A new kind of brunch, palatial afternoon tea, Aussie sleb chefs and more
Two months in the UK seem very far away now; with hardly a cloud in the sky we saw Britain at its best. Still savouring the nibbles and tastes of artisan food at the Foodies Festival, missing friends from Food Blogger Connect (and Ren Behan’s fabulous bigos), remembering a very convivial visit to Jamie’s Fifteen and wistful about the wind in my hair, walking boots on my feet and why I love Dartmoor. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, so why not a single post about the UK in September?
I came back to Dubai, unpacked my suitcase, and hit the ground running. Meeting clients, catching up with friends and there are SO many new hotel and restaurant openings, cooking and tasting events galore, the roads are manic again and there is a severe feeling of deja vu but with knobs on! All available sand seems to be behind hoardings and giant cranes have raised their heads on the skyline once more. Boom time but with a bit more sophistication perhaps? Dubai is a different place to even five years ago, with a better infrastructure; hopefully older and wiser. Let’s see.
Having amnesia about how hard getting up at 6am is when you’ve been out the night before, I probably said yes to too many things but it made the month fly by and, voila, it’s October and the horrid humidity and heat of September are almost out of the door. Here’s my month of munching with a few recommendations:
Where to find provisions and bronze-coated eclairs
1st September A fresh juice from Baker & Spice in Souk Al Manzil prised my eyelids open at a business meeting (free wi-fi). You can peek into their kitchen via a window (at the top of the escalator from the very easy parking) and this small shop is packed with freshly baked goods, sour dough bread, salads and a menu of hot food that changes every day based on what’s in season. I stocked up with local, free range eggs from the Farm House opposite which sells local, organic produce – but there’s not much fresh stuff on the shelves as the growing season is just beginning.
Super-traveller Miret invited me for afternoon tea hosted by The Westin. Although we had loads to talk about (her use of social media to achieve her objective of travelling the world is inspiring) we managed to eat our way through some very fancy cakes, with not much left at all for Dylan of The Travel Manor when he joined us later. Follow Flânerie féminine you want a luxurious and stunning virtual tour of the world via Instagram.
Dining in the dark
6th September Dining without the use of sight is what makes Noire at Spectrum on One in The Fairmont Dubai very different. Read about the experience and why KP was feeling very smug at the end of the evening here.
Vaarwel and a literary feast
8th September Francine and I were a bit bleary-eyed when we met for a quick lunch at Bateel, and it wasn’t all to do with jet-lag. The move to Huston of a very talented cook, writer and lovely friend (and her husband Barolo loving Raymond who I met through my wine courses) will leave a huge hole in my life. Luckily we are plotting….
Feeling very virtuous as I drove to book club and abstained from drinking (it’s zero tolerance here). The food was also super-healthy as N had themed it to the book (which we try to do); Gold by Chris Cleave was all about Olympic cycling athletes. We’re reading My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad this month which has been described as “the most important and well-loved work of Iranian fiction since World War II”. An Iranian feast to look forward to (as well as a terrific book).
I live in a desert
9th September I Live in a Frying Pan and I always seem to end up in Zaroob for our meetings as it’s casual and quirky (like us). Tucking into some hummous and catching up on months of nattering I gasped as I noticed the scene outside the window. The Sheikh Zayed Road which had been illuminated by brilliant sunshine (39 C) was cloaked, very suddenly, in the cloudy mist of a sandstorm. It’s like dense fog but gritty and you find sand in your crevices for days.
Cake, conversation and where to eat an Autumnal British menu
10th September A photographer and magazine person were in my kitchen for hours to capture a cake baked my me that evoked special memories of childhood. Check out BBC Good Food Middle East Magazine this month for ginger cake with Turkish Delight icing – recipe here.
The service at The Ivy, Dubai has always been superb but I was less of a fan of their menu. An Autumn menu tasting made me change my mind, and the atmosphere was enlivened by an excellent crooner (very Buble-esque). Good conversation (and wine) flowed (recommend the Trebbiano, Cantina Moncaro 2010, Marche for good value easy drinking). I’ve added The Etymologicon to my Amazon wish-list as a result (a word to write, not say out loud). Mental note to try out breakfast at The Ivy when the Farmers’ Market resumes in November.
Where to feed your kitchen addiction
11th September Do you find kitchen shops relaxing? I can’t resist popping into one if I’m passing just to get a fix of shiny gadgets and interesting bakeware. When I first arrived in Dubai in 2000, good kitchenware shops were thin on the ground. I unearthed a quirky little trade supply shop in The Courtyard, but the first ‘proper’ good quality shop was Tavola which opened in 2003 and is still my ‘go to’ shop. Crate and Barrel opened a couple of years ago and is great for simple tableware – I buy their tea towels in the sale as backdrops for photography. At an evening compèred by Saba Wahid about mocktails and mini canapés, it was quite hard to see the demo, the canapés were a bit hit or miss but the goodie bag contained a slate board and cheese tools; you know about my cheese obsession?
Ideas for a casual Middle Eastern supper with friends
12th September A hearty dinner for 10 which was easy to fit in around work and teen commitments was required so I joined the rest of the world and turned to Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for inspiration. I pulled out a bag of frozen hummus (I make it in bulk) with crudités and plus a jar of Aivar. A leg of lamb was marinated and then cooked for 5 hours al la Ottolenghi’s shawarma recipe, served with his Basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs (using sharp barberries not sweet currants) plus a green salad. I whipped up some little meringues and broke them up with strawberries, figs, pomegranate seeds. Piled messily on a plain white rectangular plate (Jamie Oliver bung-it-all-on style) with cream flavoured with rose-water and vanilla; I’ve named it Turkish Delight Eton Mess. Should I share the recipe? Let me know.
… and round another table
13th September Is the best way to cook a join of beef on the grill? I’m beginning to think so as we had some gorgeous barbecued beef round at a friend’s house. He always treats us to interesting wine…
Where to go for cheese and wine and glamour
14th September The Cavalli Club wanted to test out their new cheese and wine night on a few wine geeks so we were happy to oblige. The service and selection was impeccable. Krste, the head sommelier is fantastic at explaining the wine matches – at 200 AED it must be one of the best value cheese and wine nights in town – every Saturday until further notice.
Local ingredients, flying chef
16th September You know what, if this invitation had come from anyone else than Miele I would have said no. I didn’t really have a clue who Shannon Bennett was. Smoked fish covered with caramelised brittle white chocolate? Surely that couldn’t work – but it did. Brilliantly. The first course was good with fish sourced locally (Oman) wild prawns from Yemen, decorated with teeny tiny courgettes with their flowers on and edible miniature pansies. But the slow-cooked beef that could be cut with a spoon for the main with pear and Macadamia nuts – feed me that every day for a week and I would still ask for more. For pud was pav (of course), sea shells and Lamingtons (which sadly looked better than they tasted). Miele did a fantastic job, the whole place looked gorgeous and Shannon appeared to be a very approachable, honest chap with the appearance of being completely chilled until he saw something that wasn’t quite right. A steely-eyed perfectionism shone through the long-haired laid back image. His food didn’t just look good – he knew where his ingredients came from (he tries to source local in Melbourne) – impressive given that he’d arrived from Moscow just the night before. His team were lovely too which speaks volumes. You can see the menu here.
Gourmet ingredients, a new burger drive-in and Barolo by the glass
18th September I went along to Lafayette Gourmet for the launch of ‘Meet the Blogger’ week and watched Cooking with a Manicure demonstrate three recipes – see 22nd for more.
Shoot me down now. After all my out pourings about home cooked food, anti-fast-food and big brands, I went to the opening of a burger restaurant. My house is in the middle of a Bermuda triangle of golden arches drive throughs (or should that be ‘thru’?) – all three about a few minutes by car. If you extend that radius to five minutes you can fit in a Hardy’s, Johnny Rocket’s and a Fat Burger. Burger Fuel was the latest addition and as I was about to abandon my family later that evening I suggested to the teens that they might like to come along to the launch event. Guilt appeasement and bribery. I was curious too as this New Zealand chain is their favourite particularly as it has several vegetarian options for vege teen. The meat they use is grass-fed beef from New Zealand and they talk a lot about the quality of their ingredients. There was a lot to like about it, from the attractive decking and post-industrial interior to the recycled materials used in their minimal packaging. I had a mini-burger which was more than enough for me, the full-sized one is 1/3 of a pound i.e. 150 g. The bun was good – not pappy at all – a huge improvement on the usual offering (although it’s probably over a decade since I sunk my teeth into a Maccy D for comparison) ; the Cheddar actually tasted like its namesake.
Leaving a Hot Rod (with sliced jalapeno peppers, melted cheddar, salad, relish and aioli) for KP’s supper I tripped out merrily to Certo, Radisson Blu Media City Dubai, which was celebrating being voted ‘most authentic Italian restaurant in the Middle East and Africa 2013″ by Ospitalità Italiana. I’ve been to many of the monthly wine nights at the hotel’s ICON bar, tasted some of their wines with Italian food and wine expert Antonella Millarte, and was thrilled to see Finlay Quaye play live on their rooftop bar, but have never eaten at Certo.
The spread of Italian aperativo, included a selection of porky treats such as prosciutto, mortadella and salame; pork licenses for restaurants are hard to come by as the regulations for separate preparation are very demanding. A towering glass wine room occupies the centre of Certo and sommelier Medan announced the launch of a new wine list. Italy dominates with 134 different labels and with the focus on native Italian grapes and signature wine making regions. They also serve Barolo DOCG, DaGromis GAJA 2008, by the glass for 149 AED. The recent Prosecco craze seems to have spawned many that taste a bit like boiled sweets or have a synthetic nose. A glass of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, Jeio Bisol rekindled my relationship with the glera grape (316 AED per bottle). We also drank Col di Sasso, Castello Banfi 2010, a luscious, deep red cab/sangiovese blend and great value – for Dubai restaurants – at 255 AED (bottle).
Veg boxes, wine and dancing
19th September Until the Farmers’ Market reopens in November, there is a hole in my life. I ordered a Greenheart organic veg box. They are having a few delivery problems so it came really late at night although the produce was still fairly fresh. Peppers, courgettes and cucumbers dominated; there was a packet of local dates for sweet treat. Stuffed veg would be on the menu a lot this week.
Luckily KP was at home to receive the veg box as had already hopped on the Metro to the Dubai wine club at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates, where we blind tasted three whites and three reds. A huge surprise when the wrappers came off to discover that all the whites were Chardonnay. See the wines we drank here. Went onto a friend’s house and ended up dancing in her garden to Daft Punk at 2am – not an every day occurrence.
Surviving comfort zone removal
22nd September Today was the combination of two things that were exciting, took some effort but were very rewarding. In my comfort zone behind my computer screen I’m fine but get me out in front of people and my knees turn to jelly, my cheeks turn red, my teeth chatter and I feel such a buffoon. Somehow the lovely team from Lafayette Gourmet and Lootah Premium Foods got me to say yes to a demo; so I found myself, wobbly legged, in front of a gang getting ready to cook. However, what a lovely gang with loads of supportive friends. My chosen recipe was Spanish Omelette – a frugal, store-cupboard staple but utterly delicious simple meal. As good cold as it is warm, it was part of a series of packed lunch ideas for UAE Saves week. This is a fantastic initiative driven single-handedly by a human whirlwind, Nima Abu-Wardeh. Special thanks to James, Tony, Russell and Adrian for making this enjoyable. Phew.
Pack your lunch Monday
23rd September The team at 7 Days (the UAE’s free daily paper) pledged to take in packed lunches every day for a week for UAE Saves week. Nimah and I joined them round their board room table and a prize was given to the best lunch. I took my Spanish omelette but was deservedly beaten by a delicious vegetable pilau.
How to drink sake
24th September Sake remained a rather opaque subject until I joined this sake masterclass at Hakkasan booked via Lime & Tonic. I’ll wax lyrical at length in another post but, in a nutshell, would recommend highly. The next one is on 15th October – more here.
An afternoon tea to remember, a dinner to forget
26th September It wasn’t The Palace Downtown Dubai‘s signature cappuccino topped with gold leaf that attracted me, but I did try it (pretty to look at, usual taste). The afternoon tea in the Al Bayt Lobby Lounge was one of the best I’ve had; the whole experience is like drifting along on a fluffy, scented cloud being fed exquisite morsels by people who are dedicated to your pleasure. I took vege teen there and she revelled in the VIP treatment. She chose the classic Palace Tea (120 AED) requesting vegetarian sandwiches only, and I had the Arabian tea (AED 150). The savouries were really imaginative but with relevant flavours, the little cakes beautiful and the scones feather-like. We sipped our tea to the melody of a violin. A place to take my Mother-in-law when she comes at Christmas – unless I can think of an excuse to return earlier. The menu is here.
Two huge video screens showed videos about how great Melbourne is. A bossy compère kept shushing the room in order to tell us how great Australia is and how lucky we were to be eating this dinner in the ballroom at Atlantis, The Palm. The many Australians didn’t need to be told and this wasn’t doing anything to convince the rest of us. A line of white-clad, immaculate serving staff snaked through the tables to deliver a series of dishes orchestrated by Australian Masterchef judge George Colambaris. A partially opened tin of very fishy tasting fish, a plate of cold, watery miniature vegetables, an edible didgeridoo which tasted of dust, filled with hard, medicinal sweets. Much of this dinner was style over substance.
Lovely to meet Felicia and friend who reported later of a much nicer rice pudding dish cooked by George at Bloomingdales. If a PR job was needed, a tour of the tables by George instead of all the announcements would have been a much better idea. Such a contrast to the earlier Miele dinner. It’s rumoured that he’s opening a restaurant here soon….
Just a perfect day
27th September There are zillions of spas in Dubai but Sensasia is my favourite so when I noticed 50% off for the soft opening of the Souk al branch I didn’t hang about. Cradling a coffee at Baker & Spice and watching families start their weekend with a leisurely breakfast I could feel the stresses of the month slide away already. The effect of an hour and half of hot stone massage, lounging on the beds with a hot neck thing, sipping warm ginger tea, eating cold, salty cruditès and drifting in and out of consciousness to plinky-plonky music, was as miraculous as black magic.
Not being able to work out how to walk to Vida (Dubai residents will understand this) I drove round a few streets past buildings I remember a few short years ago being surrounded by sand and up to the hotel (which used to be called the Qamardeen) for Urban Picnic. A new brunch concept in a the land of brunch has to be very different to stand out, and this was. Grabbing a picnic basket or a teak slatted tray, you choose from arrays of still life picnics, tarts, quiches, salads, breads, cheeses, iced-teas and punches variously displayed on boards, in Kilner jars, baskets, bowls and jam jars. Pizza from the wood-fired oven, fruit de mare, lamb chops, steaks and oat-crusted chicken are offered hot in metal trugs. Old-fashioned puds such as bread and butter pudding and crumble, jostle with fruit skewers to douse in molten chocolate and iced lollies. You can eat on turf covered picnic tables, the outside terrace or spread your picnic blanket on curtained loungers. The brunch price of 295 AED (with alcohol) includes use of the pool.
Good red wine, pasta al forno, a peach frangipane tart and a singalong with some of our closest friends ended a perfect day.
Where to go for sea breezes
29th September Jeanne from food and travel blog Cook Sister was staying, with her husband, at One & Only, The Palm so acted on a two year old resolution to take the boat across to 101. Although there was a beautiful view of the receding shoreline spangled with skyscrapers, it’s really designed for guests of the hotels and the times aren’t that frequent. 101 is reached by a long jetty and sits opposite the shoreline with wide decks, white sofas and in the perfect situation to catch the breeze. Chef Ele kept popping out to see us like an enthusiastic French school boy with ruddy cheeks and rosebud lips. It’s quite dark out there so when he came out to ask what we thought of our main courses I had to ask what had made the cauliflower sauce with my sea bream taste so good (thinly sliced roasted cauliflower and an additional dressing with capers). I also adored the almondy calisson from our selection of desserts; not so much the choc nut thing but if you like Snickers you’ll love it. 101 is a lovely spot, and good for people watching, just go by taxi if you are not staying at one of the One & Only Hotels.
How to roll your own
30th September An amber sun was setting over the sea to our right, the spires of Emirates Towers, the Burj Khalifa and the serried rows of towering buildings flanking the Sheikh Zayed Road rush hour traffic gleamed its reflection to our left. ICHO on the 50th floor of the Radisson Royal is worth a visit for the view alone. But we were here to cook Japanese; Chef Song’s delicate fingers transformed making miso soup and sushi into an elegant ritual, in a soft voice he told us all about the types of Japanese knives, wagyu and fish. I felt like a nursery school child in comparison when making my own soup and California roll. Chef Suri took centre stage at the teppanyaki station. A born showman, he sculpted flames, created a volcano from an onion, made a heart out of rice and served us a variety of freshly cooked morsels from the grill. The restaurant is over two floors plus an upper bar (good views but very smoky). I’d return for the sushi and if you like teppanyaki. My real gripe is not confined to solely to this restaurant but widespread in hotels here. Head Chef Carl impressed on us the importance of choosing really good ingredients and discussed grades of wagyu at length. Questioning revealed however that no fish is sourced locally and they use farmed prawns from Thailand and India. If you are still eating the latter please read this report.
This is just the tip of the ice-burg of events in Dubai and October has been even crazier. I, however, have decided to slow the pace down and get back to what I like doing best – sharing simple home-cooking with fresh ingredients.
What were your culinary highlights in September?