Fit for a king, the ‘Friday Feast brunch’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Little Lahore – Dubai’s new post hangover breakfast joint.

The minimalist menu consisted of some pages on a wooden board. Mishal was a little disappointed because there were no pictures on it. My wife is an environmental engineer and she doesn’t really need to look at pictures to order off a menu but we just couldn’t remember going to a Pakistani or an Indian restaurant where the menu had no pictures of food on it.

Disclaimer: This review will make you hungry and you may put on a couple of pounds just by reading it.

Last week’s brunch stirred up memories of my father’s old country house and all the traditional Pakistani food I sometimes took for granted in my carefree years. One of the problems with having a vivid imagination is that you tend to dream a lot but it is even worse that you often end up remembering every little detail after waking up.

Normal people dream of fantasy worlds with super heroes, fast cars and designer clothes but I mostly dream about food. Yes it is a little weird, thank you but I can’t really help it so I have learnt to accept it; this secret love affair I have with food. So this week, I dreamt of cardamom scented halwa (a dessert made of semolina, butter and almonds) chana (chickpea) masala and piping hot puffed up puris (deep fried flaky bread) straight from the gigantic karrahi (wok) at my father’s old house.

This is Dubai however and though I would love to fly down to Lahore for a quick breakfast at Abbu’s (my dad’s) house, harsh realities of living the dream life of a salary slave dictate that such trips cannot be taken on a whim. So I ended up turning to Zomato, my best online resource for information on food and restaurants in Dubai and performed a search for ‘Halwa Puri’. One of the results that popped up was for ‘Little Lahore’ a restaurant in JLT.

In reality, there is nothing ‘little’ about Lahore or it’s population of 10 million people. It is a bustling metropolis which attracts tens of thousands of people from smaller towns and cities, all adding to it’s vast selection of flavors but there are some dishes that are undeniably Lahori and among the top 3 is the traditional Lahori nashta (breakfast) known as halwa puri.

So my quest for this traditional breakfast (nashta) took us to Little Lahore and I remember we almost had to go back out again to read the name on the sign but decided to stay as soon as we saw some photographs of famous Pakistani folk singers and cultural icons on one of the walls. This was unlike most Pakistani restaurants in Dubai. Many of the new places have adapted their interiors to their changing clientele but you may still find pictures of food on the walls reminiscent of old desi restaurants in Dubai. Little Lahore was different. Clearly somebody had taken the effort to move on with the times. The clean lines and chic design could have been out of Wallflower magazine. Had it not been for a photograph of the Badshahi (King’s) Mosque of Lahore above our heads, we would never have felt this was a Pakistani restaurant.

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Little Lahore – Not you average Desi restaurant interior
The minimalist menu consisted of some pages on a wooden board. Mishal was a little disappointed because there were no pictures on it. My wife is an environmental engineer and she doesn’t really need to look at pictures to order off a menu but we just couldn’t remember going to a Pakistani or an Indian restaurant where the menu had no pictures of food on it. Ok, Ashiana by Vineet and Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar had no pictures on the menu perhaps but restaurants owned by Michelin Starred chefs do not count.

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How’s that for a good looking menu?
There were 2 breakfast combos on the menu. One consisted of halwa (semolina and butter dessert), puri (deep fried bread), chana (chickpeas), aloo bhaji (stewed potato) and lassi (yogurt smoothie). The other came with a paratha (fried flatbread), Pakistani omelet, bhuna keema (pan roasted mince meat), achar (pickled baby mangoes) and lassi. We decided to go for one of each.

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Puffed puris, chickpeas and potatoes at Little Lahore.
The puris (puffed bread) were divine but a typical Lahori might find the chickpeas and potato to be under spiced. We were sure that this was a conscious decision by the chef. Just as the modern interiors were meant to open up Lahori cuisine to a wider audience, the light spices of the Lahori Nashta were meant to make this breakfast appeal to a wider palate. This one change could make halwa puri Dubai’s go to post hangover breakfast meal. If Manakish is what everyone in Dubai craves after a big night out, halwa puri and chana is what they will crave for  the morning after.  Dubai now has an official breakfast and not only is it not McDonalds, it also happens to be vegetarian.

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Paratha with Pakistani omelette and pan roasted mince.
The paratha (fried flatbread) had a crisp external layer which gave way to the soft bread inside. A Pakistani omelette usually has diced tomatoes and onions and some fresh coriander. Thanks to the light spices, I actually tasted the egg and every vegetable in every bite. The mince was once again low on spices but I could taste the ginger it had been roasted with.

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A tall glass of Lassi with a tall building in the background!
The yogurt smoothie (lassi) was available with either salt or sugar and we had one of each. Both variants were equally refreshing and were able to wash all the fried food down effectively.

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Semolina and butter desert (Halwa)
This was not the meal that I dreamt of and it was certainly not the breakfast they served at my father’s old country house. I am not sure if a purist would enjoy this halwa puri or bhuna keema. Strangely though, we were not dissatisfied. My craving for traditional chana puri remains and I may very well have to fly down to Lahore to fulfil it  but if this is a modern take on the traditional Pakistani breakfast, so be it. If little Lahore wants to do for post hangover breakfasts in Dubai what Zater o Zait did to post party 3 am hunger attacks, so be it.

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(Achar) Pickled baby mango.
Little Lahore 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.

Mooyah Burger_
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

Love at first sniff.

So what if you don’t have a six pack? At least you have got a deodorant! Think fly boarding in the shadow of the Burj al Arab and parachute jumps at Zero Gravity. Think winking at the valet as you toss him keys to your Lamborghini. Think 28000 AED bottles of champagne in plush lounges and then think of them again as your yacht races through the water. Think of all the beautiful people around you and then of all the hearts you would have to break that night. Now cut to you and your deodorant, then wake up.

This is Dubai, of course you have to wake up in the end because there ain’t no Axe effect here! Let me rephrase that. The Axe Effect might well be here but this is just as much as you could do in an Axe TV commercial if it was shot or aired in the UAE. Ok, you don’t really have to wake up in the end but you do have to keep it civil. No peep holes, no innuendos and no man walking out of an elevator with ‘that look’ on his face as the 5 women that follow him fix their makeup and hair. We keep it clean baby.

That does not mean whatsoever that the ‘Axe effect’ does not exist. You know; man sprays on some deodorant and women find themselves inexplicably drawn towards him. There are countless variations worldwide but the gist of it all is ‘involuntary seduction’. This ‘effect’ draws women in flocks to any man who sprays himself with Axe deodorant. Historically, this has been one of the most successful marketing claims worldwide. It has been running for well over 15 years but  I’m not sure if the Unilever guys (company that owns the AXE brand) had the knowledge that we do now when they first aired the campaign.

According to a leading British newspaper, scientists can now prove that men who are not blessed with good looks can significantly make up for their lack of appeal by using perfumed deodorants. The article also stated that the effects are the same for a wide range of deodorants and are only applicable to less masculine men. So basically if you are a scrawny and unassuming man, one spray of a deodorant could transform you into someone who is chased by hordes of beautiful young women in seconds, just like in the TV commercial.

While the sales of deodorants will now skyrocket further, I think the potential outcome of this breakthrough discovery could be devastating for a number of other industries. I fear gyms will now be empty, luxury car sales would go down and clinics and parlours offering grooming and aesthetic services for men could go bankrupt. You see men are lazy by nature and if Sigmuend Freud is to be believed, every single thing that men do, is to attract women towards them. So imagine if they knew that they could achieve that by the pushing of a button and did not need to have a defined jawline or six pack abs. Do you think they would attempt to do it in any other way?

Aegean Vibe, Balearic Beats & a Middle Eastern Flair. La Cala.

“Bass emanating from Blue Marlin pulsated down my spine after bouncing off the rock island across the water. That felt pretty Balearic to me!”

If you are looking to party on a Friday afternoon, maybe Blue Marlin (just 300 steps away) would be a better destination. If however, you want to kick back, listen to some tropical house between conversation, enjoy the sunset while sipping on sangria and get to know some of the people on the table next to yours (and on the table next to that) La Cala is the place to be at.

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Dubai has so many water front restaurants, bars and clubs that I sometimes have a little trouble telling one apart from the other. While there may be another explanation for my selective amnesia but one of the reasons all the Nikkis, Nasimis and Edens  look similar is because they strive to be so. (Eden has now closed down to make room for a new joint called El Chiringuito but it still looks like Eden) They are all targeting the same clientele and they all want to be perceived as the ultimate luxury beach destination. La Cala does not want to play that game.

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If we list the facts, nothing seems to be going for La Cala on paper. It is far from civilisation, cramped for space and a bit limited on the menu. All of this nevertheless, is what gives this place its unique charm. Beach clubs are so 2010, unless of course they are in another city and you can make a daycation out of it. Well La Cala is technically in another city but it is still not more than 20 minutes away from Dubai which makes it a perfect destination and even more so because they have their own discount code for Careem.
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It is also as I mentioned earlier, quiet small. I never thought I would use this word to describe a beach club in Dubai but its size makes La Cala incredibly ‘cute’. When everything is so grand and glamorous around you, it is such a refreshing change to be at a venue that is so intimate and personal. Where the tables are almost intruding into each other’s space and you have no option but to say hello to the strangers next to you.
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The last brunch I went to had so many items on the menu that I had barely gone through half before getting tired. Of the half that I did try, some left a lasting impression while others were just forgettable. At La Cala’s brunch, almost everything on the carefully curated menu left a mark. Standout winner for me was the sashimi with wasabi and ginger. Some of the starters also stirred up nostalgia. I remembered the sun setting over the Greek Island of Mykonos as I nibbled on some pita and burrata (I know it’s Italian, but still!) The feast was marketed as a Balearic Brunch but it kept bringing back memories of Mykonos and Santorini. The only time I felt a bit like being back in Ibiza was while strolling down the jetty. Bass emanating from Blue Marlin pulsated down my spine after bouncing off the rock island across the water. That felt pretty Balearic to me!
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It could easily have been the fried tomato on my plate or perhaps the Greek Salad that led my mind to associate this venue with the Aegean Islands but I think it was the venue itself that made me feel that way. Spread over 3 levels, La Cala is actually built on a hill which is such a Greek thing to do, plus the intimate vibe and personal touch was definitely more Mykonos than Ibiza. So I wont be surprised if they start calling this the Aegean Brunch one day!
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As the sun began to set, the rustic Aegean charm of La Cala gave way to a festive feeling that is so distinctive of Dubai and its brunches. As it got closer to the end, almost everyone was either dancing or bobbing their heads to the music, cameras were flashing and selfies were being uploaded and there were unquestionably no more strangers around.

La Cala Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dave and his band of Famous People 

After watching Heroes (the TV show), I believed that every human being had a super power. I would ask my friends what their special abilities were and it would make for wonderful evening banter. Those who did not know were of course enlightened by yours truly. I told them to be patient because sooner or later the secret would be revealed. I knew this because that is what I did. I had the ability to identify super heroes and their special gifts. That was my super power.

Dave has some special abilities as well. Besides being the guardian for ‘Devil’s Spit’, a sinful interpretation of barbecue sauce straight from Hell’s Kitchen, he can find special people and identify their super powers. So we are not much different, Dave and I. The only difference is that Dave actually went out and did something about it.

Dave scoured the corners of the Earth to find special people with secret powers and brought them all back to the mystical Land of the River next to Dubai Parks and Resorts. It is there that he set up Famous Dave’s Barbecue restaurant and started to serve racks of lamb and beef short ribs to hungry travellers from far and wide.

OK, so that is not exactly how it happened. Dave did not scour the corners of the globe. All the people with special powers were already in Dubai because of course that is what Dubai is all about. All Dave did had to do was to find them like Professor X and put them to work in the restaurant.

Take Famous Josh for example. When he was in the Philippines, he beat the entire country at chess and was given a 75% scholarship to finish his education because of his special skill. Then there is Famous Miro, also from the Philippines. He was one of the country’s best break dancers and was the lead back up dancer for Mark Herras, a famous singer and celebrity. In short, every single person working on the floor at Famous Dave’s restaurant is already famous for something. How cool is that?

So what happens when you put all these famous people under one roof? Well for one, the service was exceptionally brilliant. Remember my review of Ihop when I spoke about the waiters coming to us like programmed robots and asking if our food was good? That did not happen here. We were left alone to enjoy our food and every time we wanted something, there was a famous guy standing next to us, ready to listen. Since they were all celebrities in their own right, they liked to talk as well but only when we were ready to listen. We got a detailed briefing on the famous sauces and how they were made. My favorite were Dave’s Revenge and Devils Spit while Mishal liked the Texas Pit.

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I had a medium-well 7-oz fillet which was a lean cut steak seasoned with coarse salt, black pepper, cayenne and garlic. It had a wonderful crust which gave way to the juiciest bit of meat you can imagine. As if Dave’s selection of sauces weren’t enough, I asked them to make my steak cheesy and was provided with some extra creamy white sauce on the side. The skin-on potato wedges were crispy on the outside but moist and fleshy all the way through. This ladies and gentlemen, was heaven.

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Mishal’s Jacked-N-Stacked burger was a grilled chicken breast topped with Monteray Jack cheese, stacked with crispy onion rings and slathered with Dave’s rich and sassy sauce in a soft open bun.  The star performers of the night however were the grilled pineapple steaks. I will never be able to look at a pineapple the same way again. For me, the only way to eat a pineapple now would be to season some juicy slices with cayenne pepper and a hint of brown sugar before tossing them on the grill for a touch of sweet heat. The cayenne would start the show with a fiery kick and the caramelised brown sugar would follow to compliment the tart sweetness of the fruit.  Try it the next time you get the bbq going and who knows? You might end up being famous too.

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Famous Dave's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IHop Outlet Village. Sticking to the pancakes. 

As soon as you enter Ihop, there is a sign that says ‘we have sold xxxx gallons of orange juice’. Don’t remember the amount but it seemed like an achievement by any standards

If you haven’t been to the newly built Outlet Village mall near Riverland yet, I suggest you plan a visit. It has fewer stores and is smaller than the Outlet Mall on Alain Road but still has some decent brands and offers that might make your trip worthwhile. Sacoor brothers had a buy get 1 get 2 offer on all shirts on the day we went! It has a decent selection of new restaurants,  some of which I hope to try before long but it also has a PF Chang’s and an Ihop.

As soon as you enter Ihop, there is a sign that says ‘we have sold xxxx gallons of orange juice’. Don’t remember the amount but it seemed like an achievement by any standards especially after reading the fact that their OJ is freshly squeezed (unlike the US where they use Tropicana)

The service was almost a little too good. Three different people asked us if our food was fine at 3 different times during our meal. At one point, I had mushroom sauce dribbling from my mouth and another time I almost shot out a cherry tomato on the guys face but at all 3 times, our mouths were full of food (OK, there were no cherry tomatoes with our meal but you get the point). Word of advice here, please coordinate amongst yourself as to whose responsibility it is to ask the customer if they enjoyed their meal (because 3 times is a bit of an overkill) and maybe ask them once after they are done enjoying the meal…not when they are trying to do it and their mouths are full of food. In fact, if you see me again, don’t ask at all. I promise I will let you know.

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We ordered the IHop supreme burger (which was thick beef burger topped with caramelised onions and cheddar cheese) and the mushroom chicken (which was a saute`ed chicken scaloppini in a creamy mushroom sauce.Both our dishes hit the spot and were devoured within 1o minutes (would have been faster had we not been interrupted several times). The scaloppini did not depend on the mushroom sauce for its flavour and tasted good on its own as well. It came with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli which went well together.. The burger was a bit overdone for my liking and nobody asked me how I wanted it. There was an option to choose a side but they just assumed I wanted french fries. I called the waiter back and asked him if my onion rings and burger were done and for a while he went into hypovolemic shock before running towards the kitchen window while shouting, “cancel french fries table 2”. Anyway, the burger was good and it went well with my onion rings. We washed it all down with never ending jugs of brewed ice tea which I highly recommend.

I wish we had stopped here. I wish we had asked for the bill or even if we absolutely had to have dessert, asked for a pancake (which are pretty good here) and be done with it, but we just had to order something we had not tried before. Hence, the words that follow.

So for dessert, we ordered the banana, peanut butter and chocolate – double dipped brioche French toast. Quiet a mouthful isn’t it? Yes this was one dish. Looked pretty fancy too but essentially it was just 3 pieces of thick bread fried and dipped in a weak vanilla batter with almost no sugar and topped with 5 pieces of diced bananas and the slightest drizzle of peanut butter sauce. All for 60 dirhams; you would be better of buying a McFlurry or six instead. I know the zero sugar almost no flavour thing works with the pancakes because Ihop provides 4 types of free syrup to go with it (and I absolutely love their butter pecan syrup) but a french toast is not a pancake. It is thick (even more so if you use brioche bread) and unless it has some flavour of it’s own, it wont matter how much syrup you smear it with, it just wont work. Also, I think there should have been banana slices between each of the 3 toasts. I don’t think 5 diced pieces were enough especially when the name of the dessert started with the word ‘banana’ and there was absolutely no banana flavour in the bread whatsoever.

So overall, it was an average experience. I would probably still go back there if I am craving a quick pancake but would not in any case ever be ordering the French Toast.

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

Irish Village Riverland. Cead Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcome)

Ireland was never cold, wet or foreign for me. It was warm, mostly sunny and familiar. It was our hangout when we were chilling out, our office when we were working, headquarters when we were planning a night out and our hideout when we were bunking class. For all the kids who went to college in Garhoud during the late 90s and early 2000s, the Irish Village was a large part of growing up. It was our own slice of paradise complete with greasy food, chilled drinks and good company.

In ancient Ireland, hospitality was decreed by law. Welcoming a stranger was an enforced cultural norm and if anyone refused to be hospitable, they could be reprimanded for it. This old practice has left a cultural imprint on the Irish as they recognised the advantages that come with a friendly and outgoing personality and giving strangers a warm welcome. It is a little less common to talk to strangers in Dubai but I think this tradition lives on in the Irish Village. Despite being the introvert that I am, the number of people I have striked up a conversation with in the IV is astounding. I guess there was something in the narrow cobbled streets and old world charm of the place that brought about a change in me; plus I always believed that when in the Village, do as the Irish.

My trips to the village became less frequent after I moved to the other end of town so imagine my excitement when I found out that a brand new IV had been set up at Riverland. This magical place lies before the Legoland entrance at Dubai Parks and Resorts, the Middle Easts, largest theme park destination. I have a feeling I will be returning there many times as there is much to explore and share.

Not taking the outdoors section (or the village terrace) into account (of which Riverland has 250000 square feet of), IV2 is at least 3 times bigger than IV1. It is spread over two floors and in case you have had too much of a good time and are unable to find the stairs, it also has a private elevator. It is essentially the same wooden pub with original Irish memorabilia albeit a little more character because of the high ceilings and lights. The menu options seem to have been reduced for some reason. The panini melts are no longer here and since the only meat (besides all kinds of sea creatures) that Mishal eats is chicken, we noticed that most of the chicken dishes had also been cut out.


I know that a panini or a parmesan chicken breast are not representative of Irish food but then, neither are sitting in the sun and sipping on a Guinness while you feed the ducks representative of your typical afternoon out in Ireland. Besides, I know that the greasy stuff here is great and we always polish a plate of onion rings while we wait for our food. The problem here is that the paninis at IV are good and so is the parmesan chicken breast. I tried to look for the sea bass which I know is very good as well but sadly that too had been cut out. So we ordered a grilled salmon with dill mustard sauce and a brocolli and cashew nut stir fry. The fish was done nicely. Ever so slightly charred on the outside and juicy on the inside though I am pretty sure it was not caught from the river outside. Let’s just say that it had done its fair bit of travelling from Norwegian (or maybe Irish) farms and had stopped along for pictures along the scenic route before it ended up in the chefs kitchen in IV2. Speaking of which, please do try the salmon at any of the Ikea restaurants. It flies business class straight from the farm to the chef’s kitchen every day.

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I do end up ordering something stupid every time I am out but its not because I like to torture myself or ruin my night out, I just like to see how much the chef can push the limits and go out of his/her comfort zone. So please do not judge this kitchen based on my experience with the next dish. First rule of any stir fry is, you add the chicken or meat and after it is half cooked (or even more) you add the vegetables or you just stir fry the chicken and the veggies separately. My broccoli and cashew nut stir fry however was done the other way round. To be fair, it was done in the exact same way it said so on the menu. Broccoli florets, green chili and onion combined with Chinese noodles and light soy sauce. Topped with roasted cashew nuts. Add organic chicken. If only the chef had not literally followed that exact order and added the chicken earlier – this dish would have been a lot more edible because I would probably not have been able to smell the chicken. To mask the smell however, a larger than usual amount of sweet Thai sauce had been added to the dish as an afterthought. It failed to cover up the smell but did end up making the dish (how should I put this delicately) a little too sweet for my liking. Once again, I love the food at the IV1 and it would be unfair to judge the IV2 kitchen based on this dish but I also believe that if it is on your menu, it is your job to do it well.

There are two things however that nobody does better than the Irish and those are smiles and Guinness and both of those are in abundance at the Irish Village in Riverland. Today is St. Patrick’s day, the one day that everyone except the Scottish becomes Irish (The Scottish are always just Scottish). The IV had a bit of Green everywhere last night and I was told that there was a big celebration planned for today. So if you are still indecisive about tonight, head over to Riverland and make it a weekend!

The Irish Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato