Unfair fight. Lobster alive or on the plate, notwithstanding.
Little did I know that I was going in for combat when I walked in with my dearest friend at Zheng He by the waterfront at Mina’a Salaam. Priority seating, with uninterrupted views of the Burj Al Arab changing gels in the evening, was quite the highlight. And then the food started rolling out.
To celebrate the dragon boat festival, there was a special dimsum menu. Truth is, whatever the festival, I am always up for dimsums. Chicken, prawn and mushrooms, tempered, and stuffed inside delicate translucent steamed bags is something I can do on repeat mode every evening. The only thing that beat it was a crispy golden king prawn in Chinese mustard and spicy mango. Our kind hostess from the Orient, oriented us and patiently answered our questions. Spicy mango, not spiced mango, said she. This appetizer is highly recommended. In fact, I do not mind having it as a main course.
And then on followed a kingly sight of soups, duck, shrimps, octopus and scallops. My co-eater asked for the whole Canadian lobster in black pepper sauce. It didn’t alarm me, as I thought it would be an equal share of the crustacean. When it arrived, I was left to wrestle it all by myself. Understand this, I had half the Tasmanian Sea inside my stomach and then I had to eat the entire lobster! (Ideally this line would have sounded better with an expletive.)
And so, I set out for the impossible. The head and the tail shells on the plate taunted me as I slowly reached out my chopsticks for the chunks of juicy lobster meat flavoured with the essence of the Sichuan area. The taste was incredible, as was the texture. My hands picked up momentum, picking and delivering piece after piece until my mouth was unable to keep up. Chewing and swallowing on an almost-full stomach is not an easy task. I was thinking of greater glories like my name on Zheng He’s aesthetic walls discussing my superhuman feat; or comforting things like eating in my loosest pyjama in front of TV. I wasn’t prepared to give up easily on this deliciousness on my plate. I was about 7 pieces more to go before fame and glory would throw their garlands around my neck. I wasn’t looking at the Burj, or at the table next to me with 5 gorgeous girls daintily eating their Chinese food. And then there were 3, left. Lobster pieces. I felt like Achilles in the siege of Troy. To destroy a 1.5 kilo lobster all by myself is no less satisfying. With my plate polished off clean, I stood up akimbo, much to the surprise of my bemused friend, the 5 beautiful co-diners and our Chinese stewardess. I told her stoically that I was adjusting the lobster inside my stomach and she did have a strange look on her face. Hah! You should have seen mine – it was like Po with his mouth filled with buns.
Ni hao! And how!
#BurpAndBelch Meter: 5 buuuuuurps (sorry, was I too loud?)
When you have a mall in Dubai, in the shape of a pyramid, with walls adorned with hieroglyphs, Ramasses II greeting you at the gate along with Anubis, then little wonder that there will be a pub called Carter’s.
The Englishman who shot to unprecedented fame when he ‘stumbled’ upon the untouched tomb of boy-king Tutankhamen, was celebrated for opening up the preparatory after-life of the ancient Egyptians to the whole world. That was just the history appetiser. For those that want to know about more Howard Carter or King Tut, read up. If you want to know about the ‘meteoric’ iron used for King Tut’s dagger, read this: MeteoriteIronForKingTutsDagger
Carter’s is a lively, charming, colonial gastro pub (and sports bar), Carter’s features some English favourites and gourmet newness that one can enjoy without the starched formality.
The menu was rather square, something I would have personally designed if I was running the show here (with a few tweaks here and there). Luckily the staff was friendly enough for you to come back a second time. Well, I have seen this for the last 10 years, so this felt like old times.
When in an English pub, eat Stilton. This beautiful salad could be my best friend for a long, long time. Oven roasted beetroots, with a drizzle of Stilton blue cheese, baby gem lettuce and macadamia nuts for crunch was simply delish. It was too dark for me to behave like typical food bloggers and whip out my phone camera and shoot the food a zillion times before eating it! So, I just ate it in peace!
Right after this got over, the live rock music took over. That meant, the abrupt end of conversation as the drummer was within earshot and a careless flick of the Stilton could have soiled the guitarist’s shiny black leather waistcoat. I stuck to my crispy calamari for comfort.
For mains, I ordered the peppered filet with hash and buttered spinach. Do not miss the peppercorn sauce. Eating this sauce is like listening to your favourite tune on the radio. My dinner mate settled for Carter’s Cod and Chips. Now the thing about fish and chips is that there is nothing new that can be done to a classic. It’s like a vintage car. You can just rub the chrome 4 times extra for value add. There was mushy peas and tartar sauce. Home run. Although I am a little blah to the bland batter the fish gets coated in. So, instead of helping my friend out when he couldn’t finish it, I chose to relish on the perfectly done, medium well, steak with handsome grill marks et al. What the dish lacked was the crunch of steamed veggies which the wilted spinach could not perform.
We washed the food down with our beer. While on that, make sure to ask for the Summer Sale where you get pints and selected grapes for very cheap. Will certainly come in handy for the rock night.
All in all, Cater’s is a great place to unwind with family and friends. Use the terrace when the weather isn’t that muggy. Or else just sit indoors and crane your neck to see the inquisitive Carter bent over the sarcophagus of Tutankhamen. Should do the trick!
My last few days have been very seafood-laden. Not that it is a complaint; just an observation. And then when the Movenpick JLT branded their Thursday evenings as the Fisherman’s Market at their restaurant Nosh, it did call for a visit.
At the outset, I need to put down the fact that I have not experienced such warm hospitality in most of the well-heeled and shiny reputed restaurants in hotels. And that is exactly what has made my visit to Nosh so memorable.
Right from the First Impressions Officer to the restaurant manager, the servers or the lively Canadian chef who went about shucking oysters, all staff were upbeat, welcoming and took detailed care of their guests. So refreshing to see that.
While I sipped my white vino to sooth away the fatigue of a hard work week, I plotted what I would store in my stomach. Started with different types of refreshing seafood salad, my favourite being the niçoise.
After flirting with prawns and tuna, mussels and clams, decided to profess my liking for oysters that were shucked by the jovial Canadian Executive Chef. Dont miss the fish and chips or the crispy calamari rings.
Main course had different varieties worth straying right from seafood pasta and risotto to breaded fish. The live kitchen had the appointed chef cooking your choice from red snappers to crabs. This time I gave the sushi counter a miss since I was enjoying my flings with the Mediterranean styles of cooking.
Desserts had the usual suspects including the fondant fountain. What I liked most was the toffee pudding.
While Nosh may not have the best layout for something as elaborate as the Fisherman’s Market theme, but they make the most of it with its food arrangements and the heart-warming service-with-a-smile.
Thank you Cybelle, Executive Sous Chef Patrick Lanteigne, the smiling hostess Nova Embred, the industrious Abhishek Bose and the rest of the Nosh team for making it such a delightful evening.
#BurpAndBelch meter: 3 out of 5 burps
#5WordRestaurantReview: Wanna Eat With Their Staff!
The mere mention of seafood brings up images of all things that can poetically be called “fruits of the sea” and Mundo (at Jumeirah Emirates Towers) had exactly that. Sea of seafood for the eyes and the belly at the seafood dinner at Mundo
The restaurant, running almost-full for a weekday early dinner, welcomed me and my chowdown partner to plush interiors and counters and islands of seafood. We invested in surveying the spread, mentally noting the stations to stop at and counters to give a miss. You possibly cannot eat all that is on display.
We started with cold oysters that were shucked in front of us. For accompaniments, I usually avoid the creamy sorts, as I feel it numbs down the taste of the sea. They go best with lemon juice and pepper. I also tried the tomato salsa and a pineapple salsa that certainly brightened up my palette.
Moved on to prawns and scallops, followed them with ceviches and stopped over at the cheese and fruits counter. I was very happy to have the British Stilton present there along with the usual suspects. I spied the winning avocado salsa verde (nobody would penalise if one were to call it the guacamole) and next to it sat my current favourite the Chimichurri sauce. Those led me to overeat a little more before stopping over to the paella and grilled fish stations.
Funnily, I spied a quiet corner that served Indian cuisine. However, I was sad to see that Indian seafood preparations were completely missing from the table. I would certainly recommend scouring the western (and eastern) parts of India to source out some excellent seafood varieties that would add some geographical and gastronomic weightage to the Mundo of seafood.
Special mention of the sushi counter that served an eel sushi with green eggs of flying fish on top. It was delicious. The flying fish certainly excited me since I had read about them in my childhood and seen ample documentaries.
With perhaps a huge haul of the Mediterranean in our bellies, we settled down with sticky toffee pudding and a selection of desserts to end this world tour of sea food at Mundo.
Mundo offers a global gourmet journey through the Mediterranean, Middle East, India and Asia other than the seafood dinner from Sunday to Thursday.
My friend asked, “Why is this brunch on a Saturday?”
“Because all other brunches in Dubai happen on a Friday.”
And with this attitude, Mazina, the multi-cuisine restaurant at Address Dubai Marina hosted the first Superhero Brunch on a Saturday. Lovely meeting Spidergirl, who greeted us and deposited us in the safe hands of Ironman who welcomed us in. Spiderman was stuck to a corner as he wished us a healthy appetite. Man of Steel whizzed past with a serving tray as Batman smiled making a drink behind the bar! This is like having a lavish brunch while in Comicon!
Our smiling hostess took us from counter-to-counter, highlighting various cuisines and taste profiles. Started out healthy from the salad corner, where you could tuck into prepared salads or make your own with greens and condiments provided. The basil pesto and horseradish relish was to my liking.
The seafood counter had fresh prawns, mussels and king crabs that sat next to the sushi counter.
I moved on the “Jamon Jamon” counter – loading up on parma ham and smoked ham along. Went beautifully with creamy and hard cheese, walnuts, pine nuts, date compote and crackers.
Ideally I should have stopped after this. But Supergirl flew along and chatted us up. I headed to the South Asian counter. The chef prepared a simple Peking Duck roll with shredded cucumbers and leeks over a sweet sauce. Those that want to bunk the duck could have mushrooms and bokchoy, dimsums of all varieties and satays of choice. Try the mango fish with a melon ball on top. One could marry it!
I had to skip the roast counter that had smoked turkey and made a beeline for the dessert. Fondant fountains welcomes us but I went straight for the toffee pudding. Must confess that I have had better, but the mango chocolate mousse and other desserts could heal up a love-lorn heart.
#BurpAndBelch meter : 5 buuuurps
#5WordFoodReview : You Need A Superhero Appetite!
TheCalmDev and a friend were invited for the Superhero Brunch at Mazina in Dubai Address Marina.
Industry perspective into culinary habits that will be big this year.
The UAE’s culinary business is experiencing a growth spurt. It is almost as if the industry has somewhat entered its teens when we expected it take some more time. If reports are to be believed, about 20,000 F&B outlets are expected to ‘shroom up by 2020. Such reports are not surprising. Think of UAE as your home kitchen. When more guests turn up, you just make some more food and serve your guests. The numbers of tourists flocking to the UAE sees a healthy year-on-year growth. Hotels are expanding their chains and restaurants. Eatery chains are opening newer outlets in newer malls that grow faster than the palm trees. Stand-alone eateries and food entrepreneurs see this as a growth opportunity to increase their capacity. And so, the country’s kitchen, as it were, is expanding.
UAE is a hotspot of culinary conquests. It is the star attraction. Residents and tourists alike, love eating out and why not! When you can get food from the world in a span of 50 kilometres or thereabouts, food becomes the main attraction. Accessibility to the global palate is easier than getting a visa to go for a holiday. Think Argentinian to Japanese – and all that is available, in full authenticity.
All this has led to a large influx of global culinary masters. Whether starred or yearning to have the Bibendum’s mark of excellence, they all make sure that they have a UAE presence. It could be argued, over some single-origin coffee and focaccia, that the usual map pegs are giving way to opening up in the glittering UAE. Georgio Locatelli, Gary Rhodes, Nobu, Gordon Ramsey, Atul Kochchar, Heinz Beck, Vikas Khanna, Yannick Alleno, Vineet Bhatia and Jamie Oliver are some names that reinforce the belief as high as the Burj that Dubai is quickly becoming a culinary epicentre.
In this Middle East Milan, the melange of such culinary brands helps hotels lure more and newer guests. Global chains are swimming the seas to set shop here like Joe’s Crab Shack did when they opened their 131st store and the 1st overseas restaurant in the Dubai Mall a few months back. I see that the burgeoning food industry has also given rise to the new breed of food journalists or bloggers who are becoming a force to reckon with, Darth Vader notwithstanding. Adding in more gourmet force, digital platforms allow restaurants of all hues and pockets to list and get reviewed – all of this feeding into the big churning bowl of the culinary kingdom in the UAE.
With the last few years being spectacular in this respect, 2016 begins on a happy and hopeful note of newer food experiences and newer entrants into the market. This is an attempt to tap into the top 5 trends of this year.
#1. RISE OF THE CASUAL SMART DINING
Fine dine does not find favours with many, mainly because it is a starched and stiff affair. These days, people want to go to a restaurant, however posh, to have some good nosh, enjoy the ambience without having to worry about which service fork to use or if their cufflinks are secretly kissing the meat gravy.
Casual Smart Dining restaurants are a sub-niche between the fine dining restaurants and casual dining eateries. The cutlery remains classy while the ambience is slightly more relaxed. Many restaurants are working that extra mile to give value for the dirham spent in eating.
Head chef at the multi-award winning Italian seafood restaurant Bice Mare at Souk Al Bahar, Leonardo Maltese feels “You expect guests in formals to turn up for a fine dine restaurant. But again, you cannot be rude to a patron who may turn up in a hoodie. At Bice Mare, every guest who walks is given the same attention and care so that the experience is memorable and the taste will transport them to the south seas of Italy.”
Can’t argue with that.
#2. STREET FOOD GOES CHICStreet food has a huge following. After all, it is food that is made for the working class. Look up the cultural history of food and you will see how a certain breed of eateries opened up across the globe that catered to middle class people. It is what is known as the Quick Service Restaurants. Easy to make food that could be consumed on the go became a rage. Restaurant grew in operations due to popularity and less wastage of resources. What is cooked is served and finished. But the hidden hurdle was that of unhealthy food. Deep fried, slathered with fat and preservative laden condiments didn’t help the gastro gizzards of the consumers; not to mention processed meats.
But now, street food has been adopted by the high street. High end restaurants realise the popularity and taste profile of such dishes and have gladly given them a healthy make-over for the discerning diner to savour the taste and yet not compromise on health. Little wonder that Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna’s one year old restaurant Junoon at the Shangri-La, Dubai serves up a street food brunch that showcases the length and breadth of Indian street food without the need to have antacids. The eggplant chat is a favourite of mine.
The very vibrant restaurant Nine7One at Oberoi Dubai has dished out the very popular Street Art Brunch that houses global favourites. You could be choosing your tacos one moment, and munching on fish and chips on the next. You could be negotiating your chopsticks over your favourite sushi or dipping into a bowl of Thai noodle soup with ‘everything in it’.
If you prefer some theatrics with your food, then Tresind at Nassima Towers, Dubai is your destination where the shy executive chef Himanshu Saini serves Indian street food in a boisterous manner, replete with liquid nitrogen and chutney gels to suit your dormant artist.
If you are not the sorts to saunter into 5 star properties, then bespoke cafes like The Sum Of Us, snuck into Trade Centre or Tom and Serg, tucked away in Al Quoz could be your preferred haunt to have healthy options of simple and humble street foods. The way I see it, there is going to be more street food that will be elevated to high-wire status by many restaurants in the months to come.
#3. FOOD ON WHEELS
Calling on the local Favreau. Just last year, local boy Jassim Najjar returned from the US. He was besotted with food trucks, “I’d just graduated and come back with this idea to have my own food truck. I fell in love with them while I was there – obsessed, actually.” Jassim helped his overweight chef brother lose weight and they decided to put it out on the menu of their food truck called f!T!
Food trucks are no longer just a fancy idea and are a trend that is catching on in the region. Most food trucks started out serving just sandwiches and burgers for consumers on the move. Today, more complex dishes are being added. Gourmet food trucks are starting to appear as part of the evolution of the new culinary trend.
Meet the owners of GObai, the brainchild of Cara Davies, woman entrepreneur, and her business partner Kevin Vaz, who decided to transport some Goan street food flavours to the emirate. “Dubai is such a melting pot of flavours, so we couldn’t help but give the food a Dubai twist, but it’s essentially traditional Goan food,” says Cara.
Dubai residents would have seen fancy and funked up food trucks in Emaar Boulevard, JLT Park, Kite Beach or Zabeel Park. Food trucks reach out to food lovers, with diners enjoying their favourite food sitting not in a brick and mortar restaurant but in the setting they choose to.
Cara says, “It is an initial step in opening up the Middle East market to this global phenomenon of food trucks. It will take some time to have this developed to scale the markets in the US or UK, but currently it is a great way to cater to the Dubai foodies.”
With the interest in food trucks, riding the high wave, companies are branching out into 360 degree B2B models where food entrepreneurs can get a truck from under a single roof – designed, fitted out, with licences procured as well.
Food trucks are now beginning to be seen in various events, be it the Art Fair at Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi or the brand new food truck brunch at the Emirates Golf Course, Dubai.
Moral of the story, this mobile model of food is going to catch on like wild-fire with food enthusiasts choosing to put in money in food trucks while restaurant chains see this as a popular model to reach out to patrons and potential customers.
Honk if you want to join in the convoy!
#4. SUPER FOODS LEAGUE Here is a word that has garbed up as a super-hero in the dietary domain. Nutrient rich food items that are healthy (naturally) and sometimes help medical conditions are called Super Foods. Keeping in mind the first part, can also make a potato a member of this league. To demystify super foods, it is something that helps lose or control weight with some additional features like improving bodily functions. While I do feel that ‘super foods’ is as much a marketing gimmick as Valentine’s Day, I do appreciate the goods that have come on to the table. I bet my last dirham coin that you would have heard of quinoa, blueberries, kale, goji berry, wheatgrass, chia seed and many more.
I see the rise of carefully put together ingredients that are carefully grown, keeping in mind the generally unhealthy standard of living that most of us have. So be it fresh salmon or eggs that give Omega 3, or exotic acai berries or seaweed for that matter, more and more restaurants are dishing out to the latest living demands.
I do not mind it at all, after all cocoa powder is also considered to be a super food!
#5. MOLECULAR DE-MYSTIFICATION
Herve This may not be too happy knowing that molecular gastronomy is slowly making an exit. Known as the father of molecular gastronomy, Herve had visions of ending world hunger with chemical compounds becoming the ingredients of the future. While most of us may not understand the ‘why’ or ‘what’ behind molecular gastronomy, it is basically changing the physicality (and chemical composition) of food to manipulate taste and texture.
Here is the UAE, we have felt like being on the sets of the Terminator when liquid nitrogen was used to play around with hydration of ingredients. Undoubtedly there is more MG than gimmicky food presentations – it is the careful studying of food texture and presenting it in a form un-thought of. Mint chutney became globules, sorbets became spheres, savoury became mousse, condiments became edible dust and so on. Avant-garde restaurants experiment with the texture of food, replicating it to look like stones etc. It made the chef and artist and scientist.
Michelin starred chef Vikas Khanna, who runs a successful modern Indian restaurant called Junoon in New York and in Dubai has dabbled with this arm of cooking. However, he sees a change in trends. He states, “It was done over a decade ago. It was very exciting to experiment with food. However, kitchen craft is bending towards cuisine that is simple and organic, in its natural true form. I feel people will ultimately gravitate away from it.”
My recent meeting with one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain, Michelin star chef, who is successfully running Benaras in London and Rang Mahal in Dubai, Atul Kochhar echoes similar sentiments. “I am not sure consumers feel very excited having chemicals put in their food to replicate the taste. As it is the world is fighting a war against additives and harmful chemicals. Not sure, if they are keen to have a chemical powder that tastes like a curry or chocolate on their plate,” feels Kochhar.
I have been frequenting this quaint neighbourhood on Umm Al Sheif that lies spot in the middle of Jumeirah. This stretch has about 5 restaurants shoulder-to-shoulder and is my favourite place to sit down with a book and not get distracted by the hustle-bustle around.
Of all Mozzo Centrale is my favourite. A cozy, laid-back Italian ristorante, Mozzo Centrale has introduced extended breakfast timings until 6PM on weekends. And the menu sure is appetizing. The Salmon Benny (eggs benedict over salmon), Chilli Al (eggs and bacon in brioche bun) and the Lobster Benny are some favourites to pick from. The fully loaded French Toast is not be missed at Mozzo Centrale.
However, my eating partner-in-crime and I decided to go by the menu. I ordered a big bowl of pumpkin soup that was the kinds that blankets you on a chilly night. We followed that with the away-from-the-traditional mushroom bruschetta. I am partial to mushrooms and when they have parmesan on them, I don’t judge them, I eat them!
For the mains, we ordered for Gnocchi Al Forno and Tagliatelle Alfredo. When warm morsels of flavourful Italian food goes down your gullet, you know life is good. The portions were excellent and more than fills you. Ask for extra parmesan if you like to load up your plate with cheesy goodness.
We had to skip dessert. These are times I wished I had a portable stomach or an extendable one!
Nonetheless, Mozzo Centrale is doing things right, in a silent way. I guess saying “the test of the pudding is in its taste” sure goes a long way.