I never thought I would say this, but I think Dubai needs more Masterbakers.

This is in no way throwing shade at the existing Masterbakers, but as a craft, it has not evolved in Dubai as much as it has across the globe.  Also, there are some excellent Masterbakers in some of the 5-star hotels, but they often play a supporting role in banquets, buffets and room service.

The Serb woke up wishing there was a local bakery serving fresh, warm baked goods, straight from the oven that we could have breakfast at.  By local, I think she literally meant downstairs in our kitchen as she seemed disappointed that we would have to leave the house.

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With everyone distracted by the newly opened La Mer, I thought a quick trip to JBR’s Beach might be a quiet, pleasant way to spend a weekend morning.  Pleasant, it was, quiet it was not.  Dubai has a habit of stuffing more and more retail projects into densely populated areas of Dubai, and the Marina is no exception.  The new harbour construction is well underway, and with the tram, traffic and small diversions, it turns a quick trip for a relaxing breakfast into a road trip that almost requires overnight provisions and an extended mixtape playlist.

I know Bouchon Bakery has been open for a while, but the concept intrigues me because it is a partnership between Chef Thomas Keller, whose US restaurants have 7 Michelin Stars between them and Alshaya of Starbucks and Shake Shack franchise fame.

Bouchon Bakery has taken over the old Paradis Du Fruit location on The Beach Walk.  If you had never heard of it, you weren’t alone.  It made barely a ripple when it was open and closed just as quietly, unfortunately.

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Bouchon Bakery has taken the space and utilized a light, Parisian inspired décor to pleasing effect.  There is a homely, whimsical and nostalgic feel to the place, without being overly forced or manufactured.  Quite an achievement for Alshaya, which I sometimes feel is a real estate company first and a retailer second.  The indoor palm trees added a hint of the exotic, and the traditional booths, globe lights, and brass detailing balanced the space out.  The bakery’s accordion doors were open, allowing the indoors outdoors, the Gulf’s cool morning air bringing a subtle Californication to the whole experience.

The bakery choices are unfortunately a little bit too familiar, but that is to be expected as Bouchon was created in the image of the famous traditional boulangeries of France.  Viennoiserie such as strawberry croissants and pain au chocolate, almond croissants and blueberry muffins are also familiar mainstays of other bakeries across Dubai as well.  However, where Keller hints at some creativity is to give space to some lessor known bakes, such as Monkey Bread, Streusel Cake, and Cheese Danish.

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I’ve watched enough GBBO to know that climate and humidity can greatly affect the consistency and quality of the bake and I’ve heard Dubai’s kitchens are notoriously difficult to work in when it comes to proving, rising and baking.

The Serb wanted the BLTE, and so did I.  I said we couldn’t order the same thing, especially if we are doing a review.  So, after a brief discussion, I magnanimously changed my order to the Croque Madame.  Having won that standoff, the Serb then changed her order to the chicken salad pretzel sandwich.

I also ordered three pastries as well.  For research purposes of course.  Pain du chocolat for direct market comparison, a lemon currant scone, and streusel cake to test the skills of the kitchen. Call me Mr. Hollywood.

Service was satisfactory, but I almost forgot to even mention it, such was the perfunctory nature of the overall engagement of the staff.  That’s the big question, can a huge franchisor pull off “local community” service? Answers on a postcard.

The Croque Madam – two slabs of brioche with slivers of turkey ham and cheese, topped with a fried egg and drowned with sauce Mornay.  Sauce Mornay is a béchamel sauce with cheese added.  Some argue that extra egg yolks and mustard seed should be included, and I feel this dish would have benefited from that particular recipe.  The sauce was quite thin, pale and very mild in flavour.  I missed the gentle punch that a cheese like Gruyère should have provided.  If a cheese was in the sauce, I missed it.  I would also mention that the brioche was probably a 1/8 of an inch too thick, but I won’t because I don’t want to nitpick.

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The Serb’s pretzel chicken sandwich arrived, and she announced that pretzel bread is her most favourite bread ever.  I wanted to mention that this was the first time I’ve ever seen her eat pretzel bread in my life.  Instead, I just nodded encouragingly and popped a piece of brioche into my mouth, thankful for its thickness.  However, the pretzel bread was excellent – the softness of the bake, the chew of the crust, the sweet-salty flavour all came together.  The roast chicken filling was mixed with cranberries and pecans in a yogurt dressing.  A really pleasant sandwich.

The three pastries arrive on a wooden board topped and tailed by small pots of butter and jam.  Their quality was undeniable.  The chocolate in the pain au chocolat was generous and premium, elevating this staple croissant to the higher echelons of Viennoiseries.

The winner for me was the lemon currant scone – a tangy sweet scone that was firm, yet broke away into satisfying chunks, ready to be generously smeared with lightly salted soft butter. It was buttery and soft, with small nuggets of chewy currants interspersed throughout and a freshness that only lemons can bring.  I could have eaten eight more.

The streusel cake was also surprisingly good – less sweet than it’s associates, quite delicate with a subtle layer of cocoa running through it like a geographical fault line.  It also tasted great smeared with butter, but then again, most things do.

As for the coffee, perhaps go elsewhere – it’s not their strength.

Chef Keller has left some excellent recipes with the kitchen team here in Dubai, and several months in, they are still executing it very well.

I think Bouchon Bakery has gone a long way to filling that gap of good quality European style bakeries and I look forward to them providing a good alternative to Paul’s in a few more locations. However, can they fit into that local micro-community space? I’m not so sure.

Having said that, I wouldn’t mind if there was a box of lemon currant scones in my kitchen every morning, and we all know how much The Serb loves pretzel bread. It’s her favourite apparently.

invoice

 

Breakfast for two – 197.40 AED
Bouchon Bakery
The Beach
04 441 90772

Straws are so convenient for us humans!  We don’t have to tilt our head too far back when drinking.  It minimises repetitive arm movement.  You can shoot the papers ends off them at your friends.  You can slurp loudly during movies.  Straws make people’s lives better every day.

Except they don’t.  They really don’t.  Five hundred million straws are used every day in the USA, and we are on track to having more plastic in our ocean than wildlife in just a few decades.  There is a pile of garbage in the Pacific that is the size of Texas.  Let that sink in – the size of Texas, just floating there.  It even has its own Wikipedia page.  And you must have all seen that video of the poor turtle with the straw up his nose.

Luckily, 2018 seems to be the year of change; of challenging the status quo, and there is a movement that is building through campaigns such as Friends of the Earth and the #Stopsucking hashtag.

Here in Dubai, it took someone like Ian Ohan at Freedom Pizza to make the first move.  In hindsight, of course, it was Ian.  I don’t think anyone else could have done it.  Ian and Freedom Pizza are at the forefront of standing up for principles, for doing what’s morally right, often over what’s commercially right.  It’s why Freedom Pizza has such a tremendous amount of goodwill currency within the market.  They announced that they would stop adding single-use straws and plastic cutlery to their deliveries, and just like that, the blue touch paper was lit.

Image credit - @nowastewahine
Image credit – @nowastewahine

Naim Maadad, CEO of Gates Hospitality instructed his portfolio of restaurants to also support this movement.  Restaurants such as Bistro Des Arts, Folly by Nick and Scott, Publique, Reform, The Black Lion, Ultra Brasserie and Via Veneto all signed up to go strawless, and suddenly this movement is starting to gain some traction.   When a prominent restaurant group like Gates Hospitality commit to something like this, it gives reassurance to others that their world will not end if they don’t supply single-use plastic straws with their drinks.

Not to be outdone, Emma Banks from Jumeirah Restaurant Group has also announced that her entire restaurant group will ban all plastics in their restaurants, not stopping just at straws, but also stirrers, swizzle sticks and more.  That is huge.  Jumeirah Restaurant Group has some pretty high-profile stakeholders, and the exposure alone from this announcement is hugely significant.  Plus, JRG serves a huge number of international tourists, meaning this message is for the world, not just our city.

Please join me in commending these restaurants and the commitment their leaders have made towards helping make the planet a better place for every living thing, including poor turtles.  Let’s thank them for improving our neck mobility and for potentially making movie theatres quieter.

You, too, can support this initiative by refusing your straw and telling the restaurant you are not eight years old anymore and you can drink from a big cup with no handles.  When you order delivery or drive through, tell the restaurant you don’t want a straw, if it is plastic.  Shoot the paper end at them, if they aren’t listening.  No, don’t do that.  Just let them know your point of view and demand change.  Consumers drive change through their actions and what’s great about this, is there are many, many solutions already available in the market.  Recycled paper straws, biodegradable straws, and plant-based straws have all been developed – we just need to ask for them.

I also wanted to try come up with some workable and sensible solutions to living without straws that we could apply to our daily lives.  I couldn’t think of any so here are some ridiculous and unfeasible ones instead.

  1. Restaurants hire extra staff with tiny ladles to pour beverages into customers mouths at regular intervals throughout their meal.
  1. You can buy your own reusable straw and keep it in your handbag or suit pocket. They can be retractable and customised, or in true Dubai style, made from precious metals and “strajazzled.” Totally made up that word.
  1. Dubai invests in a massive Dabbawalla style delivery service, that moves hundreds of thousands of personal straws around Dubai every day, with unerring accuracy.

Jokes aside, please share this article to increase awareness of this important issue and start demanding change from the restaurants you dine in.  You are the difference. You are the change agents.  We are the world.  We are the children.

FoodSheikh guest contributor Pandasfoodbelly is a multi-talented, third culture kid.  She loves food and music and dancing.  Most of her emotions are linked to food.  She generously shares a few of them with us.  Do you have a go-to food?  Comment below.

You can find her on Instagram @Pandasfoodbelly

Allow me to reintroduce myself, let emotions and food redefine themselves.  I was born in a land with nothing but desert, then raised in a city with outdoor leisure.  Graduated with Law and Psych in my pocket, then back to Dubai for full-fledged flourish. Take a step into my mind and experience these pleasures, then leap out, go on, and enjoy your own type of treasures.

Chocolate.  Sweet like chocolate.  If you’re allergic to chocolate, I don’t suggest this read – but me… I’m a chocoholic.  Also the type of person that resorts to the comfort of chocolate when something heavy is on my mind.  Depending on the gravity of the situation and the level of thought required, I would grab a bar of snickers while working long hours or if it’s something more deep, and something I can’t even figure out, I’ll want that chocolate fondant.

Why? Because I know fondant.  I know it will be good.  I know that when I cut through the cake, the chocolate will flow and so will the heavy thoughts, out of my head. And as I dip the warm chocolate into the vanilla ice cream, I’ll forget momentarily that I had any heavy thoughts. Yes, it has to be vanilla.  That bite is simply perfection.  A match made in heaven.  As your taste buds awaken and are aware of what’s going on, they rejoice at the contrasting tastes, temperatures, and textures.  Once that bite is over, your eyes rejoice at what remains on the plate.  Because there’s more! Before you know it, it’s annihilated, as are the heavy thoughts.

Sorry, what heavy thoughts?

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Pizza. It’s the first type of food that comes to my mind when I think parties, movie nights, game nights, and any night for that matter.  Suitable for all occasions. I have a very fond memory of pizza.  One in particular for that matter… Pizza Hut.  When I was living in New Zealand, Pizza Hut was basically the only fast food chain that would deliver so late at night… yes, 11PM/12AM was and still is super late in New Zealand.  Now, this is when I was a kid.  My older brother used to come back from boarding school on the weekends. It was the most exciting thing about my weekend.  Having him home for a couple of days before dropping him back with mum on Sunday night.  He probably wasn’t that excited to see me because he claims I was super annoying. Yah ok sure, I beg to differ. Anyways, Pizza.

So as kids we’d spend our Friday and Saturday nights at home, but we’d stay up late. Honestly, there really wasn’t much to do at night in Auckland about 17 years ago. However, we are huge movie junkies. He probably loved watching movies with me because I wouldn’t be talking to him at the time. Well, I wasn’t allowed to. We’d always rent out movies and watch them late.  So obviously we’d need food at the time, and we’d always order pizza.  I wouldn’t have much choice on the pizza but I’ve been a foodie since I was a kid and I knew I’d be eating 3 slices of whatever we got.  The usual flavor of choice was cheese and tomatoes, with chunky tomatoes and thick crust.  That was the dream for me.  I lived for those late night dinners while watching movies.  A lot of the times they were the Fast and Furious movies.  To date, Pizza hut and the Fast and the Furious hold a really special place in my heart.  I got pizza and coke late at night on the weekend, while watching a movie with my too cool for school brother.  Definitely some of the best nights as a child for me.

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Coffee. My favourite drink in the world.  I just love coffee.  It’s unconditional.  And the love grows stronger as my hours get longer at work.  My best friend.  There with me in the good and the bad, and through the thick and thin.  That glorious moment when the frothy milk touches my lips, and I taste the sensational flavour of well roasted coffee beans.  Life is made.  I love a good cappuccino, latte or flat white.  I don’t discriminate.  But sometimes, just sometimes, I want it black.  There are certain places that create such an incredible brew, that you just need to taste the full flavor, without the comfort of milk.  The beauty of it lies in the instant boost of energy a well-brewed cuppa black coffee gives you.  It’s fabulous! But when you have the time, and are in the mood for a cosy coffee, a cappuccino is the way to go.  It’s smooth, creamy and milky texture, can make you feel as full as the kind of milk you should be drinking when enjoying that cup of goodness.  I really do love coffee.  Can you tell?
Instagram:- @Pandasfoodbelly

Are we falling out of love with restaurants?

It is a horrible question to ask and a depressing notion to comprehend, but is Dubai falling out of love with the traditional restaurant experience?  When a new restaurant opens, we all go “Yay!’  But I’m sure there is, secretly, an inward groan highlighting our larger concerns. Keep shoving something down someone’s throat and they will eventually wretch.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.  I used to love Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn until it was played on every single radio station over and over; until I couldn’t bear the sound of it.

I fear for the enthusiasm of the market – I fear that because of this continuous, incessant stream of restaurant opening in every conceivable space in Dubai, people are, at the very worst, going to get bored and at the very least, ambivalent of this industry.  I fear for the over-reliance on F&B as the magic bullet that will solve all of retail’s problems.  Foot traffic down? Bring in some food trucks.  Got some dead retail space to fill?  Open some F&B kiosks.  Our industry’s saving grace has been a resilience and enthusiasm from our customers to continue to support the thousands and thousands of seats available across the city, every night of the week.  I fear for that continued gusto.

Perhaps people are bored already.  Home delivery is on the up and restaurant reservations are down. People are choosing Netflix’s The Crown and Uber Eats over traffic and a restaurant.  Deliveroo is building restaurants that live on their app as a “delivery only” option.  We’re not even bothering to build restaurants anymore – just a hot stove and a bike.

How have we got to that point where our restaurants are being threatened by luke-warm food (that is usually far below restaurant quality), impersonally delivered with little emotional attachment.  How have we become happy with an automated message asking for a rating as a replacement for an engaging, genuine table touch by a restaurant professional?

How have we got to the point where the majority of restaurants don’t need a reservation on a Thursday night, yet we have to wait up to an hour and a half for food delivery due to heavy demand?

The reasons are simple.

Too much mediocracy, not enough innovation.
Too much capitalism, not enough connection.
Too much ego, not enough egalitarianism.
Too much social media, not enough social skills.
Too much management, not enough ownership.

So, what’s the solution? How do we, as an industry, keep that fire alive?  How do we avoid becoming irrelevant?  We desperately need our guests to care about us because if they stop caring about us, we are lost.

Luckily, my thinking didn’t end there.  There are three things that I’ve identified as a food writer and a food professional that we, as an industry need to consider and get better at.

1. Accessibility

Is the restaurant easily within reach of your customers, physically, psychologically and financially?  Being accessible to your guest is ultimately about convenience.  How easy is it to visit the restaurant?  This includes fighting traffic, hunting for parking and distance traveled to get there.  Once there, how ‘open’ is the place?  A guest needs to feel welcomed and important from the moment they walk in, not alienated and awkward.  Finally, how accessible is the pricing of the experience?  The pricing should aim to encourage repeat visits, not remind guests to stay at home and order a chicken biryani.

2. Innovation

Innovation is the cornerstone of progress, especially in a fast-moving industry such as F&B.  It doesn’t have to be expensive; in fact, innovation is often born from frugality.  However, the very best restaurants are pushing boundaries and keeping things fresh.  Smashed avocado and kale will only get you so far.  A chef’s real job is to continuously explore flavours and technique.  A restaurant owners real job is to continuously reinvent service and experience.  Not enough restaurants here innovate.

3. Emotional connection.

This is the hardest to achieve, but the most powerful.  I’ve used this quote many times, but the great Grandmaster Flash once said, “Conquer your street.  Conquer your park.  Conquer your neighbourhood, and the world is yours.” Restaurants need to have a connection to the community they are in.  The local hairdressers should know the restaurant owners name.  The local dental clinic receptionist should have eaten there recently.  The guests should know who’s behind the business and buy into why they are doing what they’re doing.  Suddenly you’re not just eating at Café Abbaca; you’re supporting Lubna and Jonathan, and their dream of running a successful neighbourhood café.  You become part of that journey, part of something special.

What do you think? Are we falling out of love with restaurants? What do restaurants need to do better to get bums on seats? Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Comment below!

Originally, back in 1909 when International Women’s Day started, it was a day of protests and marches, in cities all over the world. Women across the globe marched for equal rights and the right to vote.  They marched for the right to hold public office.  They marched against employment discrimination, and they marched for equality and parity.  International Women’s Day became a moment in a calendar where women’s issues were allowed to be discussed and where women’s achievements were allowed to be celebrated, and the incredible struggles of women who have paved the way for others were recognised.

But guess what – it’s 2018 and #TimesUp on International Women’s Day because women aren’t waiting for March 8th to let their voices be heard.  They aren’t limiting themselves to 24 hours of appreciation for their contribution to this planet.  The IWD is no longer just a single day – it is a movement – a powerful tide of progress, a seismic shift in the balance of gender equality and I’d like to talk a little about my experience of women in my industry.

Let’s start by calling it for how it is – globally, in the very best examples, women are underpaid, under-promoted and held to ridiculous standards.  In the worst examples, they are subject to sexual harassment and blatant discrimination.  There are always outliers, but for the most part, these observations hold true, especially in F&B.

So, please remember that any woman working in the F&B industry probably has as much, if not more grit, determination and resolve than her male counterpart.  It is likely she has been teased, touched and tormented by co-workers and customers alike.  Malicious or not, it is the same; it happens every day, and nevertheless, she persisted.

So, let’s not use today to offer a dinner discount or a free glass of bubbly to women.  Let’s make a commitment to acknowledge that without women in our restaurant kitchens, we would have less creativity, discipline, and innovation.  Without women in our dining rooms, we would have less harmony and balance and less genuine hospitality.  Without women in management, we would have less clarity and focus, less perspective and vision.  Women in our industry bring balance, energy, intelligence and grit to our businesses. And they do it every single day, not “once a year.”

So, I would like to shout out to all the women in our great industry – the chefs, sous chefs and commis, all the bartenders, cocktail servers and waitresses, all the hostesses, and supervisors, all the managers, and leaders that bring such balance, strength, and vitality to our industry.  My hat is off to you, and it remains off.

Please share this article with any women in the industry that need a shout out!

In the Willy Wonka world of La Mer, with its bucket showers, pavement paintings and Insta-perfect landscaping, a selection of restaurants vie for the crowds’ attention and custom.  However, it’s a vicious dog eat dog world out there on the brutal, unforgiving boardwalk of La Mer.

Cartoon eyes hang from trees, wet floor signs are in the shape of bananas, dramatic angel wings are painted on walls, large cartoon octopus and sharks pose for photographs, and hundreds of multicoloured slinkies hang from ceilings.  It is an experiential overload and restaurants are stuck in the middle of it like a puppet ventriloquist suddenly finding themselves competing in the middle of a Cirque du Soleil performance.

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Instagrammers beware – it seems like Slab didn’t get the memo.  The restaurant is understated and subtle and with monotone greys, concrete and architectural lines, it is urban, uncluttered and clean.  Slab is a respite for the eyes and a well-needed rest from the visual assault of La Mer’s “sense of place.”

There is also a terrace that overlooks a small little pond.  The pond was, of course, filled with hundreds of floating yellow plastic ducks, much to the dismay of the restaurant, I’m sure.

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Yellow Ducks

In the absence of anything Instagram-able, I’m pretty sure I saw a table of Instagrammers sitting in total silence, phones out but motionless, like zombies waiting for some kind of peripheral movement to activate them.

We sat inside, and a friendly waiter arrived with the menus.  He introduced himself and offered some recommendations on what we should order.  He was chatty and seemed honest and genuine.  He even managed to mention that his father had called him that morning from Serbia.  It seemed relevant at the time.

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Slab serves classy tartines and main courses.  Tartines are basically just half a sandwich, but because they are French, they get away with it.  The menu is clever, taking the tartine fillings and turning them into more substantial main course offerings.  This allows a fuller menu in a smaller kitchen.   The flavours are globally inspired – there were influences coming in from the Middle East, Europe, and the Far East – however, it is a menu that doesn’t overstretch or overcomplicate itself.  It is clean, unfussy food.

Because our waiter was from Serbia, The Serb attempted to place her order in a deep southern American twang in case he noticed her accent.  It was a good move, but I’m not sure why she put on her sunglasses as well though.  As you might have learned by now, it’s best not to ask.

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We ordered the West Bank Chicken Tartine, a Fragrant Chicken Salad, the Duck Confit Brioche, and the Organic Salmon Sandwich with avocado puree.  We also had some cassava crisps and sweet potato fries.

The music in Slab was a little too loud for the number of people in the restaurant. However, the playlist was pretty good, with eclectic songs from NAS to The Cat Empire.

While we waited for our mains, I’m pretty sure I saw our waiter trying to sink a few yellow ducks out by the pond, but I could have been mistaken.  Eventually, our food was ready and arrived at the table in very attractive plates and bowls.

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The West Bank Chicken Tartine came alive with the sumac and pine nuts, but the caramelized onions brought a little too much sweetness for me.  The bread was soft and had a great char to it, enhancing flavor and texture.

The fragrant chicken salad was a little misleading – the promised mixed greens turned out to be just chopped kale – however, this actually gave it much more body and substance.  The dressing was bright and lively and balanced out the kale’s bitterness.  The pears and walnuts brought in a breezy summer feel.

For me, the Duck Confit Brioche was the winner.  The umami of the duck contrasted wonderfully against the sweetness of the brioche, and the plum puree was subtle and didn’t overpower the sandwich.  The duck meat was generous and cooked beautifully.DSCF0508

The salmon was a little overcooked for me, but I like my salmon almost translucent, and the rest of the table ignored my comment.  It came with an avocado puree and long strands of pickled cucumber.  A solid, well-constructed dish, although quite safe and simple.

Overall, the presentation of the food was excellent, it must be said.  You know the plating is going to be good when the Chef has flowers and tweezers on the kitchen counter.

Our waiter returned to ask us if we wanted some desserts.  We did, and we ordered the cheesecake and the chocolate bar, which prompted a story from our waiter on how his grandmother makes the best brownies in the world.  It was refreshing and enjoyable to be included in such enthusiasm, and we might visit her on our next trip to Serbia.

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The chocolate bar was far too stodgy and rich; it is a heavy, decadent dish that takes commitment and work to get through it.  Maybe our waiter’s grandmother could hand over her recipe.  The cheesecake, however, was blinding – the semolina and pistachio crust was moist and chewy, and the yogurt cheesecake was light, fragrant and moreish.  A real surprise dish for me and one I would return for.

When is a sandwich not a sandwich? When it’s a tartine from Slab.  The combination of consultant Chef Thomas Reger’s creativity and Chef Omar’s mastery of flavours means Slab serves up some pretty tasty food.  It is an interesting addition to La Mer, and part of me thinks it might do better with a more elevated menu and a wine list.  But that is totally a compliment to how seriously Slab takes their sandwiches.

Well Done Slab.

invoice

 

Slab at La Mer
04 298 8899
Lunch for 4 – 492 AED

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

Two and a half years ago, I started on a journey to experience restaurants and create helpful, credible and entertaining reviews.  I gave myself a few self-imposed rules to follow, without exception. I would always review independently, anonymously and fairly.  I would never get on my high horse and belittle, embarrass or berate.  This was not an egocentric mission to blast the smallest of errors but to give the restaurant a genuine summary of their performance.  Every review I write has two audiences – one is the consumer who wants to learn about the restaurant and be entertained at the same time.  The other is the restaurants themselves.  I try to offer genuine advice and feedback with each review, with the hope that FoodSheikh can play a small part in helping the industry raise its standards – one restaurant at a time.

I have reached a milestone in my journey – I have just finished my 100th review.  It may not seem a lot – especially against the thousands of restaurants in Dubai, but for me it is significant, because each review is a story in itself – one thousand words of research, knowledge, and narrative.  It is a portfolio I am proud of, and I am grateful for all the people I have met along the way.

I’ve developed a significant audience across all my platforms.  It’s not the biggest audience, but they are intelligent, engaged and supportive and I wouldn’t swap them for anything.  Every review is read thousands of times, reaching into the hundreds of thousands in totality, if you include everyone who clicks through from other platforms as well.

Here are a few highlights from one hundred restaurant reviews

The Ingredients (serves 100 restaurants):-lily-lvnatikk-540998

52,560 Aed – Amount spent on restaurant bills alone.  No alcohol included.
451 – Number of dishes eaten.
116 Aed – Average dish price.
525 Aed – Average Check (for two)
3 hours – the time it takes to write a review
5 hours – the time it takes to research for a review.
13% – % of restaurants reviewed that have since closed.

 

 

Methodology/What I’ve learned.

I can count the great restaurants on one hand. The rest fit into a mosh pit of mediocracy.  Originality cannot be celebrated enough.  You can tell how committed or passionate the owner is within 3 minutes of walking into a place.  The art of the table touch is dead.  Only 18% of reviews had a meaningful table touch by a manager or supervisor.  Genuine hospitality is still an issue in F&B service.  Avocados, so many avocados.  Most restaurants are 40% too big.  Bread quality is mediocre.  Foodies can spot an influencer fluff piece a mile away.  Nothing is as important as overall experience.  Facebook is the blogger’s frenemy.  Restauranteurs trump hoteliers when it comes to F&B, hands down.  Ingredients maketh meal.  The word authentic is overused and misunderstood.  Some PR companies don’t truly understand restaurants.  Celebrity Chefs will have to work harder.  Restaurants are obsessed with escapism.  Always tip in cash.  Eating out is expensive.

What year are we in?  Is this 1903?  Pepsico is creating snacks exclusively designed for women.  I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast where the CEO of Pepsico (who is female) claims that women don’t want their Doritos to crunch “too loudly”, they don’t like licking their fingers in public, and they want to be able to carry their snacks in their purses.  Apparently, Pepsico is getting ready to launch several lady specific snack ranges very soon.  The backlash in the media has been swift and brutal.  #ladydoritos.   I’m assuming women would like equal pay, not crunchless crisps!

I feel like we’ve taken an enormous step backward and this got me thinking, the F&B industry has a terrible misconception of women – for all our advances in technology and ingredient trends, food provenance, and ethical farming, it is embarrassing how the industry communicates with the female audience, even in Dubai.

Reese Witherspoon created a film company which came out with some pretty big hits, amongst them are Big Little Lies and Gone Girl.  She created this company with the desire to create films that not only have female characters in them, but that have female leads that are mysterious, deep, confusing, brave, controversial… all the things that a regular woman is.  Why can’t we communicate to all the nuances of the female gender instead of assuming all she wants is pink, sparkles and unicorns?

Almost twenty-five years ago, back in 1994, a company called Six Continents asked the question, “how do we make the British pub more accessible to women?” Surprisingly, they asked a bunch of women, and the answers were simple and effective.  Improve the bathrooms.  Put hooks under the bar counter for scarfs, jackets and handbags.  Provide more comfortable seating.  Improve the food.  Have lots of windows so you can see the atmosphere before walking in.  Ban all football shirts, to eliminate “tribes” and conflict.  These are pragmatic, respectful and obvious considerations and in hindsight apply to both genders.  This is how All Bar One was born.

Fast forward quarter of a century and we seem to have gotten worse.  How restaurants talk to their female customers is downright embarrassing at times.  I’ve seen many ads that have gentrified the eating experience, or the food, or the ambiance, to attempt to appeal to a female audience. The thing is, women are far more nuanced than needing to gentrify anything.

Traditional steakhouses trying to appeal to the female audience use tag-lines “Not your daddy’s steakhouse.”  Really?

They use adverts that highlight the legs and lips of the women who are supposedly the restaurant’s target customers.  If anything stimulates a woman’s appetite for a piece of meat, it’s seeing another woman being treated like one.

Restaurants give cocktails names like “French Kiss” or “Pink Elegance” because those will clearly make their female audience feel cute and sexy and asking a bartender for a French Kiss is totally not awkward.   It gives the term “switch and bait” a whole new meaning!

Dubai’s ladies’ nights probably allow for the best/worst examples.  Close-ups of women’s lips, pictures of red lipstick, handbags and high-heels adorn most of the promotional flyers.  Three free drinks and discounted food seems to be what the entire market has agreed it will take for women to act as bait for men to visit a venue.  Bonus points for pink champagne and super sweet cocktails.

Check out a few of these real ladies night names.

Lipstick Ladies. Gossip Sundays.  Leave Your Boyfriend At Home.  Pink Elephant.  One for the Girls.  12-inch Tuesdays.  Friends with Benefits.  Pin Up.  Lost Angels.  Mile High Club.  Sparkle in the Sand.  Go, Geisha.  Her Night.  Dollified.  Boom Boom.  Berries and Bubbles.  Miss Independent.  Lady Liberty. Guilt-Free Ladies Night.  Ladies on Top.

Come on Dubai – can’t we do better than demeaning names and free pink drinks?

 

If a British artist decided to open a café and build it, largely by himself, in some obscure space, in some unknown neighbourhood, then that is what Cabin would be.

Which is funny, because that’s exactly what happened.

Food and art is not a new thing – not by a long shot.  Food has always played a role in art.  Even Stone Age cave painters used vegetable juice and animal fats in their paints.  Going even further back, when More Café first opened, they used their walls as a canvas for local artists.  Some might even say the combination of food and art has been a little overdone.

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However, Jonny Gent is a legit artist – his work has been shown in galleries and exhibitions worldwide.  Serious art collectors seek out his work.  He has been featured in globally recognized publications.  He gets inspiration from cool stuff like books, music, food, gardens, castles, cars and the way his dad shaves.  He has also just opened a café in Barsha South.  I have no idea why, but I’m glad he did.

Cabin is an indoor/outdoor, upstairs/downstairs kind of place.  It’s quirky, amateur and unpolished.  It is clearly a labour of love for Gent.  The patio is encased by a large untreated plywood fence.  If you look up, there are ripped strips of bedsheets that provide somewhat unequal shading for diners.  If you look down, there is rough concrete flooring and dusty plants.  It is as if my dad had built it over a long weekend.

Naked Man

The patio is actually on an incline, so nothing is quite straight.  If the chef serves anything round, he’ll be in trouble, as it is likely to roll off the plate and into Barsha South.  Peas, melon balls, meatballs, grapes, cherry tomatoes – these are all off limits to the chef.  It must be difficult to work with such culinary restrictions.

Inside is a narrow-elevated corridor that is home to a curated selection of arty stuff.  Notepads, pens, books, small naked men, etc.  All of it is available for purchase.

The actual café is down a short flight of stairs where the kitchen shares the room with several large American style booths.  There is, of course, art on the walls, although I didn’t see the Warhol or the Hirst that are apparently on display there.  However, I wouldn’t know Picasso’s Pomegranates from Munch’s sunflowers if they hit me in the face.  The room is like a studio – it is functional, quirky and welcoming.  It is also a little rough around the edges.  The extraction doesn’t get rid of the stronger smells, and seating efficiency is terrible.  The décor is an extension of Jonny’s personality, once would assume.  It is charming and unpretentious.

IMG_1327They hand out complimentary carafes of mineral water infused with long strips of cucumber, which is a nice touch and should be recognised.  However, ice would have also been a nice touch, as the carafe got quite warm in the sun, and warm cucumber water is not particularly refreshing.

The service is laid back but good – friendly, accessible staff, clearly empowered and respected by the management there.  They are happy to engage in conversation and seem to know many of the customers and their dogs too.  (Guests brought their dogs with them – they weren’t just asking after people’s dogs, randomly.)

We ordered the broccoli and bulgur wheat and the grilled cheese sandwich.  The Serb very nearly had the cheeseburger, but has recently watched some Netflix food program and has decided she doesn’t want to eat meat for a while.  She ordered the chicken Caesar salad instead.  I know.caesar salad

They brought us some sliced bread with a quarter of a demitasse worth of butter.  I see in older reviews the bread used to come with cherry tomatoes as well, but for reasons I’ve already explained, they have had to replace them with a ratatouille of some sort.  Probably.

The menu is elevated café food – it’s tight, with just a few options covering a single page, but with enough variety to satiate most dietary requests.

The chicken Caesar salad arrived with big chunks of rustic croutons and a well-balanced dressing.  The chicken was ridiculously tender and juicy as if it had lived its entire life submerged in some delicious moisturizer bath.  The egg was also perfectly cooked to soft medium as well.  Good job all round on the poultry!

wheat brocoli

The broccoli and bulgur wheat arrived looking like it was waiting for something else to join it on the plate.  An odd presentation style, but a well-constructed dish.  The broccoli was slightly charred and had a hint of spice to it.  The bulgur wheat was well cooked, and its softness found a harmony against the bite of the pomegranate and broccoli.  My only comment would be that the avocado puree did nothing for the dish. It was there because it was avocado, and for me, served no other purpose.

The grilled cheese sandwich is filled with cheddar and taleggio cheese, sweetened with a tomato jam and sealed with a parmesan crust.  The different flavour profiles of the cheese were good, but drowned out a little by the overly sweet tomato jam.  The key to any sandwich is balance. Nothing should be overpowering.

pudding

We ordered the sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream.  It looks nothing like what I saw on their Instagram account and was a bit of a disappointment.  It was cold in the middle, and quite dry, not very sticky and was more of a cupcake than a pudding.

For someone who, one day put down his paintbrush and opened a restaurant, Jonny Gent has done a remarkable job.  It is a work in progress, and I think with every piece of feedback given, Cabin will get better and better.  I look forward to watching their journey.

 

invoice

 

Cabin
Al Barsha South
Info@cabindubai.com
Lunch for two – 210 AED
Cabin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This is a risky review for me, personally.  Even as I type this, I am being watched by an over-protective Serb who is reading every word I write, in case I irk her fellow countrymen over my interpretation of her cuisine.  They say 21 grams is the weight of the human soul.  I might be 21 grams lighter, if I get this review wrong.

IMG_1149121 Grams is an urban Balkan bistro.  The Balkans is the collective term for a bunch of countries, whose relationship status would be “it’s complicated” if they were on Facebook.  It is basically South East Europe.

21 Grams is a cute little modern-day Kafana or tavern, run by a Serbian, and I must tell you, the Serbs know Kafanas.  From the 200-year-old tavern, with just a “?” for a name, to the intimate, smoky Smokvica, the Serbs have understood bistros for generations.

We arrived at the new Park Regis Boutique hotel and found 21 Grams just off the lobby on the right-hand side.  21 Grams is an intimate little place with seating for thirty.  Technically. In reality, it feels much smaller than that.  The place was full when we arrived just after lunch.  I believe that’s the future of restaurants here in Dubai – smaller, more intimate dining rooms, which are easier to fill and have lower rent costs.

We needed a table for four people, and our host, in true Serbian fashion, told a single diner enjoying his coffee to move outside so that we could sit at his table. I felt a little bad, but he didn’t seem to mind, and I’ve learned not to question Serbian decisions too much.

We sat down and had a look around.  It didn’t take long.  It’s a single room, with quaint little sidewalk tables around its perimeter and a larger communal table in the center. There is a service counter in one corner for the bakery items, coffee, and discussions of revolutions.  The room is pleasant, with millennial peaches, residential rugs, bookcases and intimate corner tables and chairs.  It is simple, charming and very natural.

mezze

The place was full of Slavic speaking customers, chatting, relaxing and contemplating whether they should re-join the outside world anytime soon.

Our server handed us each a menu, but we didn’t need one.  The Serb had known what we were going to eat before we had even woken up that morning.  She rattled off our order before we could say ‘ajde.’

We had the mezze to start, which consisted of Kajmak, Ajvar, and Urnebes, which are all dips and not IKEA’s latest bedroom range.  We also had a shopska salad as well.  The trio of dips arrived in quenelles on a terrazzo disc and the shopska in a quaint little side bowl.

Kajmak is one of the most famous of Balkan exports – it’s like a clotted cream cheese, rich, creamy and perfect on warm, crusty chunks of bread.  Their ajvar is a sweet, bell pepper and eggplant relish, creamy red in colour, with a deep, layered smokey flavour, perfect on warm crusty chunks of bread.  The final dip we ordered is the spicy Urnebes, which literally translates to ‘mess.’  It is a cheese, paprika and chili flake spread, confusingly classified as a salad in the Balkans.  It is perfect on warm crusty chunks of bread. The shopska salad was diced cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and onions under a mound of salty feta cheese.  Fresh, lively and filling.

cevapi

Balkan food is naturally eclectic and diverse, thanks to the vast amount of (sometimes) unwanted influences the region has experienced throughout the ages.  From the Romans to the Turks, to the Italians and Germans, the cuisine of the region has benefitted enormously from these influences.

In fact, Balkan cuisine might be one of the world’s most versatile, with flavours and ingredients that are recognizable to many different cultures.  Yet, it is a food that is grounded, almost soulful – preferring simplicity and accessibility over sophistication and fancy.  The Serb wants you to know I am not writing this under duress.

cabbageOur mains were the grilled cevapi, or kebabs, the sarma, the slow cooked lamb and the spring salad.  After the success of the starters, we were looking forward to the mains. Unfortunately, we were made to wait a long time.  I was worried that by the time we got the mains, the Balkans would have formed new international borders with Europe.

They have just opened, so it was clearly a teething issue, but waiting 45 minutes really disrupts the energy and flow of an experience.  However, it did mean we were able to listen to the Balkan’s entire collection of Starogradska Muzika, the traditional folk music, or old city music.  It was surprisingly pleasant.

The mains were cleaner, more polished versions of what I was expecting.  The food is very humble in origin, but 21 Gram’s interpretations elevate them to a much more premium level. The portions were lighter than usual and showed a real understanding of the Jumeirah market.

The cevapi, six little minced beef kebabs, are seasoned and grilled and served with urnebes, onions, and peppers.  A simple, nostalgic dish, with bright flavours and quality meat.

The sarma is sour cabbage rolls, stuffed with seasoned ground beef and sour cream, in a sweet tomato and bell pepper sauce.  The sharpness of the pickled cabbage cut through the umami of the beef, creating a wonderfully balanced, flavourful dish.

lambThe slow cooked lamb was a triumph – tender lamb roll cooked in milk, served with a horseradish sauce and sweet, soft poached apples.  The flavours married perfectly together, creating a delightful harmony.  The lamb was so soft it fell apart like Novak in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

The service would be my only gripe – friendly enough, but not particularly attentive with a few breakdowns in standards.  However, they are newly opened and are for sure still finding their feet.  I’m sure they will improve.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 21 Grams is a place you should visit – the food is relatable and delicious, and the dining room is personal and charming. Congrats to Stasha and Chef Uros for bringing a little bit of Balkan soul to the city.

 

invoice

 

21 Grams – Balkan Urban Bistro
Park Regis Boutique Hotel
Umm Suqeim 3
04 349 0744
Lunch for 4 – 501 AED

 

21 Grams - Urban Balkan Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

The new year hasn’t even got started, and Zahira restaurant at The H Hotel has already closed their doors, after trading for just seven short months.  Two hundred and fifteen days was all it took for the owners to cut their losses and turn off the lights.  That’s like getting a divorce during your honeymoon.

I have walked through a few closed restaurants myself, always with grief and sad reflection.  Where there was once laughter and life and happiness, there is just silence.  Where there was once good food and drinks being enjoyed every day, there is nothing but emptiness.  The restaurant team scattered into the wind, each one of them responsible for finding work that will support their families.  It is a surprisingly emotional event – someone’s hopes, dreams, and savings extinguished.

Zahira was a venue with a dream kitchen team, a slick, well-designed restaurant, and a quite delightful menu, conceived and cooked by none other than Chef Greg Malouf – the “Godfather” of Middle Eastern cooking.  This restaurant should have had a waiting list weeks long.  The food was critically acclaimed and boasted perhaps the best hummus and Ouzi in town.  Greg himself was cooking alongside his talented and trusted head chef, Troy, six nights a week.  The pricing point was excellent, and the bar had some decent bottles behind it.  Alas, after suffering a torrid summer and seeing no upturn in business over the remainder of the year, the writing was on the wall.  In capslock.

Having read the online social and trade commentary about the Zahira closing, and understanding a little of the history of the restaurant, some interesting things became apparent.

The first thing is that the Dubai F&B industry is a close-knit community, despite everyone ferociously fighting for the same diminishing dirham.  When a new place opens, industry colleagues pass by, partly to have a nosey and check out the “new place” but mainly to support and congratulate their industry peers.

Similarly, when a place closes, there is an outpouring of condolences and support, as if a dear friend had passed away.  For the most part, there is a real integrity and mutual respect for what every restauranteur is trying to achieve out here.  It’s these little things, in moments like this, that make me proud to be associated with this industry.

Additionally, the strong empathetic reaction is not just because Greg is a popular chef and personality, but also because every restaurant owner and chef know they could easily become the next Zahira restaurant.  Closure is just a bad weekend away for some operators – that is the reality, unfortunately.

Another thing I realised is how easy it is to perform a back-seat autopsy and claim the closure was because of this or that.  Poor management, an undefined concept, lack of marketing strategy – there are hundreds of reasons why restaurants fail, and it’s easy to throw the blame around when it’s all done and dusted.

The astonishing part and this is what impresses me the most, is the desire to do it all over again.  Reflect, learn (find new investors) and stand back up, again and again.

The very best traits of this industry are its persistence and resilience and eternal optimism.

Zahira might have been the first casualty of 2018, but unfortunately, it won’t be the last.  Yes, the challenges are there, and this is not an attempt to sugar coat them.  The industry is approaching breaking point; rents are crippling, food costs are soaring, disposable income is decreasing, and yet there is hope.  There is determination, and for the very best, for the ones who will win, there is strategy and discipline and a commitment to excellence.

In a market that is softening faster than my soufflé cheesecake, it is remarkable that restauranteurs are still hungry for good locations and opportunities, and ways to serve food experiences that bring joy to the city.

I wish each of us the same resilience and optimism, and the very best for 2018.

DIFC is terrible for providing directions.  The only destinations they want people to know about are their gate numbers.  I’m looking for BB restaurant, and unless I need to board a flight to get there, I don’t need to know what my gate number is.  They’re located at gate eight by the way.

Also, I have no issue with staring at a little “you are here” icon on an information board to orientate myself, although I know DIFC are not going for the whole startled tourist look.  People in DIFC are meant to know exactly where they are going and how to get there at all times.

BB Terrace

BB Social Dining is the latest restaurant to try their luck at the promised DIFC gold mine.  However, with over 60 restaurants open already, and a few recent high-profile closures, there is no guarantee that DIFC will provide a home run for BB Social Dining.

If you are in a wheelchair, heels or simply ate too many mince pies over Christmas, then BB Social Dining is not going to be very social for you.  There are multiple floors, with tiny spiral staircases and lots of awkward steps, nooks, and crannies.  There are also at least three entrances, on three separate levels, not counting the option of bursting through the terrace foliage in sheer desperation of trying to get in.  The space used to be an art gallery – perhaps they closed down because no one could figure out how to get the art out of the shop, once purchased.

Anyway, the staff seemed young, fit and spritely, and I’m sure by their six-month probation, they will all have the lower body definition of an Olympic weightlifter.

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Despite my jest, the place is quite eclectic and the awkwardness I speak of only adds to the character and charm.  There is a quaintness to the décor, a humble nostalgia with black and white flooring and small grandmother curtains on brass rods at the windows.  Yet, the mustard yellow cushions and the steel blue brickwork give the space enough eclecticism to bring it into the modern age.

BB’s tagline is “social dining” which, thanks to the intimacy of the dining rooms, means you have no choice but to be social.  The concept also has a touch of self-indulgence about it.  In their own words, BB boasts of giving the guests a “sense of freedom to design their own experiences based on single-plate meals.”  That’s simply called a menu in all other restaurants.

Speaking of the menu, it is heavily influenced by the East, with bao, bites, bowls, and BBQ as the main sections.  Rumour has it that this is the menu they will serve at the next ASEAN summit.  It’s a rumour I made up.  There are Baos from China, Phos from Vietnam, Ramens from Japan and Brussel Sprouts from, err Santa Claus.  The menu is very inclusive, and unless you are a paleo fruitarian, there is going to find something you like.  If you are actually a paleo fruitarian, I have a number you can call.

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Having not been out for a meal for quite some time, The Serb and I ordered with gusto, enthusiasm, and carefree abandon.  We ordered the butterfish, cauliflower popcorn, chicken pho, crispy leaf potato, Kung Fu wings, crispy duck bao, short ribs bao, and two glasses of water.

The server was helpful, encouraging and knew his way around the menu.  His stamina seemed excellent, running up and down those stairs, but after the seventh dish he brought to the table, he did need to have five minutes on the oxygen tank they keep in the corner.  OK, that’s not entirely true – they don’t have a oxygen tank.

The butterfish was a sashimi dish – six slender gold coins of Japanese butterfish resting in a tangy dressing, topped with finely sliced white asparagus spears.  It had hints of early days OKKU quality; it was that good.

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The popcorn cauliflower was moreish by itself, but the accompanying truffle mayo/dip was far too overpowering and turned the cauliflower into a tasteless vessel for truffle cream, unfortunately.

Both baos were great – not entirely authentic, but certainly addictive.  The duck bun with its lime hoisin sauce was better than the short rib, which we found quite chewy with a slightly odd flavour to it.  Both had generous fillings.

The chicken wings had the right balance of sweetness from the honey, and punch from the chili.  They were very sticky, slightly spicy and topped with coriander leaf that acts as a spice time-out for your mouth.

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David Chang once wrote that the Vietnamese pho was the future of noodles, and I think BB might be onto an early trend here.  Their chicken pho was a great starting point – the broth was a little one dimensional, but the build of the bowl was good.  It was hot and salty, it was umami and heat, it had texture from the sprouts, and the coriander and mint offered freshness and respite.  A good effort on a dish that often lives in the shadows of the ramen.

By the time we had finished our food, our server looked rested and recovered, so we sent him off again for some dessert – a fry pan brownie with raspberry marshmallows, ice cream, and toffee caramel.  It was good, but then again, I haven’t had a bad brownie since… nevermind.

A home-grown concept from some former Zuma folk, BB Social Dining is a casual, inclusive little restaurant that’s big on personality.  With its multiple levels, cute European terraces and decent Asian inspired food, BB is worth visiting, especially if you’re between gates 8 and 10 of DIFC.

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BB Social Dining
DIFC Gate 8
04 4074444
Dinner for 2 – 487.30 (pre VAT)
BB Social Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hello!  It’s fast approaching Christmas and I wanted to share with you my top five Christmas gifts that I will be giving to people that I don’t really spend that much time with.  They are five pieces of equipment that are usually found in commercial kitchens but are incredibly useful at home too.

If you’re looking for a super practical Christmas gift that will score you zero affection points, then read on.

Restaurants need just three things from their kitchen operating equipment. They need to be durable, functional and inexpensive, and I like all three of those in my Christmas gifts.  That I give, not receive.

1. Bench Scraper

Otherwise known as a Bench Knife, is one of my favourite tools to keep around the kitchen. As you can see from the pictures, it can be used for a bunch of things, such as portioning dough, scraping clean work counters, decorating cakes, picking up large quantities of chopped onions and stuff, and cutting large amounts of errm, white powder.  About 50 AED

BenchScraper_1024x1024
Bench Scraper with ruler
1499554765020-640x640
Bench Scraper and White Powder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.Plastic squeeze bottles

Standard issue in restaurants, these squeeze bottles are really cheap and really useful. I keep things like cooking oils, sauces, dressings, and honey in mine, decanted from the larger bottles. They are kept close to the cooker and are super convenient and keep things clean. Sometimes I suck honey straight from the nozzle like a sugar-crazed hamster. About 50 AED for a pack of six

squeeze-bottles
The Boy Band of Squeeze Bottles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.Tongs

None of these fancy tongs with silicon tips and non-slip grips. These tongs are made tough and are uber functional. Although they come with a closing pin, their natural resting position is a sensible 30-degree angle, and they make a wonderful clacking sound when you use them. They can be used for pulling pans out of the oven, turning pieces of meat and fish over or flipping roast potatoes without burning your fingerprints off. You can also spin them round your middle finger like a gunslinger. About 130 AED

tongs
No Nonsense Tongs

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.Stainless Steel Prep Bowl

Multi-functional and highly durable, this prep bowl can be used to collect food prep waste, helping keep your counter clean. They can hold ingredients ready for mixing. You can mix sauces or dressings in them, or you can marinade meat or wash vegetables in them. You can also eat a full box Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of them at 4 in the morning. Highly versatile and highly recommended. About 10 – 15 AED each

prep bowls
The multipurpose Prep Bowl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.Half Sheet Pan (with rack)

This perfectly sized stainless-steel baking tray can be used for so many different things. You can lay out your chocolate covered strawberries on them, or you can use it for roasting vegetables or making your homemade hipster granola. You can turn it over and use it as a pizza peel, or put the insert in and it becomes a cooling tray or a perfect rack to cook a Sunday roast.  About 150 AED

sheet pan cooling rack sheet pan sheetpan dinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prices I have given are based on what I could find online, on professional trade websites.  They are ballpark figures only and are subject to change.  Try visiting a trade warehouse here in Dubai for better prices and products than retail.  Al Difaya Trading in Al Quoz Courtyard has a pretty good stock of kitchen stuff.

Merry Christmas and let me know if there are any other must-have items.  Like the automatic omelet sausage maker.

The recently opened Renaissance Hotel Downtown splurged all their influencer budget on one influencer – Gwen Stefani.  She gave a stellar, high energy, exclusive performance to those lucky enough to get an invite to the grand opening.  It was an experience for the ages – not to be forgotten and never to be repeated.

As a special treat, I took The Serb along – not to the concert, but to David Myers’s new restaurant Bleu Blanc.  Three days after Gwen performed. Just as impressive, right?

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The street entrance is a pair of gorgeous azure blue doors that in the months to come will dominate Instagram accompanied by appropriate hashtags like #bleudoorsforever or #bleudoorsarelife.

Inside the small foyer are the elevator and a few pieces of furniture that set the scene for what is happening above.

Stepping out of the elevator, we walked into a friendly, but very enthusiastic hostess who perhaps had one too many espressos during the staff briefing.  She bounced her way across the restaurant, past the bar on the left and got us seated, before sprinting off to tackle the next person who came out of the elevator.

Bleu Blanc’s menu is inspired by the magnificent cuisine of Provençe, a region in the south of France that benefits from warm, dry Mediterranean summers, mild winters and an abundance of sunshine.  Similar to Dubai then.

Chef David Myers is known for being a bit of a global wanderer – his insatiable curiosity takes him across the world, assimilating cultures and cuisines like some gastronomic Terminator.  Typically, his menus are a smorgasbord of different flavours and dishes that he has collected on his travels.  However, with Bleu Blanc, he has understood the simplicity of the food, keeping the flavours elegant and simple and focusing on quality ingredients and cooking techniques.

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This wonderful cuisine is all housed in a farmhouse inspired restaurant – At Bleu Blanc, residential cabinetry become service stations, and kitchen islands become wine displays.  The homely fireplace is transformed into a wood-fired grill, and the open kitchen is so open, you could walk in and taste the Bouillabaisse bubbling away on the stovetop.  The lights flicker and twinkle across the room, and guests sit at rustic-ish wooden tables, with checkered fabric cushions and slightly mismatched chinaware.  It is a like a French farmhouse but in a really pretty, ‘Good Homes’ magazine type of way – the type of farmhouse where Mary Berry would bake a Tarte Tatin.  It is elegant and refined, classic yet modern.

The food menu is amazingly concise and lives on just two beautifully printed pages, neatly presented in a deep blue menu folder #bleumenufoldersarelife.  I love menus that are rich, tactile and textured – such a big impact for such a subtle touchpoint.

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The service was lovely, with enthusiastic, genuinely friendly and well-trained staff.  Obviously, they didn’t go for complete authenticity on the staffing, although a lot of them were from Provençe, just a province of South Africa, that’s all.  They were all chatty and seemed proud to represent Myers’s latest restaurant.  It was refreshing to see such pride.

I ordered their cocktail of the night – the Penicillin.  As it was placed in front of me, the waiter joked that it would take away all my pain, while seemingly nodding at The Serb.  He’s lucky she was busy checking the menu for burgers; otherwise, no amount of Penicillin would have saved us!

Strangely, BB doesn’t open the table with bread – being a French farmhouse; you would think they proudly serve up some homemade crusty loaf with a hand churned salted butter.  However, they have decided to pimp up the bread and stick them on the menu under their own section.  With their own pricing.  We ordered the heirloom tomato tart, with goat’s cheese and Taggiasca olives.

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We also went with the salt baked beets with pine nuts and kale, and the polenta croquettes with smoked veal bacon for starters.

I convinced the Serb that farmhouses in Southern France don’t typically serve up wagyu burgers with melted cheddar, onions, and fries.  She grunted and chose the roasted baby chicken with yogurt and zaatar instead.  I took a long sip of Penicillin.  We also ordered the charred King prawns with chili and herb oil.

I asked our server if we had ordered enough and she raised her eyebrows, exhaled slowly, and informed us we had ordered a lot, but we should enjoy it.  Perhaps she had French ancestry.

The room had some air-conditioning balance problems – it was far too cold.  Throughout the evening, the chefs camped round the wood-fired grill at every opportunity they could, rubbing their arms, stamping their feet, telling each other campfire stories.  I think I even saw one chef loading a marshmallow onto a stick before he was called back to the passé to plate up for table 12.

As guests wandered in, the restaurant managers offered to show them around, like it was an open house, with guests shaking every chef’s hand as they walked past the kitchen.  There is going to be a lot of hand washing in that kitchen, I think.  Or signs will be put up, saying “please don’t shake the chefs.”

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Our starters arrived in quick succession and were placed in the center of the table.  First, I tried the tomato and goats cheese tart.  The tomatoes were semi-dried in the oven, allowing their flavour and sweetness to intensify.  The goat’s cheese was mild, meaning the sweet and fruity aromas of the Taggiasca olives shined through.  The tart base was light and moist with a slight chew to it.  A great first bite.

Although arguably Italian in origin, the polenta croquettes were beautifully fried to a deep golden crisp, while allowing the filling to remain soft and piping hot.  The saltiness of the veal cut through the smoothness of the polenta, making this an excellent interpretation of a rustic food.

I always regret ordering beet salads, as they are typically all the same in every restaurant.  BB’s salt baked beets were not any different, unfortunately.  Salt baked doesn’t mean salty – the beet segments were soft, but firm, sitting on a bed of sweet burrata style cream. It was a pleasant dish, but, for me, beet salads are kind of like avocado toast at this point.

Three large grilled king prawns arrived, and I refused to allow the waitress to serve me directly, preferring to show off to The Serb that I could use a spoon and fork one-handed, as a pair of tongs, like a foodie MacGyver.  She watched silently, as I dropped the first shrimp onto my plate, spraying my shirt with flecks of chili oil.  I took another sip of Penicillin.

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The baby chicken was served spatchcock, with a gently charred skin, topped with a shaved fennel and cauliflower zaatar yogurt.  Both were excellent – there were clearly some skills behind the grill cook – working with an open flame can be difficult, but both the king prawns and chicken were cooked perfectly, and the simple flavours enhanced the meat.

Bleu Blanc might have opened late in 2017, but I think they’re going to have a very strong 2018, once they can afford to pay for a few more influencers again.

The service is friendly, grounded and natural, the space is elegant and homely, and the food is delicious and straightforward. Overall, a very special experience – I don’t know what else you could ask for.

While you see if you can get a reservation there, I’m off to paint my doors blue.

BB Invoice

 

Bleu Blanc by David Myers
The Renaissance DownTown Dubai
04 5125533
Dinner for two – 556 AED

Bleu Blanc By David Myers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jumeirah Beach Road, in Jumeirah One was always the link to Dubai’s heritage and a magnet for expat pioneers.  It is home to three malls that blazed a trail for the rest of them – The Jumeirah Beach Center, The Village Mall, and Palm Strip Mall.  It is home to one of the first and perhaps only remaining Magrudy’s bookstores, and expat favourite Spinneys is still operating there too.  There is the Marine Club too, and back in the day, between The One and IKEA, your villa was guaranteed to look exactly like everyone else’s.

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Fifteen years ago, Jumeirah One was the center of now.  Life didn’t get much better.  Large milky cappuccinos with an imported copy of HELLO! magazine, pilates with Sergio followed by a manicure and a carrot cake from Lime Tree Café.  Bring back the Naughties!

Imagine my surprise when I heard that a new café, Society Café and Lounge had just opened, right in the heart of this land that time forgot.  Didn’t they know this was protected land?  A living time capsule of how people used to exist – before Deliveroo and WhatsApp allowed us to stop talking to one another.  Before Amazon bought Souq and Netflix meant we would never have to leave the house.  Where was their sense of respect for the past? What the heck were they trying to pull here?  You want to open a brand-new café or restaurant, go up to JLT or talk to Meraas.

Anyway, it’s open now, and there is nothing we can do about it.  Except go and have a look at what all the fuss is about.

It turns out – Society is pretty good.  There’s a convenient parking lot out front, and you walk immediately into an open, airy glass conservatory.  On a brisk November morning, it is a wonderful, light, spacious room, but I fear for it under the intense summer sun – air conditioning is no match for midday sun through sheets of slightly curved glass.

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Society is what I call an Instacafe – which, in hindsight, is a terrible name as it sounds like a freeze-dried coffee brand.

Society is a direct reflection of the Instagram age – it is a chic, attractive space, with subtle touches of glamour throughout.  It has been conceived with a careful eye on angles, natural lighting, and neutral colours.  Blurred backgrounds are abundant, as are neutral marble table tops and pastel coloured stoneware plates and bowls – every Instagrammers favourite things.

In the middle of the conservatory, there is a pastry display where they have trapped croissants and pastry specimens under massive glass bell jars, like some gastronomic laboratory experiment.

The place was full when we arrived, which is a good sign for restaurant boss Darrell Guest and his investors.  With his help, we nabbed the only table left and had a look through the menu.

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The menu is solid – it is a robust café menu, with some excellent options.  Breakfast, eggs, salads, burgers, larger plates, and desserts.  Chef Jarek is clearly going for recognizable comfort food over pushing culinary boundaries, and he is absolutely right to.

The acoustics are not so great in the conservatory, and with the background noise reverberating off every hard surface, I was worried about the integrity of the pastry samples.  They might be compromised.

The Serb’s mother is in town and speaks no English, so it’s always fun to watch the server do his best table talk, to what looks like a highly engaged customer, who, in reality, hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

We ordered the baked eggs and the avocado toast (guess who ordered that) with some cappuccinos and a flat white.  The Mother Serb was asked how she wanted her baked eggs, and she smiled and nodded.  I asked for mine soft.

As soon as the waiter went to punch our order, we immediately moved tables, without telling anyone, as the Serb saw a quieter table open up in the back.  Always a good way to test the communication skills of the service staff.

Credit to them, they spotted our table migration and swiftly bought our coffees and drinks over without any fuss or drama.

The service team seemed genuinely friendly and approachable, and there was lots of table discussions, friendly chats and smiles, and laughter.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t like that at the launch, but it was good to see they are finding their feet so soon after opening.

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The food arrived looking bloody fantastic.  Chef Jarek has clearly been on an Instagram cooking course.  The baked eggs were served in a cast iron skillet, nestled in a hearty, spiced chorizo ragout, with chunks of creamy feta cheese.  The eggs were cooked to soft, and the tomato ragout had a slight sweetness to it that went well with the chorizo.

The avocado arrived on a generous slice of sourdough toast, with cream cheese, smashed avocado, peas and micro herbs.  It was a very green dish; the sort of dish the Hulk might eat as an hors-d’oeuvre before smashing something into oblivion.  However, it was also well prepared – but you’d have to be pretty abysmal in the kitchen to mess up avo cream cheese on toast.

The waitress approached the couple at the table next to us as to ask if there was anything wrong with their meal, probably because they hadn’t taken any pictures of it.

The Serb got food envy from our neighbours and ordered the French Toast which arrived promptly.  It could have benefitted from being cooked a little longer – some parts of the bread were very soggy with the egg mixture, but overall, it had good taste and flavour and would have done the French proud.

Although Society is not blazing any new trails, following firmly in the footsteps of Tom & Serg, Arrows and Sparrows, Pantry and the like, it has found a good home in Jumeirah One, and if their dinner business is anything like their breakfast, they’ve hit a little goldmine.

invoice

 

Society Cafe and Lounge
Jumeirah One
Tel:- 04 222 2811
Breakfast for three – 323 AED

Society Cafe and Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Food enthusiast Alia Ibrahim reached out to me and in a breathless, excited email, proclaimed that she had a food story for me.  It was about her journey across the globe to find Alain Ducasse, infiltrating one of his master classes and finding some important lessons in the process.  Here is her story.

Alain Ducasse, needless to say, is one of the most instrumental French chefs and restaurateurs whom the world regards as “The Architect of Flavors.”

I have always been mesmerized by Alain Ducasse’s creations that I only got to see from afar (on TV etc.). When it came to gastronomy, there was always something about him that stirred my curiosity and interest.

Thus, I decided to go to Paris to solely meet him at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athènèe. I kept myself updated with his whereabouts (yes I’m sugarcoating “stalking”), and I was suddenly nuked by the fact that he left Paris. I did not give up. I was so determined to meet him that I signed up for a Baking Master Class at one of his restaurants in the Middle East.

I entered the restaurant with the biggest smile on my face, only to be disappointed, once more. As the maître d’ warmly welcomed me and escorted me to the kitchen, he also told me that Alain Ducasse took off the same day I landed. I wanted to leave at that moment, but I tried to ground myself.

Even though I crossed borders to meet Alain Ducasse, and not really cared for the baking class, I was surprised by the way I was all-consumed – even more interested in the class than the bakers who attended to learn all the recipes.

It was my turning point as a culinary arts aficionado – I hit so many realizations at once.

  1. As much as we think, as hardcore foodies, that our knowledge in food is on the right side of the bell curve, being alongside chefs who work for the world’s very best opens our eyes to the many voids in our knowledge… and it fills those voids
  2. Such master classes, even though might not benefit us in the sense of executing the “secret” recipes, offer keys to understanding culinary arts like never before
  3. These classes also reveal the reasons why fine dining, as an overall experience, is indeed worthy of its cost when done properly
  4. New facets to reviewing food are created, new sensibilities, and new perspectives

The “unofficial” lessons (the side-note kind of lessons) surpassed the “official” ones at the master class. The chefs drew our attention to the littlest details of food, whether the cooking of it or its consumption. For example, the pastry chef emphasized on how the cooking of caramel and its addition to desserts should be in regard to the weather (less when it’s hot, more when it’s cold), and how fruits and vegetables should only be consumed in respect to their seasons.

He also shared the birthplaces of the best ingredients, and how we should not be fooled by the “good enough” ingredients (i.e. fleur de sel should be from West of France, almond milk from Italy, chia seeds from South America, and sugar from cane is better than land (beetroot) sugar)… to name a few.

Moreover, among the many lessons learned, I will never forget the “10, 10, 10” technique, in which one is supposed to wait until caramel is cooled to remove it, instead of applying cold compress or ice on the burnt skin.

Equally important, watching the chefs synchronize perfectly in a clean and organized kitchen, smile even under pressure, use only organic and premium ingredients, utter knowledge, and wisdom, and deliver their feelings before the dishes (that seem as though have fallen from heaven) really justify why fine dining is what it is.

It all starts from the kitchen, the backstage, and it all stems from the core principles of culinary arts that the team follows. Being in that backstage, just like a theater, gives an idea of the hard work that the performers (the chefs) put in their creations. As food reviewers, food fanatics… whatever we may call ourselves, we often attend the show, the front stage, and we critique accordingly. Yet, having a closer look at what happens in the kitchen is an opportunity we should always consider. It so beautifully widens our horizons and ignites the emotional aspect of food.

All in all, I may not have met Alain Ducasse like I planned, but I have definitely understood him and his success through his exceptional team, especially through the performance of chef Benoit Champeau – the head pastry chef at Alain Ducasse Enterprises.

About the Author
Although a holder of BA in International Affairs, Alia considered food as a career in her early days in university. She was a Nutrition and Health Sciences student at first until she found a bigger challenge in International Affairs. It might seem like the two majors are worlds apart, but her background in health sciences strengthened her passion for food, and her degree in politics made her the writer and researcher that she is today. Every so often, the two harmonize with each other.