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Top 5 Culinary Trends in 2016

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016 twiter-07
Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016

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.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#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.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016
Chef Leonardo Maltese

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.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#2. STREET FOOD GOES CHIC Street 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.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#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!

 

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#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!

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#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.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016
TheCalmDev with Vikas Khanna

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.

Have a delicious 2016!

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Omnia Baharat – for the love of burger

Omnia Baharat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

There are three things that can work for a restaurant.
Location. Known chef. Food.
In case of Omnia Baharat, all three work cohesively, like the food that is served there.

Omni Baharat Front Facade
Omni Baharat Front Facade

Plonked in the prime of Mall of Emirates on Level 2, Omnia Baharat may wear a comparatively deserted look because of the overflowing restaurant branch whose parent outlet has a fabled Michelin star, but this gem sure has a good menu and a mean burger to offer!

Omnia Baharat's carefully constructed menu
Omnia Baharat’s carefully constructed menu

This restaurant is co-owned by celebrity chef Silvena Rowe, usually remembered for culinary agony aunt columns in a local daily. Eat here and you shall know of her culinary craft. Little wonder that she has cooked and fed royalty to rockstar. The restaurant claims “we serve real food” seemed a little clamorous since the menu seriously does the talking. But let me dismiss that as a whim of an agency-bred glutton.

My colleague ordered the house burger featuring Aberdeen Angus and I settled for the Omnia Wagyu. Also asked for a side order of hand-cut fries on the side (the cultural hangover of eating at burger chains in food courts).

Omnia Wagyu (Grade 8+) - Eat this!
Omnia Wagyu (Grade 8+) – Eat this!

The burger was presented on the table, looking shiny as a penny, with an artistic swipe of sauce. I was particularly looking forward to the sumac flavoured caramelised onions that sat on top pf the Wagyu patty, done medium well. It might look deceptively ‘mouthable’ but that glossy artisan bun, toasted on the inside, can throw a real challenge to the best big mouths in town. The flavouring of the burger was mild yet tasty. Certainly, one of the best burgers I have had here in the UAE.

Omnia Wagyu - one of the best burgers in town
Omnia Wagyu – one of the best burgers in town

In fact, it brought back memories of a pub burger I had in London, in July this year. I am beginning to favour the British over the Americans at constructing a better burger.

The thinly cut fries were crispy albeit a tad oily. But one tends to overlook that when the burger you are chowing down is so tasty.

Recommend it.

#BurpAndBelch meter : 4.5 burps

#5WordFoodReview: I Wagyu. I Really Do!

What A Load Of CRAB!

Joe's Crab Shack
Joe’s Crab Shack

Home to the best variety of crustaceans, Joe’s Crab Shack has done very well for themselves in the US. 130 across the entire continent is not a feeble feat. And then, for the 131st, they decided to come to the other side of Atlantic and weigh anchor in Dubai. And, are we not happy!

JCS opens in the Dubai Mall, Level 2, right next to the Dubai Aquarium under the aegis of F&B stalwart Sahej Bin Lahej. It is a happy place with a warm and friendly staff, who know their crabs and sharks.

The Shark Bite - innovative drink at JCS
The Shark Bite – innovative drink at JCS

Ask staff for recommendations. And you will end up with something that you will really like. For example, this NatGeo-meets-nightclub drink called Shark Bite. Comes with an angry shark on the side that spills ‘blood’ on the blue waters of your drink. Creative. There is no sarcasm in this; it is creative. And you get to take the shark home.

Monogamous ones can try the Pina Colada and then wait to be surprised with the presentation. No spoilers here. Go there and see it for yourself.

The JCS Menu - this will take time
The JCS Menu – this will take time

The starters can get you soaked in a ‘mer’-ry mood. Try the Great Balls of Fire if you fancy hot and spicy or ask for the Good Old Crab Dip – toasty tacos served with a creamy baked crab dip with pieces of celery to add freshness. This is one starter that could feature in the mains, and I wouldn’t complain. Order 2 if you are a table for 4. Do it.

Grilled Red Snapper in Lobster Sauce
Grilled Red Snapper in Lobster Sauce

For the mains, I went straight for the grilled red snapper in a creamy spinach and lobster sauce! How fancy does that sound! it came with  some crab-infused rice. Pretty much fisherman’s food, minus the cream. The red snapper was fresh. Thank heavens, there is no over-harvesting of hammours here.

King Crab and Lobster - get cracking
King Crab and Lobster – get cracking

If you are in the messy mood, go straight for your bucket of crabs or lobsters. These king crabs or stone crabs are shipped straight from the US; reason being that they are not native to the Arabian Sea ecosystem. In fact, all the sea food is shipped regularly from America and made pan-fresh and served. While your bucket reaches you, you will be readied for battle. An apron will be draped, gloves donned and cracker and zipper handed over as weapons of choice. If you are a new soldier, ask the staff for a happy demonstration. And then you are ready to attack the orange-coloured crustacean army!

Shark eating Campfire S'mores
Shark eating Campfire S’mores

If you are brave enough for desert, try this camp-fire compilation of a chocolate cake slice over digestive biscuits, layered with a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, with marshmallows on top and then torched lightly for colour and effect.

Just one thing, Joe’s Crab Shack changed my childhood memories of loving Sebastian the crab, forever. Now I like crabs more!

#BurpAndBelch meter : 4.5 burps

#5WordfoodReview : What A Load Of Crab

Bloomsbury’s Artisan Bakery – for your cup of joy!

Ooh it is a tough task to get me to Dubai Mall; and that too on a Friday. Truth be told, I don’t remember where I came from and where I need to go. As a man who prides his in-built GPS sense, there is a stereo-typical shame in admitting that I am foxed by the ‘exit’ signage. Besides, on a Friday, Dubai Mall is a test in negotiating skills more than I have used all week. I accepted to visit Bloomsbury’s Artisan Bakery in Dubai Mall rather gingerly. I didn’t fancy cup-cakes either.

The Bloomsbury's Parlour
The Bloomsbury’s Parlour

And there I found myself driving to Dubai Mall with my wife and toddler in tow for a promised cosy and lazy breakfast. We managed to get to the store which is located twixt the fountain and Wafi Gourmet.

The delicious war-cry!
The delicious war-cry!

Bloomsbury’s – the Boutique Café and Artisan bakery is a home-grown and chef driven concept with all recipes created from scratch using the finest ingredients available seasonally. From cupcakes, confectioneries, the famous high tea, and afternoon tea, Bloomsbury’s serve a fine selection of tea from all over the world.

Bloomsbury's Artisan Bakery
Bloomsbury’s Artisan Bakery

While I was waiting to be served, I was sniffing around their fancy tea test tubes containing some fine mix of teas – some refreshing and some with a vigorous flavor. However, I settled for a cup of strong coffee, since that is my favourite poison.

Advait digging into his cupcake
Advait digging into his cupcake

My son found the quaint café quite interesting, more so as he leafed through a book on London while the smiling hostess put a strawberry cupcake in front of him and a ‘red velvet’ in front of us. The clever boy that he is, he didn’t wait any time in celebrating his cheat-day by digging into the smooth icing on the cupcake. I slowly advanced towards the ‘red velvet’ with some dramatic music in my head – cupcakes give you a sugar rush with the icing that will last you a rugby match – and when I spooned in the first swirl of the icing, I was blown over! Soft, creamy, clearly fresh cream cheese and with the sweetness fine-tuned to perfection! OK, then Bloomsbury’s – you are winning me over!

I walked over to the display to run a look at the motley collection of cupcakes that flaunt over 30 different flavours. The friendly store manager Mayank pointed out that the café has a unique rating system for all their products. That way, only the tops ‘stars’ are served to Bloomsbury’s patrons. Suddenly, I realized the pressure of being a cupcake!

The Hero - chocolate fudge cake
The Hero – chocolate fudge cake

I noticed this very artistic, golden hued chocolate fudge cake. It is Bloomsbury’s big ticket item that has seen unprecedented popularity thanks to its shape, size, texture and hue. Have a special occasion in mind? Book this good-looking baby. And there’s more, Bloomsbury’s also creates bespoke cakes / cupcakes for special days like birthdays, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers et al.

Fresh off the oven!
Fresh off the oven!

I sat down for my breakfast that consisted of oven-fresh flavoured croissant and coffee. Wife and I cooed over the zaa’tar croissant and the cheese variant. They were flaky, perfectly baked with the heat permeating to the deepest inner folds of flour. This is croissant could have you go silent for some time.

Coffee and more!
Coffee and more!

Set your Bloomsbury’s date at the Dubai Mall, near Wafi Gourmet with the café open from 10AM till midnight on weekdays and extending an hour on weekends.

In Abu Dhabi, find them at Al Wahda Mall, Mushrif Mall and Y Tower Building. In case you fancy a drive up to Ras Al Khaimah, look for Bloomsbury’s at the newly opened RAK Mall.

Fresh ingredients, aesthetic and artistic, and made hot off the oven, daily, Bloomsbury’s Artisan Bakery is that perfect place to sit with a book or watch shoppers walk past with a hot, buttered croissant or decadent cupcake and coffee.

Killer Broccoli at Grand Hyatt

There is something mysterious about the broccoli. The effect  begins with its spelling. It sounds like new villain in town! It could sound like a new Italian music composer! Some may build a connection with secret agent 007! But there is a connection that IZ, the authentic tandoori restaurant in Grand Hyatt, has established and an irrefutably delicious connection at that! And that is their signature dish – grilled broccoli!

IZ is perhaps Grand Hyatt, Garhoud, Dubai’s best kept secret. They serve the most delectable north Indian fare without the sensational fanfare that other restaurants deploy. I love the setting – partially inside, surrounded in dark woody hues and outside seating beside a roaring fountain. Why I say ‘best kept secret’ is because of its location. You could miss it, unless you can smell the ‘tandoori’ air just around it.

So, sitting down for a lunch meeting at IZ, was a very happy and special moment. Conversations alternated between food to business. The very pleasant PR Manager Leenu graciously hosted me and my colleague as we sat to discuss the imminent launch of IZ Brunch. And of all things included, she presented me with a plate of grilled broccoli.

Killer Broccoli at IZ, Grand Hyatt
Killer Broccoli at IZ, Grand Hyatt

I brandished my fork and knife and dumped 2 florets on my plate. I know broccoli. I know how they taste. I use them myself, regularly. I cut down a decent part of the floret and popped it in my mouth. And after that, my vocabulary got drastically changed. So did our conversation!

I havent tasted broccoli that sensational! Perfectly cooked. Tender yet crunchy. And from deep within, came a buttery taste that complimented the florets so beautifully. Broccoli overtook the table. Broccoli beat the chicken and salmon. Shamelessly, I pulled in the last floret on the plate, lest it gets taken away by the smiling and efficient IZ staff. I requested Leenu to call the chef over. Chef Aftab is a very humble man. I conveyed that if anybody can make broccoli taste this sensational, then that person must be a very capable chef! I have also managed to convince them to teach me how to grill broccoli to perfection and part with the recipe. And I will not be able to share it on this blog.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Order the grilled broccoli. You will learn to love your green veggies.
  • Order the grilled broccoli. You will revel in the taste.
  • Order the grilled broccoli. They are on the brunch menu. Yayy!
  • Order the grilled broccoli. They can only be beaten by their signature mushrooms.
  • Order the grilled broccoli. I strongly recommend  it.

PS: I am negotiating with Grand staff and Leenu to rename the broccoli as Killer Brocs! I am putting my weight to that!

Brunch at IZ the tandoori restaurant at Grand Hyatt launches early May 2014. Watch this space for more.

Taste of Music, Sound of Food

I am not really in favour of restaurants with live music.

I have my reasons for not liking the mix of hot food and live music. First and perhaps, the foremost, I feel that music is being degraded by presenting it to a bunch of people who are more interested in what is on their plates than on the singer’s lips. There is an automatic curtain that we draw in our heads trying to separate the live performers and food. Music, when presented live, requires some amount of attention. Respect for the craft and the craftsman completely flies out of the window when one walks into a ‘restaurant with live music’. I start detesting the idea when fine dining restaurants have live performers. How am I supposed to concentrate on the food, then?

Second, if I need to have entertainment in front of my eyes while I eat, I usually switch on the TV. At least I can change channels as opposed to stuck with singers who I might not fancy.

I do not see the point of having singers who put on a show as if they were applying for American Idol. Singing while people eat will not guarantee music loving audiences.

It is a conversation killer. How am I supposed to talk to my co-chair when some Johnny or Jenny is trying to wrench all their emotions in a song that is blaring across the restaurant? Excuse me, I want to talk. I want to discuss the food. I want to share how my day went. I want to know what is happening in my friend’s life. I do not want to practise sign language with a knife and fork in hand and look like a complete retard. Pardon my French.

Besides, the quality of music (or sometimes dance) is not good, most times. It takes away from the taste of my plate when the music that is dished out is below standard.  Like Instagram has made photographers out of everybody, karaoke has made everybody singers. I recently walked into a karaoke restaurant, not knowing that it was a karaoke night, and I cursed my decision all throughout the evening. As if the restaurant singers were not enough, there were other customers, who decided to sing a love-lorn sing in between starters and main course. You have no idea, what I went through that night.

Does one not find it weird when strange pairs of eyes keep looking at you and your dinner ridden plate for compliments or clappings? Does one not find it weird to eat with somebody looking at you? I do. Neither do I like the idea of customers staring brazenly at the singer (God bless, if you are a woman)!

All in all, I find the idea, rather futile and infertile. If music be the food, then play some music softly, like most restaurants do. Let there be good conversations and mirth, let people enjoy the food, savour it with their eyes and taste buds. Let the multitudes in the food and beverage industry learn to respect food and music separately. One can be the other’s inspiration but both hold different positions. Let us not take it away from them.