Be a star at Lucky Voice!

View my food journey on Zomato!

It’s not that I can’t sing. I’ve done it for most of my life and my ability does transcend genres, artists and even languages.  It’s just that my friends and family have not been too receptive to my unique talent. So, the idea of a karaoke brunch didn’t really excite me too much or it had not done so until I experienced  the Lucky Voice brunch over the weekend.

Not knowing what to expect, I walked into a huge room with neon lights covering most of the ceiling and quirky pieces like a random bath tub strategically strewn about. There was a DJ booth that looked like an old school tape stereo and also Christmas decorations all around. The moment I saw the tub, I knew I was in the right place. All that singing that I’ve been doing for all these years has usually been in the vicinity of a bath tub.

Not just the décor but the whole concept itself was unlike any karaoke bar or any brunch for that matter. They didn’t just throw you to the mercy of the DJ nor did we have to endure 3 hours of painful singing by people who had no job doing such things. There was a whole talent show on stage and the participants were the guests themselves! Yes, every table had nominated some guests to perform a karaoke battle style dance off. Spread over several rounds, with knockouts based on applause this was by far the most entertaining thing I have ever done at a Brunch!

img_1078
Sharing some Holiday Cheer with Chef Rob from Intersect by Lexus

At the end of the brunch, we were granted free access to one of the private rooms that came with a karaoke machine just so we could shamelessly torture our friends without being embarrassed in public. Don’t get me wrong, a few of us can sing remember? Fortunately, nobody really gave a hoot about who could or could not. The bottom line is that everybody was doing it and nobody seemed to care. If that was not a fabulous moment, I don’t what was. Think of it like the after party before the after party.

Oh yes and they did have food as well. I saw some tacos and wings floating around on a platter somewhere. The cranberry juice, company and the talent show took up most of my time though. I remember singing the few words of lose yourself that I knew while holding a lint roller like a mic.

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy

 …………………………………….already, mom’s spaghetti

Which incidentally was the song that the winner of the dance off performed on. Oh, and I also had a beef slider but lets just say that I would be going back only for the karaoke and all that fun!

Lucky Voice - Grand Millennium Dubai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nom Nom Asia

As far as restaurants go, I have always rooted for the little guy. Imagine trying to position yourself between the fancy big players and the cafeteria types which can  survive despite selling hot meals for as low as  AED 15. Your prices have got to be lower than the giant food factories but you have also got to try and do something better than them. You need to be more creative, offer new variations and most important of all – have a killer PR strategy.

In my quest for offbeat hidden gems, I ended up at Nom Nom Asia in Barsha. I didn’t just end up there by chance. A sign they had posted outside both their Karama and Barsha restaurants  went viral on social media some time ago. Basically, if you are hungry, unemployed and looking for a job in Dubai, Nom Nom Asia has got you covered. No, they will not let you do the dishes but they will offer you a free combo lunch meal to keep you fueled for the search. How cool is that?

I am sure that many hungry job seekers must have used this to their advantage but I just can’t stop admiring the PR element of this initiative. When designing a CSR campaign, companies try to come up with something good and meaningful that will impact society in a positive way, but they also try to find causes that will get them the most mileage. As far as PR strategies go, this was just brilliant.

INow that I had driven for thirty minutes to get there and they had my undivided attention, it was time to venture inside and see if the food could live up to the PR strategy.  The interior was casual and understated, just the way one would expect a neighborhood joint to be.

img_0834

The menu had both a Chinese and Thai section with plenty of variety but I do have a bad habit of ordering the chicken with cashew nut at every Asian restaurant I go to. We did order some Schezwan chicken to go with it. I was pleasantly surprised to see the brown rice option which we ordered as well but to start it all off, we requested some chicken Dim Sum.

img_0838

The food was ok but the service was top class. Our waiter was attentive yet not intrusive and he got the order right. I heard they have a Thai chef but the flavour had definitely been dialed down perhaps to please their European clientele. None of the other reviews I have read mention this so it may just have been a one-off thing. The chicken Dim Sum though, were perfectly pungent. I could have easily closed my eyes and imagined being on the streets of Hong Kong.

img_0837
Chicken with cashew nut and Nom Nom Asia

I’m not sure if it was because we were taking pictures of our food or if I looked like someone in need of a free dessert but we were offered a free sticky rice with mango after our meal. We most gratefully and graciously accepted of course, because that is what you do when you get offered a free dessert! We were in Thailand this August and this particular dish was at par with the best mango sticky rice we have had there or anywhere else ever before. I think the little tub of coconut cream that accompanied the dessert played a big role in that.

img_0840-1
Mango Sticky rice at Nom Nom Asia

So, our trip to Nom Nom Asia did end on a high note and we would love to return again for the sticky rice. Also, I have a feeling that the Karama branch might be a better option though because most of the customers there wouldn’t mind a little chilli with heir cashew nuts!

Nom Nom Asia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hakeem’s Kababji Grill.

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

Malvina Reynolds.

In the whole cookie cutter scheme of things, how different is your neighborhood Lebanese grill from mine? Does your local curry house serve soft, piping hot, puffed up nans just like mine? It probably does. I bet your Lebanese joint could sprinkle some pine nuts on your Hummus Beiruti if you asked them to, or they probably already do because that’s how it is supposed to be right?

Sure, things could always go wrong. Your meat could end up being a bit more charred than you would have liked or there might be a bit more lemon in your Tabbouleh then you would have wanted but at the end of the day, authentic Lebanese food will always be more or less similar in name, taste and presentation. The same goes for authentic Indian, Pakistani, Thai, Korean, or what have you.

So how do we really know if any one restaurant is better than the other? Well, the décor and the location may play a role but eventually it all boils down to one thing. ‘Service’ is the one factor that may break or make your overall experience. If the quality of service is exceptional, the food (as long as it is acceptable) won’t even matter that much. One day, while looking for a hidden gem waiting to be discovered in the streets of Dubai Marina, I came across such a restaurant.

img_0799

Kababji restaurant in the Marina is situated at a quiet corner of the promenade. The view is not extraordinary as far as Marina restaurants go but you can catch a glimpse of yachts cruising on the water albeit from a distance.  The menu was your standard Lebanese fare; grilled meats, salads and several variations of hummus. One thing that did stand out though was the effort to offer a healthy twist to many of the regular items on the list.

There was a Quinoa Tabbouleh which seemed like an interesting take on the popular Lebanese salad. The grilled veal fillet light and the Kebab light promised to be less than 400 calories each and seemed to be geared towards those who can’t survive without their meats but want to be heart healthy as well. I tried the Kebab light and since it was made of extra lean meat, I found it to be a bit dry (the fat in the meat keeps the kabab moist and juicy). The grilled chicken we ordered was grilled to perfection. Tender and moist on the inside and perfectly charred on the outside.

img_0802-1

The food however, as I mentioned before, was secondary. The one thing that has ensured I return to this restaurant was the service. We went at a time when there was just one waiter inside. Hakeem (our waiter) saw us from inside the glass door and rushed outside to help us carry D’s stroller down the steps. He was never intrusive but always attentive. We just had to look up towards him once and there he would be, right next to us awaiting our next request.

I ordered a coffee and cancelled it after 5 minutes because I changed my mind. He agreed with a smile and went back to pass the message to the kitchen. Baby D was not in a particularly good mood and for some reason kept throwing her French fries on the floor while shouting “potato, potato” at the top of her voice. Hakeem pretended as if nothing was wrong while we discussed our order.

Noticing that I had ordered the Spicy version of the Kabab light, Hakeem asked if we would like some fresh chilli paste to go with our order. Once we started eating, he asked us once if the meal was alright or if we needed anything else and then left us in peace to enjoy the meal. D of course had other plans but that is beside the point.

img_0800

It is quite amazing how one person can transform your entire dining out experience. This could have been a bad day to eat out but thanks to Hakeem, it was anything just.

Kababji Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Breakfast at Berri’s.

After having spent at least 10 nights in different YAS Island properties over the last couple of years, I considered myself a bit of an expert on all things YAS. It has in fact been the staycation destination of choice for many of my friends as well. There is just so much to do – like a staycation superstore so to speak, with a section catering to everyone in the group or family.

Despite all of this, something was amiss from our YAS island escapades. I had not yet been able to put a finger on it but it dawned upon me, just as I lay my eyes on some of the most meticulously crafted red velvet pancakes on this side of the Arabian Desert. To be honest, I’m not much of a pancake guy but there I was like an aggressive paparazzo, edging out my fellow bloggers in a bid to get the most Instagram worthy shot. Not the kind of impression I wanted to leave my new-found friends with but you have to see these edible works of art to truly understand the basis for my slightly deranged behavior. Luckily, I did manage to get a couple of good shots for my blog.

IMG_1867

IMG_1871

Despite all my excitement upon the sight of these red velvet pancakes, they were only part of my wonderful breakfast escape. The real discovery was something that will now be a part of my Yas island experiences for times to come. Between the mundane hotel breakfasts and all the cookie cutter mall outlets there was not one place that stood out for breakfast like the Ferrari world stands out among theme parks or the Yas Marina circuit stands out for motor sports. Whether it’s for the F1 race, the roller coaster, house music marathon or the concert weekend, whatever our next excuse is for a Yas Island staycation I know exactly where I would be having the most important meal of the day. Located just a stone’s throw from the Yas mainland, on the private island of Muneera is the quintessential YAS breakfast spot.

IMG_1870
Whether you can devour a couple of pancakes for breakfast or if you fall within the health freak category, the food alone will make your trip down to this beach front property worth its while. May I suggest the granola and Greek yoghurt parfait if you are the counting calories type. Food however, is only part of the offering. Expansive glass windows were letting in enough light to turn an amateur photographer like me into Francesco Tonelli. They also gave panoramic views of the golden beach and glorious ocean.

IMG_1869

I love a good Egg Benedict, the kind that is not too firm and not too supple. You know, the kind that you prick with your fork and watch the yolk as it oozes out all the way to the bun below. Ok, maybe you don’t agree with me on that last part but you know what I mean, right? Those were the kind of eggs served that morning and there was a covering of bacon too.

The service was a bit lackluster but that kind of worked at the time. We were embroiled in a deep and meaningful conversation about something that must have been important while we soaked in the uninterrupted views of the ocean. Time was irrelevant at that moment so we didn’t mind the wait but it would be nice if the restaurant improves its service, it is after all the quintessential YAS Island breakfast joint. 😉

Berri's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RISO, The Italian Vegetarian.

I’ve always been a little envious of vegetarians. The power to say ‘No’ to a juicy burger (or a steak for that matter) puts them in a league above the rest of us mortals. That kind of self-control and resilience is unheard of in my circles, even though we do understand that vegetarians have a 12 percent longer life span than those who are not.

The funny thing is, they may not even be trying that hard. That revelation come to me as I nibbled on some mushrooms at Riso, the new vegetarian Italian kitchen in town.

Earlier, when someone said vegetarian food, I always pictured a raw carrot or a head of steamed broccoli but as the different items on the tasting menu were presented that day, I started to see vegetarian food in a completely different light.

So apparently, vegetarians don’t have any super powers at all (other than accidentally saving the planet perhaps). They don’t turn down a steak because of some great sacrifice to save humanity, they just know better. Why kill yourself by eating food that is harmful to you and the planet you live on when you have healthier options that can be just as appetising as your favourite non-veg options?

As a case in point, I love Pizza and I do sometimes get a little offended if it is not done right. If I begin to list down the number of restaurants that have destroyed my Pizza experience (including the biggest pizza chain in the world), this may turn into a completely different kind of post. The guys at Riso though, they get it. It was almost as if I had some divine connection with the pizza chef. There are a few others who do such pizzas in Dubai but that ultra-thin and crispy circle of perfection is what pizza dreams are made of.

So if you are not a vegetarian yet, you (like me) may have to do some soul searching soon and if you are one, well done – you guys had me fooled for a very long time. In any case, head down to the newly opened Riso Italian and discover this little gem for yourself.

PS Prepare to be surprised! If it looks like coffee and sounds like coffee, chances are that it may not be coffee at all. The Mushroom Cappuccino at RISO is actually the chef’s rendition of mushroom soup, served in a coffee glass complete with froth and all!

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

A rediscovery of Royal culinary secrets at India Palace.

I have travelled far and wide in pursuit of good food but as I nudge closer to 40 and as New Dubai’s culinary scene advances towards world domination; I can barely make it past Bur Dubai just to eat at a new restaurant.  Unless of course there is a crazy vibe around a new opening or every second person is talking about a hidden gem that has been suddenly rediscovered or if I am invited to sample a menu crafted by Royal master chefs in the stately palace kitchens of Lucknow; there have been times when I do make the journey. On this occasion, it seemed as if I had all the reasons to venture North of the bridge.

‘Khansamas’ (Royal chefs)  were entrusted with the task of satisfying gastronomic desires of not just the Maharajas (Rulers)  of Lucknow but of their Royal guests who would come from as far away as Tashkent and Kabul. Over the years, they perfected this art of ‘Mughlai’ cooking which was a result of tweaking their local ‘Awadhi’ recipes to the palates of their Central Asian guests (invaders as well). It has since been passed down through generations and is practised in some of the most exclusive kitchens throughout India and the rest of the world.

I have driven past India Palace restaurant in the past and never thought of going in perhaps because I have always tilted more towards the spicier Hyderabadi and Punjabi cuisine. Mughlai cooking was never really my scene but after my first visit to this award winning establishment, I think I may have converted a bit.

I always thought that if you did not dial up the chili or the spice, you could not unlock the true flavor of desi food. That myth was shattered at the ‘Khansama’ menu launch by India Palace. The familiar aroma of cloves and coriander was complimented by the soft nuttiness of cashews. It was the most delicate balance of sub-continental spices and the richness synonymous with Persian and Afghani cuisine; an uncanny match that somehow worked. This my dear foodie friends, was my rediscovery of Mughlai cuisine.

The most popular dish of that evening seemed to be the Shahi Zafrani Murg which was a chicken breast stuffed with mince chicken with a rich pan seared gravy that was garnished with almonds and pistachio and infused with saffron. My favorite however was the Kasturi Murg which was a chicken kebab marinated in fenugreek and black pepper before being coated with cardamom flavored egg.

The interiors of the restaurant were reminiscent of an 18th century Mughal palace complete with live ghazals and headgear that would not be out of place in a Bollywood period film. This added an unmistakable authenticity to the whole experience. So, the next time you want a free history lesson while dining on a meal curated in the royal kitchens of Lucknow, head down to the India Palace restaurant at Garhoud and feel like a Maharaja, even if only just for a while.

IMG_1855
Shahi Zafrani Murgh
IMG_1850
No Royal experience is complete without live ghazals!
IMG_1848
Making glass bangles for the ladies. C heck out the turban!
1
These sweets were so cute I almost didn’t want to eat them…until I did.

India Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iftar at Lapita Hotel, Dubai Parks and Resorts.

View my food journey on Zomato!

I have been doing the Tiki Puka Puka way before Prince Harry and his friends went all Polynesian and much before the London club Mahiki opened up in Dubai. So imagine my excitement when not just one club or restaurant but a whole Polynesian themed resort opened up here. Nestled in the centre of the sprawling Dubai Parks and Resorts and sitting right next to the upcoming six flags theme park is this huge clustered resort complete with tropical landscapes, 2 pools and a lazy river.

Lapita Hotel, Dubai Parks and Resorts
The Polynesian theme extended all the way outside as well.

Our first weekend iftar was supposed to be somewhere else but the AED 150 price tag plus the 2 for 1 offer at http://www.ramadanwithmarriott.com/ was almost too good to be true so in the name of research but mostly because I love to save a buck wherever I can, we headed down to Kalea restaurant at Lapita Hotel to see what a five star 150 AED Iftar buffet looks like.

IMG_1808

The resort was made up of not one gigantic structure but a number of huge Polynesian hut styled buildings connected by thick island foliage and walkways. Both the exteriors and the interiors were covered with dark wood and there was an abundant display of island totems standing proud between the straw ceilings and cane walls. This truly looked like a themed destination where you could unplug from the outside world and laze away a whole weekend like it was 1979. I would not mind going back just to check out the resort. Every little detail had been looked into and Kalea, like the rest of the hotel was no exception.

Iftar at Lapita Hotel
Despite the low price, the restaurant had not really cut corners on the variety of food on display. I did not even bat an eyelid on the absence of seafood. Call me whatever but I will happily trade in the ceviche and sushi for a meat carving station on any day plus I know seafood is always the biggest price factor in a menu and this iftar was price sensitive. With a dedicated Indian corner, Thai corner, Arabic corner, continental dishes, live Saj station and all the salads, desserts and cheeses you could not eat in one day, it was still one of the best value Iftars I have ever been to.

Iftar at Lapita
There were plenty of salads to go around

Not everything however was as good as the tasteful interiors or as abundant as the mounds of food on display. There were 2 things that bothered me quite a bit and it would not be right to not mention them. The first batch of the mixed grill was probably done in a hurry to meet the 7 pm start time consequently reducing the lamb tikkas to burnt charcoal; like the ones you can probably find in the deepest throes of a feral abyss. Black as the night itself but I could tell that they once burned bright, these tikkas. I like my meat a little charred but these were beyond redemption. This kind of set the tone for the rest of the night.

Condiments at the Lapita Iftar
The condiments and chutneys were spot on – the biryani, not so much.

The biryani was seriously under spiced. For some restaurants, biryani is almost an afterthought. An unsophisticated dish of rice and chicken hurriedly put together at the last minute just to check another box. To the other hundreds of thousands of die hard biryani fans all over the world, that is nothing less than an insult. Now that I think of it there was nothing spectacular about the rest of the food either. It was just food, a lot of it.

Saj at the Lapita Iftar
The live Saj station

My most memorable food experience that day was at the live saj station where the gentleman in charge of the shawarmas and saj created a spicy cheese and labneh saj without the customary cucumbers and tomatoes, on my insistence. He accommodated me with a smile despite not having any red chili paste at his station. I think he went to the kitchen or pantry and smuggled some in just for me. The result of course was like a gulp of Fiji while gasping for water in the middle of the Atlantic. Not just this particular gentleman, but the entire service staff on duty that day were holding the place together in the absence of a five star chef in the kitchen.

desserts at the Lapita Iftar
When all fails, there is Sugar!

I have always found staff at resorts to be more chatty than staff at hotels. I don’t know if this is done on purpose to create a particular vibe or if it has just always been a coincidence. The staff at Kalea were no different. Almost every person we interacted with that day went out of his or her way to answer our question/crack a joke/comment on something/help us out. Our waitress for the evening, Janice deserves special mention for ensuring there was a glass of diet coke with a lemon wedge in it every time our drinks were about to finish. We did not even have to look at her; there would just be another diet coke sitting on the table as soon we got done with the first one.

Lapita Dubai Parks and resorts
The Turkish delight was a pretty good way to end the Iftar.

The two things at this iftar that we were thankful for were the kids buffet and the desserts section. There was a separate little area for the fussy eaters which our 8 month old loved. Dua couldn’t have enough of the smiley faced potato cutlets while Mishal and I loved the Umm Ali (Arabic bread pudding). The Gulab Jaman (deep fried spongy balls soaked in rose scented syrup) were kept in a hot dish and I created my own dessert by topping them with soft serve ice cream. So what could have been a lacklustre experience ended up being a 900 word review thanks to the awesome staff and lots of sugar. I recommend that you do visit this restaurant for Iftar. The food may not be way up there yet but the value proposition, service excellence, exotic interiors and plenty of sugar may just make it worth your while.

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

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

Best Shawarma in Dubai. The official top 11.

I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm! I wish this article had space for more than 11 because I was absolutely spoilt for choice between the Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Turkish and even Greek versions of the popular street food. I have listed my favourite 11 but by no means do you have to agree with me! In fact, I would love your comments and suggestions on places that I may have missed out. So without further ado, I present to you, 11 of the top shawarma joints in Dubai.

11) Barasti, Dubai Marina. Power House Wrap – AED 60.

Go ahead, judge me. Mishal did too. “You have lost it” is what she said to me when I told her that Barasti makes one of the best shawarmas in Dubai. “Never mind if it is good or not”, she said. “It’s not even a shawarma!” “Well technically it is a wrap and it has chicken in it” I told her. “That is exactly what a shawarma is” “So it doesn’t have heaps of garlic sauce or a pickle or grilled chicken from a rotating spit but it does have Japanese mayo and cheddar cheese and breaded chicken from a fryer! And who needs French fries in their wrap, not only do they take up space where there could have been more meat, they are not even remotely Arabic.” I think I won that argument; plus shawarma or not, who can argue with the convenience of a greasy wrap after a big night out, without making any additional stops on the way home.

10) Shawermania, JLT. Burger Shawarma – AED 20.

Hardcore shawarma fans and purists might put a bounty on my head for this but that is a risk I am willing to take. I believe in constant innovation. The only thing constant in life is change. If we can’t try new things, we just cannot improve or innovate. The guys at Shawermanaia have ditched the pita and saj for the burger bun. It is a strange combination that works. Your first impression is as if you just bit into a nice old Philly steak sandwich.  As you explore further, there is an explosion of Arabic spices and garlic. You suddenly find yourself teleported to the land of falcons, sand dunes, camels and belly dancers.

Shawermania. Photo Talabat.com
A Shawermania creation. Photo: http://www.talabat.com

9) IKEA. Chicken Shawarma

Klippan loveseat: check. Stockholm rug: check. Chicken Shawarma: check. This is probably the only Swedish shawarma on the list and like everything else Swedish, it gets the job done. They don’t cut back on the chicken or pretend that the French fries are made of meat like one pathetic (and famous) shawarma chain I don’t want to name. It has garlic paste, pickles, a few fries and chicken (lots of it). I never knew simplicity could taste so good.

Photo of IKEA shawerma.
The cheap shawarma that hits the spot by IKEA. Photo: http://www.manonthelam.com

8) Automatic Restaurant, JBR  Meat shawarma – AED 8.

Doesn’t matter how good your Tahina is or how much garlic you smother on the bread, if your meat is not of a high quality, it will show. The folks at Automatic know this. I would be upset if they didn’t because they have been in Dubai longer than I have! Expect perfectly charred strips of succulent lamb, creamy tahini sauce, coriander, some fries and slightly toasted pita! Mmmm mm mm. 😉

Automatic Restaurant. happytrips com
Automatic restaurant shawarma. Photo: http://www.happytrips.com

7) Filful, Box Park. Chicken Shawarma – AED 12.

Go for the place, stay for the taste. This is a hipster café/Beiruti street food joint and upscale Boxpark eatery with creative interiors all rolled into one. If you haven’t been or don’t like shawarmas, please do visit for an authentic Lebanese street food experience. It is the next best thing after hopping on  a plane to Beirut.

Filful shawarma. Talabat
Filful Shawarma. Photo: http://www.talabat.com

6) Aroos Damascus, Muraqabat Street Deira, Shawarma meat or chicken – 6 AED.

More than half of you would not have heard of this place and unless you are brave enough to cross the bridge and land on Muraqqabat street near the Dubai clock tower most of you will never be able eat here either. I pity you all. You have not really had an authentic Dubai experience if you have not eaten at this Syrian restaurant in old Dubai. You will understand what I mean once you see the number of cars outside, or the 80 waiters doing laps between the cars, the kitchen and the 400 tables inside.

Tip: Take the metro to Salah al Din Station and just walk for 3 minutes if the weather permits.

Aroos Damascus shawarma man. mithunonthe dot net
Aroos Damascus Shawarma man. Photo: http://www.mithunonthe.net

5) YaSalam, JLT. Superfood Shawarma – 25 AED

The harmless looking pita bread that blankets the meat and pickles you hold in your hand carries 266 calories per 100 grams. Go ahead, google it. To put into perspective, you burn a 100 calories by brisk walking for 20 minutes. For times like this when some smart ass makes you feel fat and miserable and all you want to do is eat healthy even if it is  just for a day or 2; read on. Lean chicken breast, quinoa, slices of beetroot and avocado, sundried tomato and balsamic dressing all wrapped in  a brown multi grain bread. I burned some calories just by thinking about it.

The healthy shawarma from YaSalam. talabat
Superfood shawarma by Yasalam.                             Photo: http://www.talabat.com

4) Zaroob, Sheikh Zayed Road. Chicken Lebanese – 12 AED

Craving a late night shawarma? Do not fear if Zaroob is near or if you don’t mind travelling down to the World Trade Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. Yes this place is open 24 hours and they really do make a killer shawarma. Authentic Lebanese flavors await, regardless of the time. Another high end joint from the new wave of ‘cool’ Arabic restaurants. Attracts families, office types and a younger crowd, the latter mostly after the midnight hour as they stuff their mouths with pocket sized meat delights before heading home to crash.

Zaroob shawarma. roundmenu
Zaroob Shawarma. Photo: http://www.roundmenu.com

3) Operation Falafel, JBR. Chicken Shawarma in Saj bread – AED 20.

These guys take their falafels seriously and they also make one of the best chicken shawarmas in Dubai. The Saj bread somehow enhances the flavor of the garlic paste but there is less of it so it shines through without ever overpowering the rest of the ingredients. This results in a well rounded and balanced shawarma. This is posh street food, if there could be such a thing. Expect to see a cooler crowd than many of the other joints because of the location.

Operation Falafel. franchisesouq dot com
Operation Flafel shawarma. Photo: http://www.franchisesouq.com

2) Zaatar w Zeit, Sheikh Zayed Road.  Shawarma Wrap – 30 AED.

When you do go here next, please do order the traditional pizza. I know this article is about shawarmas but Zaatar w Zeit have adopted the Pizza as their own and it has now become more Lebanese than Italian. I know it has a super thin crust and heaps of mozzarella but I haven’t quite been able to figure out what makes this pizza as good as it is.  Oh yes, and now the Shawarma. So if this Lebanese joint can make Sicilian street food it’s own, imagine what it would have done with Beiruti street food? PS It is also open 24 hours.

Zaater w Zait shawarma. Photo Twitter
Zaater W Zait. Photo: Restaurant’s twitter page.

1) Al Mallah, Satwa. Lamb Shawarma -AED 7.

Nostalgia wins again! This used to be our go to place for shawarmas in college and not much has changed since then. Yes a lot of fancy joints have opened up since then and I also have a little more money to ‘live it up’ but the Al Mallah lamb shawarma still has no equal. Succulent lamb meat, a liberal dash of creamy tahini and fresh coriander with mint; a formula that has worked wonders for 20 or so years and continues to do so.

Al Mallah Shawarma. Photo: www.gulfnews.com

Al Mallah Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

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