread across the whole sandwich.  What this means is you get a mouthful of cranberry and lettuce every now and again.

The food isn’t bad, it’s still of high quality; I just think that the competition has caught up with what they were doing fifteen years ago.  The public are more knowledgeable about quality and flavours and are certainly more demanding now about their food.  The Lime Tree Café isn’t doing anything wrong, in fact, they are doing most things right – the problem is, there are some places doing things better now.

Lime Tree Café is the original gangsta of the contemporary café scene – they blazed the trail for all others and on that basis alone, they deserve respect and acknowledgement.  However, to the unbiased and the non-nostalgic, Lime Tree are going to be compared to some very high-quality cafes serving some excellent food.  The question is, are they doing enough to keep up? After this review, I don’t know the answer to that, so I might have to go back and have some carrot cake to help me decide.

 

minilogo Lime Tree Cafe

The Hide is a place where cows go, thinking they are safe from people like Chef Nick Cuadrado and his kitchen team.   It is also a new steak restaurant in Al Qasr Hotel where the old MJ’s used to be.

They have described themselves as a Meatery and claim to be a total premier meat experience.  I almost didn’t make a reservation based purely on that fact alone.  I told the Serb, who was, of course, delighted at the thought of a Meatery, that if the manager was wearing a Lady Gaga meat dress, we were going home immediately.

I can imagine when the concept development team were asking management what language tone did the brand want to use in conversations with their demographic audience, the answer was, “Puns and quips.  I want ridiculous quibble everywhere.  Make it Puntastic!”

And this is why the starter section is titled “Nice to Meat You.” Yes, that got approved.  There is also a section called Forgotten Cuts which just sounds like there was a forgotten tray of steaks at the bottom of the walk-in chiller about to expire.  I suppose it’s better than Signature Cuts which was so 1980’s.

Everything on the menu is either Heritage, or Smoked, or Naked or Aged or Vintage.  I understand the new trend in food is all about the provenance of ingredients and lifestyle words, but when your menu has more superlatives and descriptors than a Nicholas Sparks novel, I think you’ve gone too far.

The restaurant interior is a strong attempt at re-claimed industrial chic, with typical American booths and group seating.  The lighting is soft and warm, using some rather good filament bulbs to great effect, and the furniture is an inviting, soft brown leather.  On a side note – what is it with steak houses insisting on using leather for chairs and booths? Talk about adding insult to injury to the sacrificed bovine beasts.

The issue with steak is that it’s just that – steak.  Chefs will kill me now – but, there isn’t much else you can do with it apart from applying some heat and sticking it on a plate.   And in that regard, The Hide has done quite a good job in trying to bring a little fun and difference to a static and slightly inflexible cuisine.

I ordered the Flat Iron Steak, which is a cut that can sometimes be a little tough, so is usually marinated in something to soften the meat up.  The Korean marinade sounded great, and I was looking forward to a nice kick of tangy soy sauce with perhaps sesame or garlic undertones. I, unfortunately, didn’t get any of that.  Perhaps what they simply meant was that their Korean Commis Chef, Kyung-Joon was on marinating duty.

Having said that, the meat was tender and cooked well, which are the sacrosanct basics of beefery. (Yes, I can make up words too.) The other cuts they specialize in are dry aged Spanish and Black Angus US beef.  I could practically taste the carbon emissions just reading the menu.

The Manwich is purposely oversized and messy. It is a dish that regulars will try once, and tourists will Instagram and tweet along with their Burj Al Arab and camel photos.  Made from approximately one million ingredients, from cheddar slathered bread wedges with brisket beef to fried eggs and pickles.  It is unlikely that the dish is ever finished, and I suppose that is the point.

Because steak houses find it so difficult to differentiate themselves from each other, they inevitably bring in gimmicky knives to “compliment the steak.”  Some steak houses bring you a display case of knives, and you can choose your weapon, and some even engrave the knives for the regular guests.  In the case of The Hide, I was given a miniature meat cleaver, which made me feel like an oversized butcher on a busman’s holiday.

Service staff were friendly and personable, but the actual service was a little awkward if that makes any sense.  The restaurant was full, which is a good sign, and it was a mixture of the Jumeirah faithful and the few tourists that didn’t get the memo.  The atmosphere was pleasant but not as cutting edge as the New York or Chicago scene they were aiming for.

Overall, in a saturated steak market, The Hide performs admirably well.  The menu is cute and playful, if a little overdone for my liking, and the interpretations of classic steakhouse fare are executed well.  At 450 AED for two, the pricing point is spot on for their positioning, and overall it is a check in the win box for me.

If you are looking for a Meatery that provides a premier total meat experience, then this is a great place to hide away in.

minilogo The Hide Meatery and Bar

Beyond the relentless rat race of Dubai, behind all the construction and traffic and noise of Beach Road lives a time warp, a hidden commune that operates outside the expected norms of Dubai.  It is a tranquil, serene garden; a parallel universe where you feel that time has stood still, all problems are on hold, all phone calls can wait, and all emails are no longer important – at least for a few hours.

Behind Jumeirah Center is One Café – a peaceful little garden that doubles as a restaurant.  Fifty cute little seats spread around a garden full of trees, flowers and life.  Here I must warn you, however, that what I type next will thin the herd and cause many of you scrambling for the close window button.

This cafe is a vegan, health restaurant. I’m talking full on – tie dye t-shirts, meditation with crystals and free love, (figuratively speaking). This is the real deal, no cute little kale salads underneath the double fried ribs. We are talking flax seed crackers, zucchini lasagna, raw tabbouleh with nut balls and carrot cupcakes with cashew cream.  Still here?  Excellent.

As I looked at the menu, I wondered how I was going to be able to review a menu that puts such severe restrictions on itself.  The restrictions being that there are like, only five ingredients allowed, and they all have no flavour, substance or fun.

We ordered the green juice and the SMB smoothie.  The green juice is mainly cucumber, kale and spinach and tastes exactly like a mouthful of some field in Derbyshire.  But, it was fresh, cold and full of goodness.  If I were a cow, it would be my drink of choice.

The hummus and vegetable sticks were as good as anywhere else, although quite heavy on the garlic.

I had a vegetarian burger, just because I found comfort in the word burger. I like to try new things, but I’m not crazy.  The burger was packed full of good things like buckwheat, potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin seeds and cumin.  I felt like a little child being tricked into eating healthy under the disguise of a tasty burger.

Once the Serb finally understood the concept of veganism, she picked the menu back up off the floor and chose the gluten free pasta salad.  It was mixed with black olives, peppers, cherry tomatoes and broccoli.  It got the mark of approval from the Serb, who conceded that it was rather tasty, filling yet light.

What is great about this little place is that you feel like you are in a safe food zone – nothing on the menu is going to thicken your arteries or cause you long term damage.  It is like a straitjacket and padded cell for unhealthy people.

There is a chalk board wall where people are encouraged to finish the sentence, “Before I die I want to…. “ Reading the responses is quite fun – there are people that want to make a difference and save the world and be successful and work with children and climb Everest.  These are all admirable goals and certainly worthwhile aspirations.  Then there are the people that are a bit more realistic and straightforward in their objectives. Some people just want to be patient or happy, or simply start a family.  But my favourite on that wall by far was written by someone extremely at peace with themselves.  They apparently felt that their entire life was already complete; all goals had been achieved that the only thing left to do before dying was to brush a fox.  That’s right – “Before I die, I want to brush a fox.” What a beautiful place to be in life.  I too, want to brush a fox.

The service is like the atmosphere – tranquil and calm.  No-one is in a hurry here, and you’ll be served at exactly the time you were meant to be served. Relax and enjoy the trees.  I honestly urge you to take a moment, close your eyes and take a few deep slow breaths.  Open your eyes and immediately feel better.  Then send me a message to thank me – and quickly check your emails while you’re at it.

The menu is small and limited, but once you consider the juices, the mains and the desserts, it is a rather impressive selection.  However it is not cheap – our meal came in at 350 dhs for two people.  Although you leave with your wallet lighter, your heart, your stomach and somehow, your mind also feels lighter as well.  That’s well worth the price of admission.

Before you all die, I recommend you stop by One Café at least once, and see for yourself.  As for me, I am going to look for a fox to brush.

minilogo One Café by Life'n One

Let me tell you about the city of New Orleans.  It’s bold and loud and full of soul and flavour.  It is the Mardis Gras on Bourbon Street and beads and Louis Armstrong and Jazz and alligators and swamps.  It is exciting and gritty and sweaty and fun.  It is alive and exhilarating.  New Orleans is one of the worlds’ greatest cities – In fact, it is said that America has three cities only – New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.

From the same people that bought us Mythos, a restaurant I very much enjoyed, comes Nola, a New Orleans-inspired eatery and social house tucked away in the bowels of the Armada blue hotel in JLT.  Be warned – the entrance to Nola is through the hotel, into the basement, through a darkened parking garage with dripping pipes, past a one-eyed black cat that hisses at you, (probably not a permanent fixture, in all honesty), then through a metal gray corridor inspired from the The Maze Runner novels. It’s quite a trip, but the best destinations often are.

I have always tried to be honest in my reviews, and I am going to be honest here too.  I think Nola Eatery and Social House is probably a better social house than it is an eatery.  They have created an excellent little space, breaking the room up with little caverns of seating areas, supported by a long bar and tucked into a corner is a small music stage that will create a fantastic atmosphere when in full swing.

Despite being in a basement of a hotel in JLT, Nola has some real character and charisma.  Interestingly, they managed the same with Mythos Restaurant and Grill next door, although Greek and Creole restaurants are as far apart as Rihanna and Sarah Brightman.

Like a rescue dog of mixed pedigree and a promiscuous mother, New Orleans food is typically an influence of many different cultures and cuisines from French, Spanish and Italian to African, Native American, and a hint of Cuban.  With that much history and with so many layers to the cuisine, it takes an experienced and talented team to re-create the flavours – an ask too far perhaps for the Nola team.

We ordered the oven baked camembert with drunken figs and the black eyed peas empanadas.  The camembert and figs were good, the flavour combination is great although not particularly original.  However, it is rather easy to melt cheese in the oven, so I would have been more impressed if it wasn’t good.  The empanadas were flakey, chewy and quite stoic; heavy dough and a heavy filling.

I had the cornflake chicken, which was a chicken breast in a Cajun cornflake crust.  The Cajun spice was there – that slow build to a deep heat that hits the back of your tongue.  However, the cornflake crust was a disappointment. Soggy and wet, It slid and crumbled off the meat, leaving the chicken exposed and bare, and me with a fork full of soggy spicy cornflakes.

The Serb chose the Cobb Salad, which came neatly presented with each ingredient separated and lined up in a row.  She poked at the dish with her fork, and I knew precisely what she was thinking.  Eventually, she leaned across the table and asked: “Why haven’t they mixed it up for me?” First world problems.

The service team were great – but we are hardly a demanding duo, and the restaurant wasn’t busy when we went there.  The place can get quite busy, however, and it’ll be interesting to see how they manage the social and eatery aspects at full speed.

Before I finish off, I am well aware that I have just reviewed a New Orleans inspired restaurant without trying the Beignets or the Jambalaya or the Po Boy.  I have no excuse for my behaviour, and I blame the Serb.

Head down there with some friends, and enjoy being whisked away to an unassuming, lively little venue.  Nola is an endearing little place with a big personality and a lot of charm.  I have no doubts this will become a popular spot, and if they can improve their menu execution slightly, they might even win a few awards.

minilogo Nola Eatery and Social House

First things first – Sun& is a ridiculous name for an establishment – it is incomplete and unfinished and if it’s meant to provoke and add a playful mystery to the place, it doesn’t.  I just keep saying Sun & Sand Sports.

However, that’s the worst thing I will say about the place in this review. Except that their insistence on using pale yellows and pastel blues means that they come across as a package tour booking company.

OK, that’s the worst thing I will say about Sun&.  The rest is pretty good.

We arrived at a fairly empty Sun& Restaurant, and as we were guided to our table, we were politely warned that they were fully booked starting from 5 pm onwards.  I glanced at my watch and decided that we could probably order, eat and leave before the reservations arrived.  However, it was almost one o’clock, so we were going to have to hurry.

Sun& is tucked away in a random building on the exit side of the palm trunk overlooking one the Palm fronds with the fancy villas.  I bet the residents of the villas are furious that the common folk can now watch them on their private beach while sipping fizzy wine and nibbling olives.

Sun& is a licensed (no idea how) Mediterranean restaurant and lounge with a small but pleasant terrace and a clean and uncluttered interior.  The menu is concise and depending on how hungry you are, splits into small, medium and large plates, with about seven items per section.  They do have a section on the menu called “Graze” and I looked around for any cattle, sheep, horses or goats that it might apply to, but didn’t see any.  Then I realized it wasn’t really food suitable for livestock and just a cute way of saying starters. The Sun& name makes more sense now.

The Serb took her time in reviewing the menu choices, thoughtfully announced that she wanted a “nice fresh chicken salad” and therefore ordered the beef Carpaccio. I ordered some other smaller items, such as the Cauliflower croquettes, the meatballs, chicken skewers and a three dip appetizer.

The meatballs arrived just as the theme song for Game of Thrones came on the sound system – it cast the meatballs in a whole new light.  I expected an immediate beheading of some sort. Perhaps there already had been, hence the meatballs.  However, despite the dramatic music, they were superb.

Overall the food is tidy, smart, familiar and fun – the Carpaccio came in a thicker cut with a well-constructed truffle mayonnaise.  The cauliflower croquettes were moreish and even surprised the meat loving Serb, who normally turns her nose up at such concoctions.  The chicken skewers were juicy and served with a refreshing tzatziki sauce.  The beetroot dip was worth the price of the dish for the colour alone.  The bread was slightly undercooked and doughy, but had a good salty flavour to it.

The staff were capable.  However, I would be worried if their sense of urgency remained the same during their peak hours; they were certainly relaxed and happy to work at a leisurely pace. Perhaps they had all thought they applied for Sun & Sand Sports vacancies and were in a constant state of bewilderment.

Sun& is a great little spot for the residents of The Palm, and a good attempt by Nakheel to improve the experience of Palm Living.  My recommendation is if you are in the area, try swing by – it’s a casual, inexpensive restaurant that serves perfectly enjoyable food.  If you have difficulty finding the place, there is a Sun & Sand Sports at Ibn Battuta mall as an alternative.

minilogo Sun& Restaurant and Lounge

Despite their name, Play Restaurant and Lounge take themselves very seriously. As the Serb and I walked into the restaurant on the 36th floor of the H Hotel, I was taken back to pre-2008; a decadent and slightly irresponsible time where the success of a restaurant seemed to be linked to the amount of money it cost to build.

Fast forward to a very shaky 2016 and Play is a brave attempt at confidence and competence. Much like baby pandas, the birth of such restaurants are so scarce these days that they are almost like an endangered species – a relic of times gone by.  Multiple seating zones, elevated private dining rooms, custom furniture, wall features and chandeliers all add up to a very expensive restaurant and bar. Before arrival, I was told that this might be a vanity project, an expensive toy to satiate someone’s ego, however, with Chef Reif Othman behind the menu, there was a good chance this behemoth of a project might have some substance in the menu.

Because Reif is of Zuma fame, there will, of course, be comparisons of his work at Play, and those who care about that sort of stuff will make a variety of claims and observations.  This is what happens when you are as successful as Reif has been with Zuma – but he knows this already, and is well prepared, I am sure, for the incoming comparisons.

Stepping out of the rather shabby elevator and into the venue itself, it is obvious that Play demands glamour, class and sophistication, which is why I felt lucky to have the Serb by my side, as she has enough of those for both of us.  The staff are all tall, good-looking and charismatic and had we been in LA, no doubt they would have all been aspiring actors and models.

The space is design heavy, with a lot of features that catch the eye.  However, I only have two eyes, and it seemed like every wall, cabinet and ceiling was screaming for our attention. It was rather tiring for so early in the year – there were so many feature design elements that they all blurred into one.  After closer inspection and feeling a little like Sherlock Holmes, (Benedict’s Sherlock, mind) I started to get an idea of perhaps the real intent of the venue.  Neon lit Ice buckets built into the tables, a powerful speaker system and lighting racks on the ceilings, a DJ doing warm up exercises and finger stretches in the corner – they all point to once thing, my dear Watson.

Early evening, I think Play masquerades itself as an Asian/Mediterranean inspired restaurant but scratch the surface, and probe a little deeper, (By that I mean just wait until 11:30 pm or so) and Play would probably become a nightclub or lounge.  Which meant one thing – we better eat and get out of there fast! We are far too old to enjoy a spontaneous evening of bottle service and sparklers without several days’ notice and several days’ recovery.  And we hadn’t bought our sunglasses either.

It will come as little surprise that the menu is a sharing style format and everything arrives when it’s ready. Because the Serb was so distracted by all the feature walls and ceilings, she wasn’t paying much attention, and I managed to order a lot of food – far too much, in fact – and seeing as it was early January, it seemed even more glutinous and sinful.

I think we (I) ordered around ten different dishes, ranging from a wonderful Duck Gyoza, pan fried and topped with a parmesan cheese crust to Cod “New Style”.  A lot of thought had gone into the menu presentation– every dish arrived on a different plate, from ceramic hollowed out logs for the sashimi to the wooden blocks showcasing the Pita Surprise. It was unnecessary, indulgent and wonderful.

The menu had flashes of brilliance; such as the Pita Surprise, a lightly toasted, one-bite (for me, two bites for the ever delicate Serb) puffed pita bread, topped with a Kobe Carpaccio slice and stuffed with a truffle creamed butter.  The Duck Gyoza was also a highlight as were the Air Crackers, a simple melt in the mouth cracker with some wonderful flavours.

However, some of the dishes either needed more work in the design stage or more time in learning how to execute them.  The Kobe sushi was dry and lacked flavor, and the asparagus spear in the middle was too hard and crunchy.  The Chorizo Croquettes were a nice idea, but effectively it ended up being a lukewarm meat and potato paste.  Personally, I think it was the texture that put me off – perhaps a hash brown texture, rather than a puree would have been to my liking. But I’m not a chef, so perhaps that’s a horrible idea.

Play Restaurant and Lounge are entering into an arena with some experienced operators, OKKU, which is in the same building, will be direct competition, as will the other heavyweights on SZR, namely Novikov, and Cavalli Club, the latter being possibly the most successful at the dinner and nightclub formula.

The menu, I assume will evolve and change – Chef Reif is too creative to allow his menu to remain stagnant, and considering they have only been open a few weeks, it was a remarkable early indication of quality and innovation.

minilogo Play Restaurant and Lounge

If you believe all the expert reports, we are going to be buying everything we possibly need from the internet in 2016. Five years ago, if you were to order something online in Dubai, you would have to request three days leave in order to be at home to accept the package. However, in 2016, we are going to buy everything we need online – rarely will we leave our houses, the only vitamin D we will get will be from the pale light of our computer monitors. We will go weeks without talking socially to another human – and then eventually we will all snap and stumble into the sunlight, like emotional zombies craving human interaction, atmosphere and emotional sustenance.

This is where restaurants come in – because restaurants are the last bastions of human connection. E-commerce cannot and will never be able to replace F&B. It can certainly enhance it – (take a look at what Beam wallet or Eatapp are doing), but it will never change the landscape in the same way Kindle, and Amazon did for books.

Which is why restaurants have such an important role in 2016, because, exaggerations aside, we are all going to be looking for that authentic human connection even more in 2016. In a digital age, restaurants work on a refreshingly analogue level. Let’s move on from the “SirMa’am” service – it was acceptable back in 2000, but so was asbestos in the 60’s. Let’s look forward to engaged interactions by real humans allowing us that connection that is so important to a city like Dubai.

Restaurants are the communal kitchens and dining rooms of the urban metropolis

Which takes me on to the next ironic point. As smaller restaurant groups look for ways to expand and become bigger, the larger operators will look for ways to act smaller and more focused. Big Restaurants are suffering from a lack of authentic hospitality. Don’t write my name on a coffee cup, just because someone in Corporate decided that is what personal service looks like. It’s not a personal when you do it for absolutely everyone. Ultimately, it is about creating communities – 2016 will be about bringing people together.

This leads me seamlessly onto my next observation – Netflix.

What does Netflix have to do with F&B in Dubai, you might ask? Well, with Netflix apparently making an official appearance in Dubai in 2016, restaurants will have a massive opportunity to provide food to the plenty of people who are likely camping out in front of the TV to binge-watch a season or two on Netflix. What do people do after the Netflix and before the Chill bit? They order food; that’s what they do. Companies like Deliveroo and 24h.ae are poised to take significant advantage of this opportunity. So my advice to you is find a delivery company that know where you live, know your favourite pizza toppings, accepts credit cards and get their app downloaded immediately. Alternatively, even better still, look out for meal kits – dinner in a box, containing exact portions of every ingredient needed, delivered by subscription. Every Sunday night, learn how to cook a restaurant quality meal, then Netflix with the family. It sounds pretty good to me. Although not yet here in Dubai, check out blueapron or chefday. They might be a cheaper alternative to delivery, and people might start cooking with trendy ingredients, using expert advice and recipes.

Clean Menus

How do you know if someone is a Vegan? They’ll bloody tell you.

2016 will see some clarity in dietary fads and will see a significant focus on clean eating. Clean eating is not about Paleo diets or urban caveman foraging, or any of those diets that quite honestly are expensive, unrealistic and highly inconvenient to the average Dubaian. It’s important to accept that there is a major movement away from highly processed junk food, but those extreme health diets will always remain in the peripheral on the dining spectrum. A bit like your third nipple – you know it’s there; a few weirdoes will want to touch it, but it remains largely ignored. What is here to stay, and what establishments need to focus on is clean eating.

A strong clean-eating philosophy will focus on ingredients you can pronounce, and a traceability that goes beyond the freezer it just came out of. Clean eating is about reducing the reliance on chemicals and hormones and all the other nasty stuff that is injected (sometimes literally) into our food chain. Clean eating is about taking responsibility of what goes into our bodies, but also knowing that occasionally you’re going to destroy a box of Krispy Kremes during a particular Krispy session of Netflix and Chill. Restaurants are going to understand this and menus will reflect this sensible, moderate balance of health and enjoyment. Already places like HEAT are trying this out, and suppliers like Limeline are taking on the Big Beverages with alternative sodas and drinks.

Do forget to tip your waitress!

Service or gratuity tipping is undergoing massive change around the world and is currently a hot debate. Heavily linked to the minimum wage debate, it is not something we give much thought to over here, but it’s time we did. Expect to start seeing subtle but significant changes in the way our bills are added up in restaurants. Service charge becomes inclusive or a fixed surcharge per person at the end of your bill; whatever the form, I’m all for it – it’s civilized and truthful; transparent and clear. And let’s be honest – tipping doesn’t really affect what kind of service you get, certainly not now, if it ever did. Training, management and company values will determine what kind of service you get, not tips. And the wonderful thing is, if you feel they deserve something extra, then by all means, leave some extra as well. More importantly, if the restaurant owners are honest and do it right, (or if the government enforces it) there is a great comfort in knowing that the waiter is receiving better remuneration and perhaps can bring some more opportunity to his or her family, wherever they may be.

And finally, I wish you all a healthy, prosperous and safe New Year, and please support your favourite restaurant in 2016!

With a grand staircase that belongs in an old American plantation house in the deep south, La Serre proves they know how to make a subtle statement of purpose.  With theirtraditional wooden doors, encapsulated in a glass frame, La Serre boast that they know how to mix the modern with the timeless.  Finally, with a white tiled, open plan kitchenintertwined with the dining room downstairs, La Serre screams their intent across the Boulevard – and what an intent it is.  La Serre exploded onto the dining scene with an almightybang; much like nebulous gases exploding to create a new star.  I know this happened quite some time ago, but as usual with the hype train; I am rarely in the first carriage, butrather, stuck back at the station wondering if I got the right platform.

 Their breakfast menu is limited to only fourteen items, but it is a case of quality over quantity; substance over choice.  There is nothing on trend here, no fancy Korean chickenquesadillas or Kale crisps.  Their breakfast menu is timeless and simple, eggs, breads, fruits and waffles.  The time the chefs saved on creating the choices, they put into perfectinghow to cook them.

 Spread over two floors of the Vida Hotel, upstairs is the bistro, which despite the name, is actually a premium dining experience.  The boulangerie downstairs is more relaxed andcasual, and that is where you will find the open kitchen and in my opinion, one of the most thoughtful spaces I have seen.  Despite their menu being traditional and classic, theirdesign is bang on trend.  The kitchen is the theatre; the staff are the actors and you, my dear friends, are there for the experience.  Which is wonderful as long as the chefs behavethemselves, and refrain from all the nasty little habits that usually go unseen in closed kitchens.

 As you walk onto the terrace, on a fresh December morning, you get an immediate sense of who La Serre is and what they are about.  I know this is a bold statement, but La Serremight have just served me my favourite breakfast experience of the year. (I’m confident in saying that, because it’s already mid-December) The ambiance was just right – not toofrantic and energetic, but not too lazy and labourious either.

 It was quite early when we arrived, although apparently they open at 6 am, which I think is rather romantic and authentic and utterly ridiculous.  I ordered the scrambled eggs withsmoked salmon, and The Serb ordered the cheese omelet, before changing her mind to a plain omelet because the six grams of cheese would be “too heavy.”  Having said that, thisis probably why she can still get into all her dresses, and I am contemplating elasticated waistbands on my trousers.  I also added a plain croissant to my eggs order.  I threw it ontothe order last, hoping my casual nonchalance towards the item would remove all calories from the all-butter dough.  I feel it made little difference.

 My eggs must have come from some sort of pedigree hen with superior taste genetics – they were cooked soft, with a touch of seasoning and cream and tracing-paper thin sheetsof smoked salmon gently laid on top – rich, decadent and utterly delicious.  The cheese omelet without cheese was fluffy and moist.  My only gripe is that it is served in an old-fashioned Staub deep dish pan.  It looks great, but it does feel like you are having to dig your omelet out of a grave in order to eat it.  And also, their coffee could be a little better. The dishes are not accompanied by anything, no fancy cherry tomatoes or complimentary hash browns.  In typical French fashion, they serve you exactly what you order. However,the quality of the food makes such a bold statement that you feel like you don’t deserve anything else.  Having said that, the Serb disagrees with me and thinks I am getting carriedaway by Christmas shopping and all the festivities and I am being far too generous with my praise.  So I shall try to tone it down a little for the croissant review.  Which, by the way,was definitely the finest, most inspired croissant ever to have been baked. In the history of time. Ever.

 A good croissant is difficult to find in Dubai.  To transform a rich butter-based dough into a pastry that’s simultaneously forgiving and flaky, with a brittle crust and a feather-lightinterior, is undeniably a difficult thing.  With such pure ingredients —butter, salt and flour, the result can be unforgiving in the wrong hands.  The chef’s mastery of the ingredients iscrucial, and a talented pastry chef is worth his or her weight in gold.  La Serre’s croissant is a pastry you linger over, a pastry you gently tear into small pieces, trying to prolongthe enjoyment, wondering what your life will be once it’s finished.  I genuinely am pleased to announce that La Serre’s croissant is one of the best I have experienced in a long time,and the pastry chef should be showered in gold – and to be honest, at 250 dhs for breakfast; they can afford it.

 La Serre has got a strong reputation, and my somewhat dramatic praise aside; my breakfast was damn good.  Which is why I am reluctant to ever return, for fear of it neverliving up to the mythical proportions it has reached in my memory.  I suggest you try their breakfast if you haven’t already, but if you feel the same as I did, never go back. If youdon’t feel the same, keep returning until you do.

minilogo La Serre Bistro and Boulangerie

Claiming to fill a specific gap in Dubai’s culinary scene for authentic, regional French specialties, Bistro Des Arts has taken on a tall order in taking on French Cuisine.

French cuisine is intimidating, unforgiving and unnecessarily complicated.  It requires you to spend 128 years in a kitchen learning how to perfect a garlic confit.  The head chef thenspits your fish stock into your face, flamboyantly screaming “Yuck!” whilst rinsing his mouth out with red wine.

BDA is “conveniently” located at Marina Mall – well not really.  Let’s just say, you park at Marina Mall. After that, it gets a little complicated.

Bistro Des Arts claims it is a quintessential Paris bistro, and as I sat on the terrace overlooking the marina and watched a maid getting repeatedly hit by a child in her careand a teenaged boy almost crash into a mega yacht as he lost control of his hover board, I was whisked away to the Rue de Bretagne, circa 1970 and was sure I heard a faintaccordion player in the distance.

The tables are very Parisian – small, wobbly and heavy topped.  The set up is simple, tea towel napkin, side plate and silverware.  The whole space is rather intimate and hidden;with a low canopy and small side entrance, one felt rather special, and I congratulated myself for finding this place. Although I didn’t really find it – my friend suggested it.  However,because he is French, he is incapable of arriving anywhere on time, so I arrived first, and in true British fashion, felt I could claim ownership.

The interior is quaint and thoughtful – they haven’t reinvented French interior design, but then again, they don’t have to.  I can see this being a wonderful little spot for a casual andintimate dinner.

At this point, I am beginning to see a trend – the menu is also very French – focusing on “Terroir” French home-style food. The menu is two pages, stuck inappropriately on twosides of a piece of wood, which is large and cumbersome, especially on the small tables.  I genuinely think I got a splinter.

We ordered the pissaladiere; an onion tart with anchovy, black olives and an unpronounceable name.  We also ordered the home-made duck terrine with onion marmalade andbaked St Marcellin cheese.  Two of the three starters were enjoyable.  However, for me, the pissaladiere is always going to be compared to the La Petite Maison version, and it cameup short, in my opinion.  It was over oily, and the onions were overcooked; almost to a puree.  On a positive note, my one-year-old nephew would have enjoyed it.  The duckterrine was smoky and well textured, but the baked cheese was left under the grill a little too long, and it became a mini fondue, unfortunately.

We both had the Bœuf Bourguignon, or beef burgundy, for the uncultured and the Americans.  Beef bourguignon is one of the many peasant or farm dishes making it onto main-stream menus.  Julia Child once described the dish, as “one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.”  Had she not died over a decade ago, she might have been talkingabout Bistro des Art’s Bœuf Bourguignon.

It was an outstanding every man’s dish.  Nowhere near as subtle as Japanese flavours, or as simple as Italian cooking, or as punchy as Asian cooking, but this was an outstandingdish and simple French cooking at its best.  A base sauce, with complex, layered aromas and flavours that only the French are arrogant enough to try, with a slow-cooked beef sosucculent that could be eaten with a fork alone.

Bistro Des Arts has certainly found a little corner of the Marina that they can call home.  I would tell you where it is and how to get there, but I don’t want too many people to findit.

minilogo Bistro Des Arts

They say there are more selfies taken at Slider Station than actual sliders sold. It’s true – I did a survey and it’s true.  I ate two sliders and took three selfies.

We arrived for a weekend lunch, and joined the end of the line, waiting for the doors to open.  Yes, there was a line – this place is genuinely busy.  The queue was an eclectic mix of expats and locals, all young – young families, youngsters and young professionals.  The majority of the youngsters were busy polishing their iPhone camera lenses, ready for the selfie-fest that was about to begin.

Slider Station doesn’t take reservations, instead opting for the chaos and complaints of a disorganized waiting list.  However, in truth what’s happening here is Slider Station are making their popularity visible and turning it into a signaling beacon.  If you accept reservations and you’re super popular, all that happens is that it becomes harder to get a reservation.  If you don’t take reservations, and you’re super popular, then everyone can see how popular you are — and all those people are likely to be curious as to what all the fuss is about. And suddenly a selfie taken in Slider Station becomes that much more significant.

We were sat at a two top table, just before the main room, in a narrow and noisy corridor.  Beyond me, in the distance, was a large, bright room, buzzing with ambition and hope.  To my left, I could make out the hot line of the kitchen through a rusted steel, reinforced window, making the cooks seem like superhero criminals in an impenetrable jail cell.

Slider Station is inspired by the American gas stations of the 1940s which is an odd decade to take inspiration from seeing as the majority of the world was embroiled in a World War.  Interesting fact – Colonel Sanders and KFC started out as gas stations that sold chicken dinners.  Maybe Slider Station will eventually become an actual gas station instead?  Anyway, expect faux-rusty detailing, exposed industrial ceilings and concrete flooring.

As the name suggests, the menu is heavy on the burgers and sliders, but doesn’t stop there, thankfully.  The menu is tapas inspired and rather faithfully follows all the correct on-trend ingredients such as kale and quinoa, lobster rolls and Korean chicken.  There is nothing that takes the menu into another gear, but it is still able to maintain the throttle.

Slider Station has effortlessly resonated with both locals and expats alike.  It is the place to be seen at the moment, both in person and over social media.  Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan, affectionately known as Fazza, has been seen there, as have many other Insta-celebs, fueling the popularity of the place.

But does the food justify the wait?  That is the million-dollar question.  Actually, it’s not – the real question should be, does the wait justify the food?

The Manhattan burger is Slider Station’s classic; cheddar, lettuce, tomato and a special sauce.  In terms of the build of the burger, the ratios were almost spot on – It was the Michelangelo’s David of burgers.  The meat wasn’t too thick and overpowering, and the bread wasn’t too doughy and heavy.

The midnight slider arrived, confident in its isolation, and it carried itself well visually.  My only gripe would be that the cabbage in the midnight was too wet and turned the slider into a slippery sandwich.  I think it’s called the Midnight Slider as it would probably be the last thing you would want to eat at night.

In contrast, the Wagyu rib-eye slider was good enough to have for breakfast – shredded succulent rib-eye beef, sweet and dense, with sharp cheese and onions on a soft bun.

The service was as you would expect – multiple runners dropping off various burger combos at various tables as and when they were ready from the kitchen; haphazard and careless, but still relatively effective.  There was no real focus on up-selling, but when you’re turning tables like a jacked up Ibiza DJ, you don’t really need your customers to have a second diet coke.

After a ridiculously long wait, our Korean double fried chicken arrived, neatly sliced and presented on a small tapas plate.  The menu claims it comes with a Gochujang honey glaze.  Gochujang, for those who don’t know, is a chili based, fermented hot paste used in a lot of Korean cooking.  Tabasco is timeless, Sriracha is lovely and Harrisa is a fiery punch in the face.  However, if you’re looking for a sweeter, funkier flavor from your chilies, gochujang (pronounced go-choo-jong) is the thing for you.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of that fermented thump in this dish.  What I did get was a very salty, sticky glaze and a rather overwhelming feeling of wanting another diet coke.  Which of course, I wasn’t going to get.

Galleria Mall on Al Wasl road is home to a number of restaurants, but Slider Station is by far the busiest restaurant on the strip at the moment.  It is energetic, hip, and achingly on trend.  The food is good enough to incite cravings, but a little on the expensive side, if you are valuing the food alone.

Expect a long wait, but worth it, depending on how many Instagram followers you have.

minilogo Slider Station

When I heard Bread Street Kitchen was opening a location at the Atlantis, I made it a point not to read anything about the opening or subsequent articles and was generallydetermined to experience and review this restaurant at face value; no pre-conceptions, no historical influences and no expectations.

Bread Street is a classy urban brasserie, with a buzzy NYC style vibe.  Inheriting the majority of the design from her previous inhabitants, the tourist infested French restaurant,Brasserie, Bread Street Kitchen does well to create an identity using someone else’s DNA – not an easy feat and one that can often backfire.  In Bread Street Kitchen, you have a hip,relevant space where the food still counts.

There are two things BSK has in abundance. Staff and Kids – and I mean a lot.  I genuinely think they hand out children to customers who arrive without them, in the same way afancy restaurant has spare jackets for guests who arrive in only a shirt.  I was expecting one of the thousands of managers to slide up to my banquette seat and whisper politely inmy ear, “Sir. It seems you have forgotten to bring a child this evening. Perhaps you would like to borrow one for the duration of your meal?”

The staff were plentiful and genuine – everyone seemed happy to be at work and there was a real level of authentic hospitality in the place.  Smiles, acknowledgements, checkbacks, intelligence and initiative were all on show that evening from the team – despite there being a million of them.

The Serb did her usual trick of trying to guess where our waiter came from, and secretly, I’m pleased to say she was horribly wrong.  She is far too good at that game, and one rightanswer sets her on a roll that is difficult to stop.

There is depth in the menu’s simplicity and reflects the culinary zeitgeist – lots of must-have ingredients like burrata, quinoa and sriracho, and on trend concepts like posh burgers,mac & cheese and a Josper charcoal grill.

For starters, I had the chilled tomato and raspberry soup, and the Serb was persuaded by our rather charming waiter to try the butternut squash puree flat bread.  My soup arrived,and I remembered that I largely dislike soup and was surprised that I had ordered it.  Nevertheless, it was perfectly fine, as soups go.  The raspberry sweetness cut through the acidityof the tomato, and it was flavourful and light at the same time.

The flatbread was also OK.  I imagine the waiter recommended it based on its profit margins rather than its flavour and taste.  Having said that, the board went back to the kitchenempty, so it was good enough to finish.

Bread Street’s Shepard’s pie is going to be their signature dish – the lamb was slow cooked and plentiful, with the right ratio of meat to mash.  It was a good size, well presentedin a miniature oven pan and topped with garlic crumbs.  Despite being ridiculously hot, the pie was familiar, comforting and oozed the confidence of superior ingredients.

There was a musician in the back of the restaurant, who on several occasions, picked up a guitar, threatened to actually play, and then didn’t, for some reason. Maybe he didn’tknow any Disney songs.

The burger was a big hit with the Serb.  The short rib meat was soft, tender, with the right amount of moist and the whole dish was given a good kick up the backside with a whackof spicy sriracha mayonnaise.

Despite what you have read, Bread Street Kitchen isn’t really about Ramsay, which is why this is the first time I mention his name.  Ramsay is for the financiers and sponsors, for themedia and the Twittersphere.

Bread Street Kitchen Dubai is about the head chef behind the line with his brigade, the servers, sommeliers, bartenders, managers and runners.  It is about the food they producethe atmosphere they create, and the memories they leave you with.  It is about them not being judged against their celebrity namesake’s other ventures, but against themselves,night after night, dish after dish.  In the eyes of the customer, you are only as good as your last experience, and if I was to judge Bread Street purely on what they achieved when Iate there, they did a bloody wonderful job.

We left Bread Street Kitchen, full, satiated, happy and with a couple of extra kids. We don’t know whose they are.

 

minilogo Bread Street Kitchen

After spending the last three months dining almost exclusively with The Serb, we finally had a dinner with a group of friends whom we hadn’t seen for a while.  Although I do sincerelyenjoy our romantic dinners for two, it was rather refreshing and enjoyable to have a jovial communal meal with friends.

Disclaimer:- I still really appreciate the Serbs company very much, and this is in no way a besmirch against her or her companionship.

Our dinner was at Fume, the friendly neighbourhood restaurant at the ground floor of Pier 7 in the marina.  Fume is a “homegrown” concept and one that I rather like.  They are from thesame people that bought us Qbara, over at Wafi land and have since opened a new Fume in downtown Dubai.  Upon entering, I immediately liked the place.  It was noisy, energetic andhad an honest, grown-up sense of fun.

Fume calls themselves a neighbourhood eatery. An “eatery” is exclusively a term reserved for when establishments apply it to themselves.  I don’t think anyone, without a beard and aplait shirt with the top button done up, has ever left a restaurant and said, “Well, that was a wonderful eatery!” It is hipster for restaurant in all honesty, but it works, and it’s a cool wordthat I’ll use more often in conversation.

The menu has a few smoked dishes, in reference to the name, Fume, meaning “to smoke.” However, I think they came up with the name first and then the chef broke the news to theowners that he couldn’t possibly fill an entire menu up with smoked dishes alone.  There is only so much you can smoke – especially in this part of the world.

So therefore the menu has a fairly well-rounded collection of sharing dishes and main meals, from steak tartar to crab slaw to lamb cutlets and mac & cheese.  Weirdly, no-one on thetable ordered any of those dishes I’ve just mentioned.

The restaurant was full. Every table was taken, and the glass-enclosed smoking bar was also buzzing with diners nipping in for their nicotine fix like at an airport smoking room.

You know you’ve had a good time in a restaurant when you can’t really remember the interior décor.  I honestly can’t remember any specific details  but my general impression was itwas a very casual, relaxed design; functional, humble and funky.  In fact, that is the summary I would like to use; humble funky. Humfunky. Fume is free to use that on their website ifthey want.

Whenever there is a duck dish on a menu, The Serb is like a moth to a flame – she is inexplicably drawn to it; always searching for the duck pancake with hoisin sauce she claims she lovesso much. Perhaps I should take the hint and just take her to a Chinese restaurant one of these days.  To be fair, the crispy duck and watermelon salad was ordered by a few ladies at thetable, so obviously it’s a female friendly dish.

I ordered the lamb shank pie, and butter-milk fried chicken with comeback sauce.  I only ordered that dish, because I wanted to say comeback sauce as an immature innuendo for thebenefit of the table as countless other idiots like me must have done in the past.

There was a beef chuck rib that was apparently smoked for six hours and some edamame and some fries and a bunch of other good looking comfort food.  The table deserved one ofthose “shot from above with a filter” pictures that would have looked great on Pinterest.  I thought about it briefly but then decided to try a big dollop of comeback sauce instead.

Had there only been myself and the Serb dining that evening, the service might have been frustrating and poor.  However, a group of merry diners can cover a multitude of service sins,such as repeatedly “auctioning” each dish loudly across the table to see which guest it belongs to.  This is just about acceptable until there was only one dish left, and one guest left.  Instead of taking a calculated risk, the waiter of course, bellowed it out, just to make sure.  There was just an overall awkwardness to the flow and the service staff seemed a little nervousand unsure throughout the evening.

The food, however, was the opposite.  It was robust, self-assured and competent.  The duck watermelon salad was terrific; the duck meat was deliciously crispy with a whack of hoisinsauce, coriander and cashews to bring it all together.  The fried chicken was crunchy yet juicy, with no recollection of ever being fried in oil, and the comeback sauce was something Iwould comeback for. (Sorry – you knew I was working that in somewhere!)

My pie reminded me of Desperate Dan’s Cow Pie made famous in his comic, The Dandy. It arrived with the shank bone sticking out of the pie crust.  It was fun and phallic looking,however, let down by the lack of substance within.  I’ve been told it’s very disappointing when that happens.  A lamb shank pie implies that the whole shank is cooked into a pie, whichshould allow the dish to be fatty and flavourful, but this was not the case.  It was really just a mediocre lamb pie with a bone sticking out. This dish could be significantly better if doneright.

To summarize, there are few restaurants in Dubai that can create a comfortable, egalitarian atmosphere that stimulates conversation and is at the crux of such enjoyment for so many.  Alot of that could be down to the company of my friends, but I am happy to give a vast portion of the credit to Fume as well.

“That’s one humfunky eatery!” I proclaimed to the group of people waiting for the elevators outside, as we left. Only the bearded man with the tattoos and Walkman acknowledged me.

minilogo Fümé, Dubai Marina

Taiwanese dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung arrives in Dubai and executes a rather rare combination of very little pre-hype and advertisement, yet queues of genuine, hungry, cash-holding diners waiting for a table to become free.

DTF has over one hundred locations around the world with a few even boasting a few Michelin stars to their name.  They are the new kid in Dubai, yet come armed with some serious accolades and substance.  Of course with that, comes a certain amount of expectation and there will be inevitable cries of “it’s not the same as Singapore!” and “Service is better in LA!” across the interweb.  Every restaurant brand will and has faced this, and it’s because dining experiences are so subjective and personal.  Plus it is an excellent way for bloggers to boast about how well travelled they are whilst simultaneously coming across as pompous and egocentric. I am guilty of it in almost every review.

Recently opened in the brand new Mall Of The Emirates expansion, DTF are the experts in soups, dumplings and noodles.  They are next to the VOX cinemas and a few shops down from Tom and Serg’s new, yet remarkably familiar Common Grounds gastro café.

(By the way, congratulations to MOE for the expansion and for securing the new Apple retail store – huge scoop against the competitors)

Din Tai Fung is easily the busiest restaurant in MOE at the moment.  There is consistently a queue of dumpling-hungry diners salivating impatiently over their table pagers.  And what is even more impressive is the nationality of clientele – majority are Asian, which always says a lot about the authenticity of their menu.  You don’t see hordes of Italians gesticulating madly outside Al Forno or baguette wielding Frenchmen protesting outside La Petite Maison.

This was a business dinner, so one of the rare reviews where the Serb’s input has not been available and therefore profound insights will be lacking.

Anyway, Din Tai Fung is a no-frills restaurant experience. Fill in the menu card, hand it to one of the many members of staff buzzing around and sit back and wait, because it’s worth it.  Within minutes, little morsels of heaven will appear at your table all freshly made by the “Nike style” production factory of dumpling makers in the back.  I am sure you could put iPhone component parts in their hands instead of gyoza skins and fillings, and they would be just as efficient at producing the new iPhone 7. Maybe that’s why Apple opened their store in MOE?

When it comes to the food, please understand that Asian cuisine without pork is a little like Wimbledon without Roger Federer – still totally watchable, but not nearly as good.  Obviously, TDF in MOE doesn’t do pork, which will make it very different to the international branches.

The key when ordering at TDF is to order lots of different things until you know what exactly you like.  The prices are not too bad, so feel free to go a little wild.  My colleague and I ordered the chicken and shrimp fried rice which was deliciously greasy, yet surprisingly light.  The bok choi was a replacement for the sold out spinach and was crunchy, fresh and quite spectacular in its simplicity.

The mutton pot stickers were great.  The best way to describe them is like fried gyoza dumplings in a blister pack – you simply break them off the strip and pop them into your mouth.

Waitresses arrived from the kitchen with trays and trays of steam baskets, and a supervisor dispatched them with military precision to various tables in the busy restaurant.  Rumour has it that the Dabbawala were flown in and exclusively trained the staff. OK, I just made that up – but they were pretty efficient.  The décor is really nothing to get excited about, but this is a trait across all their locations, and the leasing team at MOE probably conceded to the fact that they were lucky to get tables that matched and didn’t wobble.

Our perfectly tender, fluffy buns arrived steaming hot, and they had all the characteristics of a great bun.  The skin had that slight stretch; that subtle resistance, before giving way and revealing the piping hot filling within.  The lamb filling was fatty and flavourful, and for me, they instantly justified the wait for a table.  The red bean curd has always been a favourite of mine from when I spent time in Korea (see what I did there?!), and it was just as good in the middle of the desert as it was in Gangnam square.

The shrimp and chicken shumai were slight question marks for me.  The skin was sticky and chewy, and the stuffing was good but nothing more. They were difficult to hate, but equally difficult to get excited about as well.

Din Tai Fung exploded in popularity due to one of those freak cult following phenomena that occasionally happen to restaurants.  However, with over one hundred locations worldwide now, it is difficult to maintain that status and appeal to the mainstream at the same time.  Not impossible, mind, and if the lines out the doors in MOE are anything to go by, they seem to have managed it rather well.

Try not to get caught up in the hype of DTF – if you have never been before, lower your expectations and go with a open mind.  They perhaps won’t fulfil the promise of the greatest soup dumplings you’ll ever have, but Dai Tin Fung is definitely no ordinary dumpling house.

 

minilogo Din Tai Fung

Recently, an old friend of mine and his wife came to Dubai for a week on holiday for the first time ever! I thought I would write a review of the restaurants they went to – kind of like a third party review, but not really, because I’ve also been to these restaurants in the past as well.  So I’ll be reviewing them, but only because they went to them.  Confusing, I know, but we’ll get through this together.

My friend and his wife – we shall call them The Tourists – are Londoners through and through. Well-traveled young professionals and in many ways, the perfect tourists; excited about Dubai, with enough disposable income to enjoy it, and just scared enough to respect it.

I can imagine them packing their suitcases for the week – making sure they have factor 50 sun cream, emergency American dollars, phone numbers of the British embassy and checking their shoe soles for poppy seeds.

As you can see from the list below – Downtown Dubai, Atlantis and Jumeirah were the overall winners for these tourists. International brands were the safe bet when in a mall, and big hotel names were the preferred choice when dining out in the evening. They behaved exactly as they were supposed to – the suckers!

Ping Pong – Dubai Mall

To use a table tennis analogy here, when it comes to Ping Pong the restaurant, think of a rickety old table in the garden shed with pimple bats and discoloured orange balls.  Don’t think high level, precise, highly trained athletes with 50 shot rallies and the best scientifically advanced bats money can buy.  That would be foolish, and you would be disappointed.  However, it’s those amateur games with family over Christmas time that are the best anyway, right?

Tortuga – Mina Salaam

The old Wharf pub redesigned into an imported Mexican restaurant where I am told Chef Carlos regularly calls his grandmother for advice on cooking.  Not sure if that’s a wise PR story or not.  Nonetheless, it was pleasant, polished and perfect – just how Jumeirah likes it.

Belgium Beer Café – Souk Madinat

A safe, enjoyable destination with good, expensive beers and easily digestible food.  Never overly busy, which is perfect for an unplanned dinner or last minute drinks.  Surprisingly very smoky, which is becoming a more and more unpleasant experience as similar establishments clean up their air quality.  It must be positively soul destroying for Londoners with ultra-sensitive noses.

Pierchic – Madinat Jumeirah

Resting on their laurels, Pierchic has the reputation of being one of the most romantic restaurants in Dubai.  I tend to disagree.  Lazy service, mediocre food with a price tag as expensive as the pier is long.  It takes more than a refurb to maintain reputations.  An argument with a waiter over a particular unbaked Alaska is a story The Tourists will take back with them to London, unfortunately.

Cheesecake factory – Dubai Mall

The interior is fashioned like an Emirates Palace soap tray, all chintzy and shiny.  Service was charmingly clumsy.  And what is with the management walk? You know the one, hands behind the back like Prince Phillip after Elizabeth has told him off .  The Tourists ordered the salad and cheesecake and there it is; good meets evil, pain and gain, denial and delight.

Locatelli – Atlantis

The Avenues at the Atlantis looks like a train station for lost tourists – and so Locatelli bucks the trend and actually produces a rather authentic and sincere Italian experience.

Amwaj Rotana Brunch at Rosso – JBR

I was particularly nervous for this one. The last time I had done a brunch was about four years ago and it was the first time The Tourists were meeting The Serb.  I was nervous for everyone.  However, I should have known – silly amounts of food and booze will create friends for life.  Poor Asian display (I’m talking about the food), but The Brit’s hangover was testament to the service and the refilling of the drinks in particular.

Eauzone – One and Only – Royal Mirage

This restaurant is one of the finest examples of Dubai hospitality and easily the best experience for The Tourists by far.  Sharp, slick service, very enjoyable food and a location that is, for once, actually world class.

Ossiana – Atlantis

A gimmicky underwater seafood restaurant done rather tastefully with a location good enough to wow some first-time tourists. Rather than reviewing the food for me, the tourists were more excited about being able to pay a scuba diver to hold up a message at your table from inside the tank. “What if they get the wrong table?” The Brit cried, giggling into his sparkling wine.

My friends were obviously beginner tourists, but they did exceptionally well. They have earned their bronze medal, that’s for sure. A silver medal requires a little more local experimentation, like Tom and Serg or Maria Bonita and if you’re going for Gold then Ravi’s and Karachi Darbar have to be on the list.