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.

Restaurants have changed haven’t they?  I remember when the man in command of the kitchen used to wear the tallest hat protecting plates from loose hairs whilst showingsuperiority of his position.  Now it seems that the man responsible for the kitchen doesn’t have to wear any hat at all, while everyone else does.  Furthermore, it seems in the caseof Pots, Pans & Boards, the more hair and beard, the better.

 I blame TV and media. You don’t see Gordon Ramsey or Ferran Adrià wearing a hat when they are cooking away.  Chefs are the new rockstars, and it causes havoc with lighting andmake up if a pesky hygiene requirement gets in the way of that.

 However, perhaps I am being over sensitive, seeing as I just recovered from an international bout of food poisoning and am now convinced can see e-coli and salmonella oneverything I put in my mouth.

 Nevertheless, honestly, if you have been put in charge of a kitchen, and especially a kitchen of Tom Aikens caliber, you really should be wearing a hat as a mandatory.  Lead byexample, and at least show some respect to your customers and their health.

 Imagine a surgeon not wearing scrubs or a hair net whilst performing your surgery.  Me, before falling asleep, “Hey, the doctor didn’t wash his hands, and he’s not wearing anyscrubs, is that hygienic?”

Nurse – “It’s OK, Sir; the doctor was featured in Surgeons Weekly –he’s pretty famous.  Sleep now.”

 So, anyway, on with the review.  Pots, Pans & Boards, which will now immediately be shorted to PP&B, is a new British import from two star Michelin chef Tom Aiken. For avisual idea, Tom is the culinary equivalent of Ed Sheeran and just as talented, but in a kitchen, rather than behind a guitar, obviously.  PP&B is his latest international venture and isoperated by Meraas with a location at the end of The Beach, JBR.  I also worry about those restaurants, because I can’t imagine business is particularly brisk in the height of thesummer; but then I remember they are their own landlords and subsequently I don’t feel so bad.

 PP&B is exactly what it says on the tin. The décor is pots and pans and boards and the food is served in pots and pans and boards. However,that is not as bad as it might soundbecause the interior is actually pretty decent. They have excellent seating zones, from banquettes to booths, to large party tables to window tables for two.  It is well-designed anduses the space rather admirably.

 The flow of the restaurant is natural and organic, and it has one of the most intimate open kitchens I have seen (hence the extra need for the Chef to wear a hat).Overstocked pantry and kitchen shelves are used as room dividers and it all works rather well.

 The waitress very carefully explained to us that PP&B was a sharing restaurant concept, and the food came out when it was ready.  I did my best to look surprised and act as if thiswas a very foreign and utterly exhilarating proposal, and definitely not one copied by every new restaurant without fail for the last five years.

 However, I think serving staff should now tell you if the food is going to be served together instead.  That would be a cause for real surprise.

 “Sir, this restaurant adopts a rather traditional policy which means all the food will arrive together, and in the order that you placed it in.  I do hope that’s ok with you.”

The menu is an influence of Mediterranean, French and British cooking, with dishes such as short ribs, salmon, crab cakes, beef tartare and mac & cheese.

 The Serb wanted to order healthy, so we started off with the panzanella salad and the buratta salad (as long as it has salad in the name, we’re good).  Our health drive wentdownhill fast, with the triple fried chips and the ice cream to finish. “If you share it, there are no calories.”

 The buratta salad was a solid dish – excellent use of several different varietals of tomato, from black prince to green zebra (I’m not making those names up; they exist!)bringing some nice subtlety and flavours to the dish, sorry, pot.

 The panzanella dish was always going to be a tricky one. When you are selling a peasant dish designed to make use of stale bread, it is invariably risky. The risk is that you serve adish that is soggy, without flavour and is, well, stale. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. The tomatoes were powerless against the taste of the anchovies and overly oily peppers.Not a great dish, unfortunately and would benefit from some more work on either the recipe or execution.

 The three times fried chips should have been called what they really were; almost perfect roast potatoes. Big chunky wedges of potato served in an, erm, pot. They were excellentin the sense of their crispy crust and perfectly cooked center, but I could feel my veins thickening as the excess oil seeped down my chin with every bite.

“What did you expect with three times fried?” asked the Serb, and hate it when she raises a valid point.  However, they were belting chips nonetheless, and possibly the best I’vehad in Dubai.

 The ice cream was ice cream; cold, chocolate flavoured and creamy and the only surprising thing about it was it was served in a bowl; not a pot or a pan.

 PP&B is a difficult restaurant to sum up. It is part hipster, part family, part serious and part relaxed. It is difficult to put into a box, and although I wasn’t wowed by any of the menu,I know that two dishes out of twenty don’t make a final verdict and i certainly didn’t leave disappointed. 

I’ll tell you what else I know;  Dubai is getting spoilt for choice when it comes to decent casual dining options. The usual suspects of the franchised casual restaurants need to takeheed of this new breed – because they’re here, they’re getting better and better and they don’t wear hats.

minilogo Pots, Pans & Boards

Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo.  No, I’ve never heard of him either.  At first I thought it was a pasta dish with Alfredo sauce.  But apparently he is a Michelin star chef.  Do they give these stars out in cereal boxes?  There does seem to be a lot of them about.

Vivaldi must be one of the oldest restaurants in Dubai.  It’s in the Sheraton Creek Hotel which was opened in 1978.  The hotel is so old I think they built the creek after the hotel opened, but I might be wrong.  The hotel has undergone several face-lifts since then and stands firm at the edge of the creek – a reminder of Dubai’s early ambition and a measure of the city’s phenomenal growth.  The fact that there are some whiskeys that are older than this hotel should put into perspective what Dubai has achieved.

Vivaldi is a perfect example of how a hotel operates F&B.  From the décor to the service to the communication, Vivaldi is one hundred percent, a hotel restaurant, with an Italian chef’s name on the door.  It is old school in its fundamentals – a throwback to days gone by where hotels had the monopoly on restaurant locations and acted accordingly.

However, you can see they have tried to keep up with the Joneses, and their efforts endear you to them.  For example, their exposure on the Interweb is through the form of their website where they boast a “Gastronic Menu” that will “pamper you.”  Yes, I spelt gastronic the way it is on their website and no, I don’t know what it means.  There is a facebook page, but it looks like it was created by accident because the only picture they have is of a random man sitting at his hotel room desk, who I presume tagged Vivaldi by mistake.  No-one has corrected it, although the man does look rather satisfied with his desk.  It is endearingly amateur and makes me like them even more.

They have a DJ spinning his MacBook, (not literally) which for a restaurant named after one of the greatest Baroque composers the world has ever seen, seems a bit of a mismatch.  They could have called it Tiesto by Alfredo Lasagna, I suppose.

The room is above the swimming pool and overlooks the creek.  It is spacious with neutral light colours and a pleasant feel.  The spacing of the tables are generous and they have used the room well.  Apparently their views of the creek are unparalleled, but unfortunately when we ate there, the condensation on the windows meant I ended up staring at a frosty reflection of myself for the entire evening – which is definitely not a good view, believe me.  Luckily for me, the Serb had put on make-up and was looking particularly attractive that evening, even by her high standards.

Vivaldi was largely empty for the majority of the evening – three other couples were enjoying their evening, and all of us were seated in the same corner of the dining room.  So, our little section was super busy, but there was a cavernous empty room behind us.

We started with the smoked scamorza, which is a more intense, rubbery mozzarella cheese.  It was served on a wooden board with six bowls of other stuff, and some toasted bruschetta bread.  The presentation was complicated and un-necessary but the flavor of the cheese was great – firm yet stringy, subtle yet smokey.  I would like to say they smoke the cheese themselves in house but I got the impression that it was off the shelf of a local supplier.  I could be wrong.

The Serb ordered the spinach and ricotta ravioli.  I did clarify that this was a vegetarian dish, with no meat and she returned my statement with a steely glare.  This dish was a musical flop – the ravioli was stuffed with pureed spinach, and had a powdery artificial texture to it.  It didn’t resonate well with either of us.

I tried to order the Alfredo Russo for my mains – a joke that skipped across the creek in the same way a bowling ball would.  Eventually, I settled on the penne pomodorino.  Penne pasta in a smoked cherry tomato sauce with cream of mozzarella.  I keep saying that the strength of Italian food is in its simplicity, and one can usually judge a kitchen on how well they can cook a simple dish.  They did a good job – if the whole dish was a concerto then the sauce was the treble – fresh, sweet and light, allowing the mozzarella cream to provide the bass.

Vivaldi restaurant was a nice enough experience, but the reality is that Italian cuisine is a crowded, highly competitive space with some excellent operators out there.  Vivaldi have the added obstacle of trying to bring people back across the creek, which must be difficult, a bit like going the wrong way in a one way system.  To move beyond the hotel restaurant stigma, Vivaldi need to be bringing something really special to the table.

Instead they bought an old school Sheraton branded bill folder with a bill for 410 dhs for two (including Prosecco) which are actually very old school prices for once.

My recommendation would be to give Vivaldi a go – they have a certain humble charm, the menu is enjoyable and the prices and views will more than make up for the taxi ride.

minilogo Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo

Café Rouge is a French themed restaurant chain from the UK, made famous by the 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, as Bridget’s favourite watering hole.

Café Rouge in Souk Madinat sits in the space where the ever empty, doomed Dome Café used to be.   The space that you always glanced at, probably on your way to The Meat Company or Trader Vic’s.  Well, they have spruced it up a little, added a much coveted alcohol license and stuffed as much French themed interior décor items as they could find within its four walls.

Café Rouge’s interior is typical of a homogenised, branded restaurant chain.  Overly heavy, artificial, and lacking in atmosphere & substance.  Edison bulbs, (lots of them, casting a yellow, tobacco stained hue over the room) mosaic tiles, those mirrors with French writing on them, and I’m pretty sure I could find the Chat Noir poster that was a mandatory ‘back of the toilet door’ adornment in the 90’s.  If the waiter had been wearing a black and white striped top with a beret and a necklace of garlic I wouldn’t have been surprised.  I even wouldn’t have been surprised if the manager had ridden past on a bicycle with a basket of baguettes, followed by a band of twenty accordion playing Frenchmen.

Anyway, you’ll be happy (or disappointed) to hear that none of that happened; the waiter was very “un-themed” and polite, and greeted us with an enthusiastic smile.  We were shown to the world’s smallest table, where the salt and pepper shakers had to be moved so our waiter could find space to put the specials card down.

The menu starts with a small paragraph from Chef Duncan McEwan welcoming us to Cafe Rouge, telling us how excited he is to share his menu with us.  It always concerns me when the Chef is three thousand miles away from the kitchen that is about to serve your food.  It’s a bit like your lawyer providing you with a note to give to the judge.  Doesn’t fill you with much confidence.

However, the restaurant was busier than it would have been under the Dome name, and there were a couple of large tables of young parents taking advantage of a few cheeky glasses of wine while their babies gurgled happily next to them in their prams.

Café Rouge’s menu is safe, French inspired brasserie food.  Croque monsieur, steak frites, baguettes, burgers and salads, with the odd duck dish thrown in for good measure. Everything you would probably never find on a real French menu.

I ordered the Super Salad, which turned out to be the most ironically named dish I have ever come across.  A spattering of bitter red endive leaves that were dehydrated, soft at the ends and had seen better days, with some beetroot, squash, peas and a few seeds.  It arrived with no dressing or seasoning, and left me feeling rather ambivalent about life in general.  There was really nothing super about it, unfortunately.  I ordered a side of fries as well, that were immediately sent back to the kitchen as they were cold.  What kind of kitchen makes that sort of mistake these days?  The same sort of kitchen that charges you for bread, i presume.

The Serb, unsurprisingly, ordered a burger, with raclette cheese.  Raclette cheese is a particularly smelly cheese, with a rather mild, balanced flavour.  It is an excellent cheese to melt and one of my favourites.  The burger was well constructed, with good seasoning and size.  However, according to our waiter, the burger was only allowed to be cooked well done, as per a bizarre Dubai Municipality requirement.  It therefore arrived rather dry and grey and my point is this; if you know you can’t produce a quality product due to some alleged restriction, then remove the dish and get a little inventive with its replacement.  Don’t accept that you are going to have to serve sub-standard dishes.  That’s what happens when your chef is 3000 miles away.

The coffee to follow was also burnt and prepared without care and the service, although enthusiastic and genuine, was without direction and leadership.

Café Rouge hit the height of their popularity in the 90’s and unfortunately haven’t really moved on since then.  There is no relevancy or passion behind the brand and if you can’t be relevant, then you have to at least be passionate.

According to recent reports, Café Rouge owners back in the UK have employed Alain Ducasse to help them with the brand.  I suggest the local franchise operator to hold fire on their expansion until the concept is freshened up.  It’s not that Cafe Rouge is so terrible, it’s just that the other choices are considerably better in my opinion.  When you consider the other choices on the market these days, you have to be bringing something very special to the table.

Café Rouge will be good for the Souk Madinat tourists, pre-theater diners and the odd expat family that want an unpretentious place for a meal with wine.

Having said that, Cafe Rouge is a down to earth, unpretentious, high street themed french brasserie.  As long as you accept that before going in, you will not leave disappointed.

If I happen to be in the area and want a quick sandwich and a top up of all things French, then I’ll be happy to stop by.

minilogo Café Rouge

Jean-Georges Vongerichten expands his empire with two new restaurants at the Four Seasons Hotel on Jumierah Beach Road.  

JG at the Four Seasons is split into two concepts. One is the Jean-George Dining Room – his fifty seater, 900 dhs-a-head fine dining gastronomic center that helps maintain his nameand positioning around the world.

The other is the JG Kitchen – an informal, casual-dining space – his commercial avenue that keeps the lights on and the bailiffs at bay. This review is for a quick lunch at the JG Kitchen earlier in the month.  

At first glance, the menu seems to be a collection of his greatest hits from various restaurants across his vast empire.  I don’t know if that’s a compliment for Dubai that we would getall the best bits from his other restaurants or an insult that he couldn’t come up with a new menu for this market?  However, it is a safe, mature choice of global favourites, neverstraying far from comfort and safety.

This starts to beg the question, how many restaurants can you open, before you really should be calling yourself an operator, rather than the chef?

The restaurant industry has never been as popular as it is today, with so many people willing and open to try new flavours and ingredients – what an opportunity for restaurants andchefs to experiment on such a receptive audience; never before has a demographic been so accepting and pliable.  One thing is clear though – dishes like marinated olives, crispycalamari and ricotta raviolis are not going to have anyone rushing to the door in excitement.

However, with Colin Clague at the helm, the food is never going to be bad.  He did some fantastic things over at Qbara and Zuma, and his name is held in very high regard across theregion.  Each dish that came out of the kitchen made no apologies for their simplicity and nor did they have to.  The food was simply the result of a well-trained and talented kitchenteam.  The dishes were confident, flavourful and full of identity – they knew what they were and what they were meant to do.

The baratta was savory and light, but the citrus topping was too close to store-bought marmalade for me.  However, the spiced chicken samosas were a winner – moist, delicate andcrispy.  The rigatoni & meatballs and the wagyu burger were also as expected – well cooked and satisfying and the plates went back to the kitchen empty.  The cheesecake was so-so. Great texture, but the crust had no bite and was too soft.

While no doubt the menu is a well tried, well rehearsed compilation of great dishes that will hit the mark nine times out of ten, a restaurant experience is always more than the justfood.

Just because you put pizza on the menu, doesn’t mean you are casual and informal.

So, moving to the rest of the experience, the ‘kitchen’ space is an intimate little dining room, with an open-plan kitchen at the back.  Glass, tiles, and stone are used in the design,and if it weren’t for the fabric chandeliers, the room would be very cold and hard.  Premium cutlery, plates and glassware dot the tables, and I get the feeling there is a dress code.  You can see that JG is very comfortable partnering with five star hotels in this sense.

Despite the room being attractive and chic, as long as you’re putting your waiters in waistcoats and ties, your managers in starched suits and then accessorising them with JG cuff-links, you can’t call yourself a “casual, relaxed place for everyday dining.” as JG did in a recent interview.  That’s like sticking a Cornetto on the forehead of a cow and calling it aunicorn.  Additionally, showcasing Louis XII and magnums of Cristal Champagne in a cabinet is not an ‘everyday dining’ look.

If JG Kitchen is targeting the kind of people that consider cuff-links and Cristal as “relaxed everyday dining,” then they might need a smaller seating capacity – a couple of tables shoulddo it!

Overall, JG Kitchen offers a fresh and uncomplicated lunch – the staff were approachable and had a good sense of humour.  The food was tasty and enjoyable and the room certainlywas elegant and classy.  However, at 300 dhs per person for a lunch without alcohol, it’s not going to become my everyday dining spot. Nevertheless, I will be back for dinnersometime.  And the Serb can pay.

minilogo JG Kitchen

Jason Atherton is a very busy man. He has opened seventeen restaurants in the last five years – that’s one restaurant every three and a half months. And as if that wasn’t enough, he’s managed to pick up a few Michelin Stars along the way. A student of reality TV star, Gordon Ramsey, Jason has been winning friends and influencing people all over the globe. Such is his commercial drive, he has even created a signature perfume, inspired from his time in the kitchen. I’m not sure if garlic, fish and oil are a nice combination, but I presume the check smelt good!

The Marina Social is housed in the new Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Marina. Upon arriving at the host stand, we were offered a drink at the bar, before going to the table. They have a great one paged cocktail list, and the bar has gone for an industrial chic look. However, I am pretty convinced that the hotel designed it, and it was donated to Social sometime in the pre-opening stage. The space smells of hotel design; banquette tables void of character, the same gunmetal colouring as seen in the lobby of the hotel – this was not a good sign. Please don’t tell me that Jason Atherton agreed to inherit a generic, hotel designed restaurant space? Say it isn’t so!

The service was up and down. – Once the staff relaxed, they got better, but to start with, they were stiff, formal and too intent on following standards and training manuals. I think the key to their future success will be getting the team to really understand what Social means and just loosen up a little.

It took them a while to get the music levels right, and they need to remember to cool down the room early, because a combination of animated guests, an open hot kitchen and hard-working staff will put a serious strain on any AC unit.

It’s a sharing restaurant, but I wouldn’t expect anything different from Jason. It’s his go-to, and it has served him well over the years. What this means is the food arrives whenever the chef prepares it. To their credit, they did follow a relatively logical delivery order, but they need to work on pacing. The first few dishes came out in a timely manner, and then there was a rather long break until the next round. It was in one of these breaks the Serb commented that Social Marina was similar to her favourite restaurant in Hong Kong. I have a feeling she was just name dropping though.

The food, for the most part, was belting – as it should be from Atherton’s Chef Patron (don’t know what that means) Tristin Farmer. Tristin has some excellent cooking chops himself and brings his own impressive CV to Dubai. You hope that Tristin will hang around, because a city will always benefit from such experience and skill. Unfortunately, you get the impression that with so many international Social openings on the cards, it is only a matter of time before he is whisked off to look after another venture.

Out of seven dishes ordered, two were mediocre, one was disappointing and the remaining were deserving of applause and adoration. The first round of applause goes to the social dog, a duck and foie gras hot dog. A decadent, delicious sausage in a sweet brioche bread and a huge step up from the IKEA dogs that I’m used to.

The goat’s cheese Churros were too doughy and were only saved by drenching them in sticky honey. The seared tuna and the Hamachi were as good as you’ll find in any specialized seafood restaurant. They were fresh, vital and clean in both flavour and texture.

The risotto was a little too close to rice pudding for my liking and the pulled lamb flatbread was delightful; but honestly, who doesn’t like pizza? The big let down for me, however, was the black onyx tenderloin. A musty, stale, overpowering flavour rendered the beef inedible for me. However, the Serb, unsurprisingly, had no issues in daintily devouring her piece of meat.

I really want to treat the Marina Social like Atherton wants us to treat it – somewhere to casually pop in with some friends over a bottle of wine and some sharing food. However, with an eye-watering bill of 1,500 Dhs for two, I would quickly become a bankrupt socialite, crying into my IKEA hot dog at what I used to be. I am assuming they only have one sitting per night, and that will always drive prices up.

In an interview, Jason Atherton claimed he makes no money from his food, but I find that hard to believe. Jason Atherton makes money off everything – we just need to decide if he deserves it.

I have a feeling the next time I go, Marina Social will have a few awards to their name, and as long as it’s not a value for money award, they will probably be very deserving of them.  A good restaurant with a fresh, intelligent and relevant menu.

Well done for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

minilogo Marina Social by Jason Atherton

Bianca Mozzarella & Co love their jars. The iced tea came in a jar. The buratta came in a jar. The knives and forks came in a jar and the bill came in a jar. I wonder if IKEA was having a jar sale.

Bianca Mozzarella & Co is at Box Park, on Al Wasl Road. Box Park is a great little retail space, and is again, a signal that Dubai is growing in confidence and competence. I only hope the landlords are being reasonable with rents as the whole area will be messy for another few years at least.

OK, the concept, in a nutshell – or milk sack. Once upon a time, there was an Italian couple who produced the finest mozzarella cheese in the land. They became famous and revered for their wonderful cheese skills. A few years passed and two nephews, who had traveled across oceans and mountains, realized that no-one could replicate the quality and authenticity of their grandmother’s cheese. So they did what any one of us would have done. They built a mozzarella factory in Sharjah. I guess it’s the building that has the water buffalo hanging around outside.

The restaurant is split into two sections – the main kitchen and restaurant and a separate conservatory section which just has seating and a random wooden swing. We decided to eat in the conservatory because the Serb wanted to have a go on the swing. The waiter was very keen to explain the concept to us, and proudly announced that the chef was Italian whilst pointing to a chef in the kitchen that looked suspiciously Filipino.

I think it’s the white furniture and white-washed stone walls that did it, but the space is really very relaxing and rather quaint – some might even say romantic – despite being within spitting distance of the main road and without any music at all, not even a whistling waiter.

Despite being packed at the weekends, the place was quiet when we ate there – in fact, there was a moment when the Serb went to freshen up, and the waiter left to go to milk the buffalo or something, and it was perhaps the most alone I have ever felt in Dubai. It was just me and the silence and an random, wooden swing.

So Bianca is banking on their mozzarella. So much so, that they have put it in the name of their restaurant. If you are confident enough to name yourself after such a specific food item, it better be good. And my goodness, it is better than good. It is excellent. The burrata al bicchiere is mozzarella cheese with whipped cream, served in a jar with croutons, sweet cherry tomatoes and baby spinach leaves. It is quite possibly the best thing I have ever had in a jar. And I have had a lot of things in jars, surprisingly. I have always said every restaurant needs a signature dish, and the best of these can make a restaurant famous. This could be one of these dishes.

The rest of the meal was pleasant, maybe even good, but there is such a divide between the quality of the buratta and the other dishes, that the rest of the meal appeared all quite average.

The bruschette was satisfactory – but having said that, I always compare it to a bruschette served in Tuscany in the late summer when the tomatoes are at their finest. Not particularly fair of me, I know, but it’s me that has to live with that constant disappointment, not you. The great thing about Italian cuisine and the thing that makes it so unique is that the simpler you keep it, the better it can taste.

The penne alla siciliana was also very average – undercooked pasta in a heavy, complicated tomato sauce with the basil calling in sick.

The food is served on large cumbersome chinaware that reminds me of banquet plates from the 1980s. Oh and by the way, Bianca Mozzarella & Co love their jars. The iced tea came in a jar. The buratta came in a jar. The knives and forks came in a jar and the bill came in a jar. I wonder if IKEA was having a jar sale.

The chicken salad was uninspired and rather boring – several slices of grilled chicken hiding a mountain of iceberg lettuce. Just so we are clear – Iceberg lettuce is the most boring of the lettuce family. Iceberg is the last lettuce to get invited to the salad party. This dish would have benefited tremendously by getting a little inventive with its salad leaves.

Bianca has some great reviews on their facebook page and it’s obvious they have some serious fans. Some of them are perhaps a little too enthusiastic. However, there are some sterling comments such as “One Word – THE BEST” and “The greatest Italian restaurant of its kind!” Pretty powerful stuff.

Overall, Bianca is a great neighborhood Italian with its own inimitable charm. The service is friendly and genuine. The space is relaxed and charming, and the mozzarella is some of the best in Dubai. But there is an old Italian proverb (probably) that says, “A man cannot live on mozzarella alone” and neither can Bianca.

Nonetheless, I will be back to put that proverb to the test.

 

minilogo Bianca Mozzarella & Co

Incubate this!

Sasaki Associates recently finished a study on The State of The City Experience in the States, where they concluded that Urbanites agree on three things. They want great food, they love waterfronts and they value historical architecture. Dubai has got two out of those three. And if they could import history, I am sure they would.

But what was most interesting about the survey is that when city residents were asked what aspects of urban life enchanted them, food kept popping up in their responses. Eighty-two percent of urbanites appreciate their city’s culinary offerings. 82%!!

What is so important to remember here, is that food continues to be a major social, cultural, and economic driver, not just in the US, but here in Dubai as well. Restaurants are used to revitalize neighborhoods and bring life back to hotels.

However, what Dubai needs is a new restaurant, artist and entertainment destination. Wait, before you roll your eyes, hear me out. This project will be slightly different. This F&B park will foster the growth of start-up concepts & businesses and capitalize on Dubai’s culture of drive, ambition, entrepreneurship and success.

The idea is to be a magnet for bringing the best and brightest culinary talents and entrepreneurial thinkers into an area that will rival any of the real estate projects that Dubai already has.   A safe haven for budding talent that have a dream and a vision.

Starting from scratch

This park should offer support, favorable commercial terms, and have a long list of industry experts available to provide unique assistance in build, fit-out, marketing, menu development, business advice etc.

These restaurants can only stay a finite amount of time and must meet certain criteria to survive. This allows an ever changing landscape of inventive cuisines and concepts to be tried and tested by real customers.

Imagine local artisans, off Broadway theater, art studios, a park, museums, restaurants and food markets, all in one destination with plenty of parking. No chain retail, no large corporations – just raw talent and hard work.

Similar projects are working well around the world and I don’t see why Dubai can’t do something like this.  All it needs is a group of investors that want to give back to the industry that has made them so much money in the past and support Dubai’s vision for innovation and drive.  The entrepreneurs and the demand is already here.  Dubai has an abundance of creativity and innovation bubbling under the surface, just waiting for a chance to erupt.

Can you imagine what a successful initiative like this will do for a city like Dubai – what benefits and excitement it could bring?  Honestly, just take a minute to think about it. The benefits reach far beyond what my brain can comprehend.

Comments below – let’s start a dialogue.

Incubate this!
Sasaki Associates recently finished a study on The State of The City Experience in the States, where they concluded that Urbanites agree on three things. They want great food, they love waterfronts and they value historical architecture. Dubai has got two out of those three. And if they could import history, I am sure they would.

But what was most interesting about the survey is that when city residents were asked what aspects of urban life enchanted them, food kept popping up in their responses. Eighty-two percent of urbanites appreciate their city’s culinary offerings. 82%!!

What is so important to remember here, is that food continues to be a major social, cultural, and economic driver, not just in the US, but here in Dubai as well. Restaurants are used to revitalize neighborhoods and bring life back to hotels.

However, what Dubai needs is a new restaurant, artist and entertainment destination. Wait, before you roll your eyes, hear me out. This project will be slightly different. This F&B park will foster the growth of start-up concepts & businesses and capitalize on Dubai’s culture of drive, ambition, entrepreneurship and success.

The idea is to be a magnet for bringing the best and brightest culinary talents and entrepreneurial thinkers into an area that will rival any of the real estate projects that Dubai already has. A safe haven for budding talent that have a dream and a vision.

Starting from scratch
This park should offer support, favorable commercial terms, and have a long list of industry experts available to provide unique assistance in build, fit-out, marketing, menu development, business advice etc.

These restaurants can only stay a finite amount of time and must meet certain criteria to survive. This allows an ever changing landscape of inventive cuisines and concepts to be tried and tested by real customers.

Imagine local artisans, off Broadway theater, art studios, a park, museums, restaurants and food markets, all in one destination with plenty of parking. No chain retail, no large corporations – just raw talent and hard work.

Similar projects are working well around the world and I don’t see why Dubai can’t do something like this. All it needs is a group of investors that want to give back to the industry that has made them so much money in the past and support Dubai’s vision for innovation and drive. The entrepreneurs and the demand is already here. Dubai has an abundance of creativity and innovation bubbling under the surface, just waiting for a chance to erupt.

Can you imagine what a successful initiative like this will do for a city like Dubai – what benefits and excitement it could bring? Honestly, just take a minute to think about it. The benefits reach far beyond what my brain can comprehend.

Comments below – let’s start a dialogue.

Tribeca is a new eating establishment, taking its name from the reclaimed industrial wasteland area in New York City.  Those clever New Yorkers back in the early 70’s started naming districts based on city mapping abbreviations.  So, for example, SoHo came from South of Houston Street and Tribeca because it was The Triangle Below Canal Street. My favorite is BoCoCa.  I don’t know why it’s called that, but it’s just fun to say.

However, I don’t know why people are so concerned about copying other places, when a little bit of originality could work.  They could have called themselves SoMa, due to them being located South of the Marina.  I’m going to start a petition.

It takes a brave person to drive down to JBR on a weekend night, even in August, when I braved it.  The Dubai Marina suffers from master planning inefficiencies when it comes to traffic flow, parking options and general access.  I don’t know how anyone who stays there ever gets any visitors.  It must be very lonely living there.  They could have called themselves SoBra – derived from being so brave in travelling there, but that sounds like something a spaced out surfer would say, so maybe not.

I think I knew what to expect from Tribeca before I even arrived there.  I was expecting exposed ceilings, Edison light bulbs, brick walls and generally an industrial feel.  When you call yourself Tribeca, there isn’t much else you can do and I wasn’t disappointed.  However, there were more touches that I hadn’t expected and quite enjoyed.  References to pop culture were dotted around, with a wall painting of Daniel Day Lewis in his most underrated role as Bill the Butcher and local photographer, Martin Beck’s grizzly, battered Superman smoking a cigarette.

Amongst the reclaimed materials, such as wine box ceiling features and wooden pallet tables, they had a plant in a birdcage.  Perhaps this symbolizes the inevitability of growth and life despite society’s best attempts to keep us trapped and caged.  Or perhaps it is simply a plant in a bird cage.

Tribeca is a good looking restaurant – from the attractive staff, (whose employment requisite is to look good in tight jeans) to the customers, to the interior, this is one good looking place.  Perhaps the most attractive place in the SoMa area. (See what I did there?!)

From a place that has a suitcase stuffed with cash chained to the ceiling, the menu is surprising in its direction.  It boasts organic and wholesome foods with simple ingredients, and our starter of the Burrata, which is just mozzarella cheese with more calories, was fresh, clean and plush.  Discovering Burrata is like the first time you try poached eggs – you won’t forget it, regardless of how you feel about it.

People come to a restaurant to connect, converse and engage, and the music levels made it very difficult for tables to do that.   I think what exasperates the issue is that reclaimed materials are not the most acoustic friendly.  Exposed ceilings, glass and concrete are incredibly good at bouncing sound around a room – and not in a good way.  The bar area was getting busier than the restaurant area as the evening went on, and Tribeca need to be careful on what they are trying to become.  It’s extremely difficult to get both the bar and the restaurant dynamic right – you are primarily either one or the other.  In this sense, Tribeca was neither.

The food arrived and I had the grilled chicken which unfortunately was a little too simple and underdeveloped as a dish to warrant the 120 dhs + price tag.  The seasoning was so subtle; it was almost as if the chef forgot entirely.  The crumbled bits of feta cheese and figs (I think – it was dark) did help the dish somewhat on the flavour front though.  Halfway through, I luckily found my missing seasoning – it had been dusted across the top edge of my plate.  Maybe they were aiming for the chicken and missed.

The ravioli pasta was the artisan type, which basically means someone stuffed it by hand, rather than bought it in a shop.  However, whoever did the stuffing did a great job. Six or seven little parcels of perfectly cooked pasta stuffed with a creamy beetroot mascarpone filling.   The deep-red beet mixed with the pea foam created a satisfyingly sweet, yet savoury balance.  The only issue I had was the portion was too small.  The reason it was my issue was because the Serb, upon finishing, moved onto mine without breaking stride.

I think Tribeca is a well thought out concept, and is a wonderful sign of the confidence of the industry.  Their focus on the arts, music and community will bring something special to the SoMa area and I look forward to watching them grow and improve, especially on the food side of things.  They have a first rate set of staff and managers, but will need to keep turning those tables if they want to keep them.

As we left, I noticed, at the bar, they were advertising Rakia, which is a drink from the Balkans region used primarily for torture and punishment.  Luckily the Serb didn’t see it, otherwise this review would have been completely different.

 

minilogo Tribeca Kitchen and Bar

For regular readers of this website, you will know that I am forever looking for the perfect weekend breakfast place. I have got it into my head that this magical place must have a relaxed energy to it, ideally located in a little piazza surrounded by rustic Tuscan houses and flower gardens or perhaps tucked away somewhere green yet urban, like Central Park.  Or even somewhere iconic like an old bank or church with high ceilings and lots of history.

So when the Serb made the choice of Urban Bistro, I immediately asked where it was in the hope that it could come close to any of these aforementioned criteria.

“CNN building, Media City, in the lobby.” She replied, and I sighed out loud.  You see, I wasn’t able to veto her, as I had been on a bad run of restaurant choices recently and had reluctantly agreed to accept her decision, no matter what.  So the CNN building it was.

As I drove through the quiet roads of Dubai, I reflected on my preconception of authenticity and came to rather startling conclusion, that in hindsight isn’t particularly startling in the slightest.

Every city on this planet is unique, with a distinctive heartbeat and rhythm.  Rio and Munich are as different to one another as they are distant from one another.  Ho Chi Min city is vastly different than Dallas, just as Budapest is nothing like Beijing.

However, they all have authenticity in their own way, no matter what city it is.  Even Vegas has authenticity.  Furthermore, you can’t compare Dubai to London no matter how much you want to or the media tries to.  London was founded in 43 AD and Dubai was founded a couple of Tuesdays ago.  Seriously though, London has approximately a one thousand and ninety year head start.  Of course they are going to have old banks with high ceilings and lots of history.

London has the Wolseley in Piccadilly and Dubai has The Urban Bistro in the CNN building in Media City.  Both are as authentic as each other, in that respect.  It is what it is.

So with my heart lifted and my head clearer, we headed to Media city to enjoy some breakfast at Urban Bistro.

Urban Bistro obviously caters for the media city workers during the week with a healthy, hipster salad bar and take away food such as protein crisps and Filipino mango chocolate.  There are health bars and super juices.  Either Media City workers are all fatties or they take their health seriously.

There are dresses for sale on a rack by the cold cabinets and on the bar area there are second hand handbags and scuffed Jimmy Choo shoes for sale. I didn’t really register it when I was there, but now that I write it down, it does seem rather odd.  I don’t know if they are there all the time or only rolled out for the weekends.

However, the restaurant itself is a pleasant little room with good use of mirrors and bookshelves to give off the impression you are in your living room.  There is a nice little terrace overlooking the Media City lake, which might be enough to get me back in cooler months.

I wish a restaurant serving breakfast would get creative with their egg choices. There must be hundreds of innovative, fresh and exciting egg recipes out there. Out of nine egg options on the menu, three were variations of omelette, four were variations of benedict, and one was your choice of eggs. The only original and interesting egg dish was the eggs baked in avocado with cayenne and parmesan.  So, of course, I went for the breakfast burrito, which was nice, but I expected something better. It was too similar to a Zataar Zeit wrap, and I think that’s because they both use a lot of cheese and there were no other flavours bursting through.

The Serb had the ham and cheese omelette, which in presentation could have been fluffier. But, the Serb seemed to enjoy it, and when asked for feedback she said, “It’s really good. You can’t taste the egg.” I have no idea what that means and as usual, I’m too scared to ask.

Urban Bistro emphasizes the message of healthy eating and super foods, but still adorns the menu with burgers, pasta alfredos and club sandwiches.  Which just confirms what I believe all along.  If asked in a survey, my preference between a quinoa salad and a Big Mac, I’ll tick the quinoa salad every day of the week. However, in reality, you better supersize those fries. But give me a diet coke, please.

Having said that, the menu actually looks solid. There is nothing there that hasn’t been done before, and the place won’t win any awards for originality, but there are some interesting interpretations of some classics. The risk is, of course, that if you are targeting office workers two or three times a week, your menu needs to be kept fresh and relevant. The print date on the menu was October 2014. Almost a year without change. Just a observation.

The service was smooth and the coffee was good. I don’t know if the handbags and shoes shrine had some sort of laws of attraction thing going on, but there were significantly more women than men having breakfast.   The men were probably ordering their Big Macs. However, everyone seemed happy.

Urban Bistro is a nice little place, probably very popular for the Media City crowd, and a nice place for a breakfast if you are in the area.   They know who they are, and in that, they are authentic Dubai.

The Serb is still there, looking at the shoes and handbags.

minilogo Urban Bistro

I know that traditionally, these sort of predictions are made at the end of the year as funky little fillers for trade websites.  I predict that’s all about to change.  Here are my top five predictions on what’s in store for the restaurant world in the future.  I say top five, but to be honest I only came up with five in total.

Surge Pricing

 As restaurants compete with traditional entertainment forums, multiple table turns will become harder to achieve and profits will be threatened.  Get ready for the Uber model ofsurge pricing.  You want to eat at 8 pm, you’re going to pay 10% more.

Total Transparency.

A halal or organic logo on the menu will no longer be enough.  There is going to be a tidal wave of information that the restaurateur will need to come clean about; calories, sugars,fats, additives and preservatives.  All this information will be made available to the customer, through mandatory laws enforced by governing bodies.  All processed foods from saucesto meat patties will be regulated and controlled.  Restaurants can no longer claim ignorance or hide behind vague labels.  Accountability is coming.

Restaurant Tickets.

Tock, the ticketing software built by Nick Kokonas, allows restaurants to sell tickets to their customers.  It reduces the bankrupting no-show or last minute cancellations and makessure the customer, and the restaurant are taking the reservation seriously.  You buy theatre tickets, airline tickets and movie tickets up-front – why not restaurant tickets too?

Don’t just sell food – sell time.

The millennials want immediacy; they want speed.  They want now.  Customers will be able to place their food order, whilst they are on their way to the restaurant.  Restaurantswill work to the customer’s schedule.  That’s what Netflix, Tinder and Uber all do.  That’s what restaurants will do.

Take-away and delivery – but not as we know it.

Early in 2015 and for the first time in history, Americans spent more money in restaurants and bars than they did on groceries.  Home delivery and e-commerce will hit this industrylike a sledge hammer.  I’m not talking your fast food burger meal arriving semi cold in 45 minutes after fourteen phone calls with a lost delivery boy.  I’m talking premium restaurantfood, delivered efficiently and accurately to your door.  Fast Fine Food – it’s on the way.

Bonus Food Sheikh Thought!

 The restaurants that are going to excel will sell something extremely uncomplicated. Chicken, steak, good times, social credibility, nostalgia. One of them will do, but not all of them.There is profit in simplicity.