Asha’s

I am a huge Asha Bhosle fan, I am. Yes, I may have only hard a few of her songs but the ones that I have heard (four to be precise) are in my opinion some of the best Hindi songs ever produced.

The first AB song I heard was ‘zara sa jhoom lun main’ from Dilwalay Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995. It was the first Bollywood film that I watched more than once. I remember thinking that the singer could be slightly older if not 16 like me. Little did I know that she was 62 at the time.

The respect I have for this woman is huge. First, as one of the greatest Hindi singers of all time and then as an entrepreneur and business woman. She broke stereotypes and created record breaking hits but also managed to turn her lifelong love of food into a flourishing business. With branches in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Birmingham and Manchester, she quite literally seems to have taken the world by storm. Like many other great success stories however, Asha’s the restaurant can trace its origins back to Dubai.

To be honest, I have been to Ashas twice before and the food really wasn’t all that special. I returned this time because a couple of people had asked me if it was a good Indian restaurant and I didn’t want to base my answer on past experience.

Before I get to the food, let me say that I felt a bit warm and fuzzy whilst going through the menu. There were personal notes and anecdotes sprinkled throughout which explained Asha Jee’s inspiration for various dishes or took us back to where she had first tried a particular recipe. Personal touches like that might be the reason behind the restaurant’s exponential growth despite serving ordinary fare at extraordinary prices.

We ordered the Lamb Curry Awadh (classic lamb curry), Dhaniya Murgh (coriander chicken), Bhindi do Piaza (Okra cooked with cumin – seasoned with bishop seeds) and the Kebab Sultanpuri (pan fried spiced mint lamb cutlets). Our waiter asked us if we would like the food to be spicy and we said ‘Yes Please!’ in unison. I remember saying, make the lamb ‘extra, extra spicy please’, to which our waiter gave a reluctant nod of approval. He told us the waiting time was 25 minutes which made me very excited because it meant the food would be prepared freshly on site and not driven down from some central kitchen as someone had suggested to me earlier.

So we started with the very presentable and geometric appetizers (cone shaped poppadums) and colorful chutneys. I loaded a poppadum with what looked like a mango chutney and some mint sauce expecting an explosion of sweet and spicy filling but sadly, all I could feel was the different textures of the mango, the salted papad and the mint sauce. I’m not making this up – there was absolutely no taste at all. The achar (pickled mango) was however full of flavor and God knows we shoved plenty of that down our throats. We were hungry so we shut up and polished the plates clean, mango and all.

The lamb curry was a bit bland but the quality of the meat was good and the curry was not watery. It did have a distinct Awadhi flavor and despite not being a contender for the ‘best curry in the world’, it did the job it was supposed to do and I wouldn’t mind having it for lunch again.

The Sultanpuri Kebabs were the most creative bit of our order. The pan-fried lamb cutlets were stuffed with chopped onions and mint leaves and there was also a surprise filling of cheese in them! This was not bland like the lamb curry and was hands down the best dish of the evening. Despite It costing 70 AED for 3 little cutlets, it could be the only reason I ever return to Asha Jee’s restaurant again (other than satisfying my fan boy cravings of course).

It was pretty much downhill after that. I expected the coriander chicken to be some chicken laid down on a bed of coriander leaves or at least garnished generously with coriander and I expected it to be a bit spicy like we had requested multiple times. It was instead an over cooked, rubbery (once frozen) chicken floating in yellow cashew paste with no sign of a green leaf for miles. They did remember to add something sweet to it though (it could have jaggery). Needless to say, we could all brave not more than one bite of this delicacy.

The bhindi do piazza was once again bland. It was so bland that I wished they would have added some jaggery to it as well. Any kind of flavour would have been nice – sweet, sour, spicy or whatever.

One thing that I have to give credit for is that we asked for some parathas midway, after we unexpectedly ran out of nans and the waiter remembered to ask us if we wanted wheat or white flour parathas. This was the coolest thing ever because wheat parathas have such a home cooked feel to them. Also, it took about 4 minutes for us to get piping hot parathas after placing the order which was appreciable. So even though all nans and parathas were 14 AED a pop (I can get a whole paratha kebab roll with cheese down in Barsha for that much but that wouldn’t have the blessings of a living legend) they seemed worth that at the time.

Would I go back? I’m not too sure. Maybe not for the food or the service but definitely for the whole vibe and the atmosphere. After all, everyone does need a bit of Asha in their lives. 😉

Asha's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shakespeare and Co.

Shakespeare and Co. is a stunning example of 16th century opulence. If I could give points for ambience and decor, this place would be up there in a league of its own. The deep red upholstery on top of plush cushion seating and the Elizabeth-esque  chandeliers could easily have been from a scene of Juliet’s bedroom.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Shakespeare and Co. is a stunning example of 16th century opulence. If I could give points for ambience and decor, this place would be up there in a league of its own. The deep red upholstery on top of plush cushion seating and the Elizabeth-esque  chandeliers could easily have been from a scene of Juliet’s bedroom. Sadly though, Shakespeare would never have been able to own a place like this. Between you and me, I seriously doubt he could ever afford to eat there either.

Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and Othello are all set in Italy. Just like Italian literature, culture and politics influenced the plots and atmosphere of all these plays, Italian cuisine seemed to be the predominant force in the Shakespeare and Co. menu.

In keeping up with the spirit of things, we decided to kick off our modern day Shakespeare experience with some Minestrone soup. I hate to talk of one restaurant when reviewing another but somehow I kept thinking of the Minestrone Soup they serve at Olive Garden (which I must review soon). The soup they served here was a bit less rich and perhaps a little less flavourful but the warm rolls and herbed butter compensated for that. I should point out though that a serving of Minestrone soup here cost 40 AED while it is served free by the bucket load in Olive Garden but enough of that.

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We were done with Shakespeare’s Italian escapade and decided to order something closer to home (his home not ours). The most English thing on the menu was the fish and chips so we went ahead and ordered one of those. In keeping up with the seafood theme we also ordered a salmon fillet (not very easy to go wrong with one of those).

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Fish and Chips at Shakespeare and Co.

Both the dishes came piping hot from the kitchen and like I said, I do not know of many restaurants which can go wrong with either of them. Notable mentions here are the chips (fries) which had a light crispy coating on them and the vegetable tartar which accompanied the salmon fillet. The salmon itself was pan seared, so the crust was dark and crispy (just the way I like it).

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Another thing I must mention here is that the plating of the salmon filet was among the best I have seen and I have seen a lot of salmon filets 😉 . The vegetable tartar was assembled into a little tower on which rested a thinly cut slice of grilled eggplant. The salmon itself rested on an eggplant puree.

I had noticed lots of  macaroons while entering the restaurant and had thought that taking a bite out of Shakespeare’s French connection would be vital to this experience. Unfortunately, we were quiet full by the time we were done with the main course (I blamed it on the rolls) and decided to come back just for macaroons and tea.

Shakespeare and Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Absolute Barbecues

This was not a steaming pot of broth on an electric flame or a few pieces of sizzling meat on a gas grill. This was a fully functional, desi kabab grill, complete with skewers and red hot coal right in the middle of our table.

I have been to a Mongolian barbecue in London where you can cook your food yourself (under supervision of course). I have heard of Japanese restaurants where you can cook your food literally on your table and I believe the Chinese Hot Pot is basically the same concept as well. Nothing however could have prepared me for what I experienced at Absolute Barbecues.

This was not a steaming pot of broth on an electric flame or a few pieces of sizzling meat on a gas grill. This was a fully functional, desi kabab grill, complete with skewers and red hot coal right in the middle of our table. They didn’t just plop the burning grill in front of us. It was placed in a groove so that only the top of the grill was visible above the table. The bottom of the grill was aesthetically concealed below the ceramic table.

Ok, so the razzmatazz and wizardry of the kabab grill was impressive but I wanted to see if the food was really as good as I had heard it was. I was told to get started at the ‘wish grill’ (a stir fry counter with a variety of meats on offer) while my tikkas and kebabs were being done. I requested for rabbit stir fry at the wish grill. Think of it like a softer version of chicken. A bit too soft for my liking so I decided to wait for my kebabs.

The rest of the food was very good but I would like to mention the barbecued pineapple and watermelon before I get to the real highlight of the evening. The watermelon was lightly seasoned with salt and the pineapple was seasoned with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and a drizzle of honey. The cayenne started at all off with a fiery kick while the caramelised honey and cinnamon followed by complimenting the tart sweetness of the fruit. This was an experience that I don’t have words to describe. All I can say is that everyone should try the grilled pineapple whenever they can.

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Grilled Pineapple at ABs

The food as I mentioned earlier was very good but the reason we had such an awesome time was because of the way we were treated by the stars of the evening, Chef Bhumi and our waiter Wahab. One of our party was allergic to cow’s milk so we asked Wahab if there was any yogurt in the marination. Before we could say Absolute Barbecues, Wahab had gone to the kitchen and was back with Chef Bhumi who without us asking agreed to prepare a special marination without yoghurt. All this happened pretty fast and was followed up by Chef Bhumi living up to his promise so we all ended up enjoying our meal without the fear of having an allergic reaction.

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Grilled watermelon at ABs

Our waiter Wahab ensured that he made eye contact every time we looked up and he kept the meats coming at the same pace as we kept going. At the end of the meal, he refused to accept a tip because apparently its against their policies. In order to provide everyone with the same standards of service, the waiters at Asolute Barbeques do not accept tips.

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Cake pops at ABs

I might not have agreed with the policy but I did respect it and I could see that it was working. Maybe the policy should be adopted industry wide. I’m not sure if it would work everywhere. I really don’t know and thankfully there was the dessert counter to take my mind off such serious issues.

AB's Absolute Barbecues Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato