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

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Bench Scraper with ruler
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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

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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

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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

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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.

Dubai has an opportunity to create something inspiring in the world of gastronomy. Sure, there are challenges – the start-up costs for a restaurant can be crippling and must be a huge deterrent for an inexperienced operator looking to share his or her passion with the community. Because of this, grassroots start-ups need colossal investment behind them, to get projects off the ground. Hundreds of great restaurant concepts and ideas lie in a landfill of F&B dreams, some destined to live only in the minds of their creators. Which is a travesty.

David Chang’s Fuji apple kimchi or Ansel’s cronut. Mosimann’s mushroom risotto and Blumenthal’s bacon and egg ice cream. Ducasse’s baba au rhum. These are dishes that have enthralled thousands and inspired generations of chefs, amateur and professional alike. What a different world we would live in if those dishes were never created for us to experience.

Worst still – imagine New York without Balthazar, or Paris without Chateaubriand. What would Tokyo be without Sukiyabashi Jiro or London without The Ivy? What would Dubai be without… well, I guess that’s my point. What is Dubai’s dish? What restaurant legacy can Dubai truly own? Not Zuma – that belongs to Rainer and Knightsbridge. LPM belongs to Nicole Rubi and Nice, France. There are a few recent restaurants that perhaps can lay claim, but 18 months of business does not make a legacy.

So how do we support and encourage restaurant start-ups that don’t require the backing of a Russian Oligarch or the sort of money that Man City throws at mediocre left back wingers? How do we give these grass root start-ups the opportunity to shine and stand on their own merit?

The answer is clear – throw a glitzy independent restaurant award ceremony – obviously. That’s what Martin Kubler, the founder of JLTDining.com is doing.

Jumeirah Lake Towers is home to over 200 restaurants, many of them falling into the “independent” category, who don’t have the benefit of large investments behind them. Some are tiny little establishments, with just 10-15 seats, (Pitfire has a table for two!) specializing in a particular dish or cuisine. Many are owner-operator with a few employees. (Chef New at Café Isan for example). Because of this, there is an absolute consistency and quality that is there day in and day out.

To celebrate this, JLT Dining is launching the JLT Restaurant Awards – the first micro-community awards scheme focusing just on the JLT neighbourhood. It’s a fantastic initiative, and one FoodSheikh is proud to champion.

But here’s the thing. It’s not really about the awards, in my opinion. Yes, the awards themselves are significant, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an initiative built for and supported by the community of JLT. Humble neighbourhood restaurants, smiley staff and simple service that often get lost in the fuss and froth of the fine dining world. The JLT Restaurant Awards are important, particularly to Dubai as a city. It is the start of something quite special. That’s why the awards seem secondary to the real purpose of this initiative – to provide the neighbourhood with something to rally around.

Martin says, “We want to support the local food scene and its doers and makers, mostly SMEs and family-run companies, who often struggle to make their voices heard in a city filled to the brim with restaurants.”

It reveals a sentiment that is increasingly being felt on high streets, in shopping malls and throughout retail precincts around the world – residents want to support businesses that are woven into the community rather than just exploiting a passing opportunity.

Martin says the support has been tremendous – they were lucky to get some excellent partners from the community and this is how it should be – an initiative from the neighbourhood, for the neighbourhood.

If you’ve been reading my ramblings for long enough, you know that FoodSheikh tries to celebrate the industry with refreshing, humourous and honest content. Here’s one of my first serious calls to action. Get involved with your own neighbourhoods. Reward your local pizza place, hang out at your local coffee shop and order from the family-run Chinese down the road. Show these businesses that you care.

Glastonbury music festival started in 1970 with an audience of 1,500 people. Last year, they welcomed 175,000 people to the event. The Crossfit Games started in 2007 with 70 athletes. Last year, 324,000 athletes competed worldwide. Head over JLTdining.com to see if you can get yourself an invite to their inaugural JLT Restaurant Awards ceremony. You can tell your grandkids that you were there at the beginning.

JLT Restaurant Awards Ceremony – 27th of November, 2017 at 7 pm. Bonnington Jumeirah Lake Towers. Click here for further information and demand an invitation!

 

Awards Logo Banner - 851 x 315 copy

Mixologists, cocktailians, Barkeeps, Beverage Craftsmen – whatever you call them, if you are a bar owner, you are always on the look-out for talented bartenders.  They are the lead singers in your rock band – your front men and women who give your establishment personality and energy.

Good bartenders have an encyclopedic knowledge of all spirits, drinks, and cocktails.  They are charming, charismatic and hardworking.  They are attractive even before that fifth long island iced tea kicks in, and they multitask like a one-man orchestra.  They manage a station that is five customers deep and pump out good quality drinks with minimal of fuss.

A good bartender can pop a beer bottle cap off with her bar blade.  Some will be able to flare; some will know napkin tricks.  Others can tell great stories or share worldly advice.

However, a good bartender, unfortunately, will also be able to rob you blind.  Most don’t, but some less scrupulous do.  Here’s how they do it.  Don’t try this at home.  Or in a bar.

The primary question bar owners ask is “does what we sold in the register till match what we sold physically?”  Typically, if the two balance, then everything’s good and life goes on.  Well, not so fast.

There are a small group of highly intelligent scam artists that are exceptionally good at playing the system. It is highly illegal and is not to be condoned – but it’s important to know how they do it.  Here are three well-known scams that can make the bartender quite rich.  And unemployed.  Perhaps even jailed.

BYO – Bring Your Own.

The premise:  A bottle of vodka can sell for over one thousand Dirhams in a bar.  Here are the maths.  Your average 750 ml bottle of liquor contains 25 shots of a 1 oz measure.  An average drink with mixer will cost you 45 Dirhams.  45 Dirhams multiplied by 25 shots is 1,125 Dirhams retail value.

The Scam:  So, all a sneaky bartender has to do is bring in their own cheap bottle of vodka, which cost them 80 Dirhams and drops it in their speed rail at the beginning of their shift.  Throughout the night, any drink that comes from that bottle is untraceable.  The bartender doesn’t have to ring it up, as the bar’s stock levels never change.  If a bartender does that twice a week, that’s an additional nine thousand Dirhams per month in the pockets of that greedy little barkeep at the expense of the business.

Shot Counting.

The Premise:- The key is to ensure the inventory balances at the end of the night.  If the point of sale system says it sold ten bottles of vodka, there had better be only ten bottles gone from the storeroom.  Not eleven bottles or even nine bottles.  Ten.  Balance the books.  So, much like card counting in Vegas, this method involves a very sharp mind with an ability to run a multiple shot tally in one’s head over the course of a six-hour shift.  Like The Rainman with a bottle opener.  The less sharp ones use toothpicks or coins in a glass as a makeshift abacus.

The Scam:- The bartender under pours on a certain number of drinks – cocktails with multiple spirits are the easiest for this – and remembers how many shots she has “in the bank.”  To trick people into thinking they’ve received a strong drink, she might fill a straw with alcohol before they stick it in a cocktail.  This makes the first sip taste exceptionally strong, even though the drink has less alcohol.  The bartender is then free to cash those shots in throughout the evening by not ringing in certain drinks and pocketing the cash. Let’s say she “counts” a conservative five drinks per night, five nights per week.  That’s four and a half grand extra a month for her nefarious troubles.

The Distracted Guest

The Premise:  Towards the end of the evening, as the drinking crowd gets less and less attentive, the sneaky bartender thrives.  Usually, after one am, guests are happy, sweaty, feeling liberated and are much less alert to what’s happening behind the bar.  Some bartenders take maximum advantage of this, unfortunately.

The Scam:  Ordering a premium liquor with a mixer at two am? Well, firstly, why? Secondly, chances are you’re getting a cheap liquor from the bartenders “bank, ” and he’s pocketing the cash.  Premium spirits can go up to 75 Dirhams a drink.  A bartender only has to do that just three times a night, and he’s got another dirty four and a half grand in his real bank account every month.

Dishonest bartender scams are notoriously difficult to figure out and can ruin a business, both from a reputation and profit and loss standpoint.  The best way to stop these things from happening comes down to two main elements.  Hire the right people to start with – follow up on proper reference checks, and make sure you know who you are hiring.  The second is to have a vigilant, well-experienced management team – they are your best line of defense against the dark arts of bar tendering.

Street 4b, Community 318, Al Karama.  Just three hundred and fifty meters long, and home to over one hundred businesses.  That’s roughly one shop every three and a half meters.

Out of those one hundred businesses, seventeen of them are restaurants – a perfect example of the diverse and rich culture that the older parts of Dubai are famous for.  From Indian, Asian, Desi, Chinese, Italian, global and Ethiopian cuisine these seventeen restaurants support hundreds of families and feed thousands of mouths every week.

Furthermore, there are over two thousand different choices available across all their menus.  Yes, I counted – roughly.  What that means is, if you chose a different item every single day, it would take you six straight years to get through every menu on Street 4b.

Could this be one of the best dining streets in Dubai?  Check out my fancy photo journal review thingy below.  Thanks to Giles Wright for the idea!

 

 

 

When the brunch was invented back in 1895 by Guy Beringer, it was done so with the greatest of intentions, and without the foresight of what future generations might do to pervert and debauch this quaint alternative to a heavy Sunday dinner.

Guy made the case that instead of England’s early Sunday dinner, a marathon of heavy meats and savory pies, why not a new meal, served just before noon, that offers a lighter, more cheerful option. “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting.” Beringer wrote. “It is talk-compelling.  It puts you in good temper; it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Guy Beringer – “Brunch should be a quaint, cheerful Sunday meal that is lighter than the heavy, traditional supper.”
Dubai – “Hold my Shisha.”

I don’t want to talk about what happens at the brunch – we’ve all been to one, and quite frankly it’s been written about by better writers than me.  I want to write about what happens before and immediately after a brunch.  I’ve split this into four moments based on recent experiences.  As usual, I have taken great poetic liberties.

1 – Making the decision.

I hadn’t realised how much organization needs to go into booking a Dubai brunch.  The initial suggestion starts as an innocent throwaway comment around a few drinks at someone’s house.  Excitement crackles in the air at the mere thought of a brunch.  Diaries are opened, and potential dates are thrown around like ideas in an ancient Greek court.   Guest lists are discussed in secret whispers on the balcony during cigarette breaks.  It becomes very serious, very quickly.  Some international peace treaties are agreed upon with less drama.

2 – Choosing the venue.

Once the premise of brunch has been agreed, and the adrenalin has had time to dissipate, the earnest business of selecting the actual venue begins.  Apparently, this needs approximately a three month lead time.  Larger groups need longer.  The official invite arrived in my inbox three and a half months ago, and within a few days, I had received an email newsletter reminding me of the date and had been added to a WhatsApp group chat as well.  Choosing the location is far more complicated than you might think, especially when trying to be democratic about it.  A few excerpts from the group chat.

“Not there, they have too many carb stations.”
“That brunch has a shitty dessert selection.”
“I’m not allowed to go to that one, not after last time.”
“I can’t wear my fancy heels at that one.”
“That brunch is full of chavs.”
“That one is too posh.”
“That brunch only has eight live cooking stations.”

3 – Arrival time

The morning of the brunch is possibly the most stressful time of the whole experience – almost as stressful as my wedding day.  From 9 am onwards, WhatsApp lights up like Satwa during the Diwali festival.  Thousands of messages fly back and forth – but by now, there are multiple sub-group chats that have been created, as various factions have formed separate alliances with one another.  It is chaos – last-minute fashion issues, a cancellation from that flaky friend Paul invited, Uber on surge pricing, Salem’s still in the shower – these things suddenly become very important – but not as important as the brunch arrival time.

Arrive early, and you risk sitting at an empty table, looking like two overly keen brunch novices.  However, arrive too late, and you risk the wrath of others for wasting so much valuable consumption time.  The funny thing is, no one wants to commit to what time they will be there.  “We’re leaving the house soon” or “we’re on our way,” or “see you there,” are the vague, unhelpful answers you must work with.

As we left the house, The Serb asked if I had left enough food and water for the dog.  I have no idea how long she thought we were going to be away for.

4 – The recovery.

The brunch recovery can take anywhere between a few hours to a few days, depending on your levels of consumption.  In some rare cases, full recovery never happens – but those occasions can usually be read about in the Daily Mail.  Recovery time is also related to age as I have recently noticed.

I woke up at 7:30 pm, alone, on the couch in a complete state of panic. I couldn’t feel my legs; my mouth was as dry as the Empty Quarter, and my belt and the top button of my trousers were unfastened.  To add to the horror, wrapped around my wrist was a hospital admittance band.  Clearly, something had gone wrong since the chocolate fountain, which was my last lucid memory.

Sitting up straight, checking for any life-threatening injuries, like a missing kidney – I realised that I was not in any immediate danger.  The dry mouth was a result of too much time at the Asian station, the unbuttoned trousers a result of too much time at the dessert station, and the hospital band was the brunch band letting the servers know I was only allowed prosecco, not the real stuff.

I can’t wait to do it all over again.  I would love to hear your brunch observations. Comment below!

Once an industrial no man’s land between SZR and the old Hard Rock Café, Al Quoz is now an established destination with repurposed warehouses providing places for expression, play, retail, and restaurants.  The Original Gangsta of the Al Quoz scene, The Courtyard continues to hold off competition and remains one of the coolest alleyways in Dubai.

BL Signage

Tucked away in the lush foliage of The Courtyard is a wonderful little cobblestone walkway called The Collective.  The Collective is a modern-day Souk, showcasing a collection of concept stores, designers, and shops from local vendors.  It’s a posh hippy market – think Portobello Road market except with maids, Range Rovers and AC.

Boston Lane is the latest addition to The Collective and replaces its previous occupant, Brew with pastel peaches and eggshell blues, pink terrazzo, rattan weaves, riad archways and whitewashed wood.  It is a café that has charm and character in abundance, and I desperately wanted to fall in love with it.

However, I say this with utmost affection and honesty, but I wish they had applied the same amount of care and detail to how the place operated as they did to how it looked.  Customer friendly, it is not – especially when busy.  Awkward queuing systems, bottleneck collection points, no menus until you reach the counter and no table numbering systems.  It puts such unnecessary stress on the guest experience.

BL Counter Shot

Boston Lane’s hero products are coffee and toasted sandwiches, which is an eclectic combination.  They serve other deli options, such as chia seed puddings, smashed avo pots, salads and pastries, but they pride themselves on homemade toasties and coffee from local roasters, Nightjar Coffee.

We ordered the breaky roll, chicken on rye, mac ’n’ cheese toastie and a Mexican salad.  I ordered a flat white because the lovely girl who took our order was Australian and The Serb ordered a mint and lemonade juice because she liked the colour.

Like Starbucks, they ask for your name and call you when your order is ready.  In these situations, I like to give superhero alter ego names.  Steve Rogers, Peter Parker, Diana Prince – you get the idea.  That day I was Stanley Beamish, A.K.A Mr. Terrific.  Stan for short.

BL Breaky Roll

We eventually found a table, and I refused to let the Serb engage in conversation as I had to be ready to jump up the moment I heard my name called.  It was my bat signal.  In hindsight, it was a foolish move, as she picked up her wallet and wandered off to peruse the various collections of beautiful things we definitely don’t need at home.

Eventually, I heard my name called, and Mr. Terrific sprang into action.  I approached the crowded counter with my receipt held high as if it was my passport and I was trying to enter my embassy in a foreign country during a civil riot.  I made it to the front and collected my flat white coffee.  Nothing else was ready.  At this rate, I would have to make an additional five journeys to complete our order.  Thank God, I had chosen Mr. Terrific.

BL Maccheese

The place was busy with a great mix of nationalities.  Locals and expats mingled, taking Instagram pictures, smelling soy candles, convincing themselves they needed a beautiful looking bicycle from The Movement, or a wicker lamp shade from Tribe.  It was a testament to the attractiveness of the space and created a wonderful atmosphere.

Meanwhile, in Boston Lane, after several frantic dashes to the counter, we eventually had our drinks and toasted sandwiches.

Unfortunately, the toasties were largely underwhelming.  The mac ‘n’ cheese filling was unseasoned and bland, and the bread was dry and crumbled into pieces as you ate it.  It was the same with the breaky roll – a dry brioche bun with underseasoned eggs and stringy veal bacon.  The rye bread fared better, but again, the chicken mayo filling lacked flavour and seasoning.

BL Coffee and Juice

The good thing is these are not unfixable issues – encourage the chef to taste the seasoning levels, focus on getting a better bread delivery schedule, and most of the problems are solved.  The concept of Boston Lane is wonderful, and I am sure they will iron out these niggly little things in due course.

Mr. Terrific’s final trip to the embassy counter was for the Mexican salad.  The salad consisted of baby spinach, sweetcorn, kidney beans and shredded cabbage and squirted over the top was the most unfortunate looking dressing I have ever seen.  If your dressing must have that consistency and colour, it is advisable to toss your salad first.

BL Mexican Salad

Overall, Boston Lane is a delightfully quaint little DIY café that is a perfect spot for a quiet afternoon chatting with friends, reading books or writing your latest blog.  It has its quirks, which I think is part of the appeal.

I did mention earlier that I desperately wanted to fall in love with the place – If they can improve their toasties, focus on the guest experience a little more and provide me with a proper Bat-signal, I definitely think love is possible.

BL INvoice

 

Boston Lane,
The Courtyard
Al Quoz
Lunch for two – 168 AED

Flamingo Room is the brainchild of Natasha Sideris, owner and founder of Tashas – a thirteen strong portfolio of cafes across South Africa and Dubai.  Choosing the Flamingo as a nod to their African roots is a smart move – it’s a good creature to reference considering the other choices.  I heard a rumour they were considering the Penguin Pantry, the Kudu Kitchen or the Baboon Bar.  Maybe.  I might have made that up.

FR Interior

Unlike its neighbours, Il Borro, Blacktap, and Katsuya, the Flamingo Room doesn’t fit into a neat little box.  Flamingo Room is a little bit different.  It is unique in design, egalitarian in cuisine and exudes a distinct personality.  It is somewhat special.

We arrived early for breakfast.  I have been a little despondent about breakfasts recently – there is only so much avocado on toast and eggs benedict one can eat before craving something different.  I was hoping Flamingo Room could offer something for me to get excited about once again.

The main entrance is a large, art deco walnut wood door that is far too beautiful not to keep closed.  Pulling it open, we walked into a spacious entrance lobby and were greeted by a hostess that looked a little surprised to see us.  She recovered quickly, pretending to check something on her computer and then whisked us to our table.

FR Avo

The Flamingo Room certainly makes a statement – it is African inspired, with zebra print fabrics and fauna combined with a little bit of Palm Springs, a touch of Art Deco and Ace Hardware’s entire stock of pink and peach paint.  It is glamourous, chic and feels expensive – but not overly thematic.  If Elton John did safari, it would be the Flamingo Room.

Although we were there for breakfast, I stole a glance at the rest of the menu. You never know, I might go back.  There were seaside classics, buttermilk sliders, salads, starters, pasta, main courses, mains for sharing and side dishes.  Jill Okkers is the chef behind the menu, and she has put together a great selection of dishes, using classic techniques and quality ingredients.

Our server was bubbly, enthusiastic and chatty and promptly brought us some freshly squeezed orange juice, and coffee.

The breakfast menu was just as elegant and glam as the rest of Flamingo Room.  There were dishes such as parmesan and truffle scrambled eggs, Nutella French toast, a salmon turmeric crepe and banana and vanilla oats.

FR Ricotta hotcakes

As I mentioned earlier, I was determined not to go for the usual smashed avocado or eggs benedict, so I ordered the asparagus and bacon soufflé omelette.  The Serb, of course, did nothing of the sort and ordered the smashed avocado and feta open sandwich.  I despair sometimes.  We also ordered the ricotta hotcake as well – because it was a weekend.

A soufflé omelette is effectively a very fluffy omelette that is made by whisking the egg whites first and then folding the yolks back in and then cooking.  Okker’s version was filled with a semi-sweet ricotta cream, lardons of veal bacon and slices of grilled asparagus.  It was well cooked and was light, airy and creamy.  They even used slivers of asparagus to create an animal pattern on the outside of the soufflé.  It was like a zebra omelette.

The Serb’s avocado toast was an intense avocado puree over some multigrain bread, with chunks of feta and a mountain of shaved fennel and cucumber.  If my omelette was a zebra omelette, this was the Table Mountain of toppings.  It was good, although the bread became a little soggy from the puree towards the end, and might have benefitted from being grilled slightly.

FR Omlette

Our ricotta hotcake was the star of the show for us.  A beautiful, skillet-cooked pancake, with a gorgeous ricotta cream and sticky, intense honeycomb bits, topped with handfuls of fresh berries and ripe figs.  It was lively, decadent and generous.  It was also demolished within seconds.  Our ever-helpful server wanted to fetch us side plates, but I informed her that she wouldn’t get back in time.  No one can move that fast.

Natasha Sideris and Jill Okkers have created something quite special at the Flamingo Room.  The Turtle Lagoon at Al Naseem hotel is becoming a powerhouse of F&B, and the Flamingo Room certainly holds its own against the elegance of Il Borro, the monster shakes of Black Tap and the big name of Chef Katsuya.

It’s not easy to execute such quality on your first weekend open, and I am happy to say that, despite the punchy bill at the end, this was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had all year.

FR INvoice

 

Flamingo Room by Tashas
Jumeriah Al Nassem
04 244 7278
Breakfast for two – 302 AED
Flamingo Room by Tashas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Izu Brasserie has just opened in the Le BHV Marais department store in City Walk – except I’m not sure anyone has informed BHV about this.  I don’t think they got the memo – there were no signs anywhere to guide us, and staff were all rather vague about where the restaurant was located.  Perhaps you have to have a minimum of three shopping bags in your hand before they let you eat.

We eventually found it, by luck, rather than anything else and were quickly seated by a friendly host.

Izu Sink

Izu Brasserie has taken a small little corner of the famous French department store and managed to fit a slim little open kitchen, a patisserie display and a long row of banquet seats into an intimate, slightly rustic little brasserie.

Having realized that he has a bit of a knack for cooking, the oral skills of a London street vendor and a name that literally looks good in lights, chef Izu Anil is on a bit of a mission to take over the world.

Fresh from his Lighthouse restaurant in D3, he is now in City Walk and soon to be in Doha as well.  He also has plans in London, Madrid, and Vienna with his newly founded company, YSeventy7 – which apparently, is his old Hotmail password.

Izu bread basket

What I like about Izu’s menus are that they are usually concise and considered – they rarely go over two pages and are neat and tidy.  Izu Brasserie’s menu is printed on simple A4 paper and has 25 items including desserts.

His time at LPM is reflected in his menu at Izu Brasserie – the dishes are classic, simple and clean with no avocado, sriracha or quinoa in sight.  It is a safe, reliable menu, perhaps a little too safe.  Starters, pizza, pasta, meat and fish with some sides and desserts make up the choices.  Seabass, prawns, veal, and chicken make up the protein.

Unsurprisingly, the Serb wanted the bresaola and rocket pizza but realized her lack of variety in food choices was becoming an issue in our relationship.  We ordered the bruschetta to start followed by the grilled chicken breast with fresh egg pasta and mushroom sauce and the seabass with a tomato compote and fennel salad.

It was only after we had ordered that we saw the specials board, which was a shame as it had some nice options.

Izu Seabass

We were served a breadboard with tomato and olive dips while we waited for our bruschetta.  The bread was two generous slices of warm, slightly grilled farm loaf, drizzled with olive oil served with an intense tomato paste and sliced olives.  It was garnished with a peeled raw garlic clove.

It took us about ten minutes to realize our breadboard was the bruschetta.  It was clearly a do it yourself job – even to the point where I was slicing the garlic clove to mix in with the olives.  I felt like Paulie in Goodfellas, except he used a razor blade and I had a dull table knife.  And he was in jail, and I was in City Walk.

The sea bass arrived in a Staub cocotte with a neat little square of grilled fish; skin served up.  I usually don’t like fennel, but Izu’s salad was crisp, citrusy and fresh.  Sea bass is a fatty fish and breaks off in big delicious, almost translucent flakes when cooked properly.  I think Izu’s might have been marginally overcooked as I needed the help of a knife.  The flavour was simple, clean and allowed the quality of the ingredients to do the talking.  The tomato compote looked suspiciously like the bruschetta compote.

Izu ChickenAnother Staub cocotte arrived, this time with the grilled chicken breast, egg pasta, and mushroom sauce.  The portions are definitely for one person – they are smaller than a Cheesecake Factory’s appetizer.  That’s not a bad thing either.  I think we could all do with eating smaller portions, sometimes.

The chicken breast was rustic in appearance – it looked like it had a bit of a rough time on the grill and chopping board.  The egg noodles were really good, clearly home-made and with a slightly chewy bite to them.  The mushroom sauce was underwhelming – it was a little too simple and plain for me.  The Serb even said she thought she could make it at home.  Now, I wouldn’t go that far, but I see what she means.

We also had some vanilla ice cream and a tiramisu which was light, creamy and utterly delicious.  The intense coffee balanced perfectly with the mascarpone and I must say, it was worth going in just for that.

There is a hint that Izu has played it a bit too safe with his menu here, but again his quality and understanding of ingredients shines through.

Izu Brasserie is a great concept for its location – a quick, high-quality bite to eat before or after shopping in Le BHV Marais – and I truly believe that as soon as Le BHV realize that Izu Brasserie has opened, they too will agree with me.

Izu Recipt

 

 

Lunch at Izu Brasserie – 329 AED
Izu Brasserie
Le BHV Marais
City Walk
04 403 3030

The Ribbon is a new strip mall style development at Motor City.  I am at a loss as to why it is named The Ribbon, but it has to be in keeping with cars, and racing because if there’s one thing Dubai loves, it’s themed developments with appropriate names.

Crumbs Élysée takes the prime spot right on the corner of The Ribbon, and with forecourt parking, if you’re lucky, you can pretty much park right out front and choose your table from your car.

Crumbs Élysée was an impulse destination.  The Serb and I were hungry and chose, on a whim, to try out Crumbs.  As you walk through the corridors of The Ribbon, darkened restaurant doors swing open, and hostesses appear like sirens at sea, trying to entice you in with calls of coffee, salads, sandwiches.

Walking into Crumbs Élysée, the first thing that hits you is the sweet, sticky smell of shisha.  Shisha tobacco smells exactly how it looks – and it is a sticky, thick tobacco paste.  Despite shisha smoking being restricted to upstairs, it was still a punch in the face downstairs.

crumbs

Our hostess led us into a fairly busy restaurant and gave us a table next to a window.  I saw a couple in their car outside, shake their fist at us as we obviously had just taken the table they had chosen.

Crumbs Élysée looks like a Viking wedding reception room.  There is a lot of wood, with a lot of rope fixtures and black iron lighting.  When I say, there is a lot of wood, I really mean it.  Your table and chair are wood, the napkin dispenser and table numbers are made from wood.  There are wooden booths, which if you get the right angle, look like people are sitting in wooden Nordic barrel baths.  Even the placemats are a photo of wood!  The ceiling is wood.  The partitions are wood.  Some of the walls are wood.  The staircase is wood.  I would go on – I really would, but you get the idea.

Crumbs Élysée is a casual dining café, but distinctively Lebanese in its DNA.  The shisha, the managers in suits, quick, efficient service, the hoummous and mint and lime juice – they all point to a Lebanese heritage.

Waldorf Salad

Their menu is huge – upwards of one hundred and twenty items to choose from.  It is an encyclopedia of world dishes – almost every cuisine is represented, from Italy to France to Levantine to Continental.  My eyes jumped from dish to dish, from the eggs benedict to the foul medames, from red velvet pancakes to porridge, from burrata to chicken livers.  There were salads and pizza, Lebanese grills and burgers.  They had lobsters and shepherd’s pie.  There was so much to choose from – this was the Walmart of restaurants.

The chef must be one of the most highly versatile culinary talents in Dubai to be able to deliver such a variety of flavours and techniques.

Luckily the Serb only looks for four items and rarely strays from her list.  Burger, pizza, butter chicken or sweet and sour chicken – that’s what she goes for.

The salad was dispatched first from the kitchen.  It came surprisingly quickly – a little too quickly for my liking.  Food that arrives too quickly should be treated with suspicion, in my opinion.

chicekn sticker

The Waldorf salad was a hefty portion – made with the apples from a thousand trees, coated in thick mayonnaise and with too much chicken for two people to eat in one sitting.  It was overly sweet, very heavy and, unless the Serb stole them all while I was admiring all the wood, it didn’t have any grapes or celery.  Both Oscar Tschirky and Basil Faulty would not be happy, I suspect.

They chose a wooden board to serve the fried chicken waffle on.  I’m just surprised they had any wood left over, to be honest.  Again, the portion size was impressive – a prized chicken breast between two, inch-thick waffles, with lettuce and tomato.  Despite looking like they could survive a direct hit from a hand grenade, the waffles crumbled into pieces at the merest touch.  It was a dry, over sweet batter that was drizzled with too much honey – no balance in the flavour profile and far too sweet for a savory dish.  A yellow manufacturer sticker was clinging onto a tomato slice for dear life.  The chicken was left in the fryer too long and also came out dry and chewy.  The fries were pretty good though.  Clean oil, nice and crispy with a good amount of seasoning.

main cpurse

The KashKash kebabs were fatty minced meat mixed with parsley, pepper, crushed garlic and spices, covered in a seasoned tomato sauce.  The kebabs themselves were actually quite good – some good flavour and texture came through.  Unfortunately, the tomato sauce was very sweet and tasted like it perhaps came from a jar.

The word Élysée comes from Elysian, meaning heaven.  It’s a bold association and certainly signals their ambition.  However, I feel Crumbs’s challenge is their ambition to be everything to everyone.  Ambition is a wonderful thing, but there is no need to try and master so many different dishes and recipes – find out what you’re good at and stick to it.

Like they stuck to the wood.

 

invoice

 

 

Lunch at Crumbs Élysée – 255.00 AED
The Ribbon Mall, Motor City
04 551 5200
Crumbs Elysee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I found myself in JLT again the other night, on the lower level walkway, next to the now glistening lakes, with small independent restaurants that seemingly go on for ever, as far as the eye can see.  Out of sight from the street level polish is the JLT underworld.  Every type of food exists here – tacos, cakes, Desi food, Thai, Ethiopian, vegan, pizza – whatever your habit, there is someone selling, whatever your itch, someone will scratch it.  It is not glamourous, or slick, or glitzy, but it is real – it is a destination that over time, has developed a character of some strength and vibrancy.

Decoration

Pitfire Pizza had no guests when we arrived, yet it was extraordinarily busy.  You see, Pitfire Pizza JLT is all kitchen.  Quite literally.  They have a single table with three chairs squeezed up against their vegetable storage and drinks fridge.  There is standing room for another three and that’s your lot.  Such is their lack of space; they use their outdoor tables to store stacks of back up pizza boxes ready for the evening’s business.

As luck would have it, their single table was empty when we arrived.  We sat down, and a friendly server walked the half step from the counter to our table.  She gave us the menu and informed us that there would be a twenty-five-minute wait for pizzas that evening.

Pitfire specializes in what is self-described as a blend of Neapolitan and New York pizzas.  Quick FS pizza lesson.  Neapolitan pizza has a large airy crust that usually chars up slightly and an extremely thin base that means it’s difficult to eat with your hands.  New York pizza, on the other hand, is also quite thin, but much sturdier needs to be hand held, yet folded because that’s how New Yorkers eat their pies.  This is because Italians take their time when eating, knowing that a siesta (technically, a riposo in Italy) is on its way and New Yorkers eat in a hurry because being a New Yorker is busy work.

BBQ Pizza

Pitfire offers a range of signature pies, a build your own section and by the slice choices as well.  They also do pasta and salads but don’t waste your time there. The pizza is where it’s at.

Pitfire is not trying to get too clever with their toppings.  They are inventive and on trend without being artisanal or hipster.  Although, they do have a pizza called The Hipster, which now makes my previous claim quite awkward.  However, the point is, if you want a quinoa and kale pizza on activated charcoal crust, try somewhere else.  They have items like Bill’s Special and Hell’s Kitchen along with more classic versions, such as Royal Hawaiian and Pepperoni Primo.

I ordered the Hawaii Five Oh – a home-made spicy BBQ sauce base, with mozzarella and provolone cheese, shredded chicken, red onions and fresh coriander.

The Serb is as predictable as Dubai’s weather in August – she went with her tried and tested bresaola and rocket pizza which is a mainstay on her delivery app at home.  I think they only have sweet sour chicken, burgers and bresaola rocket pizza back in Belgrade because it seems that is all she ever eats.

Bresoalsa

Delivery drivers came and went, the door banging heavily behind me every time, the AC struggled against the heat outside, and the restaurant’s decoration was bags of flour and tins of tomato.  In any other restaurant, you would think it was a purposeful display, but here, it really is because they don’t have anywhere else to store anything.

The pies arrived, piping hot and fresh from the oven.  The crust had puffed up, as promised and there was some encroaching char that added to the texture and flavour.  These pizzas looked the bee’s knees.  There was nothing machine made or cooked from frozen about them.  They were honest, authentic pizzas.

I lifted my first slice, and it held firm, the thin base supporting the toppings with just the merest hint of a bend.  Perfect.  As I write these next words, I am salivating like Pavlov’s dog.  The flavour was magnificent – the spiciness of the BBQ chicken, the sweetness of the pineapple and the sharpness of the onion.  Just when your mouth gets used to this combination, the fresh coriander jumps in like an over eager Labrador and brings a whole different level of love to the slice.

The Serb’s pizza was equally well cooked and put together.  I tried a slice – for the benefit of this review, obviously.  Their tomato sauce is light, slightly sweet and well seasoned.

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You would think, being the only customers in the place, it would be odd and rather exposed, but the Serb and I found a decent level of privacy amongst the chaos and just for a fleeting moment, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world with anyone else.

Halfway through my second bite, a chef approached our table (leaned over the counter), to inquire about our food, or so I thought – but was, in fact, to ask to pass him a couple of onions and some garlic from the vegetable basket next to me.  A bit later I had to fetch a bottle of water, (still, small) for another customer who came in for an order pick up.  It felt good – like I was part of the team.  I think that’s what they mean by ethical eating.

The Serb and I were there for an hour, and I counted about 40 pizza being delivered (I’m such a fun date) which means, Pitfire would have sent out over 300 pizzas that evening.  That’s pretty good going and a testament to their popularity.

We eventually asked for our remaining slices to be boxed up and vacated the table.  There were another two guests that had just ordered, and they deserved to be able to sit and eat their pizza too.

The malls of Dubai, with their carefully managed optics and sterilized positioning, pale in comparison to the vibrancy and pulse of somewhere like the JLT underworld.  Behind every one of these restaurants, there is a story, a past or history that if you’re lucky comes out in the cooking and food and at the very least is etched on the faces of the cooks and servers as they go about their business.

That’s why it makes perfect sense for Pitfire Pizza to find a home here.  A pizza parlor that comes with a story, some history, and baggage that makes for a damn fine pizza. Perhaps the best pizza in Dubai.

invoice

 

Pitfire Pizza
Cluster D, JLT
800 7483473
Dinner for two – 135 Dhs

 

Pitfire Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

You know you’ve been in Dubai far too long when you are unfazed by the thought of an après-ski alpine chalet restaurant in the middle of the Arabian desert.  I was like, “Yeah – Dubai totally needs one of those.”

However, I’m going to be honest here; I’ve never been to an après-ski alpine chalet restaurant before.  I’m a desert guy – the only skiing I’ve done was on a dry ski slope just outside Plymouth, so I have absolutely no frame of reference – all my preconceptions are from Google, magazines and strangely, James Bond films.

PICTURES-Publique-Ski-Chalet-Restaurant-Bar-Dubai

As our host took us to our table, we walked through a quiet bar area, with high tables, a DJ booth in a ski lift and old skis propped up against the bar counter.   We were taken through the bar and into a small room which looked like a disused, converted sauna.  I was expecting to be given some paper underwear and a towel.

However, it turned out to be a rather intimate dining room with wooden walls, white tablecloths, oil lamps and a faux fireplace.  It was surprisingly atmospheric.

As we sat down, I realised that Publique has a particularly distinctive smell – It is hard to place, yet familiar and quite intriguing.  I asked our server what the smell was – he burrowed his brow, wandered around the chalet with his nose in the air and informed us it was probably something the chef was preparing for tomorrow.  I don’t think he knew either.  It was an aroma of cheese and Scandinavian forests and kerosene and tobacco.  Perhaps it was the smell of all alpine chalets, the world over.

The menu is a brasserie style menu with a few French dishes thrown in and lots of cheese.  Think beef carpaccio, Caesar salad, pissaladiere and cheese for starters.  Think cheese boards, sea bass, steaks, pizzas, burgers and cheese for mains.  You get the idea.

The Serb was eyeing up the burgers as usual, but I decided to put my foot down.  We were in an alpine chalet, for crying out loud, there was no way I was letting her miss the opportunity of a Raclette or a Pierrade.  We didn’t travel all the way so she could have the burger – it was time for me to take a stand in that mountain chalet in the Souk Madinat.

Dynamite Shrimp

So, she ordered a burger, and I went with the chicken Cordon Bleu because most of the specials are for two people and not suitable for a couple as divided as we were.

For appetizers, we ordered the dynamite shrimp and a pissaladiere, often described as the Provencal pizza, except it’s not because it has no tomato or cheese.

By international crustacean law, dynamite shrimp must be served in an oversized martini glass.  OK, that’s probably not true, but it is the serving vessel of choice for many restaurants, including Publique.  Our shrimp came with a large slice of chili as a warning garnish, in case we were unsure what the ‘dynamite’ in the name referred to.  Despite being mayonnaise based, the sauce wasn’t as heavy or creamy as other places that serve this dish – it was quite light and fragrant and glistened under the restaurant lights.  The shrimp were heavily battered which gave them a significant chew factor, but the flavour was spot on – enough heat to tingle without causing your cheeks to sweat.

We ordered the pissaladiere – a caramelized onion tart from Nice, made famous in Dubai by La Petite Maison.  Publique’s was good – soft cooked onions; dark but without a hint of a burn and scattered soft black olives over a well-baked dough base.  Typically, anchovies should bring the saltiness the dish is famous for, but they were missing from Publique’s.  However, it was a good portion and held its flavour well.

Despite being olfactory challenged, our server was great – in fact the service overall was great – friendly, casual and professional.  The staff certainly seemed comfortable around a ski chalet.  Maybe they were genuine chalet professionals, working in Dubai during the off season and heading back to the Alps after the summer.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Our burger and chicken arrived and although nicely presented, I lamented the fact that we could have been having some delicious Raclette cheese or some hot stone cooking had The Serb and I been in a stronger relationship.

To rub salt in the wound, the table next to us ordered both the Raclette dish and a penne pasta cooked in a wheel of parmesan.  I watched with jealousy and regret and tried to focus on my chicken.

The specialties looked great but came in quite punchy with the price.  Although the pasta is served out of a large wheel of cheese and does contain fresh black truffle, at 125 dhs a pop, it’s still an expensive pasta in a cheese sauce.

I don’t really want to write about the Serb’s burger.  However, she seemed to enjoy it, although she ended up eating it with a knife and fork because it kept falling apart.  A good burger must have good structural integrity, but this one was far too sloppy and wet.  A chef with a heavy hand on the sauce bottle I think.  That’ll teach her.

Cordon Bleu cooking is often considered the very finest French cooking, from the most elite culinary institute in the world.  I always find it funny that their most famous dish is effectively a posh Chicken Kiev.

Luckily, my chicken Cordon Bleu was excellent – the breading was perfect – dark gold and crunchy with some wonderful seasoning.  The chicken itself was juicy and cooked well, with the strong, slightly sweet Comte cheese blending well with the garlic and rolled slices of ham.  It was a simple dish but well executed.  Unfortunately, the fries were a let-down – overcooked and dry on the inside.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Publique – it’s a friendly, accessible restaurant with a well thought out menu and some good execution.  If you are in a loving, supportive relationship, I suggest you try the specials – otherwise the chicken Cordon Bleu is a good substitute.

invoice

 

 

Publique Restaurant and Bar
Souk Madinat
04 430 8550
Dinner for two – 277 AED

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

You know what I love about the City Walk development? Their leasing strategy. Forget the usual mall fandango of Cheesecakes, Shake Shacks and Starbucks – City Walk has some totally off the hook choices.

For example, just the other day, I was lamenting the lack of a good flower boutique and cafe in Dubai, and lo and behold, I came across Jolie Café at City Walk.

Jolie Café, Dubai’s latest flower boutique and café, opened in City Walk a few months ago.  Out of all the other flower boutiques and cafes in Dubai, Jolie Café must be the prettiest.

It’s as if my elderly aunt moved into an Interflora shop and started a catering company.

Sitting on the outskirts of City Walk, Jolie Café is a small little place with an unassuming beige awning and a street side entrance that is a little difficult to find.  They call themselves an urban meadow.  An urban meadow – their words, not mine.

As we walked in, we had to double check the meadow was open for business.  The lights were off, it was deadly quiet, and there was a lone man, quietly mopping a corner of the floor.  He looked a little shocked that we had walked in, but mop still in hand, he greeted us with a smile and assured us they were open.  He suggested a table for us to sit at and quickly delivered us some menus.

Jolie 2

Jolie café is country cottage cute, with ceiling installations of lush English rose gardens.  Plastic, of course, but there is an old saying in restaurant design – if the customer can’t touch it, then fake it.  The flooring is a nice hybrid of tiles and wood, and the tables and chairs are white cushions on dark wood.  There is residential cabinetry dotted around the place, and we were sat next to some shelving that was home to some lovely little trinkets.

However, as we looked through the menu, I felt the absence of lights and music.  This urban meadow was a little flat – a little filtered and dull.  Where was the aroma of freshly cut flowers, or the brightness of the morning sun, or the sound of life?  There was just the whirr of the AC, the tired sigh of the refrigerator unit in the back and the swish swish of the mop.

The menu was surprisingly substantial, offering breakfasts, salads, main courses, cream teas, sandwiches, kid’s meals, cakes, patisseries, desserts, and macarons.  That’s a heavyweight menu for such a delicate place.  To go from eggs benedict to warm lobster salad to rack of lamb to high tea is quite a feat for a small little café.  It’s like a flyweight boxer wanting to compete in every weight class.  Or a crazed horticulturist trying to win every single category at the Chelsea Flower Show.

 

jolie 3Our waiter, looking much more focused, came over to take our order.  He was shy but friendly.

I ordered a flat white and the Serb, clearly feeling adventurous and liberated in the urban meadow, ordered the chocolate tea.  My coffee order arrived on a tray that was almost as big as the table.  It contained a good-sized mug, with sugar bowl, cookie and a large floral decoration that looked like it was stolen from a nearby wedding reception. The chocolate tea arrived in similar fashion, with flowers, a teapot, and a tea timer.  It was all very over the top, and I was beginning to see what the concept was about.  Not only did our table now look like something out of the Royal Botanical Gardens, but eighty percent of it was taken up by one cup of tea and a coffee.

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Unfortunately, our drinks were very much style over substance – the flat white masquerading itself as a scalding hot watery latte, and the chocolate tea was like chocolate flavoured hot water, according to the Serb, who politely hid the half full teapot behind a picture frame on the shelf.

We ordered three breakfast dishes – the savory crepe roll, buttermilk pancakes with caramelized bananas and the mandatory avocado toast with beetroot hummus and halloumi cheese.

Avocado must be a chef’s favourite ingredient at the moment – it is an incredibly forgiving ingredient.  It requires only basic hand to eye co-ordination to prepare, has tremendous versatility in the field – and people are still quite mad for it.  Jolie’s avo toast was good, the beetroot hummus was moist and oddly quite spicy, which I didn’t expect, but didn’t dislike either.  The halloumi cheese was pre-grilled unfortunately, but generous in size.  Overall, a good attempt at a menu dish mainstay.

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The savory crepes were described on the menu as two cheddar cheese, and crispy turkey bacon filled crepes.  They forgot to mention the three tree trunks of asparagus and sun dried tomatoes they sneak in there too.  For me, the sharpness of the sundried tomatoes was too overpowering for the dish, although the crepe was nicely cooked and they use a good quality cheddar.

The menu also promised the buttermilk pancakes would have caramelized bananas served with it.  However, when the dish arrived, the bananas looked decidedly spritely and very un-caramelized.  The pancakes themselves had the stodge of undercooked batter and fell very flat for me.  Although, full disclosure, it didn’t stop me from polishing off the plate.

Perhaps Jolie Café’s baking is their strength – their sourdough bread for the avo toast was excellent, and the bread basket was warm and fresh and showed some confident use of savoury flavouring.  They have a good cake display and an impressive range of patisseries too.

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There is a clumsy charm to Jolie Café.  Yes, they serve sweet strawberry butter with their savoury tomato bread, and they sneak unadvertised ingredients into their dishes. Yes, they need help with their coffee program, and the humble avocado saved breakfast, but you get the impression they really want to brighten peoples’ day with food and flowers – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It was only as we were leaving that the lights were turned on and some music finally played. Suddenly, the flowers became a little bit brighter, and James Blunt was telling us, “You’re beautiful.”

It would have been nice to be told that at the beginning of our breakfast, though.

 

Jolie INvoice
I love the Avo toast gets its full title on the invoice! The power of the Avo!

 

Jolie Cafe
City Walk
04 345 6922

Jolie Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato