Bluewaters Island is not just Dubai’s latest waterfront destination, it is also the quirkiest and the most futuristic. No, I do not say that because of the giant Ferris wheel that is based on this island. I know that ‘Ain Dubai’ is a bit of a marvel due its sheer size but it is actually the huge UFO like steel installations that give the Island this futuristic feel.
Of the four restaurants that have so far opened up on the island, one stands out because of it’s fun concept and bold branding. It would be safe to say that ‘The Selfish Bull’ is the quintessential Bluewaters Island restaurant. Yes, it is fun to feast on fresh seafood but it is the ability to do the unthinkable which makes dining at The Selfish Bull such an absolute delight.
Imagine ordering half a lobster because that is what you do when you are in the middle of the sea but also receiving a rack of ribs with your order. Sounds preposterous right? Apparently, it is not. Not only can your lobster come with a side of spare ribs but you can also order it with some juicy lamb chops. If that doesn’t work, there is always the option of a T bone with jumbo shrimps or maybe even a tenderloin steak with some scallops. You could also choose a live mud crab from the display tanks and have it cooked with a zesty black pepper sauce. Everything is possible at the Selfish Bull.
If you want to take it easy, there is the lobster bisque which is a creamy lobster soup cooked with celery, carrots and chives or the Tom Yum, which is a classic Thai spicy soup with shrimps, squid, mushrooms and lemon grass. My favorite was the French Onion Soup which was served in a bread bowl, topped with croutons and cheese.
One of the things that new restaurants struggle with is consistency in service. It takes a while for the service staff to get comfortable in their new roles. The service at the Selfish Bull was impeccable. From seating to order placement and communication to billing; everything was handled with perfection. There was always someone at hand if we needed assistance but the staff were never intrusive. They left us to finish our meal at a leisurely pace, as we soaked in the beautiful view from the terrace. All we had to do to get their attention was to glance in their direction and nod. It was such a pleasure to dine there and congratulations to the restaurant on covering all bases.
I don’t really do Michelin stars any more. It was a phase and it was good while it lasted but it is all over now. No celebrity chefs either, thank you very much. I am happiest when dining out on the streets or comparing one shawarma to the other (though I do sneak in a cheeky brunch whenever I can!) So, when asked to review Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, I wasn’t really sure why!
As we walked into the restaurant, I began to understand why they may have asked me to review it. This was a far cry from the fancy, Michelin starred, award winning, celebrity chef restaurant I was expecting. It had a classy roadside diner feel; the kind of place that would take your jacket, ask you how you were doing and seat you at your preferred table while still serving breakfast, chicken wings and pizza. This was a wonderful world of contrasts and I was already very excited.
The free range Chicken Wings were supposed to be sticky after being tossed in what was called a spicy freak sauce so I asked if I could have the sauce on the side and use it as a dip. I did not expect them to agree because that would essentially change the whole concept and they would have no control over the amount of sauce and doused on to the wings. To my surprise, they agreed. Such is the effect of a customer centric attitude that you are willing to take risks and bend the rules a little bit. It was a gamble that definitely paid off. One thought going through my mind as I dipped the little drumsticks into the spicy freak sauce was that the only way to explain how unbelievably addictive it was, is to bring my foodie friends back to this place.
I was intrigued, yet apprehensive of the Lemon Herbed Chicken. I don’t know why but for some reason I feared it may have been under cooked. I think it had something to do with a similar sounding dish which I had tried to eat a week prior to that day in Baku. To my relief, this chicken was neither under cooked and rubbery nor had it been cooked to oblivion and was succulent and tender with a lemon layer of skin on top. The first thing I did when I got back home was to google the recipe. No, I wasn’t trying to save myself a trip back to the restaurant. I was just curious on how a dish with such basic ingredients could taste so good.
It turns out, all you need to create the most awesome chicken dish were a few fresh basil leaves, a couple of rosemary sprigs, some garlic, your choice of veggies and a large lemon. It is what you do with these ingredients that magically transforms this into a signature Jamie Oliver dish. Don’t google it yet. Go and try the real thing first; just so you know what it is supposed to taste like.
Chicken Ala Diavola at Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria
Last but not least, the Chicken Ala Pizza because this was after all a pizzeria, right? I was pleased to be offered a choice between whole grain and sourdough. Jamie is the poster boy healthy eating in the UK so it had to be so. I opted for the whole grain option of course because it would help to ease my elevated guilt after consuming 300 grams of animal fat smothered onto a carbohydrate base. I did not expect it be as good as a normal pizza because let’s face it, who wants a whole wheat pizza, right? Me, that’s who. After this day, I am not sure if I want to go back to a normal pizza base. The whole wheat dough lent a unique, earthy to the pizza while carrying half the calories of a sourdough base. It complimented the and the mint and yoghurt sauce to create a wonderful fusion between East and West. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start copying this on the streets of Naples soon; or Lahore, depending on who gets a taste of it first.
My nephew was born in the same year that Teatro first opened its doors to public. How could I ever forget that year? It was 2001 and I had freshly graduated. A young, broke meteorologist with my heart on my sleeve. Dubai was changing and so was I.
Shaikh Zayed road was the way into the future. It was a symbol of the new Dubai that was rising out of the desert. Nobody would be able to set foot on JBR for another 6 years. There was no JLT, no Business Bay and certainly no Burj Khalifa. When you said Downtown Dubai, people thought of the Fish Roundabout or Souq Naif in Deira. If you wanted to make a great impression whether on a date or a business meeting, you called ahead to book a table with a view at Teatro.
My nephew is a bit of a legend in his own right. He is the only 18-year-old who does not want to drive or own a car because it is not good for the planet. He is also the only kid I know who got into Stanford on a scholarship. We have all come a long way since then. It is amazing to witness how people evolve over time. It is also amazing to see how a business can evolve but still retain its core essence. Teatro has tweaked its menu many times over the years but remained consistent in the delivery of quality and service excellence that its customers have grown used to.
It was my absolute pleasure to get an opportunity to return to Teatro after so many years. As I walked in to the restaurant, I felt a rush of nostalgia and perhaps even a couple of déjà vu moments as the hostess walked us to our table. Expansive glass windows with views of Shaikh Zayed Road, old pictures of Hollywood stars, dark wooden tables, opulent plush seating and dimmed mood lighting – it was all still there. Teatro has managed to stand its ground when all around have given into the minimalist movement. You can hardly find any more chandeliers or a warm intimate ambience in Dubai restaurants anymore.
Teatro is a licensed multi-cuisine restaurant and truly has something to offer for everyone. It is well known for its sushi selection and for its Italian dishes. I have many favorites but I do not want to steer anyone towards a particular kind of cuisine. So, I am going to limit my recommendation to one starter and one main course; which are the Wasabi Tempura and the Lamb Shank.
The first is a platter of six, tempura battered jumbo shrimps which have a hint of wasabi seasoning. The batter gives a slightly sweet crunchy coating and the wasabi provides the soft prawns with a subtle fiery kick.
I love a good lamb shank and have never shied away from the opportunity to order one; whenever possible. I have tasted a traditional lamb shank stew. I have had a braised lamb shank Ragu and a lamb shank with herbed mashed potatoes but Teatro is probably the only place in Dubai where you can taste a Kashmiri lamb shank. Falling of the bone, tender meat which is slowly braised with a blend of ginger, garlic, onion, fresh tomato and aromatic Kashmiri spices. This has got to be the best way to combine Eastern Cuisine with Western cooking methods and it is reason enough for me to go back to Teatro soon.
Remember the time when I couldn’t recommend a good Emirati restaurant to a friend from abroad because I simply had never been to one. It was embarrassing, yes. Thus started my quest for an authentic Emirati restaurant which could be added to my list of 10 things to do in Dubai. That is when I discovered Milas at the Dubai Mall.
Milas is now shifting to a new location within Dubai Mall. It will now offer it’s guests unparalleled views of the Burj Khalifa from its large al-Fresco dining area and will feature a brand new Emirati- fusion menu. To coincide with this change, they are also rebranding the restaurant. They are giving away a VIP number 05X-6500000 to anyone who guesses the name of the restaurant. All you have to do is go to www.milas.cc/vip and fill out your details along with the new name. (They have dropped a hint to make to get your creative juices flowing and that is: I am what I see in the mirror.)
I was lucky enough to be invited to preview the new menu before the official launch and absolutely loved the new fusion concept. The service of course was top notch as expected and I was seated in a heartbeat and handed an Ipad mini to browse the new digital menu. One of the advantages of this was that all the dishes looked better on an HD screen than they would probably have looked on a printed menu. The flip side was that I had a harder time making a choice.
I liked everything that I tried but would like to share some of my favorites with you. If you want to know what camel meat tastes like, you should order the camel sliders. The texture of the meat was like beef but a lot leaner, hence a little dry. It’s a good thing the sliders were smothered with date sauce and mustard so the dryness got balanced out. The jalapeños complimented the sauces and there was a medley of sweet, tangy and hot flavours in every bite.
The winning dishes of the night were the Jumping Tempura and the Musical Shawarma. I liked the names so much that I had decided I would love them even before they had arrived. Thank God they lived up to the expectation or it would have been such a disappointment The jumping tempura was exactly as it said on the tin; A dish of fried shrimp and calamari coated with flavoured tempura and covered in a mayonnaise chili sauce that would shock and awe your tastebuds. No, it wasn’t unbearably hot. It is just that one would not expect a prawn tempura to have chili added to it. Also, the heat was camouflaged by the creamy mayonnaise. It takes a couple of seconds for it to register and when it does, you jump out of your seat a little. Hence the name.
The Musical shawarma is probably named as such because of all the various notes present in the dish. A soft Emirati bread was stuffed with marinated and sautéed beef, onions, parsley, sesame sauce and (get ready for this), fried kunafa. Now when was the last time you had kunafa in your shawarma? Probably never because we all know it as a dessert right? It turns out that kunafa is actually not sweet at all. A sugar syrup is added in order for it to be consumed as a dessert. Without the syrup, fried kunafa is actually the best thing that has happened to shawarmas since someone invented the large rotating column of meat.
The competition closes at the end of the month and the restaurant opens soon after. You still have some days left to try and win the VIP number but if that is not your thing, don’t worry about it. Soon you will be able to enjoy Emirati food with a twist and enjoy the Burj laser show at the same time. Do share what your favorites are once you visit and I would love to go back and try anything I have missed out and share my experience of that too.
It was February of this year when I went for the Mad Hatter’s birthday party at Sugar Factory. Read about it here. Guess what? The year has not yet ended and yours truly has been signed up as a brand ambassador for the Sugar Factory. Considering the fact that this place is a regular hangout for celebs like Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Britney Spears, Drake, Nicole Scherzinger, Kim Kardashian and Eva Longoria – this my friends is a pretty cool thing, even if I do say so myself :p .
So, the first order of the day was for me the go and try out the brand-new menu at Sugar Factory Dubai and give my honest opinion on the new additions (I know right? What a hard life!) So that’s just what I did.
I got to try some of the new items and liked most all them but I am going to list some of my favorites here.
Whatever you do, please do try out the Bao Wao which is a trio of soft Bao buns filled with crispy chicken and sriracha sauce, buffalo chicken and beef teriyaki respectively.
I also recommend the chicken Cheetos blowout burger. The name is pretty self-explanatory but let me describe it just in case. Think of crispy chicken fried with a melted cheese filling, lettuce, tomato, fried egg, beef bacon and ginger tomato chili jam along with Cheetos and truffle mayonnaise in a brioche bun. It is called the ‘cheese blowout’ burger because every time you bite into that crispy breaded chicken, your mouth is flooded by warm gooey cheese. The smooth texture of this cheese along with the crunch from the Cheetos and the crispy chicken itself is an experience that should not be missed.
If you enjoy your meats like me, you will love the slow braised lamb shank with wasabi mashed potato. To be honest, a pure meat dish can always be a hit or a miss depending on various factors but I ordered this anyway because I knew it would look great on instagram! Guess what, this chance paid off because not only did it look awesome in the photos but the tender meat was literally falling off the bone and together with the wasabi kick from the mashed potatoes, it provided a well-rounded and fulfilling experience.
Another interesting addition to the menu are the mac and cheese pops. Think deep fried balls of crumbed macaroni and cheese on a stick, served on a bed of marinara sauce. Sounds insane right? They taste was out of this world too. That moment when you take the first bite and the cheese explodes in your mouth is just so unforgettable. I can still recall that experience as if it happened just a moment ago.
One thing I noticed about Sugar Factory was that the presentation and theatrics form a part of the overall experience. From the giant goblets of wonderful smokey mocktails to the desserts that were given finishing touches at your table – everything had a performance element to it. The way the Mai Tai was poured and presented, the method of using a blowtorch to burn through a deconstructed Tiramisu ball – everything required our full attention and it was almost as if we were a part of the interactive process.
At the end of the meal, we were presented with a mirrored tray on which the chef created a dessert called the canvas of the world in front of our eyes. It had among other things, a chocolate fudge and Nutella cake, Oreo Soil, Lotus Soil, Fanta cake, fruit caviar, a chocolate ice cream stick and a deconstructed Tiramisu. Head over to my instagram account to see a short video of the dessert being created. The finished tray is pictured above.
Whether you feel like trying out something familiar and simple like a pasta or a pizza or if you are in the mood for an elaborate creation, the new menu at Sugar Factory has something for everyone. I will be returning again soon because there are still some items that I need to try. Meanwhile, if you have any recommendations, please do let me know!
On one ordinary day of the year 1996, residents of Mpumalanga City in South Africa paired for the first time, the fiery hot sauces of a new eatery with the most succulent chicken they had ever tasted. Thus, began the journey of Galitos, a brand that soon expanded not just to other countries in Africa but ended up operating 150 restaurants in 15 countries all over the world.
For those who don’t like hot spicy food, maybe they should go grab a salad or something but if like me you do like to dial up the chili, please read on. Galitos’ signature chicken is flame grilled and brush basted to achieve that perfect tenderness but that is not all that they serve. One South African dish that I always wanted to try was the Borewors. These are traditional farmer’s sausages that are a staple at every working-class South African table. Traditionally, they are made from a blend of pork, lamb and beef which is why I never thought I would be able to try them but luckily, Galitos make their borewors from freshly ground beef. These sausages are hand made in store and the labour of love was evident in every bite. They serve a chicken version called Zulu sausages as well but if you don’t like beef or lamb, don’t bother because the sausage casings are usually made of sheep intestines. They also make artificial casings now but even those are made from cellulose found in animal hides so you would still be able to taste the animal. It may be a bit much for most people but I don’t mind it at all.
If you like to play it safe however, I would like to recommend the newly launched mini bold burgers. These cute little sliders come in four variations. Each type comes with a different kind of Galitos signature sauce and I especially liked the baked chicken and pulled chicken.
Other notable mentions are the chicken tacos and perishrooms. Besides the soft tortilla and the fact that they were super spicy, the tacos had little similarity with their Mexican cousins. The chicken was shredded of course but all the flavour and taste came from the special Galitos sauce that it was marinated in. The mushrooms were grilled with tomato and onion cubes before being doused with a generous helping of herb and lemon peri peri sauce. It was served with an unexpectedly flavorsome garlic bread which complemented the velvet like perishroom texture.
Last but not least, my favourite dish of the evening was the Prawn Espedata. Espedata is the Portuguese term used for the technique of cooking meat on skewers. Often, bell peppers and onions are added between the pieces of meat. They can also be prepared with squid, fish or even shrimps. What made the Galitos prawn espedata so special are the signature sauces. Let me warn you though, if you ask for hot and spicy, you better really mean it because Galitos definition of spicy is way more serious than what you could ever imagine. I believe I have mentioned in a previous article that I love super spicy squid, crabs and prawns so this was so much fun for me. Every time I have had seafood that is this hot, it has been cooked with some form of curry; either Goan, Sri Lankan or Thai. I have never had grilled seafood in my life that was this spicy. I enjoyed myself so much that there were tears of happiness rolling down my cheeks or it may have been my natural reaction to the hottest sauce in the world, I am not entirely sure. Whatever it was, I know I am definitely going to do it again and again and again.
When a restaurant has the word ‘pancake’ as part of its name, you walk in with the pre-conceived notion that pancakes are their speciality and whatever else you eat there on that day, your meal has to finish off with a pancake and some syrup.
When a restaurant has the word ‘pancake’ as part of its name, you walk in with the pre-conceived notion that pancakes are their speciality and whatever else you eat there on that day, your meal has to finish off with a pancake and some syrup. The folks at Pancake House do expect most customers to order pancakes as well, just not necessarily at the end of their meals.
To ensure that the pancake is not flattened under the shadow of better-known dishes, the very first section of the Pancake House menu lists variations of the item that made it famous when it first opened its doors to public in the 1970s. Naturally, if the first thing you see on the menu are pictures of glorious, fluffy pancakes, it is hard to go further without ordering at least one. Besides, this restaurant has been serving customers much before I was born, so if they want my meal to start off with a pancake, that is precisely how it would happen!
I was advised to order the caramel, banana and walnut pancake and I have now decided that henceforth, all my meals should start off with a pancake! The crunch from the walnuts complemented the soft bananas and fluffy pancakes in a way that can only be described after you have experienced so many delicious textures in one bite. I realised that the pancake is not really a dessert item as I had previously believed. It has been a source of sustenance since the middle ages and could be eaten as a comfort food, celebratory dish, breakfast item, dessert or an appetiser!
Another thing that I learnt on that day was that a Salisbury Steak is not a steak. It is a sheep in wolves clothing. A more appropriate description would be ‘meatloaf’ that is shaped like a steak. It is also served like a steak and is supposed to be eaten like a steak but it is not a steak. It is basically a dish made from a blend of ground beef and other ingredients, which is formed into oval shaped ‘steaks’ and served with brown sauce and rice. I am not sure how I felt about that but you should have seen the look on my face as I put a piece of this steak into my mouth after cutting it with a table knife.
If you like seafood, I would like to suggest the Tagliatelle Seafood Gambero. This was another dish that was enhanced by so many contrasting textures in each bite. This fettuccine shaped pasta was tossed marinara style, in a tangy tomato herb sauce. The cream dory, mussel and shrimp provided additional flavor and texture to this unique seafood dish.
Before I sign off, let me tell you what my favourite part of the menu at Pancake House was. It was a drink called ‘Ube Milkshake’. The ube is a type of yam or sweet potato which is a vivid violet to bright lavender in color. I am not sure how it tastes on its own but when combined with milk in a blender to form a shake, it becomes the sort of beverage for which you may be willing to drive down all the way to Abu Dhabi.
Now imagine how I must have felt when I came across not only this book but the opportunity to taste all of the Emperor’s favourite dishes from the Ming court.
Where would you take business associates consisting of a Philipino, an American, an Indian and a Chinese person out for lunch, together in Abu Dhabi? Please don’t name one of the American fast food chains. I said take ‘them out for lunch’, not ‘kill them softly’ … LOL. Sorry about that bad joke, you will understand the relevance of the question in a bit but on a serious note, I have just discovered one of Abu Dhabi’s best kept culinary secrets. A book of secret recipes to be precise. Recipes from the Ming Dynasty that ruled China from 1368 to 1644.
This book of recipes has since been passed down from generation to generation not just as a family heirloom but as a reminder of the time when China started its journey towards economic growth and prosperity by producing vast quantities of silk, porcelain, laquerware and tea for consumers in the Indian Ocean basin, Central Asia and Europe.
Today, China is a global powerhouse not just because of its economic amplitude but because of its cultural reach which has been helped in part by the world’s love for Chinese food. Now imagine how I must have felt when I came across not only this book but the opportunity to taste some of the Emperor’s favourite dishes from the Ming court. Pretty unbelievable right? The best thing is that all of these dishes are now cooked every day, on demand for people like you and me at the chamber of Ming in Abu Dhabi.
To truly understand how China has infiltrated every culture of the world with its ‘soft power’ and the vital role Chinese food has had in that global expedition, you absolutely have to order two of the starters at Mings Chamber. One of them are the TNT prawns and the other are the sweet and sour chicken wings. Some of you may compare the TNT Prawns to the ‘Dynamite Shrimps’ that are served at a very popular American/Chinese restaurant. Trust me on this, the prawns have nuked the shrimps – permanently. You will get the same mild heat from the wasabi and there is a hint of sriracha just for good measure but the difference between the two dishes is the ‘crunch’. I am still not sure how something so creamy can be so crunchy at the same time.
The sweet and sour chicken wings were my favourite dish on the menu. I can truly understand why the Ming Family has kept this recipe hidden for so long. This is the kind of recipe that could have led to wars and invasions and all kinds of nasty things. It’s a good thing that we are all ‘kind of’ civilised now and have ‘sort of’ stopped invading other countries; which is why the Ming family has decided to bring this centuries-old secret recipe to the forefront and yes just like everything else on the menu, you can now go and order yourself a plate of history, at the Ming’s Chamber in Abu Dhabi.
When the Ming Emperors entertained trading partners from all over the world at court, the chefs tried to incorporate dishes from their guest’s countries of origin in the menu as well. Over time, the most popular recipes from overseas became a permanent part of the banquet menu and eventually got written down in the secret book of recipes; which is why we can see an influence of Singaporean, Indian, Philipino, Indonesian and Western food in the Ming’s Chamber menu.
They also have a giant Mongolian grill which they use instead of a wok to cook up your choice of noodles along with your favourite veggies and protein or just to toss up some meat like a warrior; remnants of the Yuan dynasty which was ousted when the Mings took over power in China. I quiet liked the idea of creating my own noodles. Made me feel in control. Come to think of it, transferring power to the people might have been one of the reasons the Ming Dynasty collapsed!
Before I sign off, please allow me to give you one last tip. You have absolutely got to try the cheesecake at the end of your meal. Doesn’t matter if its chocolate or lemon, they are both equally divine. You know that big American restaurant that has the word ‘cheesecake’ as part of its name? Yeah, well I have been there 3 to 4 times because I love cheesecake but I have yet to taste anything half as good as the cheesecake at Ming’s Chamber there. In fact, I am not sure if I have ever had cheesecake that is this good in Dubai before. It was served in a mug because of its consistency and that was the main reason behind the magic. Think of it like a wonderfully flavorful, warm, gooey mass of cream cheese with a lavish sprinkling of crunch that essentially would form the base in ordinary cheesecakes. I know right?
What is so experimental about a noodle house that cooks everything in a wok, you may ask? There must be at least a hundred in Dubai, you may say? Well, the fact that it is basically just a kitchen with roadside seating, makes it a little unique but that is not what differentiates Wok Boyz from everyone else.
I absolutely love it when a restaurant dares to do something different. It doesn’t necessarily work every time because we the customers, are stuck in our old eating habits and even if the restaurant has taken a bold step in order to provide us with a fresh experience or type of cuisine; we are not ready to step out of our comfort zones.
Sometimes, the gamble does pay off and when it does, big or small – the restaurant becomes talk of the town. Case in point is Wok Boyz on Sheikh Zayed Road. What is so experimental about a noodle house that cooks everything in a wok, you may ask? There must be at least a hundred in Dubai, you may say? Well, the fact that it is basically just a kitchen with roadside seating, makes it a little unique but that is not what differentiates Wok Boyz from everyone else.
At the heart of this success story is the concept. Once this catches on, it will be a game changer for the whole industry. Next time you want to grab a shawarma after the club, you may choose to grab a noodle box instead. No, it is not the first time someone is selling noodles out of a box but very few places have been able to deconstruct the noodle box in Dubai. Think of it like the Subway of noodle boxes. You choose a base like egg or wheat noodles, choose a protein (chicken, beef etc), add some shitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots or whichever veggies your heart desires and finish it off with your Asian sauce of choice (six options). You make your own noodle box, just like you make your own sandwich. It’s called giving control back to the customer and that is the direction all fast food concepts will eventually move towards.
If you are the indecisive kind and need to be told by others what you should be eating, this place might still be worth a visit. You may have to miss out on the best part of this experience but you will still be able to sample the signature, Spicy Korean wings and wash them down with fresh coconut water, straight out of a chilled coconut. Roadside eating doesn’t get better than this.
This little hole in the wall does have the heart of a huge fast food giant. It screams out for attention but in its own unique way. The giant graffiti mural, painted on the entire wall of the building this restaurant is located in, gives away its intentions of world domination. Standing out amongst the majestic buildings and polished lobbies of Sheikh Zayed road, it stares directly up at the Emirates Towers building with pride. This fight for the next hit food concept has spilled out into the streets of Dubai and this little restaurant is definitely punching above its weight. It may be the beginning of a new sub-culture within Dubai’s dynamic street food scene.