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

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

Al Fresco dining at SOY, Ibn Batuta

View my food journey on Zomato!

Ibn Batuta mall was not the kind of place you would specifically go to for a meal. If you were in the mall doing your groceries or whatever, sure why not. At least that is what is what it used to be for me, until recently.

Please don’t get me wrong, It’s not that they ever had a shortage of options. The Batuta  restaurants have a rich variety of cuisines on offer but  still seems like more of a place you visit primarily to shop. If I want to eat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, I would rather go to the Marina or JLT but if the place absolutely has to be in a mall, it would probably be the Marina mall. The most probable reason for that may be – the view.

That is how Dubai has spoilt us. If it doesn’t offer  a view of the water, a park or a beautiful skyscraper, it doesn’t seem that attractive. If it has none of those, the least we have come to expect is a terrace where we can enjoy this beautiful weather or at least some sunlight coming in from panoramic windows overlooking the city. I have become so used to the Dubai life that places without windows or a view make me feel claustrophobic.

How you may wonder has Ibn Batuta Mall become one of my favorite dining out destinations in Dubai? It’s because I have discovered the outdoor dining area which I never knew about earlier. Located at the China court, this is like a an oasis of fun and festivity in the middle of your mundane grocery trip. There are no extra ordinary views of the city or the water but the fact that you can enjoy al fresco dining  in a bustling square surrounded by busy restaurants serving everything from Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Lebanese was enough to arouse my curiosity.

There were a couple of restaurants that seemed interesting but the one we decided to eat at that day was ‘Soy’. One of the reasons we decided to eat  there was because it seemed to be looking down at the all the other restaurants! No seriously, the patio outside Soy was elevated 2 to 3 feet higher than the other restaurants around it. It seemed like the best vantage point for people watching which is our 2nd most favorite thing to do at a restaurant. Yes we are weird like that!

After seating ourselves, I quickly went through the online reviews. Food seemed to be rated higher with a couple of misses here and there but the service seemed appalling. “Good afternoon Sir!” said our waiter, just as we were wondering about the  kind of mess I may have got us into. “How are you doing today?” he said with a smile while placing the menus in front of us. “We are fine, thank you!”  we said in unison, feeling a little embarrassed for forming an opinion which clearly did not seem to be right.

We ordered the diced chicken with cashew nuts and snow peas along with the crispy beef with shredded bell papers  and some brown rice. I will get to the food in a bit but please allow me to say that the fermented black bean chili sauce which accompanied the prawn crackers was the best thing that happened to me that day. It had a course texture, fiery kick and tangy aftertaste so unique that I do not remember the last time I enjoyed a condiment or sauce that much.

We have a habit of ordering the chicken with cashew nut at every Chinese and Thai place we got to. We have been at it for so long and have tried so many different renditions of the dish that we consider ourselves to be specialists of sorts. This particular dish was unique because we never tried it with snow peas before. I expected the peas to come out nice and juicy dotting the plate here and there but there were no peas to be seen. What it did have was whole baby peapods that looked a bit like edamame beans but tasted exactly like peas. The dish was closer to real Chinese than Indo-Chinese but we did not mind that a bit. There were no overwhelming flavors except for those of the lightly salted chicken and cashew gravy along with baby peas. Uniquely different but definitely a winner.

The magic ingredient in the crispy beef was the shredded bell pepper. It added a soft  texture to the hard and chewy beef. When I say chewy I do not mean rubbery. It was still crisp and crackled upon first bite but took a while to chew after that. The sweetness of the bell pepper strips accompanied the beef like they were made for each other.

Chicken cashew nut at Soy

We weren’t too happy with our cocktails. The Mojito was a bit too sweet and the Pina Colada had a bit too much froth and they were both about 100ml short of the drinkable parts. Overall however, our experience was very good. We enjoyed the sun and al-fresco seating  and there were lots of interesting people all around. The food was a 7 out of 10 and the service was good enough to make us go back for more.

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