The best restaurants are those which can teleport you to a faraway land. The sights and sounds of this place should captivate you and make you feel like the star of your own reality show or like royalty, if you would rather have it that way. This land that I speak of should be able to make you forget your work assignments, mortgage payments and traffic fines.
“Where would you like to be seated Sir? Would you like to see the drinks menu? Please take your time and I will be back when you are ready.” I was starting to feel a bit like a King myself, as I admired the tribal décor while these well-rehearsed lines rolled off my server’s tongue.
Since this was La La Land and we were all playing our part, I decided to be the King my server thought I was and decided to order the most ridiculous thing on the menu. The beef short ribs probably required the least amount of creativity from the chef and were probably the 2nd most boring thing on the menu (the first being my partner’s chosen dish). I still went ahead and ordered a full rack because it appealed to my extravagant Royal side. Also, I thought it may be an interesting choice at the time because I still remembered the Spicy Ethiopian beef I had enjoyed a couple of years back. These ribs however, were not spicy. They weren’t Ethiopian either. I don’t know where they were from. The restaurant had painted the entire menu with one gigantic African brush without specifying the country of origin. It was like going in to one of those restaurants serving ‘Asian’ cuisine and expecting to see everything from Sushi to fried crickets on the menu. Anyway, these ribs were tender and well cooked but the extra sweet sauce they were smothered with kept confusing me. This was such a British thing to do. This restaurant was African on the outside but deep inside it was just another restaurant that had tweaked its menu according to it’s clientele.
My partner ordered the Madagascar chicken. I thought it was a better choice than mine because we got to at know which African country the chicken had flown in from. I changed my mind when I saw it. The menu described it as a pepper and palm sugar spiced, roasted half chicken. It looked and tasted like one of those grilled chickens you can buy at Spinneys for 15 DHS. Except this one was only half a chicken and it was for 100 DHS. I am not a fan of sweet meats but was secretly relieved that the palm sugar mentioned in the description would give this otherwise boring looking bird some flavour. Couldn’t really taste it though. Maybe my senses were so overwhelmed by the sugar sauce on my ribs that I just couldn’t taste anything else. Maybe they had added all the sugar meant for the chicken to the ribs, I am not entirely sure. All I can say is that it tasted like roast chicken. Nothing more, nothing less.
This restaurant has a rating of above 4 on both Trip Advisor and Zomato so obviously, we just ordered the wrong things. I have to be honest, how other people feel about a place cannot determine what I feel about it. I would love to go back though, to give it another chance and order the right dishes. The environment, service and the entertainment were all top class (I did feel like a King, remember). The waiters would break into a song and dance routine every 15 minutes or so. One dude would pound the djembe (African percussion instrument) while several others would sing and dance with shakers in hand. The place had a great fun vibe to it. Sadly though, the food was not even close to what we had expected.
Every time someone says “GF Ferre”, I imagine super skinny men and women with chiseled jawlines strutting their stuff down a ramp somewhere at the Dubai Design District. The last thing I can think of is food. There is in fact an emotion of immense regret that takes over. I feel guilty for the last meal I had. My mind calculates the number of calories consumed on that day while simultaneously trying to figure out the number of meals I would have to skip to balance my impulsive eating habits.
That seldom happens though. I don’t skip too many meals. I just eat whenever and whatever I want to. As long as I make sure I don’t hear the names GF Ferre, Roberto Cavalli or Georgio Armani anywhere close to meal times, I am ok. All of these brands that remind me of super skinny people and make me feel accountable for every calorie I consume, also operate restaurants in Dubai. Ironic, is it not?
So now you know how I feel about dining at a restaurant that shares its name with a fashion label. That is precisely the reason I never stopped at the GF Ferre chocolate bar, despite secretly admiring its sunlit location at the MOE Fashion Avenue every time I passed by. I did always wonder why they added the word ‘chocolate’ to the name though. It kind of made it sound like an oxymoron. GF Ferre Bar might have worked better. No?
As if, accepting the fact that the fashion types actually ate at all wasn’t enough; having to process the fact that they ate chocolate confused me even more. It got to a point where I could hold it in no more and last Friday, I decided to stop by at this place to find out exactly what went on in there.
First of all, let me assure you that there were no fashion models inside. Mostly regular folks like you and me, trying to squeeze in a quick lunch between their shopping or just weighing in on Kanye West’s newfound love for Donald Trump over a bottomless mug of coffee. A part of me may have been slightly disappointed for not being able to spot any fashion types but I was mostly relieved. This was just another Friday in just another Dubai café.
Next, we had what could have been your average pasta with sautéed chicken, mushrooms and creamy white sauce but it was not. I could immediately taste the distinct Parmigiano Reggiano flavour. It takes at least 24 months to make this cheese. This long period of maturity and the special diet that the cows are fed on give this cheese its unmistakable aroma and flavour. This meant that work on this Penne Alfredo started at least 2 years ago. Let that sink in for a while. Now, let me tell you that it was almost worth the wait.
The Hell Boy was definitely one of the better-looking beef burgers I have ever seen. Part of it was due to the red beetroot sesame bun but part of it was due to the fact that it was so darn cute! It had a double beef patty, topped with caramelized onions and smothered with old fashioned American cheese. Taste wise, it was pretty good but not good enough to make my BEST 11 BURGERS IN DUBAI list and let’s just leave it at that.
Now that guilt I spoke about earlier was starting to set in so I decided to order a salad too. I realized later that the trick to eating like models was to order the salad instead of the main course and not in spite of the main course. I was really glad I ordered it anyway because it ended up being my favourite dish of the day. The Oganic Quinoa with Grilled Chicken had a unique flavour which I could attribute later to the sumac and chives. The feta added a creamy texture while the hazelnuts and pomegranate added a well needed crunch whenever it was needed. It also had grilled onions, baby spinach and the most amazing pickled beetroot to wrap it all up with a tangy aftertaste. If this is what fashion models ate, sign me up please!
The Banofee milkshake was almost as would be expected but I think I tasted some Lotus biscuit in there somewhere. Cheeky move, right? The Passion Fruit Mojito was made of muddled lime, ginger and fresh mint mixed with passion fruit bits and ice, which was then topped with sparkling water. The ginger was what made this drink work but I did wish they had added a bit more passion fruit in there. It was also quite limited in quantity but I figured that’s how much fashion models are supposed to consume so I pretended to be really happy with it. Next time, I may just stick to the diet coke.
So, my final thoughts are that yes maybe fashion brands can operate restaurants and perhaps their natural creativity may help them in coming up with some brilliant dishes at times. They are probably a lot better at making salads then they are at making burgers but when they do make a burger, it will be like an edible work of art. I also realized that fashion types don’t necessarily starve themselves to lose weight…..and neither should you.
Imagine my awkwardness when a friend visiting from abroad wanted me to suggest an Emirati restaurant which served authentic Emirati food and I couldn’t even come up with one name. It was actually quiet embarrassing, especially with me being a food blogger and all. “Where should I send him”, I thought. A shawarma restaurant maybe. No that was Syrian, right? How about a hummus restaurant? That was way too Lebanese.
Hence began my quest for an Emirati restaurant which I could recommend to others and after a couple of misses I eventually ended up at Milas.
Dubai Mall is probably the last place I would go to for a meal. There is nothing wrong with it! It is the first place I take my guests from overseas to show them what ‘My Dubai’ is all about and it has almost every type of restaurant serving almost every type of cuisine. It’s just that I’m a bit averse to braving traffic jams and hordes of tourists just to get a meal.
Luckily, Milas restaurant in Dubai mall is not anywhere near the mad crowds. It is in the Village precinct, a sunlit, indoors area which is an attraction by itself because of its open-air streetscape. The tree-lined walkways and fountains are reminiscent of a European street with cafes and restaurants all providing street side seating.
We were a huge party so we ordered a little bit of everything but there are 3 items on the menu which we could just not have enough of. One was the Chicken Lalmaas and the other two were the Hunter’s Lamb Leg and Lamb Biryani.
The chicken Lalmaas was nothing like anything I had ever had before in my life. Imagine chunks of chicken in a tomato gravy resting on a bed of puffed wheat, pomegranate, cashews and tiny bits of avocado. Now imagine the most amazing smoky flavor binding everything together. Nothing too intense. Just enough to compliment the freshness of the pomegranate seeds and leave you wondering “what the hell just happened in my mouth?!”
The Hunter’s lamb leg had been slow cooked for hours before it got to our table. The meat was so tender that it fell of the bone as soon as you touched it but it held on, maintaining decorum until the last moment. It was almost as if it was doing its part in keeping the presentation intact but was forced to disintegrate upon the slightest touch. The juicy meat was layered with a chunky tomato gravy which was amazing because all we had to do was take some pita, smother a little melted lamb on it and voila! We held in our hands what was probably one of the tastiest lamb
wraps, on this side of the desert.
The lamb biryani was a complete shocker for everybody and we almost didn’t order it. I honestly didn’t expect it to be anything at all but since I do happen to be the original Biryani Ninja, it is sometimes out of my control. Whenever I see the words ‘Biryani’ written on a menu, my ninja senses take control and I inadvertently end up ordering it.
Most of the times it is a complete disaster but luckily for everyone at our table, this time was different. This was not the ‘Dum’ Biryani you get at Indian and Pakistani restaurants or the Stir Fry type thing you get at Brit Asian restaurants. This was a creamy lamb gravy layered on top of aromatic rice. It was made of choice lamb meat that had been cooked to perfection in Arabic spices. Its tantalizing flavor had infused deep into the rice. It was so unique and so good that the Milas lamb biryani has now officially made it to my Top 11 Biryanis in Dubai list.
There is one last thing I absolutely have to mention here. Whatever you do and wherever you eat at the Dubai Mall when you visit next time, please do take some time out to head down to Milas and try the Fiery Date Margarita. This is the most unbelievable drink I have had since I discovered the salted caramel shake somewhere. It basically uses the same principle of shocking your taste buds by combining salt and sugar. Except this takes it up a notch by combining sweet Arabic dates with hot Mexican chili. It does not just shock and awe your taste buds but this ice blended drink creates a sensory overload that you recover from only once the brain freeze kicks in. This experience must be at par with the feeling you get when you are speed skiing down a slope at 200 km/h with Solumun’s ‘I want to party’ remix blasting on your Beats headphones. I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.
Ibn Batuta mall was not the kind of place you would specifically go to for a meal. If you were in the mall doing your groceries or whatever, sure why not. At least that is what is what it used to be for me, until recently.
Please don’t get me wrong, It’s not that they ever had a shortage of options. The Batuta restaurants have a rich variety of cuisines on offer but still seems like more of a place you visit primarily to shop. If I want to eat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, I would rather go to the Marina or JLT but if the place absolutely has to be in a mall, it would probably be the Marina mall. The most probable reason for that may be – the view.
That is how Dubai has spoilt us. If it doesn’t offer a view of the water, a park or a beautiful skyscraper, it doesn’t seem that attractive. If it has none of those, the least we have come to expect is a terrace where we can enjoy this beautiful weather or at least some sunlight coming in from panoramic windows overlooking the city. I have become so used to the Dubai life that places without windows or a view make me feel claustrophobic.
How you may wonder has Ibn Batuta Mall become one of my favorite dining out destinations in Dubai? It’s because I have discovered the outdoor dining area which I never knew about earlier. Located at the China court, this is like a an oasis of fun and festivity in the middle of your mundane grocery trip. There are no extra ordinary views of the city or the water but the fact that you can enjoy al fresco dining in a bustling square surrounded by busy restaurants serving everything from Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Lebanese was enough to arouse my curiosity.
There were a couple of restaurants that seemed interesting but the one we decided to eat at that day was ‘Soy’. One of the reasons we decided to eat there was because it seemed to be looking down at the all the other restaurants! No seriously, the patio outside Soy was elevated 2 to 3 feet higher than the other restaurants around it. It seemed like the best vantage point for people watching which is our 2nd most favorite thing to do at a restaurant. Yes we are weird like that!
After seating ourselves, I quickly went through the online reviews. Food seemed to be rated higher with a couple of misses here and there but the service seemed appalling. “Good afternoon Sir!” said our waiter, just as we were wondering about the kind of mess I may have got us into. “How are you doing today?” he said with a smile while placing the menus in front of us. “We are fine, thank you!” we said in unison, feeling a little embarrassed for forming an opinion which clearly did not seem to be right.
We ordered the diced chicken with cashew nuts and snow peas along with the crispy beef with shredded bell papers and some brown rice. I will get to the food in a bit but please allow me to say that the fermented black bean chili sauce which accompanied the prawn crackers was the best thing that happened to me that day. It had a course texture, fiery kick and tangy aftertaste so unique that I do not remember the last time I enjoyed a condiment or sauce that much.
We have a habit of ordering the chicken with cashew nut at every Chinese and Thai place we got to. We have been at it for so long and have tried so many different renditions of the dish that we consider ourselves to be specialists of sorts. This particular dish was unique because we never tried it with snow peas before. I expected the peas to come out nice and juicy dotting the plate here and there but there were no peas to be seen. What it did have was whole baby peapods that looked a bit like edamame beans but tasted exactly like peas. The dish was closer to real Chinese than Indo-Chinese but we did not mind that a bit. There were no overwhelming flavors except for those of the lightly salted chicken and cashew gravy along with baby peas. Uniquely different but definitely a winner.
The magic ingredient in the crispy beef was the shredded bell pepper. It added a soft texture to the hard and chewy beef. When I say chewy I do not mean rubbery. It was still crisp and crackled upon first bite but took a while to chew after that. The sweetness of the bell pepper strips accompanied the beef like they were made for each other.
We weren’t too happy with our cocktails. The Mojito was a bit too sweet and the Pina Colada had a bit too much froth and they were both about 100ml short of the drinkable parts. Overall however, our experience was very good. We enjoyed the sun and al-fresco seating and there were lots of interesting people all around. The food was a 7 out of 10 and the service was good enough to make us go back for more.
I am a huge Asha Bhosle fan, I am. Yes, I may have only hard a few of her songs but the ones that I have heard (four to be precise) are in my opinion some of the best Hindi songs ever produced.
The first AB song I heard was ‘zara sa jhoom lun main’ from Dilwalay Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995. It was the first Bollywood film that I watched more than once. I remember thinking that the singer could be slightly older if not 16 like me. Little did I know that she was 62 at the time.
The respect I have for this woman is huge. First, as one of the greatest Hindi singers of all time and then as an entrepreneur and business woman. She broke stereotypes and created record breaking hits but also managed to turn her lifelong love of food into a flourishing business. With branches in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Birmingham and Manchester, she quite literally seems to have taken the world by storm. Like many other great success stories however, Asha’s the restaurant can trace its origins back to Dubai.
To be honest, I have been to Ashas twice before and the food really wasn’t all that special. I returned this time because a couple of people had asked me if it was a good Indian restaurant and I didn’t want to base my answer on past experience.
Before I get to the food, let me say that I felt a bit warm and fuzzy whilst going through the menu. There were personal notes and anecdotes sprinkled throughout which explained Asha Jee’s inspiration for various dishes or took us back to where she had first tried a particular recipe. Personal touches like that might be the reason behind the restaurant’s exponential growth despite serving ordinary fare at extraordinary prices.
We ordered the Lamb Curry Awadh (classic lamb curry), Dhaniya Murgh (coriander chicken), Bhindi do Piaza (Okra cooked with cumin – seasoned with bishop seeds) and the Kebab Sultanpuri (pan fried spiced mint lamb cutlets). Our waiter asked us if we would like the food to be spicy and we said ‘Yes Please!’ in unison. I remember saying, make the lamb ‘extra, extra spicy please’, to which our waiter gave a reluctant nod of approval. He told us the waiting time was 25 minutes which made me very excited because it meant the food would be prepared freshly on site and not driven down from some central kitchen as someone had suggested to me earlier.
So we started with the very presentable and geometric appetizers (cone shaped poppadums) and colorful chutneys. I loaded a poppadum with what looked like a mango chutney and some mint sauce expecting an explosion of sweet and spicy filling but sadly, all I could feel was the different textures of the mango, the salted papad and the mint sauce. I’m not making this up – there was absolutely no taste at all. The achar (pickled mango) was however full of flavor and God knows we shoved plenty of that down our throats. We were hungry so we shut up and polished the plates clean, mango and all.
The lamb curry was a bit bland but the quality of the meat was good and the curry was not watery. It did have a distinct Awadhi flavor and despite not being a contender for the ‘best curry in the world’, it did the job it was supposed to do and I wouldn’t mind having it for lunch again.
The Sultanpuri Kebabs were the most creative bit of our order. The pan-fried lamb cutlets were stuffed with chopped onions and mint leaves and there was also a surprise filling of cheese in them! This was not bland like the lamb curry and was hands down the best dish of the evening. Despite It costing 70 AED for 3 little cutlets, it could be the only reason I ever return to Asha Jee’s restaurant again (other than satisfying my fan boy cravings of course).
It was pretty much downhill after that. I expected the coriander chicken to be some chicken laid down on a bed of coriander leaves or at least garnished generously with coriander and I expected it to be a bit spicy like we had requested multiple times. It was instead an over cooked, rubbery (once frozen) chicken floating in yellow cashew paste with no sign of a green leaf for miles. They did remember to add something sweet to it though (it could have jaggery). Needless to say, we could all brave not more than one bite of this delicacy.
The bhindi do piazza was once again bland. It was so bland that I wished they would have added some jaggery to it as well. Any kind of flavour would have been nice – sweet, sour, spicy or whatever.
One thing that I have to give credit for is that we asked for some parathas midway, after we unexpectedly ran out of nans and the waiter remembered to ask us if we wanted wheat or white flour parathas. This was the coolest thing ever because wheat parathas have such a home cooked feel to them. Also, it took about 4 minutes for us to get piping hot parathas after placing the order which was appreciable. So even though all nans and parathas were 14 AED a pop (I can get a whole paratha kebab roll with cheese down in Barsha for that much but that wouldn’t have the blessings of a living legend) they seemed worth that at the time.
Would I go back? I’m not too sure. Maybe not for the food or the service but definitely for the whole vibe and the atmosphere. After all, everyone does need a bit of Asha in their lives. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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. 😉
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.