Tribes – Almost African.

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.

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Beef Short Ribs at TRIBES

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.

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Madagascar chicken at TRIBES

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.

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African percussion instruments at TRIBES

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

GF Ferre chocolate bar.

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.

Milas – An Emirati feast.

View my food journey on Zomato!

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.

Chicken Lalmaas at Milas

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.

Spicy Date Margarita at Milas

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.

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

Al Fresco dining at SOY, Ibn Batuta

View my food journey on Zomato!

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.

Chicken cashew nut at Soy

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.

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

Asha’s

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. 😉

Asha's 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.

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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.

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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.

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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