Friday Brunch @ Fusion

Fusion - Ghaya Grand Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

With so many brunches around town every Friday, it is getting increasingly difficult to choose one that stands out unless something new and absolutely unheard of is going down in terms of the theme or the food. One thing that makes it easier to make a choice is the value proposition.

IMG_2108.JPG
Dim Sum at the Ghaya Grand hotel Friday brunch

With the Fusion restaurant’s Friday brunch at the relatively new Ghaya Grand hotel it becomes easy to make a choice because at 149 AED per head, it is an absolute steal; especially if you take into account all the variety they have to offer. At this price, I would have been happy to settle for one or two different types of cuisine but this place had pretty much everything covered. There was an Italian counter with a live cooking station, an Arabic counter with a full lamb roast, an Indian counter, Dim Sum, a variety of seafood including a lavish sushi selection, and even a selection of Thai dishes.

IMG_2094
Sushi selection at the Ghaya Grand hotel Friday brunch

I have had fish in garlic butter sauce before but the Garlic, Butter and Honey Salmon was unlike anything I had tried before. The subtle honey flavour gave my palate something completely new to work with. It was salty of course but also just a little bit sweet. That, paired along with the unmistakable salmon flavour and rich butter sauce was enough to make me return for seconds.

IMG_2106
Salmon in garlic, honey and butter at the Ghaya Grand hotel Friday brunch

I also loved the spicy, Crab in Thai green curry. I know Thai food is supposed to be hot but I don’t remember it ever being this spicy, even in Thailand! It may not work for everyone but I just couldn’t have enough of it. I remember having spicy crabs in Colombo some years ago and thinking that ‘this is the only way to eat crab’ at the time. There is something about hot chili that goes down so well with the soft and tender crab meat. I had to stop myself to from going for seconds otherwise I may have missed out on all the other wonderful food that was on display.

IMG_2105
Crab in Thai green curry at Ghaya Grand hotel

One trend that has caught on so well in Dubai is the ‘make your own pasta’ option that is available at many restaurants and brunches across the city. I think this is great because it gives you control over how you want your pasta to be. Unless it is a signature dish or a special creation by the chef, I am all about transferring control back to the customer. I call it eating out 2.0. This is where you decide the ingredients for your dish and if it doesn’t turn out the way you had expected, you have nobody else to blame but yourself. Chef Raheem at the live pasta station at Fusion ensured that we did not completely burn the boat. He was available on site and gently nudged us in the right direction if we appeared to be lost or got too carried away!

IMG_2112
Make your own noodles at the Ghaya Grand Hotel Friday Brunch

The best thing is that all these options come at an unbelievable price. In my opinion, this truly is the best value brunch in Dubai.

The Chilis syndrome. Big brand = Bad food.

I love discovering new restaurants and talking about exciting new places to eat at but one of the main reasons behind this blog, was to talk about restaurants that have existed, survived and multiplied while others around them barely made it past the first year of operations.

How have some restaurant chains managed to open up a branch in every mall or every neighborhood? What is it, that drives business to these places? What makes them grow? Is it just because of the food or is it the brilliant marketing strategies? Is it the décor and lighting? Or is it just convenience?

Do people keep eating at places like TGIF, Chillis, Applebees, Shakespeare and Co, IHop and Tony Romas because the food is just amazing or is it just because they are familiar with the brand? They all seem to have identical menus and between them operate 20 odd restaurants in Dubai yet they keep expanding and drawing in customers. All this while Pedro your brilliant neighborhood chef, couldn’t keep his bistro afloat because of liquidity problems and lack of customers. There may be more than one reason for all this but I decided to go back to one of the best known chain restaurants in Dubai to try and figure out the secret formula to success.

I may have already been to every single Chillis branch in Dubai so we decided to meet some friends at Yas Mall for lunch at which is arguably the UAE’s most successful (non-fast food) restaurant. We managed to find a table with views of the Ferrari World roller coaster and were seated in a heartbeat so full marks for that. The order taker seemed to be well rehearsed, helpful and knowledgeable so that part was smooth as well.

We ordered the Melted Pepper Jack Ribeye, Margarita Grilled Chicken, Ancho Salmon and the Beef Enchiladas. Of all these dishes, the steak definitely stood out.. Medium cooked and lightly seasoned, just the way we like it. Initially, we weren’t too sure about the cheese topping but after taking a bite of the thick cut steak with the melted pepper jack, we realized that it was a potent combination.

The only other dish that came close to that was the Ancho Salmon. It was cooked all right and seasoned just fine but I wish I could say that about the other two dishes.

This was the description of the chicken margarita in the menu: Tender, juicy chicken breast, marinated with our classic Margarita flavoring and grilled to perfection. Served with citrus rice and black beans.

Yes, it was tender and it was juicy and it was served with black beans. That was about it. The Margarita flavor (whatever it was supposed to be) was not there. In fact the flavor was the taste of grilled chicken which we had to season with some salt. I had imagined a tomato purée of some sort (as in the pizza) smothered over the chicken for it to warrant that name. It did have some chopped tomatoes on the side but that was about it. Oh and the citrus Chile rice sounds like it would be infused with lemon zest or something right? No, there were no signs of any lemon anywhere. Just some rice, minus the citrus.

The most disappointing dish of the day was described as follows in the menu: Three Baked Enchiladas Filled With Taco Seasoned Beef, 3-Cheese Blend & Onion. Topped With Ancho Sauce, Melted 3-Cheese Blend, Chopped Cilantro and house made Corn & Black beans Salsa. Served With Rice & Black Beans.

Think of all the Mexican flavors you can imagine when someone says Taco seasoned beef. It was nothing like any of those. This was every Mexican foodie’s worst nightmare. It was so bland that they would build a wall around their borders to keep it out of the country. It was basically a wrap filled with salt flavored ground beef and cheese, topped with some cilantro. Sure, it was good looking and was overflowing with black beans from all sides but tasted a bit like a beef cheese wrap. Nothing more, nothing less.

So here is what I think I have learnt from this excursion to the land of Chillis. The photographs in the menu were mouthwatering, the seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and the descriptions of the entrees were brilliant. So full  marks for packaging and presentation and all of that. The food looked pretty when it arrived and there was a lot of it too. It just lacked heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was put together on an assembly line like McDonalds. This seemed like a place where everyone follows the process but nobody has ultimate responsibility and nobody really cares. A place where nothing is personal. They probably believe in the mantra that ‘If you build it, they will come’ hence the multiple locations in every city. They also seem to know that the bigger and flashier you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Unfortunately, the restaurants which have perfected this process are the ones that are thriving. They will expand while Pedro, your friendly neighborhood chef who prepares each order with care and personal attention will struggle. We can say it is the marketing prowess and easy flow of money that enables these places to open swanky new branches all the time but in reality it just comes down to one factor: YOU. You decide who stays in business and who packs up. You and I are ultimately the reason Pedro is having a hard time. Want your food to be prepared with a bit more love? Take a stand, stop eating at these food factories. Support the little guy at the corner of your street. As for me, all this writing is making me hungry. I think I’ll get Hardees for Lunch today.

 

Shakespeare and Co.

Shakespeare and Co. is a stunning example of 16th century opulence. If I could give points for ambience and decor, this place would be up there in a league of its own. The deep red upholstery on top of plush cushion seating and the Elizabeth-esque  chandeliers could easily have been from a scene of Juliet’s bedroom.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Shakespeare and Co. is a stunning example of 16th century opulence. If I could give points for ambience and decor, this place would be up there in a league of its own. The deep red upholstery on top of plush cushion seating and the Elizabeth-esque  chandeliers could easily have been from a scene of Juliet’s bedroom. Sadly though, Shakespeare would never have been able to own a place like this. Between you and me, I seriously doubt he could ever afford to eat there either.

Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and Othello are all set in Italy. Just like Italian literature, culture and politics influenced the plots and atmosphere of all these plays, Italian cuisine seemed to be the predominant force in the Shakespeare and Co. menu.

In keeping up with the spirit of things, we decided to kick off our modern day Shakespeare experience with some Minestrone soup. I hate to talk of one restaurant when reviewing another but somehow I kept thinking of the Minestrone Soup they serve at Olive Garden (which I must review soon). The soup they served here was a bit less rich and perhaps a little less flavourful but the warm rolls and herbed butter compensated for that. I should point out though that a serving of Minestrone soup here cost 40 AED while it is served free by the bucket load in Olive Garden but enough of that.

IMG_1884

We were done with Shakespeare’s Italian escapade and decided to order something closer to home (his home not ours). The most English thing on the menu was the fish and chips so we went ahead and ordered one of those. In keeping up with the seafood theme we also ordered a salmon fillet (not very easy to go wrong with one of those).

IMG_1890
Fish and Chips at Shakespeare and Co.

Both the dishes came piping hot from the kitchen and like I said, I do not know of many restaurants which can go wrong with either of them. Notable mentions here are the chips (fries) which had a light crispy coating on them and the vegetable tartar which accompanied the salmon fillet. The salmon itself was pan seared, so the crust was dark and crispy (just the way I like it).

IMG_1888

Another thing I must mention here is that the plating of the salmon filet was among the best I have seen and I have seen a lot of salmon filets 😉 . The vegetable tartar was assembled into a little tower on which rested a thinly cut slice of grilled eggplant. The salmon itself rested on an eggplant puree.

I had noticed lots of  macaroons while entering the restaurant and had thought that taking a bite out of Shakespeare’s French connection would be vital to this experience. Unfortunately, we were quiet full by the time we were done with the main course (I blamed it on the rolls) and decided to come back just for macaroons and tea.

Shakespeare and Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ultimate Family brunch at Flow Kitchen. Fairmont, Palm Jumeirah.

we were greeted by Spider Man and a Green dude who looked like he was going to get his ass kicked by Spider Man pretty soon. There was also this other dude who looked like he could be the star of his own comic book but I couldn’t quite remember who he was.

View my food journey on Zomato!

We hardly went to restaurants as kids. My father’s idea of a big meal out was to prepare a bigger meal at home. He would bring the chefs home and we would watch them as they prepared a Pakistani feast for the same 30 or 40 people that always showed up. Besides the stuffed lamb and the usual partridge masala, there would be a breakfast counter with halwa (sweet dish made of semolina, almonds and cardamom) chana (chickpea) masala and a guy serving piping hot puris (deep fried flaky bread) straight from the gigantic karrahi (wok).

Well, all that happened in Pakistan at my dad’s old country house and it was in another time. Now Mishal and I can barely fit ourselves into our tiny kitchen (or into any of our old jeans for that matter but that is a completely different subject)  and honestly I am not sure if I even know 30 or 40 people. Even if I did, the thought of 10 kids tearing down my living room and doing jumping jacks on my sofa is a bit concerning to say the least. Thankfully though, that would never be a problem now because I have discovered a magical place where kids can be kids and adults can be kids too; or they can just remain adults. Nobody would judge them.

As we got out of the elevator and turned the corner towards Flow Kitchen, we were greeted by Spider Man and a Green dude who looked like he was going to get his ass kicked by Spider Man pretty soon. There was also this other dude who looked like he could be the star of his own comic book but I couldn’t quite remember who he was. “Welcome to Flow Kitchen” said the usher standing next to the green dude as I snapped back to reality. “Is this your first time here?” “Yes” I said while the kid in the corner did a Skywalker maneuver with his light sabre. “Mr and Mrs Chaudhry, please follow me” she said and we walked into a large hall which was flooded by the light coming in from the gigantic window that looked into the ocean.

Most people seemed like they had either just been to or were about to head out to the beach but there were a couple of people with jackets who seemed just as content and at ease as the guy in yellow flip flops. I without my flip flops and jacket also felt quiet comfortable in the hustle and bustle of what increasingly seemed to resemble a dining room of a Market Hall. There was a cart serving steamed dumplings next to a stand with every possible kind of bread on display.

IMG_1726
Dumplings at Flow Kitchen

Pre cut and pre tossed salads are so old school, so there was a cart that had the most beautiful vegetables on display. You would choose what you want and this lady would peel, chop, toss and season your salad before you could say organic. PS Did you know that rock salts come in 5 flavors including charcoal and vanilla?

IMG_1724
Have your salad cut, chopped, tossed and seasoned in front of your eyes

Some places have totally excluded the breakfast element from their brunches which is quiet sad because brunch is traditionally supposed to be between breakfast and lunch so you should have items from both meals on the menu. Flow Kitchen is as big on breakfast as it is on family. There were sausages, hash browns and beans but the best thing were the eggs. There was a separate stand serving eggs benedict and you could add spinach, chicken, turkey or even roasted pine nuts if you wanted. The yolk was nice and runny just as it should be. There is nothing that offends me more than an overcooked egg.

IMG_1722
Spinach Eggs Benedict with roasted pine nuts
IMG_1719
Tomato Salsa and cheese on garlic bread at the Ultimate Family Brunch

I am still not a fan of the ‘serve a dish from every country’ doctrine that the brunches seem to have adopted in Dubai but I guess it makes sense if they can make it a part of the theme. A family brunch caters to the whole family so it would only be fair to serve all kinds of cuisine. There is always one dish or type of cuisine that stands out at every brunch. It could be a pasta or a sheesh kebab or even the entire seafood menu. I could not find that one dish at the Ultimate family brunch. The Morrocan lamb tagine was as divine as the Italian margarita pizza and the pesto on the baked salmon was as fine as the wasabi in the soy sauce. This was a foodie’s paradise and I did not want to go back home.

IMG_1716
Baked Salmon with pesto crust
IMG_1707
Sushi at Flow Kitchen

Not everyone in the family enjoys the complications of a sophisticated meal and sometimes all you crave is a good burger with lots of ketchup and some mayonnaise. For those fussy eaters, there was a special kids menu which I would have gladly read out to my seven month old milk junkie had she not been so fascinated with the colorful cakes and gummy bears on display. Despite there being so many kids at the restaurant, it was nothing like my father’s old house. There was no one diving head first off the tables, nobody drawing their parent’s faces on the walls and no one following them around and telling them to behave. The chaos had been allowed to flourish in an organised way albeit confined to the perimeter of the adjoining hall. There were two hours worth of activities which included face painting, balloon twisting, a magic show and arts and crafts. Heck there was even a PlayStation for older kids and for adults who refuse to grow up.

IMG_1694
Macaroons, meringue cookies and gummy bears at the Ultimate Family Brunch

Among the countless dessert options there was a red velvet cake and a decadent chocolate cake that stood out for me but the most popular sweet thing seemed to be the white cupcakes with inverted test tubes stuck on them. The tubes had a raspberry filling which you poured on to the cake. I had to save some room for coconut ice cream (which I had later with warm apple pie) so didn’t really get around to trying it but the theatrics of the tube and the raspberry syrup kept us from slipping into a food coma before we got to the ice cream.

IMG_1698
The tubes have a raspberry filling!

IMG_1728

There are so many things I have not described or spoken about like the warm flaky crust of the Moroccon chicken pie or the fresh Irish oysters on ice but I can’t do it because then this review would never end. What I would like to say is that I had not thought of my father’s old house for a long time. Even less of the 30 or 40 familiar faces that kept showing up at all his grand feasts. That changed yesterday. I thought of my family again and any restaurant that can make you do that has got to be special.

IMG_1701
Fresh Oysters on ice at Flow Kitchen

Flow Kitchen - Fairmont The Palm 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.

IMG_1645

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.

IMG_1646

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.

IMG_1644

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.

IMG_1650

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.

IMG_1640

Jones The Grocer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato