Big Chefs @ Riverland.

Istanbul’s hipsters are of a different breed though. Graffiti may be a form of expression but books are a source of inspiration for them. The high-end restaurants in hipster Istanbul seem to have embraced books as a part of their décor. Not just as an afterthought but as a focal point of the entire space.

Big Chefs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

If you haven’t been to Riverland yet, you are missing out on one of Dubai’s most exiting outdoor destinations. Yes, that is correct, it is a destination in itself. You do not have to be visiting Dubai Parks and Resorts or staying at the mysterious Qasr al Sultan hotel to enjoy what this little French themed village has to offer. I intend to review all of the Riverland restaurants soon but let me kick it all off by the contemporary Turkish eatery, Big Chefs.

I did expect the food here to be of a certain standard (because of the name) but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined having flashbacks of Sultanahmet and all the eateries in the Beyoglu area of Istanbul. Don’t get me wrong. This restaurant is as modern as they come but so are most of the other new restaurants in traditional ‘old Istanbul’. They have held on to their centuries-old tradition of Turkish warmth and hospitality but they are the amalgamation of posh dining and the hipster movement brewing in the back alleys of old Istanbul.

Istanbul’s hipsters are of a different breed though. Graffiti may be a form of expression but books are a source of inspiration for them. The high-end restaurants in hipster Istanbul seem to have embraced books as a part of their décor. Not just as an afterthought but as a focal point of the entire space. The giant bookshelves at ‘Big Chef’, along with the indoor trees, abundant natural light and luxurious leather seating give an unmistakable Turkish identity to this restaurant.

The food was no different. They launched their redesigned menu about a week ago and Turkish influences can be seen throughout what was otherwise a very international offering. They sell their own Olive Oil and sauces. I found the pomegranate sauce to be particularly interesting. Think of it like a maple syrup but slightly less sweet with an intensely sour flavor which kicks in after a couple of seconds but gives way to the sweet after taste almost immediately. I liked it so much that I ended up taking a bottle home as well!

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Big Chef branded Olive Oil and Pomegranate syrup

Since I am a sucker for looks, I ordered the Lamb Shank because I could just not stop imagining how good it would look on my instagram. Unfortunately, the photos did not come out as great as I expected. I think I was too hungry to get up and sit with the light behind me. Thank God for editing and filters. (Note to self: always eat a little bit at home before going out to take pictures of food)

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Lamb Shank with Barley Risotto at Big Chef

Though the lamb shank itself was tender and nicely cooked, the barley pilaf risotto accompanying it  was pretty ordinary. A less fancy name for it would be ‘boiled barley’. The gravy sauce that was supposed to be served with the dish was nowhere to be found and I was just too hungry to bother asking for it. Overall, I think this dish did ok but that could have been so because I was starving or maybe just because the meat was full of flavor, was really well cooked and was literally falling off the bone. 

The Casarecce pesto rosso (pasta with pink sauce) provided a more, well-rounded experience. The portion was enough to feed a hungry adult and was appropriately creamy and very delicious. The sun-dried tomato provided a nice little zap while the red pesto gave the gorgeous pink colour and a wonderful flavor to the dish.

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Casarecce Pesto Rosso at Big Chef

The home style meatballs were what reminded me of Istanbul the most. This was a classic Turkish meat dish with potatoes. I initially thought that it was modernised by adding caramelised onion and sautéed tomatoes but after doing some research, I learnt that this was exactly how traditional meatballs were cooked and garnished in Turkish homes. 

So drop into Big Chefs whenever you crave authentic Turkish meatballs or some wonderfully pink pasta and if you do, make sure it is at the Riverland branch. It will transport you to the back alleys of Istanbul and the giant bookshelves and ladders will give you a glimpse into the posh restaurants of Beyoglu and Kadikoy.

Ginger and Mint lemonade at Big Chef

Brunch at Todd English’s Olives.

View my food journey on Zomato!

The opportunity to explore Yas Island had presented itself recently. From teeing off at the crack of dawn at the Yas Links Golf club and splashing about at Yas Waterworld to a relaxing spa experience at the Crowne Plaza, my long weekend has been absolutely Yastastic!

I wanted to end it all on a high note before rejoining the rat race in Dubai. I wanted to dine at one of the best eating establishments in the capital. I wanted to have an experience that would transcend the boundaries of every fine dining experience of my life. I wanted to have a meal that would help us form memories that would last a lifetime.

There are many restaurants on the island and we did have the pleasure of dining at a couple of amazing places but unfortunately, none of the restaurants at Yas seemed to make the cut. We were after all, looking to have the best meal of our lives so we decided to go deeper into the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The choices were endless and we were just about to toss a coin when one name jumped at us from the search results. I remembered watching reruns of the show ‘cooking under fire’ where Todd English was a judge. I was also familiar with the ‘Olives’ restaurant at Union Square in New York City. I did not dare to venture inside at the time but I did hear later that the restaurant shut down in 2015. Not only was this a chance to join the table of one of the most famous chefs in the world but also an occasion to redeem missed opportunities.

So in a heartbeat, our reservations for the brunch at Todd English’s Olives at the Venetian Village were done. Not exactly ‘in the vicinity’ but the drive down to the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi from Yas Island was definitely worth taking.

We arrived at the venue after a 40-minute long drive from Yas. Just like the traditional sofas that were made modern by the size variation, the burnt orange seating and the dark mahogany ceiling set the tone for the meal. The entire brunch was a contemporary take on a classic Mediterranean menu. None of that stand in line with your plate in your hand business. This was a proper sit-down meal where the food came to you, just the way the best chefs in the world intended it to. We had arrived at the right place.

The charming staff explained the menu to us and ensured that all we needed to do to get their attention, was to look at them. They were discreet yet attentive. Never intrusive but always available. This was paradise for service junkies like me. They could have served instant noodles and I would have taken it down with a smile. I am not sure I remember the last time I experienced service like this in the UAE.

We were started off with cream of broccoli soup which was accompanied by herbed croutons and chili oil. If broccoli is your thing, you have got to try this soup to understand what it was all about. If however, broccoli is not your thing, you need to stop whatever you are doing right now and drive down to the Venetian Village at the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi. This was the kind of soup that could change your life and make you see broccoli in a completely different light.  I don’t usually stuff my face with carbs at the start of a brunch. It makes me full and I have a hard time making it to the last round. The crusted softness of the bread drenched in chili oil was making my brain send only one message to my hands and eyes – EAT.

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The appetizers consisted of grilled shrimp salad, beef pepperoni flat-bread, sweet potato bravas and beef carpaccio. I have had carpaccio about 3 times in my life prior to this occasion. Besides the fascination with the fact that somebody had spent a lot of effort in slicing the beef paper thin before pounding it some more to get the desired thickness/texture, I never really understood the whole point of it. I mean why undertake such a production when you could simply toss a steak on a grill and eat six times the amount of meat in half the time? OK sorry, I may have come across as a bit uncultured there maybe all I needed was to eat at a restaurant like this where I could really get sold on the idea. The beef, which was drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, was resting on a Gorgonzola rosti cake. For those of you, who like me couldn’t make head or tails of this, let me explain further. Rosti cakes consist of coarsely grated, parboiled potatoes. Gorgonzola is one of the world’s oldest blue-veined cheeses which has a soft texture and a nutty aroma. The sauce in question here is made by adding this cheese to Parmesan, salt, pepper and parsley.  Now imagine a soft, grated potato cake drenched in this sauce before being veiled by a paper thin slice of beef covered in olive oil and lemon juice. There was also scallion aioli, more Parmesan, balsamic glazed onions and a bed of mix greens to divert your attention if all this awesomeness got too much for you to handle.

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Beef Carpaccio at Todd English’s Olives

Patatas bravas, also called patatas a la brava or papas bravas, is a dish native to Spain. It is often served as a tapa and was one of my staples in Barcelona and Ibiza simply because it was always served halal! The sweet potatoes were a good twist on this dish and they were given the Todd English treatment with the honey jalapeno dressing, avocado aioli and feta cheese. By the time I was done with this dish, a warning bell went off in my head as my stomach was nearing capacity and was dangerously close to not having any space for the main course. I still did try all the appetisers but the two I have described above were my favourite.

Sweet potato bravas as at Olives
Sweet Potato bravas at Todd English’s Olives

For the mains, we ordered a pan seared sea bass filet and slow braised short rib. The fish had a gorgeous sear and was covered in a lemon butter sauce. It was sitting on a bed of orzo pasta which had an uncanny resemblance to risotto. This pasta was dotted with tangy sundried tomatoes and on top of the fish rested a crown made of green squash. The short rib was unlike anything I have ever seen before and I have seen a lot of ribs. For starters, the bones had been removed. Not much of a rib, I thought. I changed my mind as soon as some of the meat went into my mouth. Remember, the phrase ‘fall off the bone’? In this case, the meat was so tender that it literally had fallen of the bone at some point. You could tell that a lot of effort had gone into this. These ribs had been cooked on a very low heat, for a very long time. I remember closing my eyes and gradually working my way through each strand of meat as I savoured every single bite. That would go on for a while before I would be interrupted by a change of texture courtesy of the candied carrots or the creamy, spring onion whipped potato.

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Slow braised rib at Todd English’s Olives

The drinks were bottomless and my personal favourite was the blackberry mojito, even though the passion fruit mojito was a tough contender. The assorted platter of desserts was really cute and should get full marks for presentation but let’s just say that the earlier courses had set the bar so high that it was hard to keep up.

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Overall, it was an amazing experience. Everything from the service to the food was top notch but the best thing about this brunch was the price. For 290++ with house beverages, this seemed like an absolute bargain. For 190++ you could also opt for the soft drinks package or for 390++, you could go for the bubbly.

Todd English's Olives Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Iftar at Lapita Hotel, Dubai Parks and Resorts.

View my food journey on Zomato!

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

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

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

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

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

Iftar at Lapita
There were plenty of salads to go around

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

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

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

Saj at the Lapita Iftar
The live Saj station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moti Roti. Pakistan’s soul kitchen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Burger in Dubai. The official top 11.

Revised: 2nd Feb 2018.

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

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

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

Johnny Rockets. www.instagram.com

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

TIP: Please do order the cherry coke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here for the full L’eto Cafe Review

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Photo: Yasir Chaudhry

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

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

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

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

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Photo: http://www.mooyah.com

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

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

TIP: Wash your burger down with milk shake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Black Tap. Photo: Yasir Chaudhry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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