Big Chefs @ Riverland.

Istanbul’s hipsters are of a different breed though. Graffiti may be a form of expression but books are a source of inspiration for them. The high-end restaurants in hipster Istanbul seem to have embraced books as a part of their décor. Not just as an afterthought but as a focal point of the entire space.

Big Chefs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

If you haven’t been to Riverland yet, you are missing out on one of Dubai’s most exiting outdoor destinations. Yes, that is correct, it is a destination in itself. You do not have to be visiting Dubai Parks and Resorts or staying at the mysterious Qasr al Sultan hotel to enjoy what this little French themed village has to offer. I intend to review all of the Riverland restaurants soon but let me kick it all off by the contemporary Turkish eatery, Big Chefs.

I did expect the food here to be of a certain standard (because of the name) but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined having flashbacks of Sultanahmet and all the eateries in the Beyoglu area of Istanbul. Don’t get me wrong. This restaurant is as modern as they come but so are most of the other new restaurants in traditional ‘old Istanbul’. They have held on to their centuries-old tradition of Turkish warmth and hospitality but they are the amalgamation of posh dining and the hipster movement brewing in the back alleys of old Istanbul.

Istanbul’s hipsters are of a different breed though. Graffiti may be a form of expression but books are a source of inspiration for them. The high-end restaurants in hipster Istanbul seem to have embraced books as a part of their décor. Not just as an afterthought but as a focal point of the entire space. The giant bookshelves at ‘Big Chef’, along with the indoor trees, abundant natural light and luxurious leather seating give an unmistakable Turkish identity to this restaurant.

The food was no different. They launched their redesigned menu about a week ago and Turkish influences can be seen throughout what was otherwise a very international offering. They sell their own Olive Oil and sauces. I found the pomegranate sauce to be particularly interesting. Think of it like a maple syrup but slightly less sweet with an intensely sour flavor which kicks in after a couple of seconds but gives way to the sweet after taste almost immediately. I liked it so much that I ended up taking a bottle home as well!

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Big Chef branded Olive Oil and Pomegranate syrup

Since I am a sucker for looks, I ordered the Lamb Shank because I could just not stop imagining how good it would look on my instagram. Unfortunately, the photos did not come out as great as I expected. I think I was too hungry to get up and sit with the light behind me. Thank God for editing and filters. (Note to self: always eat a little bit at home before going out to take pictures of food)

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Lamb Shank with Barley Risotto at Big Chef

Though the lamb shank itself was tender and nicely cooked, the barley pilaf risotto accompanying it  was pretty ordinary. A less fancy name for it would be ‘boiled barley’. The gravy sauce that was supposed to be served with the dish was nowhere to be found and I was just too hungry to bother asking for it. Overall, I think this dish did ok but that could have been so because I was starving or maybe just because the meat was full of flavor, was really well cooked and was literally falling off the bone. 

The Casarecce pesto rosso (pasta with pink sauce) provided a more, well-rounded experience. The portion was enough to feed a hungry adult and was appropriately creamy and very delicious. The sun-dried tomato provided a nice little zap while the red pesto gave the gorgeous pink colour and a wonderful flavor to the dish.

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Casarecce Pesto Rosso at Big Chef

The home style meatballs were what reminded me of Istanbul the most. This was a classic Turkish meat dish with potatoes. I initially thought that it was modernised by adding caramelised onion and sautéed tomatoes but after doing some research, I learnt that this was exactly how traditional meatballs were cooked and garnished in Turkish homes. 

So drop into Big Chefs whenever you crave authentic Turkish meatballs or some wonderfully pink pasta and if you do, make sure it is at the Riverland branch. It will transport you to the back alleys of Istanbul and the giant bookshelves and ladders will give you a glimpse into the posh restaurants of Beyoglu and Kadikoy.

Ginger and Mint lemonade at Big Chef

Fun with vegetables at Rajhdani Street.

Whenever someone says Indian vegetarian, the first thing that comes to mind is a huge round platter (thali) with little bowls of assorted vegetarian curries and pulses, some rice, possibly some bread and a dessert all served at once, on the same thali.

Rajdhani Street serves traditional Indian dishes as well but since this is not your average vegetarian restaurant, there was a lot more going on than I could have imagined. We were served  magic potion’s in what looked like Harry Potter’s drinking glasses and green concoctions in test tubes straight out of a sci-fi flick. We even got to try pav bhaaji (thick vegetable curry) straight out of a fondue pot and experienced a dhokla pizza for the first time in our lives. This was a glimpse into the future of Indian Vegetarian food.

I was there at a blogger’s meet and had the pleasure of meeting some really cool Dubai food bloggers while  re-discovering vegetarian cuisine. The only regret was not being able to sample any of the main courses because I was so full on the appetizers. That’s what happens when you get an engaging conversation going on along with an endless supply of really good food. I am pretty sure I will return for the main course at some point but for now, here is a lowdown of the dishes thatI was able to sample.

Dhokla is a food item that originates from the Indian state of Gujarat. It is made with a fermented batter derived from rice and split chickpeas. It can be eaten for breakfast, as a main course, as a side dish, or as a snack. The guys at Rajdhani street made sure you can eat it as a late night takeaway dinner as well by turning it  into the dhokla p izza. Took me a while to get used to it but once I got going, there was no stopping me. I’m not sure if I can ever look at pizza the same way again!

I also enjoyed the paneer ka lifafas which were basically deep fried cheese pockets. Definitely not something you want to be seen around if you are on a low calorie diet but probably the best thing for mindless eating while engaging in a deep intellectual conversation about the future of food blogging in Dubai. A word of caution – they were highly addictive and you could end up stuck somewhere in the space time continuum after having a couple of these puppies. There was a possibility of eventually finding your way back to JLT, as long as you did not wash them down with the Maharajah Lassi or the Malabari Chas.

If travelling through different dimensions is not your thing, may I suggest the  Masala thumbs up, a magical potion from Hogwarts guaranteed to solve all your digestive issues or the Hara Pudina Shikanji (mint lemonade) a refreshing drink served in a tall test tube straight from Dr Jekyll’s lab.

My favourite dish of the day was the pav bhaji fondue. Pav bhaji is a popular street food from India  with many variations in ingredients and garnishes, but is essentially a spiced mixture of mashed vegetables in a thick gravy served hot with a soft white bread roll, drenched in butter. The dish originated in the 1850s as a fast lunchtime dish for textile mill workers in Mumbai.

A  fondue is a Swiss dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot over a portable stove heated with a candle or spirit lamp, and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long-stemmed forks. It was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union in the 1930s.

So this dish was essentially the fusion of a decades old Western staple with an Eastern street food classic. It was so good looking that I kept staring at it for a while before daring to destroy the immaculate presentation. The colour added by the spiced garnishes transformed it into something out of a Paul Klee original. It was almost too pretty to eat but when has that ever stopped a food blogger in the past? Sadly, I could not admire it for too long as my fellow bloggers were attacking this dish from all kinds of angles. So I joined in with them and like all good things, the Pav Bhaji fondue also come to an end. With it, the space in my stomach filled up and thus ended a wonderful evening. I excused myself from tasting any of the main courses but promised to go back and sort out my unfinished business.

Salads and more at Brisk UAE.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know that I talk about fashion models quite a bit. No, I am not obsessed with them, not in the way you would think I am. I don’t want to be a model, I think that ship sailed a long time ago. I don’t want to be with a model either, as I am very happy being a husband and a father. I am just fascinated by how they are able to maintain such amazing bodies. Some of them may have great metabolisms. Some may be eating the right foods. Some of them may follow a strict workout regime but all of them, are super fit.

About 7 years ago, I was pretty fit myself and then it all just wen t downhill from there. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped following the strict diet that I had managed to stick to for a couple of years. I’m not sure what came first but once I was in my comfort zone, it all just seemed to have happened. I found myself in a downward spiral. I tried going to the gym but my diet was so bad that I just got demotivated after a while.

The problem with healthy eating is that it is just not fun… or it was not, up till now. It used to mean that I could not go out to meet my friends. I could no longer have a social circle. When you are younger, you go out and party but when you are 39, a party means food. This is what we older people do. This is how we have fun. Minus the food and our lives would be miserable. So I couldn’t be super fit without working out. There was no point in working out without eating healthy. There was no eating healthy if I was to be a social person. This my friends was the conundrum I was in.

Thankfully though, things are going to be a little different now. That is because I have discovered a gem right in the heart of Dubai Media City. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Brisk UAE. This is a new age healthy food concept where not only can you build your own salads but get loads of healthy eating options like granola bowls, avocado pasta and grilled fish. I am finally going to be able to eat healthy and meet my friends at the same time. Sacrificing my social life will no longer be a consequence of eating the right foods. Salads will no longer have to be boring and socializing over food will not lead to an unhealthy lifestyle.

If you are too lazy to build your own salad just choose one from any of the seven Brisk Salads. Two salads which caught my eye were the Bombay coronation salad and the quinoa tabouleh. I decided to make my own anyway because of all the awesome ingredients that were calling out my name. I had a base of rocket leaves and added some kale, quinoa, poached raisins, chicken curry mix, sun dried tomatoes and cottage cheese. As if all that wasn’t enough, I added a finishing touch with some mint yoghurt dressing. The result was absolutely phenomenal. It was so good that I immediately decided to give it a name. So when you guys are down at Brisk, feel free to use my ingredient list to enjoy the Eat Sleep Dubai Repeat salad. You are welcome.

Build your own salad at Brisk UAE

As I said earlier, they don’t just stop at salads. Brisk serves a variety of sandwiches and there is an awesome breakfast menu as well. I particularly loved the avocado on toast. The secret ingredient in that was the layer of tomato marmalade between the creamy avocado and the crisp toast. I was told that it can be requested with a poached egg on top for a complete, healthy breakfast meal.

Avocado on toast at Brisk Uae

Some of you may not be into salads that much but please do think about it. Your health is the most important thing you have. If you can have a nice time enjoying food that is not going to clog your arteries or cause hypertension, than why go any other way. I hope you give healthy eating a chance. I also hope you encourage restaurants like Brisk who are trying to change the way we look at food.

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

Traveling back in time @ Ketli Café.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Once in a while, you walk out of a restaurant with a warm fuzzy feeling brought about by a mixture of nostalgia and accomplishment. A sense of attainment over the discovery of a gem in the back alleys of Karama and nostalgia that takes you back to the wonder years. A time when your heart was bigger than your wallet, your friends were an integral part of your love story and you swore by mom’s cooking every day.

I had that experience at Ketli Café recently. Ketli is a quaint little eatery that serves finger food, pasta, chicken steaks and burgers with an Asian twist. It is run by a dynamic mother daughter duo who manage the business in an extremely hands on manner. Their personalities are reflected in the menu and in the place itself.  We met the daughter Renad, who had come to Dubai as a student from Saudi Arabia and ended up making her whole family move here. Mom has an eye for detail  and her personality shines through in everything, from the decor to the menu.

The menu consists of a good selection of nibbles and main courses along with of a wide variety of shakes, coolers and hot beverages. Some of the items are as quirky as the pop art on the walls.  I was fascinated by the Oman chips paratha, Desi style loaded nachos and masaledar cheddar slider. We ended up ordering he last two on the list and quite enjoyed the Subcontinental twist to these two dishes.

We also ordered the pasta with pink sauce and the stuffed chicken with creamy pasta. These two dishes were what teleported us to the distant time I spoke of earlier. I know now, that all I have to do, to relive my youth and be reminded of mom’s comfort food is to head down to Ketli Café in Karama and order one of these two dishes. The pink colour in the pasta could have been the result of the creamy cheese and the tomato sauce. Whatever it was, I was too busy savouring every bite and thinking of my childhood to worry about ingredients. I do know that together with the chicken mince and pasta, this sauce was a gift from heaven.

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Masalaydar Cheddar slider at Ketli Cafe

The best dish of the evening was saved for last. If you are ever down in Karama please do go and try the stuffed chicken with creamy fettuccini. If you are not in Karama, driving down to Ketli Café just to taste this dish will be worth your time. The succulent chicken breast was stuffed with spinach, garlic and cheese. Now pause for a moment to process that information. How good do you think this was? It was just as good as you could imagine it would be. This was accompanied by a generous helping of creamy, pesto fettuchini. I remember closing my eyes as I gradually worked through every creamy bite. At 45 AED this dish seemed to be quite a bargain. The whole menu infact, was very reasonably priced. The Pina Colada and the Mint Mojito were both priced at 18 AED and tasted much better than some of the 50 AED drinks you get at fancier joints.

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Stuffed chicken breast with fettuccini at Ketli Cafe

So the next time you are playing tourist in your own city or are headed down towards Karama, please do check out this cute little café. We need to encourage small businesses. We need to appreciate the quality of service and food we can get when the owners are directly involved in managing the business. We need to stand behind those who embrace innovation in their menus and  actively seek to change service standards. We need to foster the entreprenurial spirit. After all, that is what made this city so great and attracted people like Renad and her family here in the first place.

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Mint Mojito and Pina Colada at Ketli Cafe

Ketli Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

L’eto Cafe. The modest giant.

I remember being pulled into L’eto Café by the captivating display of tarts and cakes, not once but two times as I walked past the store at Mall of the Emirates. Not to eat anything, no. I am supposed to be on a perpetual diet you see. No tarts, cakes or any other sinful indulgence for me, thank you. I am a man of abstinence.
Like all other mortals however, I have my weak moments. Moments when the dormant wild beast within overpowers the voice of reason. There are times when middle aged logic and self-control lose out to reckless curiosity and desire. Usually those moments kick in before dinnertime every day. It just so happened, that the two times I was enticed into L’eto Café was on days that I had already had dinner. So, the reason I had not defied all reasoning to dive head first into a L’eto fig and cardamom tart yet, was all down to timing. I was just at the right place at the wrong time.
This time was different though. I casually slipped in the name while discussing a venue for Iftar that was not a buffet. ‘They do have lots of salads and healthy options’ I said, while forgetting to mention that they also had the most alluring cake display, this side of the Champs-Élysées. Like always, my powerful power of persuasion worked and L’eto Café was the destination of choice that evening.
We chose the City Walk location. It had a patio that looked out into the walking street that had all the performers and little food carts. We decided to sit inside though. The well-lit dining area and luxurious white furnishings were dotted with colorful flowers. This was such an instagrammable place and we didn’t even make it to the cake display yet.
The hostesses were super sweet. Besides being quick and efficient in seating us, they did one thing that will ensure a repeat visit to this place. They offered to take baby D off of our hands. “Do you need a baby sitter?” asked one of them. Before we could process that question, D almost jumped out of her pram and into her arms as we watched in amazement. That didn’t last very long but the fact that it happened, even for a minute, was just so surreal.
Due to my extrasensory perception, we were delighted to see that they did actually have a vast selection of salads. Now, we could eat healthy right before annihilating our vows. Who needs restraint when you can have cake instead? Thanks to the salads, there would be zero percent guilt and hundred percent satisfaction.
We ordered a salad trio which allowed us to pick 3 salads from the display. We went for the Harissa Aubergines & Black Beluga Lentil salad, Honey Roasted Pumpkin & Crispy Kale salad and the Caramelized Beetroot, Dates & Goat Cheese salad. I think the names are self-explanatory but let me just add that the Aubergine & Lentil salad was dotted with cherry tomatoes and seasoned with fresh mint, parsley and coriander. The Pumpkin and Kale salad had bulgar wheat, dried cranberries and feta cheese while the beetroot, dates and goat cheese salad was completed by adding baby spinach, green beans, radicchio and almonds. Need I say more?

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We ordered one of the best looking open faced burgers I had seen in a long time. The ‘California Burger’ was basically some avocado slices over a thick beef patty placed on a bed of greens resting on a toasted bun. The other half of the bun was layered with tomato salsa which had pomegranate seeds mixed into it. It was like a Sicilian love affair in Tehran, or LA – depending on what side went into your mouth first. We were not in any of those cities though. We were in the only city that could be all of those places and more; a city that is a melting pot of cultures with a distinct identity of its own. We were in Dubai and this was the definitive Dubai Burger. I suggest they rename this burger as such but while the folks at L’eto think about that, I am going to go ahead and add this to my ‘Best 11 Burgers in Dubai’ list.

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California Burger at L’eto Cafe

The next dish we ordered was the Chicken Teriyaki. Clearly, the description in the menu was unable to do justice to this dish. It said that the dish included roasted sweet potatoes and oyster mushrooms as sides. What it did not mention was that Oyster mushrooms grow in larger flat caps similar to shiitake. As they grow larger, the flavor intensifies and they become tougher and meatier. The caps of these particular mushrooms must have been quiet large because I could have sworn I was chewing on Thai beef. The roasted sweet potatoes were roasted to the point where they had become slightly less sweet and a little crispy. The crispy sweet potatoes complimented the meaty texture of the mushrooms. Together, with the fragrant teriyaki chicken they created a mélange of flavours that I can still savour, as I write this review.

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Teriyaki Chicken at L’eto Cafe

L’eto is famous for its cakes and pastries but we were so stuffed that we decided to leave the coffee and cake for another day. My priority at that point was to wiggle out of my chair. I was positive I had grown a little bigger than before. I wasn’t entirely sure if I could walk by myself and I think I almost requested for a wheel barrow. My perpetual diet was still on though…once again, I had managed to stay away from the sugar!

L'ETO Caffe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tribes – Almost African.

The best restaurants are those which can teleport you to a faraway land. The sights and sounds of this place should captivate you and make you feel like the star of your own reality show or like royalty, if you would rather have it that way.  This land that I speak of should be able to make you forget your work assignments, mortgage payments and traffic fines.

“Where would you like to be seated Sir? Would you like to see the drinks menu? Please take your time and I will be back when you are ready.” I was starting to feel a bit like a King myself, as I admired the tribal décor while these well-rehearsed lines rolled off my server’s tongue.

Since this was La La Land and we were all playing our part, I decided to be the King my server thought I was and decided to order the most ridiculous thing on the menu. The beef short ribs probably required the least amount of creativity from the chef and were probably the 2nd most boring thing on the menu (the first being my partner’s chosen dish). I still went ahead and ordered a full rack because it appealed to my extravagant Royal side. Also, I thought it may be an interesting choice at the time because I still remembered the Spicy Ethiopian beef I had enjoyed a couple of years back. These ribs however, were not spicy. They weren’t Ethiopian either. I don’t know where they were from. The restaurant had painted the entire menu with one gigantic African brush without specifying the country of origin. It was like going in to one of those restaurants serving ‘Asian’ cuisine and expecting to see everything from Sushi to fried crickets on the menu. Anyway, these ribs were tender and well cooked but the extra sweet sauce they were smothered with kept confusing me. This was such a British thing to do.  This restaurant was African on the outside but deep inside it was just another restaurant that had tweaked its menu according to it’s clientele.

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Beef Short Ribs at TRIBES

My partner ordered the Madagascar chicken. I thought it was a better choice than mine because we got to at know which African country the chicken had flown in from. I changed my mind when I saw it. The menu described it as a pepper and palm sugar spiced, roasted half chicken. It looked and tasted like one of those grilled chickens you can buy at Spinneys for 15 DHS. Except this one was only half a chicken and it was for 100 DHS. I am not a fan of sweet meats but was secretly relieved that the palm sugar mentioned in the description would give this otherwise boring looking bird some flavour. Couldn’t really taste it though. Maybe my senses were so overwhelmed by the sugar sauce on my ribs that I just couldn’t taste anything else. Maybe they had added all the sugar meant for the chicken to the ribs, I am not entirely sure. All I can say is that it tasted like roast chicken. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Madagascar chicken at TRIBES

This restaurant has a rating of above 4 on both Trip Advisor and Zomato so obviously, we just ordered the wrong things. I have to be honest, how other people feel about a place cannot determine what I feel about it. I would love to go back though, to give it another chance and order the right dishes. The environment, service and the entertainment were all top class (I did feel like a King, remember). The waiters would break into a song and dance routine every 15 minutes or so. One dude would pound the djembe (African percussion instrument) while several others would sing and dance with shakers in hand. The place had a great fun vibe to it. Sadly though, the food was not even close to what we had expected.

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African percussion instruments at TRIBES

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

GF Ferre chocolate bar.

Every time someone says “GF Ferre”, I imagine super skinny men and women with chiseled jawlines strutting their stuff down a ramp somewhere at the Dubai Design District. The last thing I can think of is food. There is in fact an emotion of immense regret that takes over. I feel guilty for the last meal I had. My mind calculates the number of calories consumed on that day while simultaneously trying to figure out the number of meals I would have to skip to balance my impulsive eating habits.

That seldom happens though. I don’t skip too many meals. I just eat whenever and whatever I want to. As long as I make sure I don’t hear the names GF Ferre, Roberto Cavalli or Georgio Armani anywhere close to meal times, I am ok. All of these brands that remind me of super skinny people and make me feel accountable for every calorie I consume, also operate restaurants in Dubai. Ironic, is it not?

So now you know how I feel about dining at a restaurant that shares its name with a fashion label. That is precisely the reason I never stopped at the GF Ferre chocolate bar, despite secretly admiring its sunlit location at the MOE Fashion Avenue every time I passed by. I did always wonder why they added the word ‘chocolate’ to the name though. It kind of made it sound like an oxymoron. GF Ferre Bar might have worked better. No?

As if, accepting the fact that the fashion types actually ate at all wasn’t enough; having to process the fact that they ate chocolate confused me even more. It got to a point where I could hold it in no more and last Friday, I decided to stop by at this place to find out exactly what went on in there.

First of all, let me assure you that there were no fashion models inside. Mostly regular folks like you and me, trying to squeeze in a quick lunch between their shopping or just weighing in on Kanye West’s newfound love for Donald Trump over a bottomless mug of coffee. A part of me may have been slightly disappointed for not being able to spot any fashion types but I was mostly relieved. This was just another Friday in just another Dubai café.

Next, we had what could have been your average pasta with sautéed chicken, mushrooms and creamy white sauce but it was not. I could immediately taste the distinct Parmigiano Reggiano flavour. It takes at least 24 months to make this cheese. This long period of maturity and the special diet that the cows are fed on give this cheese its unmistakable aroma and flavour. This meant that work on this Penne Alfredo started at least 2 years ago. Let that sink in for a while. Now, let me tell you that it was almost worth the wait.

The Hell Boy was definitely one of the better-looking beef burgers I have ever seen. Part of it was due to the red beetroot sesame bun but part of it was due to the fact that it was so darn cute! It had a double beef patty, topped with caramelized onions and smothered with old fashioned American cheese. Taste wise, it was pretty good but not good enough to make my BEST 11 BURGERS IN DUBAI list and let’s just leave it at that.

Now that guilt I spoke about earlier was starting to set in so I decided to order a salad too. I realized later that the trick to eating like models was to order the salad instead of the main course and not in spite of the main course. I was really glad I ordered it anyway because it ended up being my favourite dish of the day. The Oganic Quinoa with Grilled Chicken had a unique flavour which I could attribute later to the sumac and chives. The feta added a creamy texture while the hazelnuts and pomegranate added a well needed crunch whenever it was needed. It also had grilled onions, baby spinach and the most amazing pickled beetroot to wrap it all up with a tangy aftertaste. If this is what fashion models ate, sign me up please!

The Banofee milkshake was almost as would be expected but I think I tasted some Lotus biscuit in there somewhere. Cheeky move, right? The Passion Fruit Mojito was made of muddled lime, ginger and fresh mint mixed with passion fruit bits and ice, which was then topped with sparkling water. The ginger was what made this drink work but I did wish they had added a bit more passion fruit in there. It was also quite limited in quantity but I figured that’s how much fashion models are supposed to consume so I pretended to be really happy with it. Next time, I may just stick to the diet coke.

So, my final thoughts are that yes maybe fashion brands can operate restaurants and perhaps their natural creativity may help them in coming up with some brilliant dishes at times. They are probably a lot better at making salads then they are at making burgers but when they do make a burger, it will be like an edible work of art. I also realized that fashion types don’t necessarily starve themselves to lose weight…..and neither should you.

Peyote. The Sauve Mexican

Guest Review by Marina Wilhelmsson.

Peyote is the name of a cactus that has no thorns, has a wonderful pink flower and has been known to be used as a drug. Maybe that is what made me choose it? 😉

Let me start off with the location. For me it was a bit of a surprise to learn that a financial district (DIFC) has both great views, fabulous art galleries and great restaurants. Just passing by, it looks like any dull corporate centre with tall office buildings and a sleek facade. But then you get inside and experience the wow-effect. Stairways, bridges between buildings, fountains, art galleries and palm trees. I had decided to go to Peyote but once I got there I could have picked any number of great sounding restaurants.

Peyote is a cool place and the interior matches the vibe. The staff is nice and there was even time for some chitchat with them on a slow Saturday afternoon. Suave is a word that comes to mind. Sophisticated, smooth, elegant and with an air of urban attitude. The sign above the bar says ”Tequila is cheaper than therapy”, so with this in mind I let the waiter seat me and bring the menu.

Sign in bar

If you pair the right wine with the right kind of food, it is like a symphony in your mouth and will make your taste buds swirl. When it comes to Mexican food, the right kind of alcohol is of course tequila and the signature drink is a margarita. Peyote has a range of different margaritas and I chose the ”Mothers day Margarita”, which is a standard margarita with a shot of red wine. Ay caramba! There was a whole mariachi band playing La Cucaracha in my mouth! The drink was just as good as it looks and paired perfectly with the food. Bear in mind, nothing cools down the heat from a habanero as well as tequila. Or is it the lime? Anyway….for those who do not drink alcohol i can say only this – eat more chips. Don’t drink water 😉

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First plate of food is a complimentary cuatro of sauces with home made tortilla chips. There was a sweet and smoky sauce, an aioli, a tart green sauce and of course the hot as hell habanero sauce. The waiter was kind enough to warn me about it and he did so with a gentle smile. I thanked him and luckily came through the experience with only a mild burn! Trust me, the habanero is NOT to be played with. It has a kick that is awesome. It burns and stings but it also makes you want to eat more. Loco!

just a drop of habanero

Next dish was the green Ceviche with lime, cilantro, cucumber, halibut and radish. It came in at exactly the right moment to cool down the burn from the habanero. You get quite a small bowl of it, but it is just enough. The lime and cilantro make the fish stand out and the tiny pieces of cucumber and radish just add that extra dimension of crunch. If you are going to have just one dish, it must be a ceviche!

Third dish was sweet jalapeno fritters with an aioli dip. I just love fried peppers and pimientos padron and this is a take on that but with a twist. The jalapenos were just mildly hot and they were sweet, crunchy and warm. It was impossible to stop eating and especially when you have a margarita to go with it. It was so good that the dipping aioli was quite unnecessary, but it was good in it self. It had a hint of smoke which was really nice. I think it would have been perfect with ordinary fries.

Jalapeno fritters

Fourth dish was of course TACOS! There are different types of tacos on the menu and you can mix and match your plate. I chose one with meat and one with fish. The fish taco was a grilled sea bass with salsa verde, pickled red onions and a big heap of cilantro. Perfectly grilled fish with salsa verde is of course one of the best things you can eat and if you stuff it in a soft warm tortilla it’s even better. There was absolutely nothing that you could add to that taco to make it better. The meat taco was a slow braised beef short rib with salsa verde and cilantro. The meat was so tender that it fell apart just by looking at it and the flavour was just soft and sweet. I think it lacked a pinch of salt or maybe a drop (just one!) of the habanero sauce, but otherwise it was a bit of perfection.

tacos

Fifth dish came in as a complimentary one. I was surprised and already full, but I think the waiter told the kitchen about the crazy woman eating, taking photos, writing stuff down and smiling all to herself and they decided to give me more. In came a huge plate with quesadillas! The filling was a nice heap of mushrooms and cheese and salad. I was already stuffed and had no appetite for more but I had to try it. Maybe all the other dishes spoiled my taste buds already or maybe the mariachi band had taken a nap, but I felt like the quesadilla was quite bland. Mushrooms don’t taste much and the cheese was not salty enough. This is probably a dish that you should eat before any of the others or maybe as a single main course with a cold beer or a glass of white wine, it didn’t pair well with the last drops of my margarita. Just too bad that it came in last.

quesadilla

The dessert menu was very tempting, like who can say no to churros, but the five courses had me down and I needed another walk. I said no to dessert, although my sweet waiter tried to sweet talk me into some sweets (sweet I know), and I felt proud of mysef. You should leave when you are on top! So maybe next time I will try the churros because I am going back for more soon!

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

Milas – An Emirati feast.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Imagine my awkwardness when a friend visiting from abroad wanted me to suggest an Emirati restaurant which served authentic Emirati food and I couldn’t even come up with one name. It was actually quiet embarrassing, especially with me being a food blogger and all. “Where should I send him”, I thought. A shawarma restaurant maybe. No that was Syrian, right? How about a hummus restaurant? That was way too Lebanese.

Hence began my quest for an Emirati restaurant which I could recommend to others and after a couple of misses I eventually ended up at Milas.

Dubai Mall is probably the last place I would go to for a meal. There is nothing wrong with it! It is the first place I take my guests from overseas to show them what ‘My Dubai’ is all about and it has almost every type of restaurant serving almost every type of cuisine. It’s just that I’m a bit averse to braving traffic jams and hordes of tourists just to get a meal.

Luckily, Milas restaurant in Dubai mall is not anywhere near the mad crowds. It is in the Village precinct, a sunlit, indoors area which is an attraction by itself because of its open-air streetscape. The tree-lined walkways and fountains are reminiscent of a European street with cafes and restaurants all providing street side seating.

We were a huge party so we ordered a little bit of everything but there are 3 items on the menu which we could just not have enough of. One was the Chicken Lalmaas and the other two were the Hunter’s Lamb Leg and Lamb Biryani.

Chicken Lalmaas at Milas

The chicken Lalmaas was nothing like anything I had ever had before in my life. Imagine chunks of chicken in a tomato gravy resting on a bed of puffed wheat, pomegranate, cashews and tiny bits of avocado. Now imagine the most amazing smoky flavor binding everything together. Nothing too intense. Just enough to compliment the freshness of the pomegranate seeds and leave you wondering “what the hell just happened in my mouth?!”

The Hunter’s lamb leg had been slow cooked for hours before it got to our table. The meat was so tender that it fell of the bone as soon as you touched it but it held on, maintaining decorum until the last moment. It was almost as if it was doing its part in keeping the presentation intact but was forced to disintegrate upon the slightest touch. The juicy meat was layered with a chunky tomato gravy which was amazing because all we had to do was take some pita, smother a little melted lamb on it and voila! We held in our hands what was probably one of the tastiest lamb

wraps, on this side of the desert.

The lamb biryani was a complete shocker for everybody and we almost didn’t order it. I honestly didn’t expect it to be anything at all but since I do happen to be the original Biryani Ninja, it is sometimes out of my control. Whenever I see the words ‘Biryani’ written on a menu, my ninja senses take control and I inadvertently end up ordering it.

Most of the times it is a complete disaster but luckily for everyone at our table, this time was different. This was not the ‘Dum’ Biryani you get at Indian and Pakistani restaurants or the Stir Fry type thing you get at Brit Asian restaurants. This was a creamy lamb gravy layered on top of aromatic rice. It was made of choice lamb meat that had been cooked to perfection in Arabic spices. Its tantalizing flavor had infused deep into the rice. It was so unique and so good that the Milas lamb biryani has now officially made it to my Top 11 Biryanis in Dubai list.

Spicy Date Margarita at Milas

There is one last thing I absolutely have to mention here. Whatever you do and wherever you eat at the Dubai Mall when you visit next time, please do take some time out to head down to Milas and try the Fiery Date Margarita. This is the most unbelievable drink I have had since I discovered the salted caramel shake somewhere. It basically uses the same principle of shocking your taste buds by combining salt and sugar. Except this takes it up a notch by combining sweet Arabic dates with hot Mexican chili. It does not just shock and awe your taste buds but this ice blended drink creates a sensory overload that you recover from only once the brain freeze kicks in. This experience must be at par with the feeling you get when you are speed skiing down a slope at 200 km/h with Solumun’s ‘I want to party’ remix blasting on your Beats headphones. I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

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

Al Fresco dining at SOY, Ibn Batuta

View my food journey on Zomato!

Ibn Batuta mall was not the kind of place you would specifically go to for a meal. If you were in the mall doing your groceries or whatever, sure why not. At least that is what is what it used to be for me, until recently.

Please don’t get me wrong, It’s not that they ever had a shortage of options. The Batuta  restaurants have a rich variety of cuisines on offer but  still seems like more of a place you visit primarily to shop. If I want to eat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, I would rather go to the Marina or JLT but if the place absolutely has to be in a mall, it would probably be the Marina mall. The most probable reason for that may be – the view.

That is how Dubai has spoilt us. If it doesn’t offer  a view of the water, a park or a beautiful skyscraper, it doesn’t seem that attractive. If it has none of those, the least we have come to expect is a terrace where we can enjoy this beautiful weather or at least some sunlight coming in from panoramic windows overlooking the city. I have become so used to the Dubai life that places without windows or a view make me feel claustrophobic.

How you may wonder has Ibn Batuta Mall become one of my favorite dining out destinations in Dubai? It’s because I have discovered the outdoor dining area which I never knew about earlier. Located at the China court, this is like a an oasis of fun and festivity in the middle of your mundane grocery trip. There are no extra ordinary views of the city or the water but the fact that you can enjoy al fresco dining  in a bustling square surrounded by busy restaurants serving everything from Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Lebanese was enough to arouse my curiosity.

There were a couple of restaurants that seemed interesting but the one we decided to eat at that day was ‘Soy’. One of the reasons we decided to eat  there was because it seemed to be looking down at the all the other restaurants! No seriously, the patio outside Soy was elevated 2 to 3 feet higher than the other restaurants around it. It seemed like the best vantage point for people watching which is our 2nd most favorite thing to do at a restaurant. Yes we are weird like that!

After seating ourselves, I quickly went through the online reviews. Food seemed to be rated higher with a couple of misses here and there but the service seemed appalling. “Good afternoon Sir!” said our waiter, just as we were wondering about the  kind of mess I may have got us into. “How are you doing today?” he said with a smile while placing the menus in front of us. “We are fine, thank you!”  we said in unison, feeling a little embarrassed for forming an opinion which clearly did not seem to be right.

We ordered the diced chicken with cashew nuts and snow peas along with the crispy beef with shredded bell papers  and some brown rice. I will get to the food in a bit but please allow me to say that the fermented black bean chili sauce which accompanied the prawn crackers was the best thing that happened to me that day. It had a course texture, fiery kick and tangy aftertaste so unique that I do not remember the last time I enjoyed a condiment or sauce that much.

We have a habit of ordering the chicken with cashew nut at every Chinese and Thai place we got to. We have been at it for so long and have tried so many different renditions of the dish that we consider ourselves to be specialists of sorts. This particular dish was unique because we never tried it with snow peas before. I expected the peas to come out nice and juicy dotting the plate here and there but there were no peas to be seen. What it did have was whole baby peapods that looked a bit like edamame beans but tasted exactly like peas. The dish was closer to real Chinese than Indo-Chinese but we did not mind that a bit. There were no overwhelming flavors except for those of the lightly salted chicken and cashew gravy along with baby peas. Uniquely different but definitely a winner.

The magic ingredient in the crispy beef was the shredded bell pepper. It added a soft  texture to the hard and chewy beef. When I say chewy I do not mean rubbery. It was still crisp and crackled upon first bite but took a while to chew after that. The sweetness of the bell pepper strips accompanied the beef like they were made for each other.

Chicken cashew nut at Soy

We weren’t too happy with our cocktails. The Mojito was a bit too sweet and the Pina Colada had a bit too much froth and they were both about 100ml short of the drinkable parts. Overall however, our experience was very good. We enjoyed the sun and al-fresco seating  and there were lots of interesting people all around. The food was a 7 out of 10 and the service was good enough to make us go back for more.

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