The House of Pancakes

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.

Pancake House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.  

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Salisbury Steak at the Pancake House

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.  

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Tagliatelle Seafood Gambero at Pancake House

 

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.

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Chili chicken fingers with Ube Milkshake in the background

The book of secrets @ Ming’s Chamber

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.

Ming's Chamber Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.

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Chef Rehmat. (Keeper of secrets at Ming’s Chamber)

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.

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TNT prawns at Ming’s Chamber

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.

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Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings at Ming’s Chamber

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!

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Build your own noodle bowl at Ming’s Chamber

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?

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Hunan lamb shank stew at Ming’s Chamber

The street food revolution @ Wok Boyz.

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.  

Wok Boyz Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.

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Noodles in a box at Wok Boyz

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.  

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Fresh coconut water at Wok Boyz

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.

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Korean chicken wings at Wok Boyz

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