The Noodle House. Dubai’s homegrown international chain.

If you are a fan of Asian food and have been in Dubai long enough, you must have dined at one of the Noodle House restaurants at some point in your life. If you are a fan of Asian Food and were living in or visiting Lahore some time between 2006 and 2009, chances are that you would have either dined at Noodle House Lahore or would have heard someone raving about how wonderfully authentic the Wasabi prawns were. Unfortunately, that is a thing of the past because Noodle House Lahore is no more. The restaurant decided to shut down their operation some years ago.

So when our young friend, Lahore’s design prodigy Hamza Bokhari was in town fresh on the heels of his London Fashion Week showcase, we thought to ourselves, “Where best to take him out than to a restaurant he used to love but can’t get any more of in Lahore?” So that ladies and gents is how we ended up at the Noodle House for the umpteenth time.

We picked the Madinat Jumeirah location and did the customary Souq Madinat stroll before arriving unannounced. After being greeted with the same big smiles we have grown accustomed to we were immediately ushered to our favorite corner of the restaurant. Our waitress patiently answered all our questions before handing us along with the usual order pad, a pictorial menu which I had not seen earlier. I love the order pad because it comes with a cool pen that you use to put a check next to the items you want and then hand it over to your server. It is an efficient process and was one of the unique things about Noodle House. They probably had to come up with a new menu with pictures of food on it because A) Their customers do not have the brain power anymore to imagine what a Peking Duck would look like. B) Their customers enjoy looking at pictures. C) Their customers cannot read. Whatever the case may be, the old order pad is also available and you can order off either of the two.

The lights were bright enough to ensure we could see each others faces and discuss the neck tattoo of the young lady on the table next to ours (Yes I have told you before, we are weird like that). They were also dim enough to act as a conduit between all the different people on all the different tables who seemed to be intimately connected through their love of good food. The background music was loud enough to suppress any sounds from the open kitchen yet low enough to allow us to have a conversation. Mixed with the low rumble of chatter from all the other tables, it created a unique soundtrack to our Asian meal.

The first time I ordered the Thai chicken with cashew nuts was because it had 3 little chilli peppers next to it on the menu. I do sometimes like to burn my mouth till the taste buds go numb but after all the beef Vindaloos, Sombrero chilli bean bombs and Thai chilli papaya salad that I have devoured in my lifetime, this was in my opinion, mildly spiced. A word of caution though; never ever use my judgement on chilli to form your opinion on whether a dish is too hot or not. Everyone has a different threshold for handling chilli and mine is just off the charts by all standards. Having said that, I would also like to say that there is a whole melange of flavors in the dish and the chilli is just one element. All of them compliment each other to create the unmistakably unique Noodle House taste. So, I strongly recommend you sample the cashew nut chicken there at least once while you live in Dubai.

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The Chicken cashew nut is always a part of my order at The Noodle House

We also ordered the Szechuan crispy beef, the wok fried chili prawns & calamari and the Singapore Noodles. Like the cashew nut chicken, the crispy beef and wok fried prawns included a serving of steamed rice. The Singapore noodles were basically rice vermicelli noodles tossed with some chicken, prawns and vegetables. It was the only dish that needed some extra soy sauce to enhance the flavor. The wok fried chilli prawns and calamari were lightly spiced but the chilli did not overpower the taste of the seafood. It was lightly sauteed so the prawns were less rubbery and more creamy. That along with the chewy calamari and steamed rice created a medley of different textures in your mouth.

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Singapore Noodles at The Noodle House

The crispy beef was voted as everyone’s favourite dish of the evening because it was essentially 3 dishes rolled into one. Such experimentation can often result in disaster but this dish was an absolute delight and none of us could stop raving about it. The texture of the dish was that of a dry fried Chinese beef, the unmistakable aroma was like a lemongrass beef stir fry and the final kick was delivered by the Schezwan sauce.

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The Crispy Beef is my new favourite dish at The Noodle House

You never know what life might throw at you next. Before you move on to greener pastures or your time in Dubai comes to an end, if you have not done so yet please do head down to the Noodle House and try the Crispy Szechuan beef and the Chicken cashew nut. This is a home grown Dubai restaurant that has branched out to Doha, Jeddah, Cyprus, Moscow and for a while to Lahore. Unless your next stop is one of these cities, you may never again get a chance to sample 3 recipes being rolled into one.

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The wok fried chilly prawns and calamari

The Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Best Shawarma in Dubai. The official top 11.

I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm!

I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm! I wish this article had space for more than 11 because I was absolutely spoilt for choice between the Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Turkish and even Greek versions of the popular street food. I have listed my favourite 11 but by no means do you have to agree with me! In fact, I would love your comments and suggestions on places that I may have missed out. So without further ado, I present to you, 11 of the top shawarma joints in Dubai.

11) Barasti, Dubai Marina. Power House Wrap – AED 60.

Go ahead, judge me. Mishal did too. “You have lost it” is what she said to me when I told her that Barasti makes one of the best shawarmas in Dubai. “Never mind if it is good or not”, she said. “It’s not even a shawarma!” “Well technically it is a wrap and it has chicken in it” I told her. “That is exactly what a shawarma is” “So it doesn’t have heaps of garlic sauce or a pickle or grilled chicken from a rotating spit but it does have Japanese mayo and cheddar cheese and breaded chicken from a fryer! And who needs French fries in their wrap, not only do they take up space where there could have been more meat, they are not even remotely Arabic.” I think I won that argument; plus shawarma or not, who can argue with the convenience of a greasy wrap after a big night out, without making any additional stops on the way home.

10) Shawermania, JLT. Burger Shawarma – AED 20.

Hardcore shawarma fans and purists might put a bounty on my head for this but that is a risk I am willing to take. I believe in constant innovation. The only thing constant in life is change. If we can’t try new things, we just cannot improve or innovate. The guys at Shawermanaia have ditched the pita and saj for the burger bun. It is a strange combination that works. Your first impression is as if you just bit into a nice old Philly steak sandwich.  As you explore further, there is an explosion of Arabic spices and garlic. You suddenly find yourself teleported to the land of falcons, sand dunes, camels and belly dancers.

Shawermania. Photo Talabat.com
A Shawermania creation. Photo: http://www.talabat.com

9) IKEA. Chicken Shawarma

Klippan loveseat: check. Stockholm rug: check. Chicken Shawarma: check. This is probably the only Swedish shawarma on the list and like everything else Swedish, it gets the job done. They don’t cut back on the chicken or pretend that the French fries are made of meat like one pathetic (and famous) shawarma chain I don’t want to name. It has garlic paste, pickles, a few fries and chicken (lots of it). I never knew simplicity could taste so good.

Photo of IKEA shawerma.
The cheap shawarma that hits the spot by IKEA. Photo: http://www.manonthelam.com

8) Automatic Restaurant, JBR  Meat shawarma – AED 8.

Doesn’t matter how good your Tahina is or how much garlic you smother on the bread, if your meat is not of a high quality, it will show. The folks at Automatic know this. I would be upset if they didn’t because they have been in Dubai longer than I have! Expect perfectly charred strips of succulent lamb, creamy tahini sauce, coriander, some fries and slightly toasted pita! Mmmm mm mm. 😉

Automatic Restaurant. happytrips com
Automatic restaurant shawarma. Photo: http://www.happytrips.com

7) Filful, Box Park. Chicken Shawarma – AED 12.

Go for the place, stay for the taste. This is a hipster café/Beiruti street food joint and upscale Boxpark eatery with creative interiors all rolled into one. If you haven’t been or don’t like shawarmas, please do visit for an authentic Lebanese street food experience. It is the next best thing after hopping on  a plane to Beirut.

Filful shawarma. Talabat
Filful Shawarma. Photo: http://www.talabat.com

6) Aroos Damascus, Muraqabat Street Deira, Shawarma meat or chicken – 6 AED.

More than half of you would not have heard of this place and unless you are brave enough to cross the bridge and land on Muraqqabat street near the Dubai clock tower most of you will never be able eat here either. I pity you all. You have not really had an authentic Dubai experience if you have not eaten at this Syrian restaurant in old Dubai. You will understand what I mean once you see the number of cars outside, or the 80 waiters doing laps between the cars, the kitchen and the 400 tables inside.

Tip: Take the metro to Salah al Din Station and just walk for 3 minutes if the weather permits.

Aroos Damascus shawarma man. mithunonthe dot net
Aroos Damascus Shawarma man. Photo: http://www.mithunonthe.net

5) YaSalam, JLT. Superfood Shawarma – 25 AED

The harmless looking pita bread that blankets the meat and pickles you hold in your hand carries 266 calories per 100 grams. Go ahead, google it. To put into perspective, you burn a 100 calories by brisk walking for 20 minutes. For times like this when some smart ass makes you feel fat and miserable and all you want to do is eat healthy even if it is  just for a day or 2; read on. Lean chicken breast, quinoa, slices of beetroot and avocado, sundried tomato and balsamic dressing all wrapped in  a brown multi grain bread. I burned some calories just by thinking about it.

The healthy shawarma from YaSalam. talabat
Superfood shawarma by Yasalam.                             Photo: http://www.talabat.com

4) Zaroob, Sheikh Zayed Road. Chicken Lebanese – 12 AED

Craving a late night shawarma? Do not fear if Zaroob is near or if you don’t mind travelling down to the World Trade Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. Yes this place is open 24 hours and they really do make a killer shawarma. Authentic Lebanese flavors await, regardless of the time. Another high end joint from the new wave of ‘cool’ Arabic restaurants. Attracts families, office types and a younger crowd, the latter mostly after the midnight hour as they stuff their mouths with pocket sized meat delights before heading home to crash.

Zaroob shawarma. roundmenu
Zaroob Shawarma. Photo: http://www.roundmenu.com

3) Operation Falafel, JBR. Chicken Shawarma in Saj bread – AED 20.

These guys take their falafels seriously and they also make one of the best chicken shawarmas in Dubai. The Saj bread somehow enhances the flavor of the garlic paste but there is less of it so it shines through without ever overpowering the rest of the ingredients. This results in a well rounded and balanced shawarma. This is posh street food, if there could be such a thing. Expect to see a cooler crowd than many of the other joints because of the location.

Operation Falafel. franchisesouq dot com
Operation Flafel shawarma. Photo: http://www.franchisesouq.com

2) Zaatar w Zeit, Sheikh Zayed Road.  Shawarma Wrap – 30 AED.

When you do go here next, please do order the traditional pizza. I know this article is about shawarmas but Zaatar w Zeit have adopted the Pizza as their own and it has now become more Lebanese than Italian. I know it has a super thin crust and heaps of mozzarella but I haven’t quite been able to figure out what makes this pizza as good as it is.  Oh yes, and now the Shawarma. So if this Lebanese joint can make Sicilian street food it’s own, imagine what it would have done with Beiruti street food? PS It is also open 24 hours.

Zaater w Zait shawarma. Photo Twitter
Zaater W Zait. Photo: Restaurant’s twitter page.

1) Al Mallah, Satwa. Lamb Shawarma -AED 7.

Nostalgia wins again! This used to be our go to place for shawarmas in college and not much has changed since then. Yes a lot of fancy joints have opened up since then and I also have a little more money to ‘live it up’ but the Al Mallah lamb shawarma still has no equal. Succulent lamb meat, a liberal dash of creamy tahini and fresh coriander with mint; a formula that has worked wonders for 20 or so years and continues to do so.

Al Mallah Shawarma. Photo: www.gulfnews.com

Al Mallah Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Little Lahore – Dubai’s new post hangover breakfast joint.

The minimalist menu consisted of some pages on a wooden board. Mishal was a little disappointed because there were no pictures on it. My wife is an environmental engineer and she doesn’t really need to look at pictures to order off a menu but we just couldn’t remember going to a Pakistani or an Indian restaurant where the menu had no pictures of food on it.

Disclaimer: This review will make you hungry and you may put on a couple of pounds just by reading it.

Last week’s brunch stirred up memories of my father’s old country house and all the traditional Pakistani food I sometimes took for granted in my carefree years. One of the problems with having a vivid imagination is that you tend to dream a lot but it is even worse that you often end up remembering every little detail after waking up.

Normal people dream of fantasy worlds with super heroes, fast cars and designer clothes but I mostly dream about food. Yes it is a little weird, thank you but I can’t really help it so I have learnt to accept it; this secret love affair I have with food. So this week, I dreamt of cardamom scented halwa (a dessert made of semolina, butter and almonds) chana (chickpea) masala and piping hot puffed up puris (deep fried flaky bread) straight from the gigantic karrahi (wok) at my father’s old house.

This is Dubai however and though I would love to fly down to Lahore for a quick breakfast at Abbu’s (my dad’s) house, harsh realities of living the dream life of a salary slave dictate that such trips cannot be taken on a whim. So I ended up turning to Zomato, my best online resource for information on food and restaurants in Dubai and performed a search for ‘Halwa Puri’. One of the results that popped up was for ‘Little Lahore’ a restaurant in JLT.

In reality, there is nothing ‘little’ about Lahore or it’s population of 10 million people. It is a bustling metropolis which attracts tens of thousands of people from smaller towns and cities, all adding to it’s vast selection of flavors but there are some dishes that are undeniably Lahori and among the top 3 is the traditional Lahori nashta (breakfast) known as halwa puri.

So my quest for this traditional breakfast (nashta) took us to Little Lahore and I remember we almost had to go back out again to read the name on the sign but decided to stay as soon as we saw some photographs of famous Pakistani folk singers and cultural icons on one of the walls. This was unlike most Pakistani restaurants in Dubai. Many of the new places have adapted their interiors to their changing clientele but you may still find pictures of food on the walls reminiscent of old desi restaurants in Dubai. Little Lahore was different. Clearly somebody had taken the effort to move on with the times. The clean lines and chic design could have been out of Wallflower magazine. Had it not been for a photograph of the Badshahi (King’s) Mosque of Lahore above our heads, we would never have felt this was a Pakistani restaurant.

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Little Lahore – Not you average Desi restaurant interior
The minimalist menu consisted of some pages on a wooden board. Mishal was a little disappointed because there were no pictures on it. My wife is an environmental engineer and she doesn’t really need to look at pictures to order off a menu but we just couldn’t remember going to a Pakistani or an Indian restaurant where the menu had no pictures of food on it. Ok, Ashiana by Vineet and Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar had no pictures on the menu perhaps but restaurants owned by Michelin Starred chefs do not count.

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How’s that for a good looking menu?
There were 2 breakfast combos on the menu. One consisted of halwa (semolina and butter dessert), puri (deep fried bread), chana (chickpeas), aloo bhaji (stewed potato) and lassi (yogurt smoothie). The other came with a paratha (fried flatbread), Pakistani omelet, bhuna keema (pan roasted mince meat), achar (pickled baby mangoes) and lassi. We decided to go for one of each.

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Puffed puris, chickpeas and potatoes at Little Lahore.
The puris (puffed bread) were divine but a typical Lahori might find the chickpeas and potato to be under spiced. We were sure that this was a conscious decision by the chef. Just as the modern interiors were meant to open up Lahori cuisine to a wider audience, the light spices of the Lahori Nashta were meant to make this breakfast appeal to a wider palate. This one change could make halwa puri Dubai’s go to post hangover breakfast meal. If Manakish is what everyone in Dubai craves after a big night out, halwa puri and chana is what they will crave for  the morning after.  Dubai now has an official breakfast and not only is it not McDonalds, it also happens to be vegetarian.

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Paratha with Pakistani omelette and pan roasted mince.
The paratha (fried flatbread) had a crisp external layer which gave way to the soft bread inside. A Pakistani omelette usually has diced tomatoes and onions and some fresh coriander. Thanks to the light spices, I actually tasted the egg and every vegetable in every bite. The mince was once again low on spices but I could taste the ginger it had been roasted with.

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A tall glass of Lassi with a tall building in the background!
The yogurt smoothie (lassi) was available with either salt or sugar and we had one of each. Both variants were equally refreshing and were able to wash all the fried food down effectively.

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Semolina and butter desert (Halwa)
This was not the meal that I dreamt of and it was certainly not the breakfast they served at my father’s old country house. I am not sure if a purist would enjoy this halwa puri or bhuna keema. Strangely though, we were not dissatisfied. My craving for traditional chana puri remains and I may very well have to fly down to Lahore to fulfil it  but if this is a modern take on the traditional Pakistani breakfast, so be it. If little Lahore wants to do for post hangover breakfasts in Dubai what Zater o Zait did to post party 3 am hunger attacks, so be it.

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(Achar) Pickled baby mango.
Little Lahore Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ultimate Family brunch at Flow Kitchen. Fairmont, Palm Jumeirah.

we were greeted by Spider Man and a Green dude who looked like he was going to get his ass kicked by Spider Man pretty soon. There was also this other dude who looked like he could be the star of his own comic book but I couldn’t quite remember who he was.

View my food journey on Zomato!

We hardly went to restaurants as kids. My father’s idea of a big meal out was to prepare a bigger meal at home. He would bring the chefs home and we would watch them as they prepared a Pakistani feast for the same 30 or 40 people that always showed up. Besides the stuffed lamb and the usual partridge masala, there would be a breakfast counter with halwa (sweet dish made of semolina, almonds and cardamom) chana (chickpea) masala and a guy serving piping hot puris (deep fried flaky bread) straight from the gigantic karrahi (wok).

Well, all that happened in Pakistan at my dad’s old country house and it was in another time. Now Mishal and I can barely fit ourselves into our tiny kitchen (or into any of our old jeans for that matter but that is a completely different subject)  and honestly I am not sure if I even know 30 or 40 people. Even if I did, the thought of 10 kids tearing down my living room and doing jumping jacks on my sofa is a bit concerning to say the least. Thankfully though, that would never be a problem now because I have discovered a magical place where kids can be kids and adults can be kids too; or they can just remain adults. Nobody would judge them.

As we got out of the elevator and turned the corner towards Flow Kitchen, we were greeted by Spider Man and a Green dude who looked like he was going to get his ass kicked by Spider Man pretty soon. There was also this other dude who looked like he could be the star of his own comic book but I couldn’t quite remember who he was. “Welcome to Flow Kitchen” said the usher standing next to the green dude as I snapped back to reality. “Is this your first time here?” “Yes” I said while the kid in the corner did a Skywalker maneuver with his light sabre. “Mr and Mrs Chaudhry, please follow me” she said and we walked into a large hall which was flooded by the light coming in from the gigantic window that looked into the ocean.

Most people seemed like they had either just been to or were about to head out to the beach but there were a couple of people with jackets who seemed just as content and at ease as the guy in yellow flip flops. I without my flip flops and jacket also felt quiet comfortable in the hustle and bustle of what increasingly seemed to resemble a dining room of a Market Hall. There was a cart serving steamed dumplings next to a stand with every possible kind of bread on display.

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Dumplings at Flow Kitchen

Pre cut and pre tossed salads are so old school, so there was a cart that had the most beautiful vegetables on display. You would choose what you want and this lady would peel, chop, toss and season your salad before you could say organic. PS Did you know that rock salts come in 5 flavors including charcoal and vanilla?

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Have your salad cut, chopped, tossed and seasoned in front of your eyes

Some places have totally excluded the breakfast element from their brunches which is quiet sad because brunch is traditionally supposed to be between breakfast and lunch so you should have items from both meals on the menu. Flow Kitchen is as big on breakfast as it is on family. There were sausages, hash browns and beans but the best thing were the eggs. There was a separate stand serving eggs benedict and you could add spinach, chicken, turkey or even roasted pine nuts if you wanted. The yolk was nice and runny just as it should be. There is nothing that offends me more than an overcooked egg.

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Spinach Eggs Benedict with roasted pine nuts
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Tomato Salsa and cheese on garlic bread at the Ultimate Family Brunch

I am still not a fan of the ‘serve a dish from every country’ doctrine that the brunches seem to have adopted in Dubai but I guess it makes sense if they can make it a part of the theme. A family brunch caters to the whole family so it would only be fair to serve all kinds of cuisine. There is always one dish or type of cuisine that stands out at every brunch. It could be a pasta or a sheesh kebab or even the entire seafood menu. I could not find that one dish at the Ultimate family brunch. The Morrocan lamb tagine was as divine as the Italian margarita pizza and the pesto on the baked salmon was as fine as the wasabi in the soy sauce. This was a foodie’s paradise and I did not want to go back home.

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Baked Salmon with pesto crust
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Sushi at Flow Kitchen

Not everyone in the family enjoys the complications of a sophisticated meal and sometimes all you crave is a good burger with lots of ketchup and some mayonnaise. For those fussy eaters, there was a special kids menu which I would have gladly read out to my seven month old milk junkie had she not been so fascinated with the colorful cakes and gummy bears on display. Despite there being so many kids at the restaurant, it was nothing like my father’s old house. There was no one diving head first off the tables, nobody drawing their parent’s faces on the walls and no one following them around and telling them to behave. The chaos had been allowed to flourish in an organised way albeit confined to the perimeter of the adjoining hall. There were two hours worth of activities which included face painting, balloon twisting, a magic show and arts and crafts. Heck there was even a PlayStation for older kids and for adults who refuse to grow up.

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Macaroons, meringue cookies and gummy bears at the Ultimate Family Brunch

Among the countless dessert options there was a red velvet cake and a decadent chocolate cake that stood out for me but the most popular sweet thing seemed to be the white cupcakes with inverted test tubes stuck on them. The tubes had a raspberry filling which you poured on to the cake. I had to save some room for coconut ice cream (which I had later with warm apple pie) so didn’t really get around to trying it but the theatrics of the tube and the raspberry syrup kept us from slipping into a food coma before we got to the ice cream.

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The tubes have a raspberry filling!

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There are so many things I have not described or spoken about like the warm flaky crust of the Moroccon chicken pie or the fresh Irish oysters on ice but I can’t do it because then this review would never end. What I would like to say is that I had not thought of my father’s old house for a long time. Even less of the 30 or 40 familiar faces that kept showing up at all his grand feasts. That changed yesterday. I thought of my family again and any restaurant that can make you do that has got to be special.

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Fresh Oysters on ice at Flow Kitchen

Flow Kitchen - Fairmont The Palm Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato