The Noodle House. Dubai’s homegrown international chain.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1759
The Chicken cashew nut is always a part of my order at The Noodle House

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

IMG_1761
Singapore Noodles at The Noodle House

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

IMG_1760
The Crispy Beef is my new favourite dish at The Noodle House

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

IMG_1762
The wok fried chilly prawns and calamari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1731
Little Lahore – Not you average Desi restaurant interior
The minimalist menu consisted of some pages on a wooden board. Mishal was a little disappointed because there were no pictures on it. My wife is an environmental engineer and she doesn’t really need to look at pictures to order off a menu but we just couldn’t remember going to a Pakistani or an Indian restaurant where the menu had no pictures of food on it. Ok, Ashiana by Vineet and Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar had no pictures on the menu perhaps but restaurants owned by Michelin Starred chefs do not count.

IMG_1746
How’s that for a good looking menu?
There were 2 breakfast combos on the menu. One consisted of halwa (semolina and butter dessert), puri (deep fried bread), chana (chickpeas), aloo bhaji (stewed potato) and lassi (yogurt smoothie). The other came with a paratha (fried flatbread), Pakistani omelet, bhuna keema (pan roasted mince meat), achar (pickled baby mangoes) and lassi. We decided to go for one of each.

IMG_1738
Puffed puris, chickpeas and potatoes at Little Lahore.
The puris (puffed bread) were divine but a typical Lahori might find the chickpeas and potato to be under spiced. We were sure that this was a conscious decision by the chef. Just as the modern interiors were meant to open up Lahori cuisine to a wider audience, the light spices of the Lahori Nashta were meant to make this breakfast appeal to a wider palate. This one change could make halwa puri Dubai’s go to post hangover breakfast meal. If Manakish is what everyone in Dubai craves after a big night out, halwa puri and chana is what they will crave for  the morning after.  Dubai now has an official breakfast and not only is it not McDonalds, it also happens to be vegetarian.

IMG_1739
Paratha with Pakistani omelette and pan roasted mince.
The paratha (fried flatbread) had a crisp external layer which gave way to the soft bread inside. A Pakistani omelette usually has diced tomatoes and onions and some fresh coriander. Thanks to the light spices, I actually tasted the egg and every vegetable in every bite. The mince was once again low on spices but I could taste the ginger it had been roasted with.

IMG_1735
A tall glass of Lassi with a tall building in the background!
The yogurt smoothie (lassi) was available with either salt or sugar and we had one of each. Both variants were equally refreshing and were able to wash all the fried food down effectively.

IMG_1743
Semolina and butter desert (Halwa)
This was not the meal that I dreamt of and it was certainly not the breakfast they served at my father’s old country house. I am not sure if a purist would enjoy this halwa puri or bhuna keema. Strangely though, we were not dissatisfied. My craving for traditional chana puri remains and I may very well have to fly down to Lahore to fulfil it  but if this is a modern take on the traditional Pakistani breakfast, so be it. If little Lahore wants to do for post hangover breakfasts in Dubai what Zater o Zait did to post party 3 am hunger attacks, so be it.

IMG_1744
(Achar) Pickled baby mango.
Little Lahore Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hatam. Persian in a rush.

The blue motif at the centre of the table reminded us of an ‘evil eye’ charm which we received from Tehran as a gift but had also seen being sold on the streets of Istanbul.

Going through the menu was déjà vu all over again. Like Turkish food, Iranian cuisine is dominated by grilled skewers of lamb and chicken so we felt we knew what we were getting into. I am not sure how the two cultures influenced each other so much because the Ottomans and Pesians didn’t really get along that much throughout history. Anyway, it wasn’t just the Turks the menu seemed to be inspired by. While Lebanese influences were apparent in the appetizers (hummus, tabouleh and mutabel were listed) there was also a chicken boti on the menu which is an Indian/Pakistani boneless chicken tikka.

IMG_1615
Iranian Salad consisted of Feta cheese, walnuts, olives and fresh leaves
Thankfully though, most of the menu consisted of authentic Iranian Dishes and we did not order anything that could have interfered with our Iranian experience; well other than the hummus of course. I would have skipped it if I could have had my way but seeing how Mishals eyes lit up upon reading the word hummus, I dared not tell her that it had nothing to do with Persian cuisine.

So the hummus was slightly thinner in consistency compared to the Lebanese kind and had a sharp lemony zing to it. We had ordered the hummus laham (hummus with meat) but it also came with sanober (pine nuts) which would be a completely different kind of hummus at a Lebanese restaurant.

We ordered skewers of lamb and chicken mince kebabs, lamb and chicken tikkas and lamb and chicken yoghurt kebabs. To me, ordering the same things twice seemed like a waste of time but since the only kind of animals Mishal eats are the ones that have feathers on them, as always we had to order the chicken as well.

IMG_1625
Chicken yoghurt kebabs
IMG_1624
Iranian chicken tikka
Compared to Pakistani mince kebabs, these seemed a bit dry to me but they had minimal spices so we could actually taste the meat. It worked great for the lamb but I don’t think you really want to taste the chicken mince unless you are fine with tasting some feathers, chicken fat and maybe a beak as well. Both the lamb and chicken tikkas were also a bit dry to my liking but the yoghurt kebabs made up for that later. Marinated overnight in yoghurt and black pepper, yoghurt kebabs are extremely popular in Southern Iran and we could see why.

IMG_1623
Lamb mince kebab and lamb tikka
The winning dish of the night was the chellow khorosht bamia which was a boneless lamb and okra stew mildly spiced and cooked in a tomato paste. Think of it as a Persian goulash served with white rice. I found the dough (pronounced doug) to be particularly refreshing and highly recommend it. It was a drink made of fresh buttermilk, salt and dried mint.

IMG_1621
Doug – Iranian drink consisting of yoghurt and dried mint leaves
The plastic covered menu was not too classy and took away from the effect they might have desired to achieve.  It might as well have been a  food court joint and and no fancy tables with blue motifs were required. The coloured pictures of the food made a lot of sense though, considering that none of the waiters spoke any Arabic. Service was fast but our orders were mixed up twice (despite the coloured pictures). Not bad for a quick meal if you are at Dubai Mall and provides a good insight into the world of Persian kebabs. Not sure if my craving for authentic Persian cuisine has been satisfied though. I think I will keep looking.

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

Moti Roti. Pakistan’s soul kitchen.

It was 2012 and Dubai had just about recovered from the recession. Companies had started hiring and property developers were advertising their projects with newfound fervor and zeal. Tahir Shah had just bid farewell to his corporate job and had set out on his own to answer the most pertinent lunch hour question in Dubai, ‘What do I eat today’?

I didn’t even realise this was such a big problem until Tahir explained it to me. “That precious lunch hour of yours is fleeting in the day. A day filled with stuffy slow elevator rides, parking spot hunting, meetings about meeting, sharing roads with nutjob drivers etc. It’s that one chance you get at a semblance of ‘me time’. Our dignity slips in between the keyboards with the crumbs from the crummy desk-lunch sandwich. This is the time which is supposed to be our breather, to gossip with friends” he said. Despite Dubai being one of the most saturated restaurant markets in the world, there were hardly any places where you could get a healthy meal, really fast.

This was clearly a man on a mission and never had I before seen someone who could spell out Dubai’s lunch hour woes with such precision but he was not just an analyst. He was also a strategist. He had identified a gap in the market and knew exactly where to find the solution. He turned to the one source that he could absolutely trust with his life. The same place where we have all gone to as kids when we were confused, lonely, happy, excited, jubilant, ecstatic or hungry. The one place which had never let any of us down. Tahir went to his mother’s kitchen.

So armed with his mother’s recipes and under her guidance, Tahir Shah set about providing fast gourmet lunches to Dubai’s corporate soldiers. I first discovered Tahir and his ‘Moti ‘Roti’ concept at a pop up in a Media City supermarket. I was intrigued because these guys had the audacity to sell roti (wholemeal flatbread) wraps instead of paratha (fried flour bread) wraps or rolls.

IMG_1657
Moti Roti wholewheat pizzas
Only a discerning eye would be able to differentiate between the two but paratha rolls are more popular because like all things fried in oil, they are considered to be of a better taste albeit unhealthy. A notion that I disagree with and something that Moti Roti has proved wrong time and again. As long as the filling is good (think lightly spiced free range chicken, simmered in mum’s secret masala) and the bread is freshly made from stone ground wheat, roti rolls outclass paratha rolls in every way possible. If you are not really into bread however, the same filling is served with brown pilau rice or even on a bed of greens.

bhinddi
Okra fries
Since then, Moti Roti has a come a long way. From Dubai street nights to organic farmer’s markets, their pop ups started showing up all over Dubai. The business gradually grew to include a food truck and they have eventually set up a little take away and delivery shop in JLT (Cluster J). Like the food, the growth has been completely organic and as I stepped into their new shop last night, It gave me great pleasure to see that mom’s recipes had come full circle. After setting up pop ups all over Dubai, Moti Roti finally has a place to call home.

IMG_1658
Moti Roti skinny lassi
I realized while going through their brand new menu, that like her son, Tahir’s mom has also been quiet busy herself. While traditional Pakistani spices and recipes are at the heart of the operation, her ground breaking ‘okra fries’ and her innovative whole wheat, stone baked Punjabi pizzas may once again revolutionise the gourmet fast food market – the 2nd time since she had done it first with her ‘Moti Rotis’ in 2012.

Moti Roti Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jones the grocer and his factory.

Don’t be fooled by the name. This is not some random bloke selling cabbages and cauliflower at the corner of your street. This is a kitchen factory with a storefront that could humble a department store and a menu that updates faster than Taylor Swift’s boyfriend list. This is a super restaurant if there is ever such a thing; I’m still not sure who Jones is though, neither were any of the 5 waiters I asked – I think it was his day off.

I loved the open concept floor plan and the huge windows which were letting in copious amounts of light. There was so much activity around that it almost felt like an airport departure lounge with some people grabbing a bite before a flight, some picking up last minute duty free and others talking as if they had another 10 hours to kill.

All the cool kids seemed to be having breakfast (despite it being 1 pm). I would have as well if only had I not done the boiled egg ritual that morning. While I curiously tried to decipher the ingredients of what seemed like eggs on toast on the table 3 inches next to mine (I am creepy like that), Mishal seemed to be eyeing a gentleman who was struggling with his eggs benedict. Anyway, upon agreeing to return for breakfast later since it seemed to be the ‘in’ thing to do, Mishal ordered the seared Chilean sea bass with soba noodles and I went for the grilled Atlantic salmon on homemade babaganoush.

IMG_1645

I will get to the food in a bit but first I have to tell you of the most spectacular discovery we made that day. The drinks menu was a bit confusing and our poor waiter could not answer any of my questions. First of all, nobody knew what a ‘fever tree’ was. I asked to see someone who would know since it came in 6 flavours and my wife was about to order one but apparently the only person who could answer that question was not available (could have been Jones himself). Mishal being the adventurous soul that she is still went ahead and asked for an elderflower tonic fever tree anyway but settled for a bitter lemon fever tree later since the former was out of stock. (I think Fever Tree is just the name of the brand but somebody please tell the waiters that)

I was fascinated by a drink that was listed in the sparkling organic juice section. Never had I in my life been presented with the opportunity to sample organic cola juice straight from the mountains of Kilimanjaro. Where the cola fruit was plucked out of mother nature’s bosom and flown to this Dubai super factory in a chartered airplane so that it could be lovingly disassembled to separate the juice from the pod. They must be doing huge volumes though, how else could they justify selling something so rare, precious and ‘organic’ for AED21 per 250 ml bottle.

Anyway, now on to the food. I can safely say that my grilled salmon  was among the best I have ever had. It is amazing how seafood tastes different when it is fresh (or as fresh as it could possibly be after travelling 12000 odd kms from the Atlantic Ocean to Safa). There was a generous slab of fresh salmon that was grilled to perfection on my plate but I couldn’t help noticing Mishal’s sea bass which was served in a bowl that could also have been used to serve ramen but instead came with the most good looking pan seared sea bass that was covered with sesame seeds and laid on a bed of seaweed and bok choy drenched in yuzu ponzu.

IMG_1646

The crunch of the thin salmon skin was the perfect compliment to it’s creamy flesh and it seemed to be the only thing that held the fish from immediately melting in my mouth. That along with the feta and olive tomato salad ensured that we kept conversation to a minimum while I devoured the fish.

IMG_1644

The sea bass however is what we couldn’t stop talking about that evening and the morning after. The nori (seaweed) added a smoky aroma to the dish while the yozu ponzu dressing added a savory, sweet and citrusy zest to it. The cashews seemed to be strategically placed in the bowl to clean the palate and prepare for the next flavor. All this sat atop aromatic soba noodles and every single bite was a melange of different flavors and textures. The sea bass itself might have been from South America but the dish itself was undoubtedly from the land of the rising sun.

IMG_1650

For dessert we had the salted caramel tart which was the best way to end the meal because our taste buds kept jumping between sugar and salt. We also had the chocolate cheesecake which reiterated the notion that fresh good quality ingredients are the difference between a good and a supercaligragillisticexpiaidocius meal.

PS That cola juice….

Yasir Chaudhry.

IMG_1640

Jones The Grocer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dave and his band of Famous People 

After watching Heroes (the TV show), I believed that every human being had a super power. I would ask my friends what their special abilities were and it would make for wonderful evening banter. Those who did not know were of course enlightened by yours truly. I told them to be patient because sooner or later the secret would be revealed. I knew this because that is what I did. I had the ability to identify super heroes and their special gifts. That was my super power.

Dave has some special abilities as well. Besides being the guardian for ‘Devil’s Spit’, a sinful interpretation of barbecue sauce straight from Hell’s Kitchen, he can find special people and identify their super powers. So we are not much different, Dave and I. The only difference is that Dave actually went out and did something about it.

Dave scoured the corners of the Earth to find special people with secret powers and brought them all back to the mystical Land of the River next to Dubai Parks and Resorts. It is there that he set up Famous Dave’s Barbecue restaurant and started to serve racks of lamb and beef short ribs to hungry travellers from far and wide.

OK, so that is not exactly how it happened. Dave did not scour the corners of the globe. All the people with special powers were already in Dubai because of course that is what Dubai is all about. All Dave did had to do was to find them like Professor X and put them to work in the restaurant.

Take Famous Josh for example. When he was in the Philippines, he beat the entire country at chess and was given a 75% scholarship to finish his education because of his special skill. Then there is Famous Miro, also from the Philippines. He was one of the country’s best break dancers and was the lead back up dancer for Mark Herras, a famous singer and celebrity. In short, every single person working on the floor at Famous Dave’s restaurant is already famous for something. How cool is that?

So what happens when you put all these famous people under one roof? Well for one, the service was exceptionally brilliant. Remember my review of Ihop when I spoke about the waiters coming to us like programmed robots and asking if our food was good? That did not happen here. We were left alone to enjoy our food and every time we wanted something, there was a famous guy standing next to us, ready to listen. Since they were all celebrities in their own right, they liked to talk as well but only when we were ready to listen. We got a detailed briefing on the famous sauces and how they were made. My favorite were Dave’s Revenge and Devils Spit while Mishal liked the Texas Pit.

IMG_1488

I had a medium-well 7-oz fillet which was a lean cut steak seasoned with coarse salt, black pepper, cayenne and garlic. It had a wonderful crust which gave way to the juiciest bit of meat you can imagine. As if Dave’s selection of sauces weren’t enough, I asked them to make my steak cheesy and was provided with some extra creamy white sauce on the side. The skin-on potato wedges were crispy on the outside but moist and fleshy all the way through. This ladies and gentlemen, was heaven.

IMG_1492

Mishal’s Jacked-N-Stacked burger was a grilled chicken breast topped with Monteray Jack cheese, stacked with crispy onion rings and slathered with Dave’s rich and sassy sauce in a soft open bun.  The star performers of the night however were the grilled pineapple steaks. I will never be able to look at a pineapple the same way again. For me, the only way to eat a pineapple now would be to season some juicy slices with cayenne pepper and a hint of brown sugar before tossing them on the grill for a touch of sweet heat. The cayenne would start the show with a fiery kick and the caramelised brown sugar would follow to compliment the tart sweetness of the fruit.  Try it the next time you get the bbq going and who knows? You might end up being famous too.

IMG_1489

Famous Dave's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IHop Outlet Village. Sticking to the pancakes. 

As soon as you enter Ihop, there is a sign that says ‘we have sold xxxx gallons of orange juice’. Don’t remember the amount but it seemed like an achievement by any standards

If you haven’t been to the newly built Outlet Village mall near Riverland yet, I suggest you plan a visit. It has fewer stores and is smaller than the Outlet Mall on Alain Road but still has some decent brands and offers that might make your trip worthwhile. Sacoor brothers had a buy get 1 get 2 offer on all shirts on the day we went! It has a decent selection of new restaurants,  some of which I hope to try before long but it also has a PF Chang’s and an Ihop.

As soon as you enter Ihop, there is a sign that says ‘we have sold xxxx gallons of orange juice’. Don’t remember the amount but it seemed like an achievement by any standards especially after reading the fact that their OJ is freshly squeezed (unlike the US where they use Tropicana)

The service was almost a little too good. Three different people asked us if our food was fine at 3 different times during our meal. At one point, I had mushroom sauce dribbling from my mouth and another time I almost shot out a cherry tomato on the guys face but at all 3 times, our mouths were full of food (OK, there were no cherry tomatoes with our meal but you get the point). Word of advice here, please coordinate amongst yourself as to whose responsibility it is to ask the customer if they enjoyed their meal (because 3 times is a bit of an overkill) and maybe ask them once after they are done enjoying the meal…not when they are trying to do it and their mouths are full of food. In fact, if you see me again, don’t ask at all. I promise I will let you know.

burger

We ordered the IHop supreme burger (which was thick beef burger topped with caramelised onions and cheddar cheese) and the mushroom chicken (which was a saute`ed chicken scaloppini in a creamy mushroom sauce.Both our dishes hit the spot and were devoured within 1o minutes (would have been faster had we not been interrupted several times). The scaloppini did not depend on the mushroom sauce for its flavour and tasted good on its own as well. It came with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli which went well together.. The burger was a bit overdone for my liking and nobody asked me how I wanted it. There was an option to choose a side but they just assumed I wanted french fries. I called the waiter back and asked him if my onion rings and burger were done and for a while he went into hypovolemic shock before running towards the kitchen window while shouting, “cancel french fries table 2”. Anyway, the burger was good and it went well with my onion rings. We washed it all down with never ending jugs of brewed ice tea which I highly recommend.

I wish we had stopped here. I wish we had asked for the bill or even if we absolutely had to have dessert, asked for a pancake (which are pretty good here) and be done with it, but we just had to order something we had not tried before. Hence, the words that follow.

So for dessert, we ordered the banana, peanut butter and chocolate – double dipped brioche French toast. Quiet a mouthful isn’t it? Yes this was one dish. Looked pretty fancy too but essentially it was just 3 pieces of thick bread fried and dipped in a weak vanilla batter with almost no sugar and topped with 5 pieces of diced bananas and the slightest drizzle of peanut butter sauce. All for 60 dirhams; you would be better of buying a McFlurry or six instead. I know the zero sugar almost no flavour thing works with the pancakes because Ihop provides 4 types of free syrup to go with it (and I absolutely love their butter pecan syrup) but a french toast is not a pancake. It is thick (even more so if you use brioche bread) and unless it has some flavour of it’s own, it wont matter how much syrup you smear it with, it just wont work. Also, I think there should have been banana slices between each of the 3 toasts. I don’t think 5 diced pieces were enough especially when the name of the dessert started with the word ‘banana’ and there was absolutely no banana flavour in the bread whatsoever.

So overall, it was an average experience. I would probably still go back there if I am craving a quick pancake but would not in any case ever be ordering the French Toast.

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

Irish Village Riverland. Cead Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcome)

Ireland was never cold, wet or foreign for me. It was warm, mostly sunny and familiar. It was our hangout when we were chilling out, our office when we were working, headquarters when we were planning a night out and our hideout when we were bunking class. For all the kids who went to college in Garhoud during the late 90s and early 2000s, the Irish Village was a large part of growing up. It was our own slice of paradise complete with greasy food, chilled drinks and good company.

In ancient Ireland, hospitality was decreed by law. Welcoming a stranger was an enforced cultural norm and if anyone refused to be hospitable, they could be reprimanded for it. This old practice has left a cultural imprint on the Irish as they recognised the advantages that come with a friendly and outgoing personality and giving strangers a warm welcome. It is a little less common to talk to strangers in Dubai but I think this tradition lives on in the Irish Village. Despite being the introvert that I am, the number of people I have striked up a conversation with in the IV is astounding. I guess there was something in the narrow cobbled streets and old world charm of the place that brought about a change in me; plus I always believed that when in the Village, do as the Irish.

My trips to the village became less frequent after I moved to the other end of town so imagine my excitement when I found out that a brand new IV had been set up at Riverland. This magical place lies before the Legoland entrance at Dubai Parks and Resorts, the Middle Easts, largest theme park destination. I have a feeling I will be returning there many times as there is much to explore and share.

Not taking the outdoors section (or the village terrace) into account (of which Riverland has 250000 square feet of), IV2 is at least 3 times bigger than IV1. It is spread over two floors and in case you have had too much of a good time and are unable to find the stairs, it also has a private elevator. It is essentially the same wooden pub with original Irish memorabilia albeit a little more character because of the high ceilings and lights. The menu options seem to have been reduced for some reason. The panini melts are no longer here and since the only meat (besides all kinds of sea creatures) that Mishal eats is chicken, we noticed that most of the chicken dishes had also been cut out.


I know that a panini or a parmesan chicken breast are not representative of Irish food but then, neither are sitting in the sun and sipping on a Guinness while you feed the ducks representative of your typical afternoon out in Ireland. Besides, I know that the greasy stuff here is great and we always polish a plate of onion rings while we wait for our food. The problem here is that the paninis at IV are good and so is the parmesan chicken breast. I tried to look for the sea bass which I know is very good as well but sadly that too had been cut out. So we ordered a grilled salmon with dill mustard sauce and a brocolli and cashew nut stir fry. The fish was done nicely. Ever so slightly charred on the outside and juicy on the inside though I am pretty sure it was not caught from the river outside. Let’s just say that it had done its fair bit of travelling from Norwegian (or maybe Irish) farms and had stopped along for pictures along the scenic route before it ended up in the chefs kitchen in IV2. Speaking of which, please do try the salmon at any of the Ikea restaurants. It flies business class straight from the farm to the chef’s kitchen every day.

image4
I do end up ordering something stupid every time I am out but its not because I like to torture myself or ruin my night out, I just like to see how much the chef can push the limits and go out of his/her comfort zone. So please do not judge this kitchen based on my experience with the next dish. First rule of any stir fry is, you add the chicken or meat and after it is half cooked (or even more) you add the vegetables or you just stir fry the chicken and the veggies separately. My broccoli and cashew nut stir fry however was done the other way round. To be fair, it was done in the exact same way it said so on the menu. Broccoli florets, green chili and onion combined with Chinese noodles and light soy sauce. Topped with roasted cashew nuts. Add organic chicken. If only the chef had not literally followed that exact order and added the chicken earlier – this dish would have been a lot more edible because I would probably not have been able to smell the chicken. To mask the smell however, a larger than usual amount of sweet Thai sauce had been added to the dish as an afterthought. It failed to cover up the smell but did end up making the dish (how should I put this delicately) a little too sweet for my liking. Once again, I love the food at the IV1 and it would be unfair to judge the IV2 kitchen based on this dish but I also believe that if it is on your menu, it is your job to do it well.

There are two things however that nobody does better than the Irish and those are smiles and Guinness and both of those are in abundance at the Irish Village in Riverland. Today is St. Patrick’s day, the one day that everyone except the Scottish becomes Irish (The Scottish are always just Scottish). The IV had a bit of Green everywhere last night and I was told that there was a big celebration planned for today. So if you are still indecisive about tonight, head over to Riverland and make it a weekend!

The Irish Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Built to not last. Times of Arabia.

…It was a soulless angry stare which said “I hate you and I could destroy you but…

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. I believe in second chances though. To err is to human and everyone deserves an opportunity to improve upon or correct a mistake they may have made. That was perhaps at the back of my head when I walked into the Times of Arabia restaurant in Dubai Mall after having had a completely forgettable meal coupled with some second-rate service at their Madinat Jumeirah branch.

That may not be the complete truth. I do believe in second chances but not in the service or f&b industries. There are just too many good people out there doing a good job waiting for that first chance; which they may never get because somebody with a gaudy restaurant in a fancy location would be stealing their business despite their sub-standard service.

I had wandered into the Dubai Mall restaurant because it just happened to be there. I had guests from out of town who were starving after having had to walk the whole day while I made sure that we explored everything there was to see in the massive mall.

This was in December, at the peak of tourist season but the ‘Times of Arabia’ was quiet empty. That seemed like a good thing at the time because we did not feel like waiting to be seated. We were greeted by a hostess/seating supervisor who was busy talking to someone on the phone. She raised her finger while briefly making eye contact with me while she jotted something down on a paper. My guests had a good day and we started talking about their shopping and the dancing fountains while we waited. The hostess put her phone down and gestured the beautiful young woman standing beside us to follow her in. While we stood there wondering what had just happened because we were clearly first in line (if there was such a thing) the beautiful woman’s diamond earrings unashamedly danced past us. Her lingering fragrance only giving way to the self-assured musky scent of her older companion as he walked past us as well.

All this happened very fast and I don’t think there was enough time to process anything. We were hungry and tired and the restaurant was 97% empty. So we had to wait a couple of more minutes. What else could go wrong?

We were eventually summoned by the hostess. My guests followed her towards the inner section of the restaurant while I stopped just short of the entrance because I saw a table that I liked (which was of course empty). As my guests were about to be seated, I went in and asked them if they would rather sit outside. They readily agreed and we all looked towards the hostess who stared back at us like Edward Cullen stared at Jacob after he had seen him kissing Bella. It was a soulless angry stare which said “I hate you and I could destroy you but I won’t do it because I am not allowed to”. Then she said two words – “not allowed”. “Not allowed by whom” I asked her. “Not allowed by management”, she said abruptly. I tried to ask her to reconsider or talk to the ‘management’ but she just repeated the same two words several times. “Not allowed” she said. At this point, I feared that this was a magic chant of some sort and if we did not concede, she would banish our souls to some abysmal dungeon below the restaurant. We almost agreed to be seated wherever she saw fit while being secretly in awe of the restaurants theme and its ability to transport us to some far off fantasy land where mystical creatures had suddenly come to life.

After getting the table we desired, we ordered our hearts out but the food that followed was once again forgettable and the service cataclysmic. A part of me felt really sorry for the owners of the restaurant. They had spent so much money on this huge place but there is no excuse for negligence and I knew the staff were going to destroy it sooner or later. Someone told me last week that the restaurant has shut down permanently. I hope everyone involved learnt a thing or two that may help them do a better job in the future. On a parting note, I would like to say that not everything about our visit was terrible. There was a tanoura dancer who was passionate about his job and was giving 100%. He was quiet entertaining and did manage to bring a smile to our faces.

Times of Arabia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato