Fit for a king, the ‘Friday Feast brunch’

No one venue can claim the coveted spot of ‘Dubai’s number one brunch’ any more. They would have to settle for either best open air brunch, best seaside brunch, best party brunch, best afternoon party brunch, best foodie brunch, best seafood brunch, best family brunch, best screaming toddlers brunch or best sparkling evening brunch etc.

Feast - Sheraton Grand Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Celebratory weekend banquets which are popularly known as Friday Brunches have become an integral part of life in Dubai. These feasts become  even more popular during the short winter season. So much so that an element of  specialization has crept in amongst Dubai’s brunches.

No one venue can claim the coveted spot of ‘Dubai’s number one brunch’ any more. They would have to settle for either best open air brunch, best seaside brunch, best party brunch, best afternoon party brunch, best foodie brunch, best seafood brunch, best family brunch, best screaming toddlers brunch or best  sparkling evening brunch etc.

The most important category among all of these spectacular themes is the ‘Feel Good brunch’. All brunches are supposed to make you feel good, that’s the whole idea right? You forget about your credit card payment, your evil boss, your nosy neighbor or whatever it is that you need to escape from for a couple of hours and then you brunch. But can one brunch really make you feel better than the other? I believe it can and I also have the winner in mind.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the winner of the ‘Eat Sleep Travel Repeat’ award in the ‘Feel Good brunch’ category for 2019 is the Friday Feast brunch at the Grand Sheraton Dubai.

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A restaurant is like a large industrial machine  that needs to work with the precision of a Swiss watch. Every single moving part needs to be perfectly aligned in order to deliver the experience that differentiates the leaders from the followers. This synergy becomes yet more vital during a banquet or a feast because all your guests expect consistent and efficient service coupled with personal attention. Throw 7 live cooking stations into the mix and it becomes  beguiling to the point where you have as much interest in watching the place run as you do in the food. It is a bit like a live musical where one instrument out of sync could make the whole show come down. Everyone may be performing at the their peak but one person out of line would stand out like a stain on a crisp white sheet.

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I had asked to be seated near the window and it took the hostess half a second to find my name on the list and escort us towards our table. The area was awash with natural light that was flooding in through the expansive windows. It was just like brunching al fresco but within the controlled serenity of a tastefully decorated dining hall. The 7 live cooking stations were placed within a central island which was accessible from all four sides. The dessert station was strategically placed near the exit so we didn’t really make it all the way there before almost bursting at the seams. For that thoughtful gesture, I say thank you to the Feast management. I may not have been able to taste all the fantastic food, had I seen the homemade ice cream, mud cake, brownies and chocolate sculptures earlier.

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There was something for everyone at this brunch. There was an elaborate selection of cheeses and breads. There were oysters, mussels and sushi if you preferred. The kids play area had a chocolate fountain that was adjusted for height so no adult intervention was required. There was a live band that encouraged guests to sing along, thus contributing to the family friendly vibe. There was a mixology lab where you could learn to make a Mojito or perhaps create your own cocktail. The service was top notch and the staff were at hand to talk about any dish that you wanted to know more about. While watching the roast duck being carved, I jokingly asked the chef if they had any goose liver products and within two minutes, a generous helping of the luxurious French delicacy – Fois Gras, appeared at our table. There was too much food there to talk about every dish individually but I highly recommend the Prime Rib, 12 spiced cured salmon and my discovery of the day, the Tamarind and Pomegranate chicken which was absolutely brilliant.

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I guess you may be starting to understand why this brunch made me feel so good. I probably feel good at the end of all brunches but this brunch had something more. It ticked every single box. There was nothing left to be desired. We walked out with huge smiles on our faces. The kind of smiles guests leaving a King’s banquet would probably have had. I could not have thought of a better name for this brunch myself. It truly was a Friday Feast.

Peyote. The Sauve Mexican

Guest Review by Marina Wilhelmsson.

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

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

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

Sign in bar

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

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

just a drop of habanero

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

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

Jalapeno fritters

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

tacos

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

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

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

The Chilis syndrome. Big brand = Bad food.

I love discovering new restaurants and talking about exciting new places to eat at but one of the main reasons behind this blog, was to talk about restaurants that have existed, survived and multiplied while others around them barely made it past the first year of operations.

How have some restaurant chains managed to open up a branch in every mall or every neighborhood? What is it, that drives business to these places? What makes them grow? Is it just because of the food or is it the brilliant marketing strategies? Is it the décor and lighting? Or is it just convenience?

Do people keep eating at places like TGIF, Chillis, Applebees, Shakespeare and Co, IHop and Tony Romas because the food is just amazing or is it just because they are familiar with the brand? They all seem to have identical menus and between them operate 20 odd restaurants in Dubai yet they keep expanding and drawing in customers. All this while Pedro your brilliant neighborhood chef, couldn’t keep his bistro afloat because of liquidity problems and lack of customers. There may be more than one reason for all this but I decided to go back to one of the best known chain restaurants in Dubai to try and figure out the secret formula to success.

I may have already been to every single Chillis branch in Dubai so we decided to meet some friends at Yas Mall for lunch at which is arguably the UAE’s most successful (non-fast food) restaurant. We managed to find a table with views of the Ferrari World roller coaster and were seated in a heartbeat so full marks for that. The order taker seemed to be well rehearsed, helpful and knowledgeable so that part was smooth as well.

We ordered the Melted Pepper Jack Ribeye, Margarita Grilled Chicken, Ancho Salmon and the Beef Enchiladas. Of all these dishes, the steak definitely stood out.. Medium cooked and lightly seasoned, just the way we like it. Initially, we weren’t too sure about the cheese topping but after taking a bite of the thick cut steak with the melted pepper jack, we realized that it was a potent combination.

The only other dish that came close to that was the Ancho Salmon. It was cooked all right and seasoned just fine but I wish I could say that about the other two dishes.

This was the description of the chicken margarita in the menu: Tender, juicy chicken breast, marinated with our classic Margarita flavoring and grilled to perfection. Served with citrus rice and black beans.

Yes, it was tender and it was juicy and it was served with black beans. That was about it. The Margarita flavor (whatever it was supposed to be) was not there. In fact the flavor was the taste of grilled chicken which we had to season with some salt. I had imagined a tomato purée of some sort (as in the pizza) smothered over the chicken for it to warrant that name. It did have some chopped tomatoes on the side but that was about it. Oh and the citrus Chile rice sounds like it would be infused with lemon zest or something right? No, there were no signs of any lemon anywhere. Just some rice, minus the citrus.

The most disappointing dish of the day was described as follows in the menu: Three Baked Enchiladas Filled With Taco Seasoned Beef, 3-Cheese Blend & Onion. Topped With Ancho Sauce, Melted 3-Cheese Blend, Chopped Cilantro and house made Corn & Black beans Salsa. Served With Rice & Black Beans.

Think of all the Mexican flavors you can imagine when someone says Taco seasoned beef. It was nothing like any of those. This was every Mexican foodie’s worst nightmare. It was so bland that they would build a wall around their borders to keep it out of the country. It was basically a wrap filled with salt flavored ground beef and cheese, topped with some cilantro. Sure, it was good looking and was overflowing with black beans from all sides but tasted a bit like a beef cheese wrap. Nothing more, nothing less.

So here is what I think I have learnt from this excursion to the land of Chillis. The photographs in the menu were mouthwatering, the seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and the descriptions of the entrees were brilliant. So full  marks for packaging and presentation and all of that. The food looked pretty when it arrived and there was a lot of it too. It just lacked heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was put together on an assembly line like McDonalds. This seemed like a place where everyone follows the process but nobody has ultimate responsibility and nobody really cares. A place where nothing is personal. They probably believe in the mantra that ‘If you build it, they will come’ hence the multiple locations in every city. They also seem to know that the bigger and flashier you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Unfortunately, the restaurants which have perfected this process are the ones that are thriving. They will expand while Pedro, your friendly neighborhood chef who prepares each order with care and personal attention will struggle. We can say it is the marketing prowess and easy flow of money that enables these places to open swanky new branches all the time but in reality it just comes down to one factor: YOU. You decide who stays in business and who packs up. You and I are ultimately the reason Pedro is having a hard time. Want your food to be prepared with a bit more love? Take a stand, stop eating at these food factories. Support the little guy at the corner of your street. As for me, all this writing is making me hungry. I think I’ll get Hardees for Lunch today.

 

Ultimate Family brunch at Flow Kitchen. Fairmont, Palm Jumeirah.

we were greeted by Spider Man and a Green dude who looked like he was going to get his ass kicked by Spider Man pretty soon. There was also this other dude who looked like he could be the star of his own comic book but I couldn’t quite remember who he was.

View my food journey on Zomato!

We hardly went to restaurants as kids. My father’s idea of a big meal out was to prepare a bigger meal at home. He would bring the chefs home and we would watch them as they prepared a Pakistani feast for the same 30 or 40 people that always showed up. Besides the stuffed lamb and the usual partridge masala, there would be a breakfast counter with halwa (sweet dish made of semolina, almonds and cardamom) chana (chickpea) masala and a guy serving piping hot puris (deep fried flaky bread) straight from the gigantic karrahi (wok).

Well, all that happened in Pakistan at my dad’s old country house and it was in another time. Now Mishal and I can barely fit ourselves into our tiny kitchen (or into any of our old jeans for that matter but that is a completely different subject)  and honestly I am not sure if I even know 30 or 40 people. Even if I did, the thought of 10 kids tearing down my living room and doing jumping jacks on my sofa is a bit concerning to say the least. Thankfully though, that would never be a problem now because I have discovered a magical place where kids can be kids and adults can be kids too; or they can just remain adults. Nobody would judge them.

As we got out of the elevator and turned the corner towards Flow Kitchen, we were greeted by Spider Man and a Green dude who looked like he was going to get his ass kicked by Spider Man pretty soon. There was also this other dude who looked like he could be the star of his own comic book but I couldn’t quite remember who he was. “Welcome to Flow Kitchen” said the usher standing next to the green dude as I snapped back to reality. “Is this your first time here?” “Yes” I said while the kid in the corner did a Skywalker maneuver with his light sabre. “Mr and Mrs Chaudhry, please follow me” she said and we walked into a large hall which was flooded by the light coming in from the gigantic window that looked into the ocean.

Most people seemed like they had either just been to or were about to head out to the beach but there were a couple of people with jackets who seemed just as content and at ease as the guy in yellow flip flops. I without my flip flops and jacket also felt quiet comfortable in the hustle and bustle of what increasingly seemed to resemble a dining room of a Market Hall. There was a cart serving steamed dumplings next to a stand with every possible kind of bread on display.

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Dumplings at Flow Kitchen

Pre cut and pre tossed salads are so old school, so there was a cart that had the most beautiful vegetables on display. You would choose what you want and this lady would peel, chop, toss and season your salad before you could say organic. PS Did you know that rock salts come in 5 flavors including charcoal and vanilla?

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Have your salad cut, chopped, tossed and seasoned in front of your eyes

Some places have totally excluded the breakfast element from their brunches which is quiet sad because brunch is traditionally supposed to be between breakfast and lunch so you should have items from both meals on the menu. Flow Kitchen is as big on breakfast as it is on family. There were sausages, hash browns and beans but the best thing were the eggs. There was a separate stand serving eggs benedict and you could add spinach, chicken, turkey or even roasted pine nuts if you wanted. The yolk was nice and runny just as it should be. There is nothing that offends me more than an overcooked egg.

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Spinach Eggs Benedict with roasted pine nuts
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Tomato Salsa and cheese on garlic bread at the Ultimate Family Brunch

I am still not a fan of the ‘serve a dish from every country’ doctrine that the brunches seem to have adopted in Dubai but I guess it makes sense if they can make it a part of the theme. A family brunch caters to the whole family so it would only be fair to serve all kinds of cuisine. There is always one dish or type of cuisine that stands out at every brunch. It could be a pasta or a sheesh kebab or even the entire seafood menu. I could not find that one dish at the Ultimate family brunch. The Morrocan lamb tagine was as divine as the Italian margarita pizza and the pesto on the baked salmon was as fine as the wasabi in the soy sauce. This was a foodie’s paradise and I did not want to go back home.

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Baked Salmon with pesto crust
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Sushi at Flow Kitchen

Not everyone in the family enjoys the complications of a sophisticated meal and sometimes all you crave is a good burger with lots of ketchup and some mayonnaise. For those fussy eaters, there was a special kids menu which I would have gladly read out to my seven month old milk junkie had she not been so fascinated with the colorful cakes and gummy bears on display. Despite there being so many kids at the restaurant, it was nothing like my father’s old house. There was no one diving head first off the tables, nobody drawing their parent’s faces on the walls and no one following them around and telling them to behave. The chaos had been allowed to flourish in an organised way albeit confined to the perimeter of the adjoining hall. There were two hours worth of activities which included face painting, balloon twisting, a magic show and arts and crafts. Heck there was even a PlayStation for older kids and for adults who refuse to grow up.

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Macaroons, meringue cookies and gummy bears at the Ultimate Family Brunch

Among the countless dessert options there was a red velvet cake and a decadent chocolate cake that stood out for me but the most popular sweet thing seemed to be the white cupcakes with inverted test tubes stuck on them. The tubes had a raspberry filling which you poured on to the cake. I had to save some room for coconut ice cream (which I had later with warm apple pie) so didn’t really get around to trying it but the theatrics of the tube and the raspberry syrup kept us from slipping into a food coma before we got to the ice cream.

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The tubes have a raspberry filling!

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There are so many things I have not described or spoken about like the warm flaky crust of the Moroccon chicken pie or the fresh Irish oysters on ice but I can’t do it because then this review would never end. What I would like to say is that I had not thought of my father’s old house for a long time. Even less of the 30 or 40 familiar faces that kept showing up at all his grand feasts. That changed yesterday. I thought of my family again and any restaurant that can make you do that has got to be special.

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Fresh Oysters on ice at Flow Kitchen

Flow Kitchen - Fairmont The Palm Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato