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

Managing a restaurant is not rocket science.  It’s much harder!  Containing over 20 years of lessons learned (the hard way), FS’s manual for managers is an important collection of restaurant industry knowledge captured in one concise document.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and I’ll email you a copy!

 

For anyone who’s still in Dubai, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a little quiet at the moment. Well, if you’ve been wondering where everyone has disappeared to, wonder no more, for I have found them. They are at The Atlantis. All of them.

The Serb, seemingly on a mission this summer to pick every tourist trap restaurant for us to visit, made a reservation at Ayamna, the Lebanese restaurant at The Atlantis.  Just to put the sheer scale of The Atlantis operation into perspective, Ayamna was choice number seven on the automated reservation list – in the fine dining section.  There were two other restaurant sections as well.

“They said there was a belly dancer and a man and woman show at 8 pm,” the Serb informed me. I asked her what a man and woman show was.
“Don’t know, they didn’t say.” She thought about it for a while.
“I hope it’s not an X-man show,” she said.
I’m not sure what she meant.

Lebanese cuisine is what I refer to as a legacy cuisine.  A legacy cuisine is any cuisine where someone is likely to have their own personal preference and will vehemently defend their “version” of that cuisine or dish.  Lebanese restaurants are the worst for this.
If you ever tell someone you ate at a particular Lebanese restaurant, there is bound to be a swift and furious rebuttal from someone in the group and instructions to visit “their” Lebanese restaurant instead.

To get to Ayamna on time for your reservation, just follow the same timing as you would for catching an international flight.  The process is roughly the same.  Throngs of people, reservation number security control, a twenty-minute hike to the gate and you are there.

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However, once you arrive, you float down a grand staircase, as if you are arriving at a regal ball. The room is spacious, with wonderfully high ceilings.  There are muted blue Iznik style tiles on one of the walls, and the whole space is clean, white and crisp. Marble floors, marble tables, high mashrabiyya patterned ceilings and Arabian arches.  It’s a pretty room, but for me lacked a little personality.  The acoustics were poor, and it missed some character, which is one of the most important tenants of Lebanese dining.

We took our seats and in true Lebanese fashion, were approached almost immediately by our charming server.  Lebanese restaurants usually have efficient service, and I’m going to go on record to say that their service teams are probably the most cohesive teams going.  There is a flow and grace to their chaos.  Heavily laden trays full of delicious mezze are dispatched with ruthless efficiency to tables.  Waiters and runners descend onto tables, create space, move items, fuss and faff, and within seconds a once empty table is full of assorted mezze, bread, and drinks.

Many Lebanese restaurant teams have gone on to have successful careers as pit stop men in the F1. Probably.

Our usual Lebanese order is a mixed grill, fattoush, hommous with meat and grilled halloumi. However, that’s like the most boring order ever.  That’s like going to a Thai restaurant and ordering spring rolls and pad thai.  Or going to an Italian restaurant and ordering chicken alfredo.  So the Serb and I agreed to order something different this time.  The Serb immediately asked for the hommous.

We also went with the Rocca beet salad, cheese rekakat, koussa ablama and baked ouzi rice.

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You always can tell the quality of hummus by how a restaurant spells it on the menu.  Ayamna goes for the long, regal version – Hommous, with a capital H, thank you very much.  The more letters the better the hummos is.  That’s what I’ve always found. I once ate a homus that was spelt homos.  It was, needless to say, quite terrible.

However, Ayamna’s hommous was quite the opposite thanks to their spelling.  It had an exquisite creamy texture, with a great balance of tahini sharpness.  It was one of the better versions I have tasted in Dubai, maybe even better than the Lighthouse.

Their Rocca beet salad was fresh and with good quality ingredients.

The cheese rekakat were cooked well – golden and crispy but not too oily. The saltiness of the akawi balanced nicely with the mozzarella.

Our koussa ablama was exceptional. Baby marrow stuffed with dense, silky, minced lamb, served with a yogurt sauce. The flavour profile was bang on – lamb can be quite heavy, but  Ayamna’s was light, flavourful, juicy, full of umami and balanced perfectly by the soft yogurt, mint, and coriander. My only disappointment was the marrows were baby.  I could have eaten a fully grown stuffed marrow and not even felt bad about it.

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The baked ouzi rice needed table side service – a small football-shaped rice filled puff pastry was cut open in front of us, like some mini autopsy.  Thanks to the pastry case, the rice was moist and fluffy with soft raisins, pistachio and mint dotted throughout.  However, it was a very mild dish – the chicken and lamb not bringing as much flavour as I thought they should have.  Also, the rice was a little cold in the center – it needed a few more minutes in the oven.

The restaurant was pretty full throughout out meal – lots of tourists, but you know what – it was a pretty good experience. The food was light, lively and cooked with confidence.  The restaurant is pretty, but struggles a little with the atmosphere.  The staff were gracious hosts like most people from the Levant usually are.

The man and woman show turned out to be a belly dancer and a singer.  Just to clarify, the belly dancer was the woman, and the singer was the man. I won’t review their performance – this is not the X-factor.

I would recommend this restaurant, but it’s is unlikely to be as good as “your” Lebanese restaurant!

invoice ayamna

 

Dinner For two – 423 Dhs
Ayamna – The Atlantis
04 4262626

 

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

Mekong’s reception area is almost as big as the Anantara hotel lobby.  There was an empty canoe styled reception desk, empty bird cage ceiling installation, empty chairs that looked like they were borrowed from The People’s Great Hall in Beijing and the whole foyer remained empty for several long minutes.  The hostess arrived briefly, gave me a quick smile, took the reservation name and promptly disappeared again.

Mekong is Anantara’s Pan Asian restaurant, down at the end of The Palm crescent.  It’s further than you think and is quite a commitment for dinner.  Mekong has been open for a few years now, so my apologies for not being particularly cutting edge with the review.  The Serb chose the venue.  Mekong celebrates cuisine from Asia, namely Thai, Vietnam, and China.

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After our hostess finally got back from her unexplained trip, she walked us to our table and handed us about four kilos of menus to look at.  Typical of a hotel outlet – beverage menu, wine menu, food menu, dessert menu.  A menu of all the menus.  The list is endless.

The room layout is rather confusing – faux canopies attempting to create a sense of outdoors, indoors.  But they didn’t make sense, in the same way, a M.C Escher drawing doesn’t make sense.

Mekong is super themed, and if you ever forgot that you’re in a Pan Asian restaurant, the décor will constantly remind you.  Constantly.  It will be etched into your soul, forever.  Red lanterns, Chinese calligraphy, tuk tuk tables, floating lilies, paper umbrellas, tiger murals and Ming vases – Mekong has stuffed it all in there.  I am surprised they had room for a kitchen.

The main dining room is surrounded by what is effectively a moat – great for keeping away invading armies and checking horse and cart deliveries but not so friendly towards waiters with shoulder-high trays.  Needless to say, they all moved with a finesse and speed that would make Michael Flatley proud.

We ordered our food – I went with a Vietnamese spring roll, remembering my last one was from some restaurant in Dong Khoi, in Ho Chi Minh City and was excellent.  I also ordered the Siomai, the chicken dim sum.

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For mains, I went with the crispy noodle, and the Serb ordered the sweet and sour chicken, probably because she recognized it from the Hengchen take away menu we have on the fridge at home.  Plus, sweet and sour chicken is what she always orders when we eat anywhere vaguely Asian.  Either that or duck.

She had the assuredness of a former madam in a rowdy Shanghai tea shop

Our server was efficient and assertive.  When I added a dim sum platter to the food order as an afterthought, there was an audible tut and an explanation that the platter had 127 dim sum in it.  I don’t know if she was implying that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, or I shouldn’t finish it.

Either way, she had the assuredness of a former madam in a rowdy Shanghai tea shop.  She seemed in control, quite knowledgeable and not scared to throw you out if you order too many dim sum.  But in a very nice way.

The room has its good points – there are some attractive feature walls with retro Chinese wall paper, and the corridor to the bathrooms is particularly worthy of an Instagram post – which, by the way, I don’t recommend you try.  You look extremely suspicious taking pictures, especially if a group of ladies come out of the bathroom at the same time.  Apparently.  A friend told me.

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As we waited for the food to arrive, they bought us out the Pan Asian equivalent of bread sticks.  A bunch of dark green leaves and some fillings to go inside.  Peanuts, lemongrass, onions, ginger, lawn clippings, things like that.  As I crunched into the stuffed leaf, I had visions of how our ancestral foragers must have lived.  If they lived in a heavily themed Chinese restaurant.  With a moat. Having said that, as leaves go, it was quite delicious – the flavours were punchy, and the crunch was satisfying.

Because we were seated in one of Escher’s terraces, the seating area next to us was elevated, and I had a wonderful view of everyone’s legs for the duration of the meal.   The main demographic of the restaurant were tourists – families on summer break, kids playing on their ipads, mums wondering why on earth they came to Dubai in July and dads thankful that the family suite was on special offer.

It only struck me half way through the evening that there was no music playing.  The only sound was the hollow chat of other guests and the occasional splash as someone fell into the defensive moat.  The lack of music hadn’t bothered me until I realised.  Then it bothered me a lot.  Every restaurant needs music.  Except for wagamama.

like a sunburnt Scotsman in the dead sea.

Our dim sum and Vietnamese spring roll arrived.  Usually, Vietnamese spring rolls use wafer thin rice paper, so fine and delicate that they are almost translucent.  Mekong’s rice paper was of the thick-cut variety.  It was rice cardboard, which made it chewy and rubbery.  Also, the roll itself lacked any sort of seasoning or flavour, relying solely on the dipping sauce to provide the much-needed taste.  Very average and quite disappointing.

The chicken siomai was good – the chicken was flavourful, but I didn’t get the impression they were made in house.  I could be wrong.

After what seemed like quite a wait, our mains arrived.  The sweet and sour chicken was presented in half a pineapple, just like the Chinese do it.  In Hawaii. In the eighties.  It was slick, sticky and piping hot.  The chicken pieces floated on top of a thick, viscous sauce like a sunburnt Scotsman in the dead sea.

IMG_7434

According to the Serb, it was better than our usual take away because it had pomegranate and she appreciated the pineapple.  There you go.

My crispy noodles were good – a little salty with some overly aggressive noodle strands that almost took my eye out.  But I persevered and enjoyed them.  The key is to drown the crispy noodle parts in the sauce until they soften up.  However, that takes patience – something I severely lack.  I deserved the noodle in the eye.

Mekong is an average hotel restaurant.  The décor is memorable, but the food somewhat forgettable.  The price, however, was good value for money.

But what do I know – Time Out awarded them Best Asian restaurant of 2016, so they must be doing something right.

 

 

 

Invoice Mekong

 

Mekong Restaurant
Anantara Resport and Spa
Dinner for two – 414 dhs
04 5678888

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

Yauatcha, Wagamama, Busabai, Hakkasan, and Babaji – they may sound like some Asian superhero group, but they are, in fact, serial restaurateur Alan Yau’s portfolio of restaurants, with chopsticks and expensive fit-outs as their weapons of choice.

Babaji is his latest restaurant to make it to Dubai from London.  It is a pide salon – basically a casual dining Turkish pizzeria.  It follows his tried and tested method of taking ethnic cuisine and diluting it for the mass market.  I don’t say this negatively – Wagamama, another Alan Yau creation, is a phenomenally success Japanese restaurant, but there is a reason they haven’t opened in Japan, and there is a reason Babaji won’t open in Turkey.  (Watch now as he announces a flagship Istanbul store!)

interior1

It’s located at City Walk, which is becoming a five-star mosh pit for international restaurants.  When the Serb and I entered, there was a nice buzz to the place although plenty of seats were still available on a weekend night.

Our host greeted us pleasantly enough and was then subject to a bloodless coup when an over enthusiastic waiter took over seating duties from her.  He strangely gave us a choice of a hot table or a cold table.  We ignored his question, and he sat us at a window seat.  The Serb gave him a glare, and we never saw him again.

Babaji is well staffed – we had interactions with no less than five different team members.  Some were overly chatty, and some approached the table as silent as the night and disappeared again.

The restaurant is anchored by two large pide ovens that look like giant albino minion twins.

The interior décor is, surprisingly for Mr. Yau, rather restrained and sensible – the foundational canvas is quite bare – exposed concrete, simple tables, and chairs, but accented by some rather eclectic and beautiful blue Iznik tiling throughout the open kitchen and restaurant.  It has a nice feel and works well with the overall positioning of the concept.  There is a very high ceiling that causes havoc with the acoustics, and it does get a little clattery in there.  Yep, I think I made up a word.

ovens

The layout of the space was not how I would have done it.  It was as if they built the perfect kitchen first and then put some tables and chairs in whatever space was left over.  The restaurant is anchored by two large pide ovens that look like giant albino minion twins.  The tables wrap around a generous back of house area, and there is a long communal table with the chairs facing directly into the kitchen like an Anatolian last supper.  Needless to say, those 20 seats remained empty all night.

The menu, I like. It is a Turkish brasserie style menu reminiscent of the Balthazar layout.  A single card with a concise selection of pide, meze, grills with some desserts and soups as well.  I’ll be honest – there was nothing on that menu that didn’t sound delicious.  Alan Yau knows what people want, before sometimes even they know it.

 There is a disclaimer that says, “loosely inspired by true events.”

We ordered a couple of pide, the Mevlana and the four cheese, some hummus and bread, a beetroot salad and the kulbasti.

The food arrives randomly and without logic – but in some way, that’s quite charming.  The humus made a solo appearance and had to wait several more minutes for the bread.  You could tell it was embarrassed to be there alone.  The kulbasti, a hot dish, arrived before the beetroot salad, which was very apologetic for being so late.

The pides know they are the star of the show, so they arrived long after everyone else and without a hint of apology or regret.  All other dishes quickly move out of the way to allow them center stage on the table.

For the purists though, I think this is a light version of regional Turkish cuisine.  Imagine Babaji as a true story movie, but at the start, there is a disclaimer that says, “loosely inspired by true events.” But that is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

lamb

The hummus was average – quite thick with a rather neutral taste and very forgettable.  There are hundreds of restaurants in Dubai that have mastered hummus, but Babaji isn’t one of them, unfortunately.

The service was good, but our waiter needed to chill out a little – He asked us repeatedly, how each dish was – and he didn’t want a cursory smile and thumbs up.  Oh no – he wanted serious details.  He probed and used open-ended questions. – Sometimes even the same question in a different way to gauge consistency in our answers.  He was terrifying. At one point, I think I saw him wheeling a car battery and some jumper cables over to another table.  In hindsight, it was probably just the bill.

The kulbasti is strips of tender lamb over cubes of bread, covered in a tomato sauce.  It was served in a small bowl, and it should have been a well-constructed dish.  However, the tomato sauce was a little watery and again quite mild in the spice and flavour department.  Thankfully, the meat was good quality and seasoned well.  The Dubai flavour palate is more demanding of spices, and they might need to tweak their recipes a little in the future.

The beetroot salad was a generous bowl of lightly coated mesclun leaves with cherry tomatoes and red and yellow beetroot and pomegranate.  Fresh, lively and on point.

pide1

The two pides we ordered arrived piping hot, glistening with melted cheese and promises of salty, carb heaven.  They didn’t disappoint, but they didn’t blow me away either.  The Mevlana pide was with lamb, beef sausage, and kasar cheese topping.  The sausage meat was far too delicately spiced and fell a little flat for me.  However, the base was light, slightly chewy and was pulled from the hot stone at exactly the right time.  The four cheese pide was on point – slightly oily, great mouthfeel and extremely satisfying.

Despite the albino minions, and the car battery questioning and the disjointed food arrival, Alan Yau has created in Babaji, a charming and satisfying casual dining experience.  Babaji does the same for Turkish food as Pizza Express did for the pizzeria.  It’s not clever enough to reach the cult-like status that Wagamama once enjoyed, but it certainly won’t join the scrap heap of restaurants like his ill-fated Naamyaa Café did.

If you are in the area, stop by for a satisfying substitute to Pizza.  

invocie Babaji

 

Babaji Istanbul Pide Salonu
City Walk
04 385 4605
Dinner for two – 390 AED

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

The latest Belgium inspired restaurant to open its doors in Dubai is Le Petit Belge.  The Little Belgian. It’s a cute name, and I had visions of Tin Tin and Snowy welcoming me at the door and a bunch of Smurfs running around with bottles of Duval and bowls of Moules.  Yes, I did just horribly stereotype using fictional characters and food.

We, of course, have Café Belge and several versions of the Belgium Beer Café already in Dubai.  Here’s the thing with Belgium restaurants though – there is only so much you can do with the concept.  Belgium is a very small country with few select (yet delightful) cuisine choices that could make it onto an authentic Flemish menu with any credibility.

Fortune Favours the Brave. As seen in Times Square
Fortune Favours the Brave. As seen in Times  Square

The only saving grace is they borrow generously from the surrounding countries – namely the Germans, Dutch and the French. However, borrowing anything from those three countries is like borrowing something from an awkward co-worker that never lets you forget it.  Even after you have given it back.

The Belgians have a pretty good shout for being the birthplace of fries. Or frites.  There is evidence that the Belgians have been eating deep-fried chipped potatoes since the 1680’s.  The reason they are called French fries is thanks to the American soldiers during the First World War.  Like most Americans traveling through Europe, these soldiers didn’t really know where they were and ate them while thinking they were in France, when, in all probability, they were already in Belgium.

Right, so that’s the Belgians, French, German, Dutch and now Americans that I have upset in just three paragraphs!  Let’s keep going, shall we?

I can see exactly what LPB is trying to do with the space, which is in a basement location in the Pullman hotel in JLT.  JLT is becoming known for their subterranean F&B.  Like all restaurants, LPB is looking for a hook – a talking point, something that allows them to stand out from the four other Belgium cafes in the city and their other competitors.

LPB INterior

However, Le Petit Belge confuses me.  They have a traditional Belgium inspired café, with globe lights, subway tiles, banquette seating and retro cool signage.  But they also have electric blue walls and random quotes in neon blue lights that have no reference to Belgium or its food.  They also have odd decals on the walls that are obscure references to Belgium that look like something out of a children’s sticker book and they have a hint of an industrial feel as well.

We entered into a semi busy restaurant and were immediately seated by a friendly hostess.  Our table was in the corner, a banquette next to a rather overpowering blue neon light.  It would have stood out in Times Square such was its wattage.  It was a quote that said, “Fortune favours the brave.”  I hope that’s not in reference to their food.  Maybe they get it flashing during ladies’ night to help with the mood.

The menu is as expected.  Dishes like moules frites, croquettes, coq au vin, steak tartar and croque monsieur populate the menu.

If I was to pigeonhole LPB, they are a cross between Coquley, Crown and Lion and Belgium Beer Café.  Our waitress wasn’t from Belgium, but she had a big smile and was enthusiastic and friendly.  We placed our order immediately for some famous frites and some Belgian abbey cheese croquettes with a sweet pear syrup dip.

IMG_7113
Cheese Balls and Belgian Frites

We also ordered the coq au vin, and the carbonnades a la flamande, which is a Flemish Stew.  Nothing better for a hot June day in Dubai than a thick beef stew and a slow cooked chicken in red wine sauce.

The cheese croquettes, however, were outstanding. Six little bite sized balls that were light, crispy and loaded with cheese.  They were a delight to bite into and were made even better with the sweet, sticky pear syrup dip.  A good opener to the meal.

The frites, unfortunately, would have made those American soldiers turn around and go back to where they came from.  They were without seasoning and decidedly average.  True Belgian fries rely on a few key points that can’t be compromised on.  The quality and age of the potato is the first one.  Funnily enough, the older the potato, the better the fry.

They must be cooked twice.  The fries then need to cool down completely and fried once more before serving to ensure they get that famous crispiness.  If you get the first frying wrong, (oil temperature, number of fries in the basket – it is fraught with danger) the second fry cannot correct any mistakes.  Finally, it needs to be cooked in animal fat.  That is when the starch bonds with the flavour of the fat and the Belgian frites become world famous.

I think LPB skipped a couple of steps. Somewhat disappointing.

Coq Au Vin. Excuse the Purple Hue. Fortune favours the brave, not the chicken.
Coq Au Vin. Excuse the Purple Hue. Fortune favours the brave, not the chicken.

The Flemish stew was served in a small cassoulet bowl with some more non-Belgian Frites, and the Coq au Vin arrived in an iron skillet like a Frenchman in a Peugeot.

Have I mentioned the blue neon light? Did I mention it was bright? Like Times Square bright? Well, because of this Times Square blue neon light right next to our faces, the whole meal experience took on a rather purplish hue.  It was very distressing, especially for the chicken.  The chicken suffered, particularly as it was garnished with a small purple edible flower as well.  Luckily the flavours were not compromised, and overall the presentation was good.

LPB’s carbonnade was enjoyable, but for me they missed that delicate sweet and sour element that makes the stew so good.  A good carbonnade relies on the deep dark flavour of abbey style beer, but what really gives the dish its distinctive flavour is the brown sugar and cider vinegar.  The result is a sweet and sour combination that plays beautifully against the onions and the rich beer. Having said that, the beef was tender and cooked well, and the chef managed to coax some good layers of flavour out.

Flemish Stew. With non Belgian Fries
Flemish Stew. With non Belgian Fries

The chicken was also well represented – generous pieces of leg and thigh, layered with the rich aroma of wine, earthy mushrooms, and sweet onions.  It’s home cooking done well and with the right price point.  It had a good sweetness to it, and the meat was juicy and flavourful – not easy to get right when slow cooking meat.

We finished up with the chocolate mousse which was outstanding. Not too sweet, with good consistency.  The mouthfeel was a thing of beauty and they cleverly mixed in some biscuits bits to give some texture to the mousse.  After one mouthful, The Serb announced she didn’t like it very much, and I feigned suitable sympathy.  Then gleefully finished off her portion.

LPB has tried to redefine a Belgian Beer Café, and I am not sure if I am convinced with their interpretation of it.  However, they are well priced with an attractive bar serving good beverages and a solid kitchen that delivers quality home cooked style food.  It has a good atmosphere with an efficient and professional service team.

LPB is a nice, licensed, casual dining addition to JLT.  I hope the local community gets behind it – they are worth it.  If not, they can always sell that neon light to Times Square.

invoice

 

Le Petit Belge
The Pullman Hotel, JLT
04 242 7794
Dinner for 2 – 306 dhs

 

Le Petit Belge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato