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

Salads and more at Brisk UAE.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know that I talk about fashion models quite a bit. No, I am not obsessed with them, not in the way you would think I am. I don’t want to be a model, I think that ship sailed a long time ago. I don’t want to be with a model either, as I am very happy being a husband and a father. I am just fascinated by how they are able to maintain such amazing bodies. Some of them may have great metabolisms. Some may be eating the right foods. Some of them may follow a strict workout regime but all of them, are super fit.

About 7 years ago, I was pretty fit myself and then it all just wen t downhill from there. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped following the strict diet that I had managed to stick to for a couple of years. I’m not sure what came first but once I was in my comfort zone, it all just seemed to have happened. I found myself in a downward spiral. I tried going to the gym but my diet was so bad that I just got demotivated after a while.

The problem with healthy eating is that it is just not fun… or it was not, up till now. It used to mean that I could not go out to meet my friends. I could no longer have a social circle. When you are younger, you go out and party but when you are 39, a party means food. This is what we older people do. This is how we have fun. Minus the food and our lives would be miserable. So I couldn’t be super fit without working out. There was no point in working out without eating healthy. There was no eating healthy if I was to be a social person. This my friends was the conundrum I was in.

Thankfully though, things are going to be a little different now. That is because I have discovered a gem right in the heart of Dubai Media City. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Brisk UAE. This is a new age healthy food concept where not only can you build your own salads but get loads of healthy eating options like granola bowls, avocado pasta and grilled fish. I am finally going to be able to eat healthy and meet my friends at the same time. Sacrificing my social life will no longer be a consequence of eating the right foods. Salads will no longer have to be boring and socializing over food will not lead to an unhealthy lifestyle.

If you are too lazy to build your own salad just choose one from any of the seven Brisk Salads. Two salads which caught my eye were the Bombay coronation salad and the quinoa tabouleh. I decided to make my own anyway because of all the awesome ingredients that were calling out my name. I had a base of rocket leaves and added some kale, quinoa, poached raisins, chicken curry mix, sun dried tomatoes and cottage cheese. As if all that wasn’t enough, I added a finishing touch with some mint yoghurt dressing. The result was absolutely phenomenal. It was so good that I immediately decided to give it a name. So when you guys are down at Brisk, feel free to use my ingredient list to enjoy the Eat Sleep Dubai Repeat salad. You are welcome.

Build your own salad at Brisk UAE

As I said earlier, they don’t just stop at salads. Brisk serves a variety of sandwiches and there is an awesome breakfast menu as well. I particularly loved the avocado on toast. The secret ingredient in that was the layer of tomato marmalade between the creamy avocado and the crisp toast. I was told that it can be requested with a poached egg on top for a complete, healthy breakfast meal.

Avocado on toast at Brisk Uae

Some of you may not be into salads that much but please do think about it. Your health is the most important thing you have. If you can have a nice time enjoying food that is not going to clog your arteries or cause hypertension, than why go any other way. I hope you give healthy eating a chance. I also hope you encourage restaurants like Brisk who are trying to change the way we look at food.

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

Hakeem’s Kababji Grill.

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

Malvina Reynolds.

In the whole cookie cutter scheme of things, how different is your neighborhood Lebanese grill from mine? Does your local curry house serve soft, piping hot, puffed up nans just like mine? It probably does. I bet your Lebanese joint could sprinkle some pine nuts on your Hummus Beiruti if you asked them to, or they probably already do because that’s how it is supposed to be right?

Sure, things could always go wrong. Your meat could end up being a bit more charred than you would have liked or there might be a bit more lemon in your Tabbouleh then you would have wanted but at the end of the day, authentic Lebanese food will always be more or less similar in name, taste and presentation. The same goes for authentic Indian, Pakistani, Thai, Korean, or what have you.

So how do we really know if any one restaurant is better than the other? Well, the décor and the location may play a role but eventually it all boils down to one thing. ‘Service’ is the one factor that may break or make your overall experience. If the quality of service is exceptional, the food (as long as it is acceptable) won’t even matter that much. One day, while looking for a hidden gem waiting to be discovered in the streets of Dubai Marina, I came across such a restaurant.

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Kababji restaurant in the Marina is situated at a quiet corner of the promenade. The view is not extraordinary as far as Marina restaurants go but you can catch a glimpse of yachts cruising on the water albeit from a distance.  The menu was your standard Lebanese fare; grilled meats, salads and several variations of hummus. One thing that did stand out though was the effort to offer a healthy twist to many of the regular items on the list.

There was a Quinoa Tabbouleh which seemed like an interesting take on the popular Lebanese salad. The grilled veal fillet light and the Kebab light promised to be less than 400 calories each and seemed to be geared towards those who can’t survive without their meats but want to be heart healthy as well. I tried the Kebab light and since it was made of extra lean meat, I found it to be a bit dry (the fat in the meat keeps the kabab moist and juicy). The grilled chicken we ordered was grilled to perfection. Tender and moist on the inside and perfectly charred on the outside.

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The food however, as I mentioned before, was secondary. The one thing that has ensured I return to this restaurant was the service. We went at a time when there was just one waiter inside. Hakeem (our waiter) saw us from inside the glass door and rushed outside to help us carry D’s stroller down the steps. He was never intrusive but always attentive. We just had to look up towards him once and there he would be, right next to us awaiting our next request.

I ordered a coffee and cancelled it after 5 minutes because I changed my mind. He agreed with a smile and went back to pass the message to the kitchen. Baby D was not in a particularly good mood and for some reason kept throwing her French fries on the floor while shouting “potato, potato” at the top of her voice. Hakeem pretended as if nothing was wrong while we discussed our order.

Noticing that I had ordered the Spicy version of the Kabab light, Hakeem asked if we would like some fresh chilli paste to go with our order. Once we started eating, he asked us once if the meal was alright or if we needed anything else and then left us in peace to enjoy the meal. D of course had other plans but that is beside the point.

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It is quite amazing how one person can transform your entire dining out experience. This could have been a bad day to eat out but thanks to Hakeem, it was anything just.

Kababji Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RISO, The Italian Vegetarian.

I’ve always been a little envious of vegetarians. The power to say ‘No’ to a juicy burger (or a steak for that matter) puts them in a league above the rest of us mortals. That kind of self-control and resilience is unheard of in my circles, even though we do understand that vegetarians have a 12 percent longer life span than those who are not.

The funny thing is, they may not even be trying that hard. That revelation come to me as I nibbled on some mushrooms at Riso, the new vegetarian Italian kitchen in town.

Earlier, when someone said vegetarian food, I always pictured a raw carrot or a head of steamed broccoli but as the different items on the tasting menu were presented that day, I started to see vegetarian food in a completely different light.

So apparently, vegetarians don’t have any super powers at all (other than accidentally saving the planet perhaps). They don’t turn down a steak because of some great sacrifice to save humanity, they just know better. Why kill yourself by eating food that is harmful to you and the planet you live on when you have healthier options that can be just as appetising as your favourite non-veg options?

As a case in point, I love Pizza and I do sometimes get a little offended if it is not done right. If I begin to list down the number of restaurants that have destroyed my Pizza experience (including the biggest pizza chain in the world), this may turn into a completely different kind of post. The guys at Riso though, they get it. It was almost as if I had some divine connection with the pizza chef. There are a few others who do such pizzas in Dubai but that ultra-thin and crispy circle of perfection is what pizza dreams are made of.

So if you are not a vegetarian yet, you (like me) may have to do some soul searching soon and if you are one, well done – you guys had me fooled for a very long time. In any case, head down to the newly opened Riso Italian and discover this little gem for yourself.

PS Prepare to be surprised! If it looks like coffee and sounds like coffee, chances are that it may not be coffee at all. The Mushroom Cappuccino at RISO is actually the chef’s rendition of mushroom soup, served in a coffee glass complete with froth and all!

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