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.

A rediscovery of Royal culinary secrets at India Palace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iftar at Lapita Hotel, Dubai Parks and Resorts.

View my food journey on Zomato!

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

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

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

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

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

Iftar at Lapita
There were plenty of salads to go around

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

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

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

Saj at the Lapita Iftar
The live Saj station

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Noodle House. Dubai’s homegrown international chain.

If you are a fan of Asian food and have been in Dubai long enough, you must have dined at one of the Noodle House restaurants at some point in your life. If you are a fan of Asian Food and were living in or visiting Lahore some time between 2006 and 2009, chances are that you would have either dined at Noodle House Lahore or would have heard someone raving about how wonderfully authentic the Wasabi prawns were. Unfortunately, that is a thing of the past because Noodle House Lahore is no more. The restaurant decided to shut down their operation some years ago.

So when our young friend, Lahore’s design prodigy Hamza Bokhari was in town fresh on the heels of his London Fashion Week showcase, we thought to ourselves, “Where best to take him out than to a restaurant he used to love but can’t get any more of in Lahore?” So that ladies and gents is how we ended up at the Noodle House for the umpteenth time.

We picked the Madinat Jumeirah location and did the customary Souq Madinat stroll before arriving unannounced. After being greeted with the same big smiles we have grown accustomed to we were immediately ushered to our favorite corner of the restaurant. Our waitress patiently answered all our questions before handing us along with the usual order pad, a pictorial menu which I had not seen earlier. I love the order pad because it comes with a cool pen that you use to put a check next to the items you want and then hand it over to your server. It is an efficient process and was one of the unique things about Noodle House. They probably had to come up with a new menu with pictures of food on it because A) Their customers do not have the brain power anymore to imagine what a Peking Duck would look like. B) Their customers enjoy looking at pictures. C) Their customers cannot read. Whatever the case may be, the old order pad is also available and you can order off either of the two.

The lights were bright enough to ensure we could see each others faces and discuss the neck tattoo of the young lady on the table next to ours (Yes I have told you before, we are weird like that). They were also dim enough to act as a conduit between all the different people on all the different tables who seemed to be intimately connected through their love of good food. The background music was loud enough to suppress any sounds from the open kitchen yet low enough to allow us to have a conversation. Mixed with the low rumble of chatter from all the other tables, it created a unique soundtrack to our Asian meal.

The first time I ordered the Thai chicken with cashew nuts was because it had 3 little chilli peppers next to it on the menu. I do sometimes like to burn my mouth till the taste buds go numb but after all the beef Vindaloos, Sombrero chilli bean bombs and Thai chilli papaya salad that I have devoured in my lifetime, this was in my opinion, mildly spiced. A word of caution though; never ever use my judgement on chilli to form your opinion on whether a dish is too hot or not. Everyone has a different threshold for handling chilli and mine is just off the charts by all standards. Having said that, I would also like to say that there is a whole melange of flavors in the dish and the chilli is just one element. All of them compliment each other to create the unmistakably unique Noodle House taste. So, I strongly recommend you sample the cashew nut chicken there at least once while you live in Dubai.

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The Chicken cashew nut is always a part of my order at The Noodle House

We also ordered the Szechuan crispy beef, the wok fried chili prawns & calamari and the Singapore Noodles. Like the cashew nut chicken, the crispy beef and wok fried prawns included a serving of steamed rice. The Singapore noodles were basically rice vermicelli noodles tossed with some chicken, prawns and vegetables. It was the only dish that needed some extra soy sauce to enhance the flavor. The wok fried chilli prawns and calamari were lightly spiced but the chilli did not overpower the taste of the seafood. It was lightly sauteed so the prawns were less rubbery and more creamy. That along with the chewy calamari and steamed rice created a medley of different textures in your mouth.

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Singapore Noodles at The Noodle House

The crispy beef was voted as everyone’s favourite dish of the evening because it was essentially 3 dishes rolled into one. Such experimentation can often result in disaster but this dish was an absolute delight and none of us could stop raving about it. The texture of the dish was that of a dry fried Chinese beef, the unmistakable aroma was like a lemongrass beef stir fry and the final kick was delivered by the Schezwan sauce.

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The Crispy Beef is my new favourite dish at The Noodle House

You never know what life might throw at you next. Before you move on to greener pastures or your time in Dubai comes to an end, if you have not done so yet please do head down to the Noodle House and try the Crispy Szechuan beef and the Chicken cashew nut. This is a home grown Dubai restaurant that has branched out to Doha, Jeddah, Cyprus, Moscow and for a while to Lahore. Unless your next stop is one of these cities, you may never again get a chance to sample 3 recipes being rolled into one.

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The wok fried chilly prawns and calamari

The Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Best Shawarma in Dubai. The official top 11.

I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm!

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) IKEA. Chicken Shawarma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) YaSalam, JLT. Superfood Shawarma – 25 AED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Mallah Shawarma. Photo: www.gulfnews.com

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

Moti Roti. Pakistan’s soul kitchen.

It was 2012 and Dubai had just about recovered from the recession. Companies had started hiring and property developers were advertising their projects with newfound fervor and zeal. Tahir Shah had just bid farewell to his corporate job and had set out on his own to answer the most pertinent lunch hour question in Dubai, ‘What do I eat today’?

I didn’t even realise this was such a big problem until Tahir explained it to me. “That precious lunch hour of yours is fleeting in the day. A day filled with stuffy slow elevator rides, parking spot hunting, meetings about meeting, sharing roads with nutjob drivers etc. It’s that one chance you get at a semblance of ‘me time’. Our dignity slips in between the keyboards with the crumbs from the crummy desk-lunch sandwich. This is the time which is supposed to be our breather, to gossip with friends” he said. Despite Dubai being one of the most saturated restaurant markets in the world, there were hardly any places where you could get a healthy meal, really fast.

This was clearly a man on a mission and never had I before seen someone who could spell out Dubai’s lunch hour woes with such precision but he was not just an analyst. He was also a strategist. He had identified a gap in the market and knew exactly where to find the solution. He turned to the one source that he could absolutely trust with his life. The same place where we have all gone to as kids when we were confused, lonely, happy, excited, jubilant, ecstatic or hungry. The one place which had never let any of us down. Tahir went to his mother’s kitchen.

So armed with his mother’s recipes and under her guidance, Tahir Shah set about providing fast gourmet lunches to Dubai’s corporate soldiers. I first discovered Tahir and his ‘Moti ‘Roti’ concept at a pop up in a Media City supermarket. I was intrigued because these guys had the audacity to sell roti (wholemeal flatbread) wraps instead of paratha (fried flour bread) wraps or rolls.

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Moti Roti wholewheat pizzas
Only a discerning eye would be able to differentiate between the two but paratha rolls are more popular because like all things fried in oil, they are considered to be of a better taste albeit unhealthy. A notion that I disagree with and something that Moti Roti has proved wrong time and again. As long as the filling is good (think lightly spiced free range chicken, simmered in mum’s secret masala) and the bread is freshly made from stone ground wheat, roti rolls outclass paratha rolls in every way possible. If you are not really into bread however, the same filling is served with brown pilau rice or even on a bed of greens.

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Okra fries
Since then, Moti Roti has a come a long way. From Dubai street nights to organic farmer’s markets, their pop ups started showing up all over Dubai. The business gradually grew to include a food truck and they have eventually set up a little take away and delivery shop in JLT (Cluster J). Like the food, the growth has been completely organic and as I stepped into their new shop last night, It gave me great pleasure to see that mom’s recipes had come full circle. After setting up pop ups all over Dubai, Moti Roti finally has a place to call home.

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Moti Roti skinny lassi
I realized while going through their brand new menu, that like her son, Tahir’s mom has also been quiet busy herself. While traditional Pakistani spices and recipes are at the heart of the operation, her ground breaking ‘okra fries’ and her innovative whole wheat, stone baked Punjabi pizzas may once again revolutionise the gourmet fast food market – the 2nd time since she had done it first with her ‘Moti Rotis’ in 2012.

Moti Roti Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jones the grocer and his factory.

Don’t be fooled by the name. This is not some random bloke selling cabbages and cauliflower at the corner of your street. This is a kitchen factory with a storefront that could humble a department store and a menu that updates faster than Taylor Swift’s boyfriend list. This is a super restaurant if there is ever such a thing; I’m still not sure who Jones is though, neither were any of the 5 waiters I asked – I think it was his day off.

I loved the open concept floor plan and the huge windows which were letting in copious amounts of light. There was so much activity around that it almost felt like an airport departure lounge with some people grabbing a bite before a flight, some picking up last minute duty free and others talking as if they had another 10 hours to kill.

All the cool kids seemed to be having breakfast (despite it being 1 pm). I would have as well if only had I not done the boiled egg ritual that morning. While I curiously tried to decipher the ingredients of what seemed like eggs on toast on the table 3 inches next to mine (I am creepy like that), Mishal seemed to be eyeing a gentleman who was struggling with his eggs benedict. Anyway, upon agreeing to return for breakfast later since it seemed to be the ‘in’ thing to do, Mishal ordered the seared Chilean sea bass with soba noodles and I went for the grilled Atlantic salmon on homemade babaganoush.

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I will get to the food in a bit but first I have to tell you of the most spectacular discovery we made that day. The drinks menu was a bit confusing and our poor waiter could not answer any of my questions. First of all, nobody knew what a ‘fever tree’ was. I asked to see someone who would know since it came in 6 flavours and my wife was about to order one but apparently the only person who could answer that question was not available (could have been Jones himself). Mishal being the adventurous soul that she is still went ahead and asked for an elderflower tonic fever tree anyway but settled for a bitter lemon fever tree later since the former was out of stock. (I think Fever Tree is just the name of the brand but somebody please tell the waiters that)

I was fascinated by a drink that was listed in the sparkling organic juice section. Never had I in my life been presented with the opportunity to sample organic cola juice straight from the mountains of Kilimanjaro. Where the cola fruit was plucked out of mother nature’s bosom and flown to this Dubai super factory in a chartered airplane so that it could be lovingly disassembled to separate the juice from the pod. They must be doing huge volumes though, how else could they justify selling something so rare, precious and ‘organic’ for AED21 per 250 ml bottle.

Anyway, now on to the food. I can safely say that my grilled salmon  was among the best I have ever had. It is amazing how seafood tastes different when it is fresh (or as fresh as it could possibly be after travelling 12000 odd kms from the Atlantic Ocean to Safa). There was a generous slab of fresh salmon that was grilled to perfection on my plate but I couldn’t help noticing Mishal’s sea bass which was served in a bowl that could also have been used to serve ramen but instead came with the most good looking pan seared sea bass that was covered with sesame seeds and laid on a bed of seaweed and bok choy drenched in yuzu ponzu.

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The crunch of the thin salmon skin was the perfect compliment to it’s creamy flesh and it seemed to be the only thing that held the fish from immediately melting in my mouth. That along with the feta and olive tomato salad ensured that we kept conversation to a minimum while I devoured the fish.

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The sea bass however is what we couldn’t stop talking about that evening and the morning after. The nori (seaweed) added a smoky aroma to the dish while the yozu ponzu dressing added a savory, sweet and citrusy zest to it. The cashews seemed to be strategically placed in the bowl to clean the palate and prepare for the next flavor. All this sat atop aromatic soba noodles and every single bite was a melange of different flavors and textures. The sea bass itself might have been from South America but the dish itself was undoubtedly from the land of the rising sun.

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For dessert we had the salted caramel tart which was the best way to end the meal because our taste buds kept jumping between sugar and salt. We also had the chocolate cheesecake which reiterated the notion that fresh good quality ingredients are the difference between a good and a supercaligragillisticexpiaidocius meal.

PS That cola juice….

Yasir Chaudhry.

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Jones The Grocer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Best Burger in Dubai. The official top 11.

Revised: 2nd Feb 2018.

Just like the wheel can not be reinvented, a burger can’t be made to be elitist or aristocratic. It is either a burger or it isn’t. Sure you can stick a toothpick in the middle of the bun and add onion marmalade instead of onion rings but that wont take away from the fact that you would still be better off eating it with your hands and regardless of how you do eat it; things could get messy.

While hunting down the best burgers in Dubai for this article, we ate buns and beef patties every day for a whole month. Not only did we get to try some cool new restaurants but also went back to a place I used to frequent 18 years ago!

11) Johnny Rockets, multiple locations. The Original. AED 39.

Johnny Rockets. www.instagram.com

 It looked like a roadside diner in Jumeirah but this was the only ‘fancy’ burger joint I knew of back in 1998. They have since modified their menu but ‘The Original’ burger remains unchanged. This was the burger that opened my mind up to a world where it was worth waiting for a burger that took longer than 4 minutes to prepare. It was the burger that first demonstrated the affects of a good cheddar on prime beef, it was the burger that made going to a burger joint cool. For me, it was a part of growing up in Dubai and thankfully, it remains just as good now as it was back then.

TIP: Please do order the cherry coke.

10) Five Guys, multiple locations. Cheese Burger AED 42.

Five Guys. Photo: http://www.dreamnlearn.com.br/

Their cheese burger is the most awarded burger in Vegas and it is definitely one of the best in Dubai. You get free peanuts while you wait for your order and there is a sign on the wall that tells you exactly where the potatoes being used on that day were grown.

You have the freedom to add whatever toppings (you must try the mushroom) you want and you essentially end up building your own burger. The size of the meat patty was small but they made up for it by adding 2 instead of 1, so you still get a mouthful in every bite. They used 2 slices of good old fashioned American cheddar (yes it was messy) that did the job well and the skin on spicy french fries were way up there on the potato charts.

09) L’eto Cafe, multiple locations. California Burger. AED 110.

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Healthy, basic and world class. This consisted of avocado slices on a thick beef patty placed on a bed of greens resting on a toasted bun. The other half of this ‘open’ burger was layered with tomato salsa which had pomegranate seeds mixed into it. It was like a Sicilian love affair in Tehran, or LA – depending on what side you ate first. We were not in any of those cities though. We were in the only city that could be all of those cities and more; a place that is a melting pot of cultures with a distinct identity of its own. We were in Dubai and this burger was the definitive Dubai Burger.

Click Here for the full L’eto Cafe Review

 

 

08) Gourmet Burger Kitchen, multiple locations. Jalapeno Overload AED 39.

GBK. Photo: http://www.crummbs.co.uk

Excellent quality beef patty in a freshly baked bun with all the bells and whistles you could expect in a winning burger. Definitely one of the best in Dubai and may have been higher on my list only if it were a bit messier! There were moments when I could taste the chilli mayo and then there would be a dry patch with nothing but meat all around. A fried or a pickled jalapeno (it had both kinds) here and there was like an oasis of flavor in a desert of meat. I guess that is how they want to position themselves, as purveyors of squeaky clean gourmet burgers – no drips intended.

7) Sugar Factory, La Mer Beach. Rainbow Sliders 99 AED

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Photo: Yasir Chaudhry

These little burgers were so tasty, I was forced to edit this annual list a couple of months before it was up for a refresh. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely the cutest things on this list but that is not the only reason they are up here. They were punching way above their weight in the taste category as well.

The 5 multi coloured mini buns were stuffed with a grilled Angus beef patty and melted cheddar. Along with lettuce and tomato, they was smothered in a secret sauce and my personal favorite – caramelized onions. Now the thing with sliders is that there is relatively little room to add stuff so you’ve got to choose your ingredients carefully. The most important ingredient of course, is the meat and I am happy to report that the thick Angus patty in these sliders would receive a rating of ‘fantastic’ from any burger connoisseur.

The secret sauce (whatever it was) seemed to work wonders and the crispy crunch of the caramelised onions provided a great finishing touch.

Click here to read the complete  Sugar Factory review.
06) Mooyah, opposite Safa Park. Moohyah Style 39 AED.

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Photo: http://www.mooyah.com

Not many people are talking about it and I do not recall this being ranked as one of the best burger joints in Dubai before. Tucked away in the alleys of Jumeirah, this is the one place that took me by surprise. If you still haven’t been, I suggest you visit this little restaurant opposite Safa Park. I promise you will not be disappointed .

They use high quality beef and real American cheddar. The good thing is that the burger is made in front of your eyes and you could have it kept medium or rare. The  secret Mooyah sauce kills it with the grilled onions and I suggest you pair it with sweet potato fries.

TIP: Wash your burger down with milk shake.

5) Burger Fuel, multiple locations. Hot Rod. AED 36.

Burger Fuel. Photo: http://www.nzte.gov.nz

If you are a meat lover who can tell the difference between good and excellent beef, this may be the burger for you. Burger Fuel uses 100% pure grass fed beef ‘smashed’ to order with wholemeal, sugar free, dairy free artisan buns and naturally aged, batch brewed tomato relish. Tempted?
They are also behind one of the most important breakthroughs in cutting edge burger technology known simply as, ‘The Doofer’. It is essentially a cardboard pocket that wraps around your burger so you can enjoy all that messiness without getting your hands dirty. My favourite here is the Hot Rod which is basically some chilli salsa added to the awesome beef patty and tomato relish along with some melted cheddar.

4) The Counter, multiple locations. Build your own AED 49.

The Counter. Photo: http://www.oliie.neglerio.com

Sauces, condiments and fancy pickles (The Counter has enough of those too) can go a long way in deciding the ultimate fate of a burger but the one thing that turns a normal burger into a culinary treat is the meat. The folks behind the ‘The Counter’ say they use hormone and antibiotic free meat. While it is hard to verify something like that, I would like to believe it because you can taste the difference in every bite. Besides, I knew I was in the right place from the moment I laid my eyes on that burger because the meat patty was bigger than the bun and it still looked pretty!

You can build your own burger here by ticking the desired ingredients on a little chart. Customization options include type of bread (or you can just have the burger in a bowl), size of patty (up to one pound), type of cheese (10 options) and every single topping in the world that you could imagine (including a sunny side up egg).

What is fascinating though is that no matter how many toppings or sauces you add, they will figure out a way to make the burger good looking and ‘clean’. I think they reduce the actual quantity of toppings but what that essentially means is that no matter what you do, it is hard to get this burger to be messy. I found that to be a bit offensive but it may work for you if all you wanted to taste was the excellent meat. I personally like a bit of sauce and additional flavor in my burger. On nights that I do want to eat clean, I just go ahead a grab a steak.

TIP: Please order the onion rings. Unlike anywhere else I have seen, they do actually look like onion rings (and taste great too).

3) Elevation Burger. The Elevation Burger. AED 39.

Elevation Burger. Photo: http://www.muslimobserver.com

Elevation burger has been quiet the rage since the day they first opened. I think it was party due to the fact that they offered grass fed, free range, organic beef which was of a significantly higher quality then what most people were used to at that time. It was also partly because people could now customize their burgers and make greasy meat towers by adding as many patties as they wished.

Here was a company that cared about the environment, empowered you to choose the toppings you wanted and used premium cuts of freshly ground organic beef; it was a winning formula that still works.

TIP: If you choose to have the Elevation Burger here (highly recommended), please do tell them to dial up the Elevation sauce and don’t forget to add jalapenos for a fiery little kick and caramelized onions for that final finishing crunch.

02) Shake Shack, multiple locations. Cheddar Shack. AED 58.

Shake Shack. Photo: http://www.foodandtravel.mx

What were the cattle fed on? How long did it take for the meat to reach from farm to kitchen? How long ago was the meat ground? What are the cuts being used in the burger? These are all questions that might go through the mind of a meat connoisseur as he carefully chews on his Cheddar Shack. If however, you are a burger obliterator like me – the only questions going through your mind would be the reason the burger is so small and whether you should order another.

The bun is kind of funny (did I mention small), the patty is disproportionate, there are no fancy ingredients and the condiments are pretty basic but none of that matters. Shake Shack is not too big on looks or side shows but they do one thing better than almost every other burger joint in Dubai; they deliver the burger you dream of at night. Each bite of this burger is smooth and buttery and as you chew on your food, you develop an attachment to it. You wish the moment could be frozen in time and that you could be with each other forever, you and your burger. You want to keep chewing and wish there was a way to extend the moment but before you know it, it slides down your throat leaving only a memory that will stay with you forever.

TIP: Order 2 burgers at a time so you don’t have to queue again for the 2nd.

01) Black Tap, Madinat Jumeirah. Mexico City Burger. AED 95.

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Black Tap. Photo: Yasir Chaudhry

My friend G says that everything tastes good after a couple of Stellas so some may consider it unfair to rank a licenced venue alongside a roadside diner but I disagree because all I had at Black Tap was a burger, sweet potato fries and a shake. If you saw me singing along to the music, it was A) the sugar rush and B) because I had not heard Stephen Tyler telling people to walk that way since 1999.

I had decided to not take any pictures for this article simply because I forgot to or didn’t have my camera at a couple of the restaurants I visited. SO to be fair to everyone, I decided to get one picture each from their websites, Instagram feeds or other websites (with credits of course). That was working fine until I went to Black Tap. Once in a while, there comes along a burger joint that just makes you throw all your rules out of the window.

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Black Tap serves slurpable works of art in a milkshake glass that would not be too out of place at Art Dubai. There were a couple that could easily have given the Abraaj art finalists a pretty hard time but this article is not about the restaurant, the art or about the milkshakes. Neither is it about Stephen Tyler. It is about the burger and that is precisely what has landed Black Tap the number 1 spot on this list. In my opinion, the Mexico City burger from Black Tap is the best burger in Dubai.

I have no doubt that the quality of meat at The Counter, Elevation, Shake Shack and Black Tap is very close to each other if not similar. What sets them apart is the winning combination of sauce, cheese, bread and pickles. How much is too much? Reduce it and it may be too little. The trick is to excite your taste buds to the point where they take over your senses and imprint on the brain and for that the burger needs to stand out but it also needs to have a familiar taste; so it can gently stroke the fuzzy memories you associate with a great burger. The folks at Black Tap have got that all figured out.

The Mexico City burger comes with a prime beef patty, pickled jalapenos, chipotle mayo and crunchy onion rings and everything goes well together but that is just half of what makes this a great burger. The only ingredients on the bun are the cheese, jalapenos, meat and the sauce. Everything else, like the crisp lettuce, gherkin and the gigantic onion ring are provided on the side. So you eat what you want when you want it. It is the kind of control that is unprecedented in the burger world. You end up controlling the crunch, the smoothness and the flavor because you can bite into different ingredients at different times. It also means that nobody can force you to eat vegetables every time you go out for a burger.

TIP: Please call in ahead unless you do not mind waiting for up to 60 minutes for a table.

Black Tap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato