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

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

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