Tom and Serg in Al Quoz was a breath of fresh air for the Dubai casual dining scene, back in 2013, with their hipster cool staff, casual laid back attitude and solid food and beverage programs.  They blazed a trail for the rest of the casual dining market and set the standard in café culture, oiled beards and tattoo sleeves.

They also scored home runs with the next two places they opened, The Sum of Us and Common Grounds and all three cafes have their own distinct core following.  They introduced us to a crazy new drink called a flat white and turned all of us into coffee snobs.

Next came The Brunswick Sports Bar (Let’s forget about Muchaha and Uncle Jheff) which was an edgy, grown-up sports bar that had a certain confidence and panache.  I even wrote a review about it and I think I called it “an achingly retro sports bar with some modern-day upgrades on a backdrop of industrial décor.” It was original and classy and it’s safe to say I was and still am a bit of a fanboy of the Bull & Roo team.  If Bull & Roo made merchandise, I would totally buy it.

Therefore, I was surprised when I heard that The Brunswick had undergone a renovation and rebrand, just a couple of years after opening.

Walking in, the change is immediate – The New Brunswick is moody, darker and much more serious than its predecessor.  Black tables and chairs are scattered across the concrete floor and the kitchen and bar are clad with dark shiny subway tiles.  There are minimal accessories, and a several planters dotted around the space.  For me, it, unfortunately, lacked a story or premise.  I found it difficult to connect to the space and wasn’t sure what vibe I was picking up.  Bull & Roo always operate clearly defined concepts with strong storylines, but this reincarnation of Brunswick needed that famous magic dust they usually sprinkle on things.

There was no-one at the entrance to greet us, so we wandered around for a while and eventually grabbed a table in what they call their lifestyle eatery.  I don’t know what that means, I think it’s just a pompous dining room.

Eventually, we were handed two food menus, despite there being four of us, and had to ask for two more.  After several additional minutes, the waitress finally brought us two drinks menus.  I didn’t want to make a fuss as perhaps this whole sharing concept has evolved to include menus too.  We hot bedded the menus and worked out a page sharing system to speed things up.

The new menu takes itself very seriously.  There are dishes with things like sherry vinegar gel, cultured creams, and charcoal mayonnaise.  The menu comprises medium sharing, large sharing, and sides.  There are dishes like grilled quail and monkfish cheeks. The Serb asked quietly what the difference was between medium sharing and sides.  It was a good question. In a move that implies they perhaps are not so sure of their new menu themselves, they have also included party favourites such as bar bites, pizzas, and burgers.

I applaud them for pushing the boundaries, and the menu reminded me a little of Folly’s menu, by Nick and Scott, which is a compliment.  However, nothing really stood out for us, and no dish demanded our attention.  It might have helped if the service team had shown some enthusiasm, taken the time to explain the menu and sold us on a few dishes, but they could barely make eye contact with us, let alone conduct an engaging conversation about the new kitchen direction.

In the end, we went for the safe options and ordered all three burger choices and the Neapolitan pizza.  As we ordered the triple cream brie burger and the Shropshire blue burger, I felt my arteries thickening and my heart rate increase.  To counterbalance that, we also ordered the crispy grain burger, made up of lentils, quinoa, mushroom, buckwheat and other great things you would feed to a rabbit. A balance was restored, kind of.

The grain burger was surprisingly good and even more surprisingly turned out to be the star of the lunch.  The brie burger was severely undercooked and was inedible, and the blue burger barely passed the mustard.

Then came Pizzagate.  Our server quietly dropped a pizza into the middle of the table and made a quick getaway.  However, the Serb, when hungry, has all her senses heightened and noticed immediately that it was the wrong pizza.  Amazingly, the server also knew this and explained our pizza had been taken to the table next to us by mistake, but we could have this one instead.  The old switch and bait pizza trick.  We politely declined and said we would wait for the Neapolitan.  On the way back to the kitchen, the server tried to offload the unwanted pizza onto the original table, but they also declined, having rather enjoyed our pizza.  Rumour has it, that pizza is still trying to find a home today.

Our correct order eventually arrived, but by then the burgers had been eaten, and our whole meal experience had ceased to be.  To rub salt in the wound, the pizza was effectively raw dough with some luke-warm toppings and was unfortunately left uneaten.

The Brunswick Eatery Bar and Terrace has a long way to go to reach the high levels of the rest of Bull & Roo’s portfolio.  The food was a big let-down – burgers and pizza are not the hardest of food to get right.  However, more importantly, a few of the staff seriously let down the brand with their lack of customer care and attention to detail.  To their credit, the pizza was removed from the bill, but that is not a long-term solution for what they need to do to improve.

As we left, heartbroken and hungry, not a single member of staff attempted to say goodbye or even acknowledge our departure.  Bull & Roo, I still love you, but I’m going to stick to Common Grounds in the future.


Brunswick.  Eatery. Bar. Terrace.
Sheraton Hotel, MOE
056 4040685
Lunch for four – minus pizza – 399.00 AED


Brunswick Eatery, Bar & Terrace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For the F&B industry, Dubai has long been fertile fields famous for fruitful yields and bountiful harvests.  For years, the Dubai residents and citizens have embraced the F&B market, allowing even the most mediocre of operators to carve out a viable living.  There has been no end of companies and individuals happy to pump investment into this industry – a movement helped by an enthusiastic retail landscape supply. Hotels frequently have upwards of double-digit restaurants servicing just five hundred or so guest rooms.  As an example, the newly opened QE2 hotel has thirteen F&B outlets planned.  As a fun comparison, the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas has fourteen outlets.  However, they have over four thousand guest rooms, a casino, and significant convention and events centre.  The new Pointe on The Palm due to open late 2018, has space for another one hundred retail outlets, many will be allocated for F&B.  Blue Waters will also have over two hundred retail spaces when it comes online.  Dubai has the highest ratio of restaurants to people on the planet.

However, our industry has become fat with empty dining rooms, discounts and meal deals as restaurants clamour and scratch for customers.  We have farmed the land so hard and without respite, that the soil is fast becoming void of many essential nutrients and minerals.  Our audience is fatigued and weary.  Our costs are out of control and passing it onto the consumer is no longer a strategy that is being accepted.  Many of us are in survival mode, and I hear it almost every day from colleagues and peers.

There is a whiff of desperation out there, and growing signs of panic.  Questionable management tactics are being utilised by popular restaurants we all visit regularly.  One restaurant has enforced a minimum spend on all tables – and if the server can’t convince the table to eat that amount, they get reprimanded.  I hear of staff tips being used to pay suppliers.  Restaurants are drastically reducing staff numbers to control costs, resulting in one restaurant expecting a single waiter to look after eighteen tables by himself.  Substandard ingredients are being passed off as premium and commodity products like water are way overpriced to try make that bottom line.

Alas, we are perhaps in a situation of our own making, though.  There is an argument that says the global F&B industry, (of which I include landlords, investors, suppliers, governing bodies and restaurants), spurred on by the initial success and prosperity, have grossly overstretched themselves.  They started wanting more and more, finding little satisfaction with previous achievements and goals.  There was a desire to open more restaurants, make more profit, grow beyond their means, and their ambition became grotesque and self-serving.  The fall out can be seen across the globe – it is almost as if we have forgotten our why because we were too busy chasing that big private equity buy out.

In these challenging economic times, I hope that, as an industry, we remain ambitious and positive, but do not allow greed and panic to sully the fantastic progress and advances we have made.

However, the very fact that I was recently charged 48 dhs for a 500 ml bottle of water means someone, somewhere along the line has decided to get greedy.

Although the line between ambition and greed can sometimes seem quite thin, thanks to both being goal-driven, there is a clear difference. Simply put, ambition serves a purpose while greed is self-serving.  I think our ambition has blurred somewhat over the years.  Greed is the desire to take everything you can.  Ambition is the desire to give everything you’ve got.

You see, in some ways, everyone is a stakeholder in our industry.  Virtually everyone in a city or community has an interest in creating and maintaining a healthy F&B sector. From the government to the landlords, to the suppliers, to the operators, to the consumers, everyone has a vested interest.  A strong, robust and healthy restaurant market is one of the best indicators of a thriving economy.

Ambition serves a purpose.  It’s important to remember that.  I hope every business involved in our wonderful industry remembers their original purpose and stays true to it.  Adopt a long-term strategy, not short-sighted apathy.  Yes, by all means, do what you need to do, to survive, but hold your integrity tightly with both hands.  Put your mission statement back up on the wall, reread your company vision, remind yourself of your core values, and don’t let panic turn your ambition into greed.  Our purpose ultimately is to serve the customer, and at the end of the day, we are all customers to one another.

I know we all have targets and goals for growth and KPI’s and ROI’s and expectations to meet – I get that – those goals are important but so is the longevity of our broader community.  We have a responsibility to one another.  Ambition is not self-serving, where any means justifies the end.  It is time for us to realise that greed is not good, never has been and never will be.  Let’s consider for a moment that our choices are not just limited to boom or bust.  We don’t have to work within such extremes.  There is a middle ground between the two and it’s ok to find safe harbour there once in a while.

As Edward Dearborn says, “Let us emulate in our actions and words that ambition is the heart and soul of success and lasting prosperity.”

Akiba Dori is a new venue in D3, taking over the corner of Building 8.   Designed like a Tokyo street, Akiba is achingly cool, quirky and eclectic, in the way only Japanese pop culture can be.  It is for the young and the young at heart.  It blends gamification, music, food, and drinks effortlessly.  As you walk in, you enter what looks like a Tokyo street, with wet-finished cobblestones, neon lights and a Japanese bakery on your right.  There is a small arcade game room on your left and further down the street is the licensed bar and DJ booth.  At the very end is Tokyopolitan and their Japanese wood-fired pizza oven – our reason for waking up that morning.

The space is fun, quirky and original.  It’s not your conventional restaurant space – there is a lot going on, and because of that, it takes on the atmosphere of a fun, lively street party.    

You could easily film a Bollywood/J-Pop hybrid music video in Akida Dori.  You’d have to set off the sprinklers first of course, because you can’t have a Bollywood/J-pop music video without torrential rain. 

Mistakenly thinking that Akiba would be quiet on a weekend lunch, we walked into a buzzing restaurant filled with families and friends.   I was almost upset that so many people had found it already and for a minute thought they might actually be filming a music video there – which would have been awesome. 

We were greeted by a friendly member of staff, who gave the impression we should just sit wherever we felt like.  They didn’t seem big on formalities.  We sat halfway down the street, and our waitress brought us over their menu.  A single card with salads, Japanese street food, specials and baked goods on one side, and the other size dedicated to their Tokyopolitan pizzas. 

I’ve had the advantage of eating at Akiba Dori a couple of times now, but I’m not allowed to write about any restaurant unless The Serb is with me.  Contractually, it’s a mess, and I’d rather not talk about it.  I’m actually not allowed to talk about it. 

We ordered the Akiba rock shrimp with a spicy mayo sauce, some Akiba sliders, and a Margherita pizza.  The waitress explained that it’s a sharing restaurant and the food will come out when it’s ready.  I don’t know why restaurants still bother explaining this anymore.  At this point, restaurants should only highlight if it’s not sharing style.

As we were waiting for our food to arrive in a random order, we watched Chef Luigi stock his pizza oven with some more wood.  The Serb commented how delicate and careful he was with his oven.  I didn’t want to say it was probably because the oven was bloody hot, not because he felt spiritually connected to it.

Although, some do say if that Tokyopolitan’s oven ever goes cold, D3 will fall.

The sliders came in pairs, which is good because most sharing food comes in odd numbers which ironically makes sharing equally very difficult unless you are in an odd numbered J-pop band.  The sliders were not bad, but I’ve had better.  In a nod to their Japanese roots, they came with a sheet of nori and were sprinkled with panko breadcrumbs.  Both were un-necessary for me and were there just for the sake of it.  The bread was also a little too toasted and could have been softer.  Having said all that, the beef was of excellent quality, and the cheese was generous and melted perfectly. 

The Akiba rock shrimp are similar to your dynamite shrimp made famous in places like P.F Changs and Cheesecake.  Surprisingly, Akiba is cheaper than both of those places for this dish.  Our bowl arrived with a mountain of lightly battered shrimp glistening in a tangy mayo sauce.  Did I mention, it was a mountain of shrimp?  If the Marina Fisheries Department ever need to tackle overfishing of shrimp, the first person they should pull in is Akiba Dori’s chef.  The shrimp themselves were well cooked, the batter offering the slightest of crunch and the spicy mayo sauce coating your mouth with a velvety heat.  An excellent dish.

Then came the Margherita pizza.  A pizza, so important it came with its own table.  Also, because our table was full and the pizza didn’t fit.  NB: small tables and sharing menus don’t mix well. 

Tokyopolitan’s Margherita was up there with the best in town.  Chef Luigi is a born and raised Naples boy, formerly from Rossovivo, and has recently trained under one of Tokyo’s best pizza masters.  Our pizza was charred perfectly, and in true Neapolitan style, was soft, elastic, tender and fragrant.  Even with something as simple as the Margherita, there is a crescendo of flavours and smells happening, from the intense smell of baked dough to the slight hint of acid from the San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella to the added saltiness of the crust.  From the subtle touch of fruit and spice from the olive oil to the grassy freshness brought by the basil leaves, there is so much to appreciate on something so simple.

We ended with their Dolce Luna dessert – vanilla ice-cream cooked in pizza dough drizzled with Nutella.  It sounds amazing, and I wish I could tell you how it tasted, but I can’t remember, because my subconscious has erased my experience of it as a protective defence mechanism.  You see, the Dolce Luna is the most phallic looking dish I’ve seen this side of Patpong.  Seven inches long, two inches in girth, with a controversial curve to it, this dish could star it its own movie.  Imagine sharing this with your boss. Or mother?!!  I can barely look the Serb in the eyes now, let alone anyone else. 

Thank God the two ice cream scoops are on the inside.

The superstar of Akiba Dori is their pizzas, they could easily compete with any pizzeria in Dubai.  The rest of the food is a collection of good and average, and I think there will be improvements and changes made as they go along and mature as a concept.  The alcohol license changes things for them, and with a bottle of grape coming in 99 dhs and a pint at 37 dhs, they seem to have got their pricing right.

The service is quite relaxed and casual – I can see them getting a little stretched when busy, but they are approachable and down to earth.  The vibe is what makes it – carefree, egalitarian and energetic.  I recommend you head down there and see for yourself.  You never know, they might be filming a Bollywood/J-pop music video.



Akiba Dori
D3, Building 8
04 770 7949
Lunch for Two – 230Dhs


Akiba Dori Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bao Wow, the Last Exit food truck concept has been upgraded into a full brick and mortar restaurant, in City Walk, no less. That’s like a conference division football team being promoted directly to the Premier League! No testing the market in a JLT or Barsha Heights, no growing brand awareness through a Deliveroo kitchen. No sir! Bao Wow went straight in at the deep end, like an over-enthusiastic toddler on their first day at the public pools.

As a food truck, Bao Wow sells steamed buns, primarily.  Bao Wow as a restaurant however, serves up traditional and modern dishes from across China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.  It has taken over the old Dragonfly location, which was headed up by Chef Tim Raue.  Unfortunately, Dragonfly didn’t last long – you can read my review of it here if you’re interested in reading about a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore.

Apart from hiring a local graffiti artist to create colourful, urban artwork on the back walls, Bao Wow has done little else to the original fit out, making use of the same furniture and operating equipment.  They have also toned down the red, which was the signature colour of Dragonfly.   It was also the only colour, I seem to remember.

We walked into an empty restaurant and had our choice of where to sit.  The seating consists of two corridors, framing the perimeter of the square space, meaning everything is linear, and I struggled to grasp a sense of the place.  For me, the layout doesn’t encourage community or social connection.  If I was a Feng Shui master, I think my aura would have collapsed in on itself.

We were seated and our waitress, who was very nice and chatty, handed us a couple of iPads which had the menu preloaded onto them.  She didn’t take the time to explain how a humble food truck on a highway rest area made it to the Premier League, which was a shame.  Maybe she was still trying to find out herself.  This is a personal preference, but I dislike iPad menus.  The menu is an extension of a restaurant’s personality, and how it is laid out, what paper it is printed on, what colours and fonts are used, tells a lot about the restaurant and adds to the experience.  To swipe and pinch and zoom on a screen doesn’t allow me to connect with the restaurant on a deeper level, and that’s important to me because I am a Millennial.  If I had been a Baby Boomer, I think my aura would have collapsed in on itself.  The Serb was using her iPad to check her facebook.

We ordered the Peking duck and teriyaki chicken steamed buns, the chicken gyoza, the beef donburi and a Bao yasai side salad.

They had a sushi maki roll section as well, but ten minutes ago, they were a food truck, so I passed on them.

The food arrived staccato style, as and when it was ready with the salad being the first out of the gates.  It was a great salad – fresh mesclun greens with the snow fungus and mushrooms providing some great texture and some real sharpness coming in from the wafu dressing as well.

The steamed buns arrived, looking like little-stuffed clouds of deliciousness.  The duck was far too sweet for me though, and unfortunately, the meat lost all of its glorious umami.  We also both had to pick duck bones from our mouths as well.  The Serb was very lady-like about it and gracefully deposited said bone in a napkin with little fuss and drama.  However, I was a little more dramatic and acted as if someone has just tried to assassinate me, by waving my arms, coughing and generally spluttering unnecessarily.  Unfortunately, none of the staff were on our side of the seating corridor, so my antics went unnoticed.  Probably for the best.

The slaw in the teriyaki chicken bun was dripping with juices, ruining the structural integrity of the bun.  It was wet and sloppy, and not in a good way.  However, the taste was great, and if they can get the slaw right, you’ve got yourself a good steamed bun right there.

The chicken gyoza arrived in a modern steamer basket with some dry ice smoke for effect.  It was a gimmick that seemed forced and out of place and distracted me from what were actually very nice dumplings.  They were generously filled, had a good mouthfeel and more importantly, had excellent flavouring.

The donburi was the big winner for me.  A Japanese rice bowl with seared beef slices in a donburi broth.  Pak choi, kimchi, edamame and baby sweetcorn made up the rest of the toppings.  Sitting gently, right at the top, was a slow-cooked egg yolk that you broke, allowing the deep orange yolk to seep into the rice below.  It was a crescendo of flavours, comforting and filling.  All it was missing was a sparkler or something.

Despite not looking at the menu, the Serb had spotted the word Nutella and ordered the Nutella Dim Sum for dessert.  What arrived were two mini ice cream cones on a yellow neon plastic stand.  The dim sum were little single-bite pockets of chewy gyoza skin filled with Nutella.  Highly disappointing.  I felt the ice cream cones were there as an apology for the dim sum.

I think Bao Wow will learn some important lessons moving into the Premier League.  There is a big difference between a fast casual food truck concept and a fully fledged restaurant experience.  For me, despite a few sparks of excellence, there was not enough substance for this concept to be a winner just yet.  However, the Donburi was good and the pricing is sensible.




Bao Wow – City Walk
Lunch for two – 311 AED
04 3427044


Bao Wow Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

NB: All photo credit to

Michael Mazourek is not your average horticulturist.  For the past couple of decades, Michael has been reimagining how we see vegetables, and it is mind-blowing.

Michael’s job is to breed seeds for farmers so that they can grow their crops.  Farmers typically have preferences for the type of seeds they want to buy.  Traditionally, they want seeds that will produce high yields of produce, or seeds that are resistant to disease and insects for example, and because demand dictates supply, this is what Michael’s focus was on.  Until seven years ago, when he met a chef called Dan Barber and the game changed.

Dan Barber is famous for farm to table cooking and runs an almost 100% self-sustained restaurant and farm in New York State, called Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  After cooking for Micheal one evening, Chef Barber took him on a tour of his kitchen.  Grabbing a Butternut Squash, he challenged Michael saying, “If you’re such a good breeder, why don’t you make this thing taste good?”

I mentioned at the start that Michael was not your average horticulturist – he is in fact also an associate professor in Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University.  He was amazed that no-one had ever asked him to breed for flavour before.  Which seems ridiculous, but at the same time, totally makes sense.  Our world is one where everything needs to look pretty and make maximum profit.

However, a chef and a seed breeder asked the simple question, what if, instead of yield, shelf life and uniformity, we started with what’s delicious?

It seemed serendipitous as Michael had already been working such a concept, and had developed a smaller, more intense butternut squash, called the Honeynut squash.  Unfortunately, farmers and growers just weren’t interested.  There was no demand, it was too small, and the Honeynut squash remained unwanted and misunderstood for many years.  That was, until Dan Barber and his culinary team got hold of some.  Barber dry-roasted them at high heat, caramelizing the interior, so it didn’t need brown sugar, or anything other than the squash’s natural sweetness.  The result was spectacular.

Honeynuts have an intense natural sweetness that becomes rich, caramel-y, and almost malt-like when roasted at high heat. Furthermore, they require no peeling, and they have had three times the amount of beta-carotene crammed in.  They have an exterior of deep golden honey and an inherent sweetness.  A new breed of vegetable was born.

Seedsman Matthew Goldfarb, breeder Michael Mazourek, and chef Dan Barber – Founders of Row Seven Seeds

Barber served  this new Honeynut squash at the G9 Chef’s Summit and Massimo Bottura, and Rene Redzepi were among many chefs that fell in love with this new ingredient.  This is where the strength of celebrity chefs’ marketing muscles can be seen.  From an unwanted product with zero demand the Honeynut is a vegetable that 90% of farms now grow, and are available at most Whole Foods and Costcos from coast to coast.

Encouraged by what this simple little vegetable had done, Chef Barber, seed breeder Mazourek, and seedsman Matthew Goldfarb decided to keep going.  They created a company called Row 7 Seeds, and are developing seven types of seeds, focusing on flavour first.

Imagine potatoes so creamy, there is no need for butter.  Imagine squash so flavourful, it needs no maple syrup.  Imagine a pepper that tastes like a habañero, but “minus the burn.”

Well, back in February of this year, after seven long years of organic, GMO-free breeding, these seven seeds are available for purchase, for farmers, both commercial and amateur alike.

I’d like you to meet the Magnificent Seven.

898 Squash – the Honeynut 2.0, the vegetable that started it all.  This variety packs concentrated sweetness, flavour, and beta-carotene into a squash that is the size of your palm.  The Butternut 661 is for the processing industry, providing the best qualities of the honey nut, but in a larger longer storing package


The 7082 Experimental Cucumber, intense green with a slight bitterness that enhances the aroma and flavour dramatically.


Robin’s Koginut Squash – a cross between two squash varieties revered by chefs, is sweet, intensely squashy and delicious.  What’s more, this squash turns from green to bronze on the vine, so you know exactly when to pick it.


The Habanada Pepper – a pepper that has all the floral sweetness of the famous habanero, but with none of the heat.  It’s aromatic with a lingering sweetness and defies everything we’ve come to expect from a pepper.


The Upstate Abundance Potato – golf ball sized with bright white flesh, these potatoes are creamy, buttery and nutty.


With Dubai farmers starting to experiment with advanced farming methods, it would be wonderful to see them perhaps growing a few of these exciting new varieties.  As we know, imported vegetables are often tasteless and can lack nutrition, and it is initiatives like this that can elevate Dubai’s culinary industry to new levels.

These seeds are all available online to purchase. They are organic certified, GMO-free and more importantly unpatented, meaning Dan Barber and Co. encourage farmers to continue this exploration into flavour first farming.

At a time in our history, where good health is diminishing and there is a growing argument that more vegetables and less meat is a better diet for our species, these seven seeds could be the start of something truly game changing.

I’ll end with a quote from Mr. Barber himself. “Part of the goal of the company is not only to increase the flavour of vegetables: It’s to look at how we, as chefs, can change the culture of eating.”

Check out more of their work at their website at

In the 1920’s El Barrio Chino De La Habana or Havana’s Chinatown was the largest Asian neighbourhood in Latin America.  It was a bustling hub of Asian industry that housed laundries, pharmacies, theatres, grocery stores and of course, restaurants.

For forty years, these two cultures merged, and many Chinese culinary traditions, ingredients and techniques soon found their way into traditional Cuban cooking.

For forty years, chefs developed a new style of cooking, applying new flavours and creating new dishes that were the very best of Asia and Latin America.  Chino-Latino cuisine was born.

However, by the 1960’s this progression and innovation came to a grinding halt.  The Chinese left for America in their droves, ingredients dried up and culinary innovation and evolution became a distant memory.

Even today, unfortunately, the El Barrios Chino neighbourhood is just not relevant anymore – it is almost devoid of Chinese people, and there is little talk of the culture and passion the Chinese community once gave to these streets.

What is left is just the perfume of what it was.

But restaurant Asia De Cuba has not forgotten this moment in culinary history and strives to bring Chino-Latino cuisine to Dubai with the opening of their latest outpost in The Westin hotel.

Straight off the bat, let me say what a great fusion it is for a restaurant experience.  The varied and exotic flavours of the East, mixed with the sensuality and passion for life of Latin America.  It’s almost perfect, on paper.

To be honest, my knowledge of Havana and Cuba as a whole is limited to The Fast and The Furious 8 and the song, Havana feat. Young Thug by Camila Cabello.  However, in my mind, that makes me an expert.  I don’t know what else I would need to do to improve my understanding.

We were greeted by two young ladies at the door.  One of them asked us for our reservation details in the same way a worried doctor might ask his patient where it hurts.  We answered her, hoping for the best.  After consulting her computer screen for what seemed like an eternity, but must have only been a few seconds, she nodded to herself and turned to her colleague.

In a quiet tone, she suggested we get taken to table twenty three, like a physician sharing a grim diagnosis with her intern.  She looked back at us and smiled, “Enjoy your final evening,” I think she said.

We were whisked into the main dining room, where we were shown a booth that had a great view of the whole room.  We accepted it with enthusiasm and without fuss, being the perfect patients that we were.

The dining room is a double story space with dramatic foliage and waterfall murals that start on the ceiling and cascade down the walls like some special effect for the movie Inception.  I am sure after a few Cuba Libre it could get quite overwhelming and disorientating.  There is an abstract feature wall behind the bar and open kitchen that symbolises the turquoise waters of Cuba – probably inspired by Vin Diesel driving his Chevrolet Fleetline into the Havana harbour.

The decorative tiling used on the kitchen walls and the cocktail tables is more Levantine and Mediterranean in design than Latin American.  However, I’m pretty sure they were purchased in Dragon Mart, so maybe that’s the Chino side of the design coming through.

Overall it’s a nice room, but it had good bones to start with.  The space used to be where China Grill operated from, and you can still very much see the DNA of the original design.  Replacing vases with plants and adding some paint and wallpaper makes a big visual impact.  However, I worry that for regular China Grill clients, it will be seen as same, same, but different.

However, same same, but different didn’t stop Vin Diesel from making 8 Fast movies, so it shouldn’t stop Asia De Cuba either!

We looked through the menu and skipped quickly past the sushi section.  I’m at a stage in my life where if my sushi’s not hand-made by an 8th generation sushi master, born and raised in Japan, who is at least 95 years old, almost blind and prepares sushi by feel and emotion alone, then I’m not interested.  Call me picky.

Instead, we order the empanadas, fire and ice shrimp salad and chicharrones to start as sharing plates, and then the roast duck salad and short rib beef for mains.  The absence of any of the Serb’s favourite dishes triggers her need for alcohol, and she reaches for the drinks list.  It’s so much cheaper for us when restaurants have burgers on the menu.

Our server is attentive and plucky, having also worked for China Grill.  She clearly knew her way around the menu and was happy to answer any questions we had about the menu.

The room filled up steadily throughout the evening, although almost all of the guests asked to sit at another table from the one they were initially offered.  Unlike the Serb and I, who were grateful to still be alive at this stage.  It was like some weird game of musical chairs.  It’s a place to sit for a few hours, not a puppy you’re adopting.

Anyway, our waitress navigated the room wonderfully and brought us our first round of food.  The empanadas were stuffed with black beans and plantains and were good, except the dough was a little undercooked.

The Chicharrones are not the latest boy band from Cuba but are in fact small cubes of fried chicken (or pork) served with a great onion mojo and honey soy sauce.  The chicken was a touch dry, I think after spending too much time in the frying basket.  The sauce was great, however, and brought the dish to life.

Our fire and ice shrimp salad had deliciously confusing flavour.  It had this whole hot and sour thing going on, with the slightly pickled cabbage and cucumber contrasting against the sweetness of the watermelon.  The shrimp were well cooked, generous and mixed throughout the plate.

The roast duck salad seemed innocent enough until halfway through the first forkful, it sucker punches you with its spicy miso vinaigrette.  In a good way.  The duck meat was shredded and mixed in with the Chinese cabbage and red currants, with a nice combination of umami and vinegar – a good harmony.

The main event was the short rib vaca fritz, which literally translates as fried cow.  According to the menu, it was 48-hour adobo braised beef which should have rendered the meat beautifully tender.  However, I was left a little disappointed in that regard.  Beautifully presented, it was served with a great Asian BBQ glaze and a tasty chimichurri sauce but was let down by its chewiness.

Asia De Cuba is one of those legacy brands that seem to stand the test of time.  They opened way back in 1999 in London, and are still going strong almost twenty years later.

The Dubai outpost seems to have captured the spirit of Asia de Cuba, and the cooking is, for the most part, lively, fresh and flavourful. The ambiance on a weekend night was energetic and busy, but that was perhaps because no-one could decide where they wanted to sit.

A good recommendation for a fun night out.


Dinner for two – 482.00 AED
Asia De Cuba
Westin Dubai, Mina Seyahi
04 5117373

Asia De Cuba - The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Are we ready for life after brunch?

Ever since The Fairmont hotel launched the Moet Chandon Champagne brunch on SZR in the early 2000’s, Dubai hotels have been climbing over themselves to find their own niche in the infamous Friday brunch market.  Bigger, better, more, more, more.

We have the uber expensive ones with free-flowing champagne and several hundred meters of gourmet food.  We have the debaucherous ones that lead to Daily Mail newspaper headlines, with Jägermeister and shawarma stations.  We have the family-friendly ones with ice creams, magicians and face painters that go someway to alleviating the guilt of the parents who still end up ordering watermelon cocktails with twenty straws.  There are discount books dedicated to this single event, and a whole black market exists on expat facebook pages of people swapping vouchers back and forth.  It is one of the must-do things for first-time visitors to Dubai.

The Dubai Brunch is an institution, a time-honoured celebration of the expat way of life.  Four intense hours on a Friday dedicated to celebrating the success of self and friends, a weekly pat on the back for our accomplishments and achievements.  For almost two decades, the brunch has been the go-to marketing activation for almost every licensed F&B operator in Dubai.  Brunch, Ladies Night and Entertainer Voucher.  The big three.

According to Zomato, there are 285 listed brunches in Dubai.  If each restaurant has, on average, 200 seats available, that’s 57,000 brunch seats available every Friday.  It’s actually more difficult to find a restaurant that doesn’t do brunch on a Friday.  It seems like brunch is a no-brainer – a sure-fire profit generator and a great way to fill your restaurant.

However, here’s the thing.  Restaurant operators need to be open to the fact that certain things are changing and there is a distinct possibility we’re going to wake up one day and find our brunches empty and irrelevant.  Perhaps it’s already happening – a few extra tables available, same loyal faces, but no new ones, a lethargic response to new brunch themes.  Are the signs already there?

Have you figured out who the typical brunch goer is?  Chances are they are Generation X and Millennials.  We’ve spent the last decade trying to understand, interpret and build restaurant products for the Millennial and Gen X, but there is a new group of consumers, who are self-empowered, determined and ambitious.

They are called Gen Z, and we need to be ready for them because they are sprinting into our workforce and economy faster than you can say VIP wrist band.  The oldest is already reaching 25 years of age, and here in Dubai, they potentially have more influence on the economy than the Dubai Millennials.  They make up almost 27% of the population, and in a few short years, they will be dictating what they want from restaurant operators.  Even today, they are hugely influential on where they eat as a family.

So my question is, will the Dubai Brunch, as we know it today, still be relevant in five years’ time as more and more Gen Z enter the economy with their disposable dirhams and the Millennials grow older, and their priorities change?

Despite Generation Z being our customers of tomorrow, we can’t afford to spend a decade trying to figure out what they want.

Gen Z grew up in a post 911 world, during the middle of a recession and don’t know life before the internet.  They have developed their personalities and life skills against a global backdrop of chaos, uncertainty, volatility, and complexity.  They worry about the economy, and their future and entrepreneurship is in their DNA.  They have always known how to pinch, zoom and swipe. 360-degree photography is their norm.  They communicate with speed and with a certain vagueness.

Gen Z might not want to spend an entire Friday dedicated to brunch – they are ambitious, and patience may not be an essential virtue for them.  They are drinking less, smoking less and are more in tune with their planet and environment than any other generation before them.  Gen Z like to snack and graze at their convenience throughout the day – they are not confined to traditional meal periods. Gluttonous over indulgence with narcissistic undertones might not do it for them.

Historically, across the globe, brunch popularity grew anywhere where there was disposable income or time according to Farha Ternikar, the author of Brunch: A History.  For the last two decades, the Dubai Millennial have had both of those in abundance. However, Gen Z put very different values on their time and income.

Restaurants need to start talking about these customers of tomorrow and develop experiences and products that appeal to them. The quote “change or die” seems a little overly dramatic for a brunch article, but Gen Z want individual, highly curated experiences – they don’t want to be herded in their hundreds into what is effectively an IKEA restaurant on steroids.

Will the Dubai brunch model get stuck in a no man’s land between an aging demographic that no longer wants to brunch and a new demographic that has never wanted to brunch in the first place?

Or maybe the brunch is here to stay, and it will simply evolve into something more mindful and captivating, finding appeal for both the Gen Z and the older generations.

Whatever the Dubai brunch of the future looks like, it better have personalised table top shawarma stations and vegan chocolate fountains.

This is a story about lineage and legacy, about the past and the future. It’s also a story about pizza, and it starts around 40 years ago with a Japanese man called Susumu Kakinuma.

In the early eighties, Susumu spent a year in Naples, Italy, unable to find work or apprenticeships.  Obsessed with Neapolitan pizza, he ate it every single day, sometimes more than once, teaching his palate to remember every texture and flavour, every last piece of charred crust and every stretch of melted Italian Mozzarella.  After his year was up, he knew his calling was to bring Neapolitan pizza back to his home city, back to Tokyo.

However, what he brought back to Tokyo was not a just Neapolitan pizza – it was something different, something more.  The thing with the Japanese is they really are the best in the world at absorbing and understanding other cultures and techniques and refining them in their own image.  They are not inventors; they are craftsmen.

Master Susumu Kakinuma - photo courtesy of Wall Street Journal
Master Susumu Kakinuma – photo courtesy of Wall Street Journal

No, craftsman is not the right word either.  The Japanese word is “shokunin” which encapsulates the total commitment and dedication one has towards full mastery of their skills.  However, it’s important to note that shokunin not only expects extraordinary technical skills but also demands a certain attitude and social consciousness.  The shokunin has a social obligation to perform their skills at the very best of their ability for the welfare of their society. It’s an extremely important distinction. You don’t get that at your local shawarma stand or fish and chip shop.

Susumu himself said in an interview once, “Japanese people are really free.  They are beholden to no single point of view.” After 20 years of understanding, practicing, and perfecting his art, Susumu’s pizzas are truly unique and are a thing of beauty.  Tokyo Neapolitan pizza was born.

A perfect Tokyo Neapolitan pizza is defined by a Japanese crafted wood-burning oven, an extra throw of salt, and a delicateness of dough that extends to the edge of the oven charred crust.

Serving only two variations, Margherita or Marinara, Susumu’s pizzas are like Jazz music.  Just in the same way you know you are listening to Herbie Hancock on the piano or Charlie Parker on the saxophone, you know you are eating a pizza made by the hand of Susumu.  Lighter, more delicate than the pizzas found in Naples, his goal is not to bastardize the base ingredients, but to pull the richest inherent flavours from the ingredients at hand.

This is why Master Susumu Kakinuma is known as the Prime Minister of Pizza, and perhaps unlike those Italian pizza makers in the 1980’s, Master Susumu feels a responsibility to pass on his learning to others, so the craft can continue long after his own oven goes cold.  It’s a responsibility ingrained in the culture of the Japanese shokunin.  It is known as The Way.  A right and correct way of doing things.  His students, or deshi, spend months, sometimes years training with him before they go off and open their own pizzerias.


Although not a direct deshi of Master Susumu, Hisanori Yamamoto runs Da Isa, a highly celebrated pizzeria in Tokyo.  Ironically, for three years running, Hisanori was a winner at the World Pizza Cup competition held in Naples, Italy.  Master Susumu, arguably, has been the catalyst and muse for the single-minded obsession with perfecting the pizza making process for an entire generation of pizzaiolo.

Had it been any other country, one might be tempted to simply franchise their name out to many locations across the globe. However, to be a shokunin is to rise above the narrow thoughts of competition, and to have an understanding that you will never have peace, nor reach the apex of your craft, until you learn that you are only really competing against yourself. That is why there are so many independently successful pizzerias across Japan, many able to trace their lineage back to Master Susumu.

One student, Kengo Inoue, now runs his own place, Pizza Dada in the ancient Japanese capital, Kamakura. Another student, Shougo Yamaguchi used to sit at the counter of Master Susumu’s pizzeria and watch the Prime Minister perfect his craft, writing down everything he saw in a little notebook on his way home. Shougo now runs his own place, Frey’s Famous Pizzeria.

Tsubasa Tamaki - photo courtesy of The Japan Times
Tsubasa Tamaki – photo courtesy of The Japan Times

However, our Dubai story continues with yet another student, Tsubasa Tamaki, who trained in Master Susumu’s pizzeria for five long, hard years. He now runs his own place, Pizza Studio Tamaki in Tokyo. The quality of his pizza is so high that people say Tamaki is the student that has surpassed his master in technical skills and application. He has never been to Italy, and yet using a blend of US and Japanese flour, his dough has an intricate balance of flavour and texture that makes every pizza sing.  His pizzas are, by all accounts, spectacular.

When Dubai based restaurateur Samer Hamadeh and his partners, first reached out to Tamaki-San to bring Tokyo Neapolitan pizza to Dubai, Tamaki-San agreed to train someone in The Way. “Send me an Italian – they know pizza,” he instructed. When questioned why not a Japanese seeing as he was Japanese himself, he was dismissive – “Yes, but I am special, no-one else like me.  Send me Italian.”

So, an Italian was sent. Luigi, a true blue, born and bred Naples boy, and experienced pizzaiolo in his own right, flew to Tokyo to learn from Tamaki-san, a new breed of highly specialised shokunin. Luigi was to become a deshi once again.

After half a year of an intense, accelerated apprenticeship in Tokyo, Luigi is ready to bring Tokyo Neapolitan pizza to Dubai.  There is evidence that Tamaki-san’s single-minded obsession has rubbed off.  Throughout the day, Luigi-san documents oven temperature, humidity levels, water quality and several other seemingly innocuous variables, because over time, he will learn what the optimum environment is for the perfect Neapolitan pizza.

The pizza masters in Tokyo open their doors every day of the year, so their ovens never go cold.  Luigi carefully feeds beech wood into his Japanese made pizza oven, and the flames warm the cold stone for the first time.  There is an expectation for Luigi to continue this story that started 40 years ago by a Japanese man called Susumu Kakinuma.

I, for one, look forward to the next chapter.

You can find Luigi and his Tokyo Neapolitan pizza at Tokyopolitan located inside Akiba Dori at D3 Dubai.

Instagram accounts – @Akibadori & @tokyopolitan

Everyone loves to take pictures of their food.  It is an extension of who you are and where you’ve been and your photo album is as much your personality as your own thoughts and behaviours.  If you didn’t post it, did it really happen?  Well, here’s another thought for us.  What about the provenance of these ingredients we document so eagerly?  What about the origins of those ingredients.  What about paying attention to the authenticity of those ingredients?

In a casually investigated expose into the beef market, and more specifically, the Japanese beef market, and even more specifically, Kobe beef, I found a pretty remarkable story.

Here’s the lowdown.  Kobe beef is a very defined and rare type of Japanese beef.  To tell the whole story, is super complicated, so I’ve tried to make it as easy to understand as possible, by using Marvel Universe analogies.

Kobe Beef
Kobe Beef

Cattle arrived in Japan from China, around the 2nd Century, which is a long time ago.  This is even before MySpace and BBMs.  I don’t even think Wolverine was alive back then.  These cows were only used as draught animals for many, many centuries.  Then, in 1900, the Japanese started crossbreeding their domestic cattle with imported European cattle, a strategy they would use in the motorcar industry some years later!  From there, four superior breeds of cow were born.  They were bigger, stronger, better tasting with more flavour.  They were named The Japanese Black, Brown, Polled and Shorthorn.  Together they were known as The Wagyu – forever immortalised in the echelons of cow history.

Consider The Wagyu like the wider Marvel Universe, a group of individuals cows all with superpowers, like intense marbling, abnormal percentages of unsaturated fats (the good kind), amazing ability to “moo” in a deep register.  Things like that.

The Avengers
The Avengers

Here’s where it gets complicated.  Within The Wagyu, there are a small group of cows called the Tajima, from the Japanese Black breed, who are born and raised in a small area of Japan called The Hyogo Prefecture.  Consider these cows as The Avengers, earth’s mightiest cows.  The highest of profiles in The Wagyu Universe, the big summer box office hit.  The Japanese Polled and Shorthorn might go straight to Netflix or animation, but the Tajima cows are kept for the big screen blockbusters.

We all know, within The Avengers, there are the big three.  There is Iron Man, The Hulk, and Captain America.  Likewise, with Tajima cows, there are the big three brands, Matsusaka, Omi, and Kobe.

Now, every group needs a leader.  The Avengers have Captain America.

Sidenote:- if you want to get into specifics, Tony Stark is technically not in The Avengers, the Iron Man suit is. Therefore, Tony Stark is technically a consultant, which is why Captain America is really the official leader of The Avengers.

Within the Tajima cows, The Kobe brand is clearly the leader, internationally at least.  Kobe holds itself to the most exacting of expectations and the highest of standards, much like Capt’n himself.  Kobe is the boy scout of the Tajimas.

USDA Prime vs Real Kobe
USDA Prime vs Real Kobe

Now, let’s talk about how rare Kobe beef is.  Approximately five thousand cows are certified Kobe each year.  Five thousand for the entire world.  Each cow gets a ten-digit certification number that allows the consumer to confirm true Kobe heritage.

So, how special are these Kobe cows? Well, USDA Prime, the very best of American beef has a maximum marbling score of either four or five. The minimum score a Japanese Kobe is allowed is a level eight and can go all the way up to twelve.  That’s like Thor against Hawkeye.

Out of the five thousand Kobe cows available annually, only about two of them were sent to the UAE in 2017.  Not two thousand.  Just two.  To be more precise, 964 kilograms of certified original Kobe beef was imported into the UAE in 2017 according to the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association.  Otherwise known as S.H.I.E.L.D.

Let’s put that in perspective – Assuming an average portion size of a 150g steak, that means only 6,500 steaks are available for the entire year or 125 portions a week for the whole country.  So, unfortunately, if you think you’ve had real Kobe beef recently in Dubai, maybe think again, because there really is not much available on the market.  If you are going to pay 800 dhs for a 150g Kobe steak, perhaps you should ask for some certification from the butcher or restaurant to make sure you are getting what you pay for.  In fact, I would argue that anyone claiming to sell Kobe beef should already be showing proof of authenticity.

Kobe Byrant
Kobe Byrant

However, unfortunately Kobe is not a Protected Designation of Origin so that means anyone can use this word.  Kobe style sliders are the worst, in my opinion.  What does that even mean?  Even Wagyu beef is misleading as most of the Wagyu in this market is from Australia, not Japan.  Be warned about Kobe or Wagyu burgers, because chances are they’ve been blended with a lower grade of beef.

This raises a broader question, what’s more important, getting that beautiful flat lay Instagram shot or getting genuine, authenticated ingredients.  I’m afraid of the answer, to be honest.

Next week, I’ll be explaining the origins of Parmesan cheese, using Pokémon as an analogy.  Stay tuned.

The Palestinian Table is not really a cookbook.  It is a profoundly intimate and emotional tour de force into one of the world’s most deeply complex cuisines, told through the beautiful narration of author Reem Kassis.  Such is the intimacy of the recipes it sometimes feels like you should slam the book closed and allow its privacy to remain intact.

The Valley of Galilee
The Valley of Galilee

But to keep this book closed would be a huge disservice to Palestinian cooking.   The Palestinian Table is a powerhouse of emotion – Reem takes us on a deeply personal journey of how hope, culture, and connection are intertwined with the past, present and future.

Chicken, Sumac & Pine Nut Rolls
Chicken, Sumac & Pine Nut Rolls

Jerusalem is a melting pot of foods, religion, and cultures and was where Reem Kassis, daughter of a Palestinian Muslim woman and Palestinian Christian man, spent her childhood.   A lot of her time was spent in the kitchens of her Aunts and Grandmother, watching them prepare and cook the most glorious family meals and it was in these formative years that, unknowingly, food and cooking seeped into her very essence.

In some places, Reem’s narrative is quite reflective and nostalgic, as if she is writing it for her younger self.  Then, in other places, her audience is clearly her future, her own daughters perhaps, as she looks ahead with hope and determination of what her cuisine can offer.  This sense is magically captured in her recipes and again is a reminder of how powerful a family dinner table can be – how powerful that notion of home is.

Reem is not a classically trained chef; this is a significant benefit as she approaches this book with enthusiasm and caution in equal measure.  Each recipe is a splendid result of all her mistakes and triumphs, and her skill in capturing family recipes, often unwritten, is to be applauded.  Working tirelessly with her mother to learn these family recipes, Reem would have to patiently explain that “adding flour until it’s soft like your earlobe” would not work in a cookbook as an instruction.  I actually beg to differ, but nevertheless, she would measure out the flour, allow her mother to take what was needed, and then measure the balance, to get accurate quantities.

Kafta & Tahini Bake
Kafta & Tahini Bake

Palestinian food takes on a complexity as deep as the region it is born from.  Palestinian food is as Palestine is – resplendent in flavour, culture, and emotion and is forgiving, inclusive and warm.  If nothing else, The Palestinian Table is a celebration of that.  Each recipe, like Palestine itself, is layered, so each addition brings more flavour and character, and the result is something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Palestinian Table is home to over 150 recipes from the Middle East mainstay, Labaneh drizzled with clean, fragrant olive oil, to Mansaf, a lamb and yogurt stew served when honouring your most important guests.  (Incidentally, a dish served to Reem’s family when visiting her husband-to-be’s family for the first time) The recipes take inspiration from the entire land from the mountains of Galilee to the valleys of the south, from the coast of Yaffa to the West Bank, in a beautifully styled book, equally at home on your kitchen table or your bedside table.

Chickpea with Lamb on Toasted Pita with Tahini Sauce
Chickpea with Lamb on Toasted Pita with Tahini Sauce

For the cooking purist, one of the most important phrases in this book is “A recipe will only get you so far.” The book is surprisingly forgiving to the amateur chef – no dish will be ruined by a slight miscalculation or a missing ingredient.  There is an acceptance, almost a challenge, to make these recipes in your own image.  Add that extra squeeze of lemon juice to your salad, or include yogurt in your tahini, if that’s how you like it.  This is how Reem’s recipes become your recipes, and how your recipes become part of your story and your journey.

As I sadly arrived at the end of the book, I felt that Reem had found the magical ingredient that made her grandmother’s cooking so famous back home.  She realizes that cooking by sight, sound, smell, touch, and emotion was the best way to do it.  Remember, a recipe can only get you so far.  Some call it a natural culinary talent; others call it intuition.   Reem’s grandmother’s village simply called it love.






The Palestinian Table, By Reem Kassis
Published by Phaidon 02 October, 2017
Available in BookWorld Dubai Mall & Virgin Mega store, Dubai Mall & Mall of Emirates


Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. They work with the world’s most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Image credit - @nowastewahine
Image credit – @nowastewahine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find her on Instagram @Pandasfoodbelly

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

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

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

Sorry, what heavy thoughts?


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

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


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

Are we falling out of love with restaurants?

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

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

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

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

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

The reasons are simple.

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

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

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

1. Accessibility

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

2. Innovation

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

3. Emotional connection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Yellow Ducks

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Well Done Slab.



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

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