Classy dining for regular folk @ Jamie’s Pizzeria

I don’t really do Michelin stars any more. It was a phase and it was good while it lasted but it is all over now. No celebrity chefs either, thank you very much. I am happiest when dining out on the streets or comparing one shawarma to the other (though I do sneak in a cheeky brunch whenever I can!) So, when asked to review Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, I wasn’t really sure why!   

As we walked into the restaurant, I began to understand why they may have asked me to review it. This was a far cry from the fancy, Michelin starred, award winning, celebrity chef restaurant I was expecting. It had a classy roadside diner feel; the kind of place that would take your jacket, ask you how you were doing and seat you at your preferred table while still serving breakfast, chicken wings and pizza. This was a wonderful world of contrasts and I was already very excited.   

We ordered the Mushroom Fritti, Chilli Chicken wings, Chicken Ala Diavola Pizza and Lemon Herb Chicken. The Mushroom Fritti was basically a mushroom tempura (if there is such a thing) and was my least favourite dish of the day. Every other dish was good enough for me to go back to this place to have just that.  

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Fahad from Pakistan has been tossing pizzas at Jamie Oliver’s for a year and a half

The free range Chilli Chicken Wings were supposed to be sticky after being tossed in what was called a spicy freak sauce so I asked if I could have the sauce on the side and use it as a dip. I did not expect them to agree because that would essentially change the whole concept and they would have no control over the amount of sauce and flavour doused on to the wings. To my surprise, they agreed. Such is the effect of a customer centric attitude that you are willing to take risks and bend the rules a little bit. It was a gamble that definitely paid off. One thought going through my mind as I dipped the little drumsticks into the spicy freak sauce was that the only way to explain how unbelievably addictive it was, is to bring my foodie friends back to this place.  

Freaky chicken wings at Jamie Oliver’s

I was intrigued, yet apprehensive of the Lemon Herbed Chicken. I don’t know why but for some reason I feared it may have been under cooked. I think it had something to do with a similar sounding dish which I had tried to eat a week prior to that day in Baku. To my relief, this chicken was neither under cooked and rubbery nor had it been cooked to oblivion and was succulent and tender with a lemon flavoured layer of skin on top. The first thing I did when I got back home was to google the recipe. No, I wasn’t trying to save myself a trip back to the restaurant. I was just curious on how a dish with such basic ingredients could taste so good.

Lemon Chicken at Jamie Oliver’s

It turns out, all you need to create the most awesome chicken dish were a few fresh basil leaves, a couple of rosemary sprigs, some garlic, your choice of veggies and a large lemon. It is what you do with these ingredients that magically transforms this into a signature Jamie Oliver dish. Don’t google it yet. Go and try the real thing first; just so you know what it is supposed to taste like.  

Chicken Ala Diavola at Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria

Last but not least, the Chicken Ala Diavola Pizza because this was after all a pizzeria, right? I was pleased to be offered a choice between whole grain and sourdough. Jamie is the poster boy healthy eating in the UK so it had to be so. I opted for the whole grain option of course because it would help to ease my elevated guilt after consuming 300 grams of animal fat smothered onto a carbohydrate base. I did not expect it be as good as a normal pizza because let’s face it, who wants a whole wheat pizza, right? Me, that’s who. After this day, I am not sure if I want to go back to a normal pizza base. The whole wheat dough lent a unique, earthy flavour to the pizza while carrying half the calories of a sourdough base. It complimented the chilli and the mint and yoghurt sauce to create a wonderful fusion between East and West. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start copying this on the streets of Naples soon; or Lahore, depending on who gets a taste of it first.  

Strawberry cheesecake at Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria
Jamie's Pizzeria by Jamie Oliver Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Legend of Teatro

Teatro- Towers Rotana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My nephew was born in the same year that Teatro first opened its doors to public. How could I ever forget that year? It was 2001 and I had freshly graduated. A young, broke meteorologist with my heart on my sleeve. Dubai was changing and so was I.

Shaikh Zayed road was the way into the future. It was a symbol of the new Dubai that was rising out of the desert. Nobody would be able to set foot on JBR for another 6 years. There was no JLT, no Business Bay and certainly no Burj Khalifa. When you said Downtown Dubai, people thought of the Fish Roundabout or Souq Naif in Deira. If you wanted to make a great impression whether on a date or a business meeting, you called ahead to book a table with a view at Teatro.

My nephew is a bit of a legend in his own right. He is the only 18-year-old who does not want to drive or own a car because it is not good for the planet. He is also the only kid I know who got into Stanford on a scholarship. We have all come a long way since then. It is amazing to witness how people evolve over time. It is also amazing to see how a business can evolve but still retain its core essence. Teatro has tweaked its menu many times over the years but remained consistent in the delivery of quality and service excellence that its customers have grown used to.

It was my absolute pleasure to get an opportunity to return to Teatro after so many years. As I walked in to the restaurant, I felt a rush of nostalgia and perhaps even a couple of déjà vu moments as the hostess walked us to our table. Expansive glass windows with views of Shaikh Zayed Road, old pictures of Hollywood stars, dark wooden tables, opulent plush seating and dimmed mood lighting – it was all still there. Teatro has managed to stand its ground when all around have given into the minimalist movement. You can hardly find any more chandeliers or a warm intimate ambience in Dubai restaurants anymore.

Teatro is a licensed multi-cuisine restaurant and truly has something to offer for everyone. It is well known for its sushi selection and for its Italian dishes. I have many favorites but I do not want to steer anyone towards a particular kind of cuisine. So, I am going to limit my recommendation to one starter and one main course; which are the Wasabi Tempura and the Lamb Shank.

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Wasabi Tempura at Teatro

The first is a platter of six, tempura battered jumbo shrimps which have a hint of wasabi seasoning. The batter gives a slightly sweet crunchy coating and the wasabi provides the soft prawns with a subtle fiery kick.

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Kashmiri Lamb Shank at Teatro 

I love a good lamb shank and have never shied away from the opportunity to order one; whenever possible. I have tasted a traditional lamb shank stew. I have had a braised lamb shank Ragu and a lamb shank with herbed mashed potatoes but Teatro is probably the only place in Dubai where you can taste a Kashmiri lamb shank. Falling of the bone, tender meat which is slowly braised with a blend of ginger, garlic, onion, fresh tomato and aromatic Kashmiri spices. This has got to be the best way to combine Eastern Cuisine with Western cooking methods and it is reason enough for me to go back to Teatro soon.

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.

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

Absolute Barbecues

This was not a steaming pot of broth on an electric flame or a few pieces of sizzling meat on a gas grill. This was a fully functional, desi kabab grill, complete with skewers and red hot coal right in the middle of our table.

I have been to a Mongolian barbecue in London where you can cook your food yourself (under supervision of course). I have heard of Japanese restaurants where you can cook your food literally on your table and I believe the Chinese Hot Pot is basically the same concept as well. Nothing however could have prepared me for what I experienced at Absolute Barbecues.

This was not a steaming pot of broth on an electric flame or a few pieces of sizzling meat on a gas grill. This was a fully functional, desi kabab grill, complete with skewers and red hot coal right in the middle of our table. They didn’t just plop the burning grill in front of us. It was placed in a groove so that only the top of the grill was visible above the table. The bottom of the grill was aesthetically concealed below the ceramic table.

Ok, so the razzmatazz and wizardry of the kabab grill was impressive but I wanted to see if the food was really as good as I had heard it was. I was told to get started at the ‘wish grill’ (a stir fry counter with a variety of meats on offer) while my tikkas and kebabs were being done. I requested for rabbit stir fry at the wish grill. Think of it like a softer version of chicken. A bit too soft for my liking so I decided to wait for my kebabs.

The rest of the food was very good but I would like to mention the barbecued pineapple and watermelon before I get to the real highlight of the evening. The watermelon was lightly seasoned with salt and the pineapple was seasoned with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and a drizzle of honey. The cayenne started at all off with a fiery kick while the caramelised honey and cinnamon followed by complimenting the tart sweetness of the fruit. This was an experience that I don’t have words to describe. All I can say is that everyone should try the grilled pineapple whenever they can.

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Grilled Pineapple at ABs

The food as I mentioned earlier was very good but the reason we had such an awesome time was because of the way we were treated by the stars of the evening, Chef Bhumi and our waiter Wahab. One of our party was allergic to cow’s milk so we asked Wahab if there was any yogurt in the marination. Before we could say Absolute Barbecues, Wahab had gone to the kitchen and was back with Chef Bhumi who without us asking agreed to prepare a special marination without yoghurt. All this happened pretty fast and was followed up by Chef Bhumi living up to his promise so we all ended up enjoying our meal without the fear of having an allergic reaction.

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Grilled watermelon at ABs

Our waiter Wahab ensured that he made eye contact every time we looked up and he kept the meats coming at the same pace as we kept going. At the end of the meal, he refused to accept a tip because apparently its against their policies. In order to provide everyone with the same standards of service, the waiters at Asolute Barbeques do not accept tips.

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Cake pops at ABs

I might not have agreed with the policy but I did respect it and I could see that it was working. Maybe the policy should be adopted industry wide. I’m not sure if it would work everywhere. I really don’t know and thankfully there was the dessert counter to take my mind off such serious issues.

AB's Absolute Barbecues Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato