Theatre of food @ Sugar Factory

It was February of this year when I went for the Mad Hatter’s birthday party at Sugar Factory. Read about it here. Guess what? The year has not yet ended and yours truly has been signed up as a brand ambassador for the Sugar Factory. Considering the fact that this place is a regular hangout for celebs like Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Britney Spears, Drake, Nicole Scherzinger, Kim Kardashian and Eva Longoria – this my friends is a pretty cool thing, even if I do say so myself  :p .

Sugar Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A peri good meal @ Galitos

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

On one ordinary day of the year 1996, residents of Mpumalanga City in South Africa paired for the first time, the fiery hot sauces of a new eatery with the most succulent chicken they had ever tasted. Thus, began the journey of Galitos, a brand that soon expanded not just to other countries in Africa but ended up operating 150 restaurants in 15 countries all over the world.

For those who don’t like hot spicy food, maybe they should go grab a salad or something but if like me you do like to dial up the chili, please read on. Galitos’ signature chicken is flame grilled and brush basted to achieve that perfect tenderness but that is not all that they serve. One South African dish that I always wanted to try was the Borewors. These are traditional farmer’s sausages that are a staple at every working-class South African table. Traditionally, they are made from a blend of pork, lamb and beef which is why I never thought I would be able to try them but luckily, Galitos make their borewors from freshly ground beef. These sausages are hand made in store and the labour of love was evident in every bite. They serve a chicken version called Zulu sausages as well but if you don’t like beef or lamb, don’t bother because the sausage casings are usually made of sheep intestines. They also make artificial casings now but even those are made from cellulose found in animal hides so you would still be able to taste the animal. It may be a bit much for most people but I don’t mind it at all.

img_3566
Borewors at Galitos

If you like to play it safe however, I would like to recommend the newly launched mini bold burgers. These cute little sliders come in four variations. Each type comes with a different kind of Galitos signature sauce and I especially liked the baked chicken and pulled chicken.

img_3548
Chicken Tacos at Galitos

Other notable mentions are the chicken tacos and perishrooms. Besides the soft tortilla and the fact that they were super spicy, the tacos had little similarity with their Mexican cousins. The chicken was shredded of course but all the flavour and taste came from the special Galitos sauce that it was marinated in. The mushrooms were grilled with tomato and onion cubes before being doused with a generous helping of herb and lemon peri peri sauce. It was served with an unexpectedly flavorsome garlic bread which complemented the velvet like perishroom texture.

img_3556
Perishrooms at Galitos

Last but not least, my favourite dish of the evening was the Prawn Espedata. Espedata is the Portuguese term used for the technique of cooking meat on skewers. Often, bell peppers and onions are added between the pieces of meat. They can also be prepared with squid, fish or even shrimps. What made the Galitos prawn espedata so special are the signature sauces. Let me warn you though, if you ask for hot and spicy, you better really mean it because Galitos definition of spicy is way more serious than what you could ever imagine. I believe I have mentioned in a previous article that I love super spicy squid, crabs and prawns so this was so much fun for me. Every time I have had seafood that is this hot, it has been cooked with some form of curry; either Goan, Sri Lankan or Thai. I have never had grilled seafood in my life that was this spicy. I enjoyed myself so much that there were tears of happiness rolling down my cheeks or it may have been my natural reaction to the hottest sauce in the world, I am not entirely sure. Whatever it was, I know I am definitely going to do it again and again and again.

img_3576
Prawn Espedata at Galitos

Friday Brunch @ Fusion

Fusion - Ghaya Grand Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

With so many brunches around town every Friday, it is getting increasingly difficult to choose one that stands out unless something new and absolutely unheard of is going down in terms of the theme or the food. One thing that makes it easier to make a choice is the value proposition.

IMG_2108.JPG
Dim Sum at the Ghaya Grand hotel Friday brunch

With the Fusion restaurant’s Friday brunch at the relatively new Ghaya Grand hotel it becomes easy to make a choice because at 149 AED per head, it is an absolute steal; especially if you take into account all the variety they have to offer. At this price, I would have been happy to settle for one or two different types of cuisine but this place had pretty much everything covered. There was an Italian counter with a live cooking station, an Arabic counter with a full lamb roast, an Indian counter, Dim Sum, a variety of seafood including a lavish sushi selection, and even a selection of Thai dishes.

IMG_2094
Sushi selection at the Ghaya Grand hotel Friday brunch

I have had fish in garlic butter sauce before but the Garlic, Butter and Honey Salmon was unlike anything I had tried before. The subtle honey flavour gave my palate something completely new to work with. It was salty of course but also just a little bit sweet. That, paired along with the unmistakable salmon flavour and rich butter sauce was enough to make me return for seconds.

IMG_2106
Salmon in garlic, honey and butter at the Ghaya Grand hotel Friday brunch

I also loved the spicy, Crab in Thai green curry. I know Thai food is supposed to be hot but I don’t remember it ever being this spicy, even in Thailand! It may not work for everyone but I just couldn’t have enough of it. I remember having spicy crabs in Colombo some years ago and thinking that ‘this is the only way to eat crab’ at the time. There is something about hot chili that goes down so well with the soft and tender crab meat. I had to stop myself to from going for seconds otherwise I may have missed out on all the other wonderful food that was on display.

IMG_2105
Crab in Thai green curry at Ghaya Grand hotel

One trend that has caught on so well in Dubai is the ‘make your own pasta’ option that is available at many restaurants and brunches across the city. I think this is great because it gives you control over how you want your pasta to be. Unless it is a signature dish or a special creation by the chef, I am all about transferring control back to the customer. I call it eating out 2.0. This is where you decide the ingredients for your dish and if it doesn’t turn out the way you had expected, you have nobody else to blame but yourself. Chef Raheem at the live pasta station at Fusion ensured that we did not completely burn the boat. He was available on site and gently nudged us in the right direction if we appeared to be lost or got too carried away!

IMG_2112
Make your own noodles at the Ghaya Grand Hotel Friday Brunch

The best thing is that all these options come at an unbelievable price. In my opinion, this truly is the best value brunch in Dubai.

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.  

IMG_2068
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.  

IMG_2063
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.

IMG_2053
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.

img_3349
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.

facetune_26-10-2018-23-26-42
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.

facetune_26-10-2018-23-21-22
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!

facetune_26-10-2018-23-19-54
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?

facetune_26-10-2018-23-17-57
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.

img_3292
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.  

img_3288
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.

img_3299
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!

facetune_14-10-2018-16-06-56
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)

facetune_14-10-2018-15-12-56
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.

facetune_14-10-2018-16-01-43
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