It all started with a tweet from Phil “We’re at the Foodies Festival this weekend in Bristol if you’re in the area.” So three days later and two decades after I worked for Lloyds Bank in Bristol at the ‘doughnut’ building I was standing outside it, in brilliant summer sunshine, cramming a bun laden with roast pork, stuffing, apple sauce and crackling into my mouth. It was surprising I felt hungry at all because there were tasting opportunities galore and, having been there from the minute it opened, I’d been taking full advantage. From cheese to fudge, chutneys to hot sauce, fruit cordials to cakes, there was a fantastic array of foodstuffs from over 60 stalls and pop-ups. As I wandered round talking to the stall holders, certain phrases kept cropping up – ‘produce sourced locally’ ‘made by hand’ ‘organic’ – so many food stories, people selling products they made and cared about – it was music to my ears.
And who is Phil? I’d heard about Pelagonia Foods ever since they started to supply Spinneys supermarket in Dubai (via Twitter of course) but hadn’t actually got round to trying anything. Phil and his partner settled in Macedonia as they were so impressed by the local food and fresh ingredients. They work in partnership with a cooperative of 650 families to produce a range of traditional Macedonian mezze and are keen to reach a wider audience. As Phil says “There was a time when no one had heard of hummus”! Could the next big thing be Aivar made of roasted sweet red peppers and aubergine which can be used as a dip or partnered with cheeses? Or Luteniza, a spicier blend of roasted peppers (my favourite). It’s completely mad that I had to taste these in Bristol to realise how good they are, but that’s the thing about meeting food producers. You get an understanding of why things are special. Then Phil mentioned food and wine tours (Googling flights to Macedonia was the first thing I did when I got home).
There were at least three demonstrations going on at any one time at the Foodies Festival which were free on registration. I went to a sherry tasting with Charles Metcalfe, Beaujolais tasting with Susy Atkins, I caught some of Masterchef finalist Bini Ludlow‘s cooking session and booked for Xanthe Clay but I was too busy talking with Phil so I missed her.
Some of my favourites of the day were (in no particular order):
Ginger Bakers – I can’t remember when I’ve seen such fantastic looking cakes and they tasted equally good. The chocolate brownies with damsons were darkly gooey and the pecan and caramel shortbread should be rechristened Gazillionaires shortbread. A-ma-zing. I took home a beautiful ginger and lemongrass cake.
The Bath Soft Cheese Co makes four cheeses on their organic dairy farm with milk from their 300 cows. Bath Blue has the sharpness of Stilton with a softer creamier texture – deservedly award winning. Also love the simple packaging.
A & J Confectionery is crumbly all butter fudge handmade in Bristol.
The ladies on the Bath Food Company stall were super friendly and described the mango and fruit chutney as “an Indian meal in a jar”; which it was – bursting with spicy, fruity flavours. Who knows how I resisted one of their scotch eggs. Returning to the stall to buy some aforementioned chutney I discovered that it was inspired by the owner Lisa-Marie Smith’s time living in Dubai. Spooky.
Dig in a local greengrocer with the prettiest display at the festival, lots of local produce and this card:
The Pieminister stall made me think of Tudor times; their pies make you want to grab them in both hands and sink your teeth into the pastry. Moo pie is their most popular with British beef steak, cracked black pepper and real ale.
Two not very slender men talked me through the Fat Man Chilli range of chilli sauces assuring me that only one would seriously rip my head off as they go for layers of flavour not just heat. Hot Lemon was my fave but I bought a bottle of Scorchio (the head-ripper) for KP.
Only fruit and sugar go into Blossoms Syrups which are equally good diluted as a drink or poured over a pavlova. Aude Dupont Dudley and friend were the best dressed at the festival in chic black and pearls ….in 23C heat.
Cotswold Gold is the best rapeseed oil I have tasted and is made from the rapeseed harvested in their own fields around the farm in Broadway. The herb infused oils had a purity of flavour I have never come across before, the rosemary variety and the basil were exceptional.
I didn’t get to taste any Sciolti Botanical Chocolates as they had been replaced by ice cream due to the heat but I did meet Mr Sciolti who has amazing facial hair!
Why don’t we have Bonne Maman cherry compote in Dubai? I don’t think I can live without it.
Thinking I couldn’t manage another morsel after my pork-fest I then found The Glorious Oyster.
The clever Ginger Grouse people supplied samples as we queued to register and gave out free hats when you bought some.
The nice man at Bordeaux Undiscovered gave me some 2007 Chateau Teyssier and met the Strawberry Hill Vineyard people who grow Cabernet Sauvignon just outside Gloucester! ‘How?’ I hear you ask. In greenhouses. Must visit.
Don’t be put off by the awful website. The Foodies Festival is a great showcase of British artisan food producers and street food. Don’t be lured by the handful of ‘sleb’ chefs – the real stars are the makers and growers. How the Bristol food scene has changed in twenty years.
Put your cursor over the image below to navigate the slideshow
Today marks the start of The Holy Month of Ramadan; it means many conflicting things to me, as a long-term resident in the Middle East and a non-Muslim. Writing this on holiday in the UK, it will have very little impact this year, but it’s become part of my life during my eighteen years in the region.
My early experience in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia tainted my view. Travelling anywhere in the evenings meant facing huge traffic jams. Advertising and promotion of food and gifts went overboard. It seemed that the whole city was bent of a month of massive consumption, a bit like Christmas in the West but for longer. As we lived a life apart in compounds and didn’t visit the homes of ordinary Saudis; this is only one outsider view, but combined with anecdotes from the workplace of their colleagues sleeping during the day, doing no work and grumbling about how weak they were from lack of food it wasn’t an edifying introduction.
It took a move to Dubai to bring me closer to understanding this Holy Month. A good friend described the ritual of prayer and breaking her fast every evening with a date and some water. I passed mosques providing evening meals where rows of men sat together eating together from large plates of rice and meat. The prayers ringing out across the city which are a backdrop to our lives here sounded more poignant. I started to learn about the differences between Iftar and Suhoor (including this wonderful account by Holly) and importance of being with family to share them. For many people this is an intense period of contemplation bringing them closer to God. I’ve felt the palpable excitement around the sighting of the moon and firing of the canon in Safa Park to announce the beginning of Ramadan and the joyous feeling of celebration at the end of the month. There’s still a feeling of apartness – Emiratis make up less than 20 per cent of the population – but Dubai winds down for a month evocative of its past as a sleepy trading post on the creek instead of the frenetic city it has become. The closest I’ve got to breaking the fast with locals is via this excellent article by Anissa Helou.
There are contradictions here in Dubai too. KP doesn’t eat while he’s out of the house as a matter of respect to those who are fasting and I try to do the same. One time I cleared some freight through a large company staffed completely by Asian Christians and was amazed to see everyone eating and drinking with abandon, while a tea trolley did the rounds of the offices; it was like stepping into another, rather jolly, world. Coffee shops shut down during the day or special curtains are erected to screen them from accidental view giving the feeling of entering a speak-easy during prohibition. I’ve noticed that as tourism has grown over the years, people are less aware or sympathetic to local sensitivities and see many picnics on my local beach during the day.
Choices for where to eat Iftar, or the traditional evening meal, are myriad in a city with well over 5000 restaurants. Many places feature Ramadan tents where diners can relax outside on cushions, often smoking sheesha. Before Ramadan this year, I was invited to a preview of the Iftar spread at the legendary Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped hotel which has become a visual icon of Dubai. The clean lines outside belie a riot of Arabian colour inside where the Al Iwan restaurant is central. Cooling fresh fruit juices were served on arrival, a group of Arabic musicians played traditional music and the central area was lined with little bowls or gleaming copper chafing dishes. A display of dates, fruit, dessert and Arabic sweets formed a jewelled centrepiece.
The buffet included all the things you might expect including creamy hummous, mutabal and muhammara, lemon-sharp fattoush, taboulleh and vine leaves plus Western style appetisers such as piles of prawns, oysters on ice. The chafing dishes revealed stews and tagines including a traditional Emirati dish called chicken harees – made with wheat and porridge-like in texture. A chef proudly displayed an enormous fish, called hallwya, with charmoula (a thick herb paste) cooked over hot coals while another carved a whole baby lamb (ouzi) which flaked from the bone served with saffron rice. Hot desserts included my favourite milk pudding Um Ali (mother of Ali) and from the dessert display tiny maamoul heavily scented with orange blossom. I took my time, taking small tastes and going back to try more, sipping laban and mint lemonade. Coffee spiced with cardamon served in tiny cups ended this Arabian experience and I stepped out into the warm night air to the best view of the Jumeirah coastline, lights glittering, the hotel’s shooting display of water and flame punctuating the calm evening.
How will you be spending Ramadan? What are your impressions of the Holy Month? Do you have any favourite dishes, rituals or family traditions? And what happens to all that food (I’d love to hear from anyone in Dubai who knows)?
Where to go for Iftar in Dubai during Ramadan 2013
My inbox has been inundated with emails about the hundreds of offers available so here are just a handful. Do check out The Hedonista for more recommendations and a guide to eating and drinking etiquette too.
Top end and extensive:
The Burj Al Arab’s Iftar buffet menu is available throughout the Holy Month at Al Iwan and Bab Al Yam restaurants for AED 290 per person including non-alcoholic beverages. A private Dining team is available serve Suhoor and Iftar to in-house guests in the comfort of their own suites (different rates). Special room rates are available for UAE residents until 30th September 2013. Email: BAArestauranys@jumeirah.com Tel: +971 4 301 7600
Atlantis, The Palm Dubai offers Suhour and Iftar options at Levantine, Kaleidoscope and in their Iftar tent Asateer which overlooks the sea, accommodates up to 830 guests, has eight Majlis and private prayer rooms, complimentary wi-fi and valet parking. The sunset buffet is AED 185, including Ramadan juices, children aged 3 to 12 years AED 85, under 3 free of charge. Live entertainment and shisha during Suhour from 9:30pm every evening (21+ only) Email firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +971 4 426 0800
At Rare, Per Aquum, Desert Palm, enjoy Iftar with views across the polo fields and the Dubai city skyline. Choose from a variety of freshly prepared Arabic delicacies served from live cooking stations, from rich lamb soup and homemade mezze, to live lobster, grilled to order and Arabic desserts and sweets. AED145 per adult, children 4 – 14 years receive 50 percent discount, under 4s free. Email email@example.com Tel: 04 323 8888
Affordable and relaxed:
From Iftar until 9.00pm daily Wok It will offer a buffet of Ramadan Far Eastern favourites at AED85 per person. Dishes will be prepared in small quantities and replenished frequently to maintain the integrity and flavour of the region. A la carte available from 9.00pm – 1.00 am which are also available to take home for Suhour later. Tel: +971 4 388 5711
Zaroob, the traditional Arabic street food specialist has an Iftar buffet for a reasonable 69 AED and includes 3 cold and 3 hot starters, 3 Plat Du Jour, 3 Ramadan drinks and 3 deserts all served with elements of the Levant region. Open from 7pm to sunset every day during Ramadan (located on Sheikh Zayed Road, Jumeirah Tower Building) Tel: +971 4 327606 Also worth a look at Mezza House.
Daily Iftar buffet from the 8 kitchens of Lafayette Gourmet (Dubai Mall) plus a dessert and pastry selection, including a sugar-free selection plus a range of takeaway and delivery options. Buffet AED145 per adult, AED65 for children aged 6-11 years old, under 6 years old free, served after sunset for 2 hours. Tel: +971 4 339 9933
During the holy month of Ramadan, MusicHall (at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray) will be transformed into an innovative Majlis style setting. Masrah Ramadan will include a line-up of live performances by renowned artists coming from different parts of the Arab world to present the different refined musical genres in harmony with the spirit of the holy month. Traditional Arabic Mezze and main courses a la Carte from 9.00pm until 2.00am at a minimum-spend of AED 115 per person (not inclusive of Shisha) Tel: +971 56 270 86 70 or +971 4 4476646
Also worth a mention is the buffet experience at the H Hotel created by Silvena Rowe (‘a feast fit for an Ottoman king’) on Lime and Tonic: an ‘Iftar treasure chest’ home delivery on the site too.
- A recipe every day of Ramadan (dimasharif.com)
- UAE hotels roll out Ramadan packages (gulfnews.com)
- Ramadan food wastage (kippreport.com)
- Iftar in a different world called ‘Naif.’ (iliveinafryingpan.com)
- An Iftar preview at The Address Marina (ishitaunblogged.com)
- Ramadan and iftar – what it means for the food traveller (thehedonista.com)
Would really love your feedback on this. A reminder….How will you be spending Ramadan? What are your impressions of the Holy Month? Do you have any favourite dishes, rituals or family traditions? And what happens to all that food (I’d love to hear from anyone in Dubai who knows)? Ramadan Kareem to all who are observing the Holy Month.
Unpacking my suitcase after travelling back from the UK involves delving into the middle of all the clothes for a big plastic bag full of knobbly packages. Two week’s worth of English cheeses softens the sadness of leaving friends, family and rolling green hills behind. It’s my essential going home present to myself. Getting good cheese in Dubai is no longer a difficulty but I want favourites that are unobtainable like Westcombe unpasteurised Cheddar, and several friends now anticipate my haul and come round to share the spoils.
I understand, therefore, why Patricia Michelson packed a wheel of Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage into her suitcase when she was on a skiing holiday, lugged it back from the French Alps and urged everyone to taste it. This was the start of a business that has grown, over 20 years, from a shed in her garden, via a market stall, to include two shops, one in Highbury and one off Marylebone High Street, London. And this Queen of cheese was here in Dubai to help launch the new Jones The Grocer Cheese Club. Forget all the stuff that Groucho Marx said about not caring “to belong to any club that will have me as a member” – as soon as the email announcing it landed I hit the return button. There was a cheese tasting event or a cheese and wine tasting event. No prizes for guessing that I arrived, albeit slightly out of breath and without a camera, at the offices of A+E for the latter, keen to taste under the guidance of the cheese maestro (or should it be mistress?).
And right from the off the cheeses (wine and beer) came thick and fast. There were almost too many to savour and contemplate, although I’m not complaining.
Some delicate little sablés biscuits made with Comté went very nicely with some chilled rosé from a small producer in Provence (Chateau L’Aumerade, Henri Fabre). Comté is a hard, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese made in the Franche-Comté region of France. It is made in the summer months when milk is abundant, whereas Vacherin Mont D’Or is traditionally made in the same region during the winter months when there is not enough milk to make Comté. We entered the tasting room and sat at long tables while Patricia took centre stage and guided us through this little lot:
- Port-Salut – a cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, this is a semi-soft, creamy yellow cheese with a washed rind of violent orange. My tasting note just says ‘gorgeous’.
- Camembert Royal (also cow’s milk from Normandy)
- Mimolette (a beautiful orange coloured cheese from Holland) – fruity
Paired with: Leffe Blond beer from Belgium which was very hoppy and fruity (best with Mimolette).
- Rovethym (a goats cheese from Provence) The high acidity of this cheese with the wine was a great match
- Tetilla (made in Galicia, Spain from cow’s milk)
- Mahon (a cow’s milk cheese made in the Balearic Islands) – this was fantastic; salty, with a lactose sweetness but deeply savoury
Paired with: Alberino, Pazo Senorans, Rias Baixus, Spain – unoaked to give pure expression of the fruit which was crisp green apple and unripe peach.
- Beaufort (the cheese that started it all, made of cow’s milk in the Savoie region of France) – a pure, sweet, floral slightly nutty flavour. Patricia had washed the rind with some white wine before serving.
- Epoisses (cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy). My tasting notes read; stinky taste, clotted cream. This is a good thing.
Paired with: A well-made Pouilly-Fuisse, Louis Latour 2011 also from the Maconnais, Burgundy, France.
- Brie de Meaux (soft cow’s milk cheese from Ile de France) – this was really ripe and delicious
- Ossau Iraty (ewe’s milk from Pyrenees)
Paired with: Chateau Teyssier 2010, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France – dark plum and chocolate, marvellous.
- Pecorino Romano (ewe’s milk hard cheese from Southern Italy)
- Botticella Di Cacio Faenum (ewe’s milk cheese from Emilia Romagna, Italy) – a perfect match with the wine
- Gorgonzola Piccante (cow’s milk blue cheese from Lombardy, Italy)
Paired with: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso, Mastroberardino Campania, Italy – brambles and earth.
- Perl Las (cow’s milk West Wales)
- Bleu des causses (cow’s milk, Aveyron, France)
Paired with: Domaine de Coyeaux, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise – sweet, dessert wines go well with salty, blue cheeses
- Gorgonzola Dolce Creme (cow Lombardy, Italy)
- Cabrales (cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese, Asturias, Spain) – this cheese divided the room. It tasted like it was a living thing, which given the intensity of the flavour, it probably was. Only a PX could have stood up to this. I loved it. The Gorgonzola was creamily divine too.
Paired with: 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Gran Reserva, Montilla-Moriles, Spain
Early on in the tasting there were some sharing plates of Burrata en Foglia (cow’s milk, Puglia, Italy) with roasted red peppers and grilled eggplant and some beef bresaola with Pecorino Romano (a ewe’s milk cheese from Southern Italy) with rocket – paired with Gabbiano Pinot Grigio. Sadly the rocket was dressing contained the abomination ‘truffle’ oil which I am growing to detest and should be banned from all wine tastings in my opinion. It doesn’t contain real truffle but a laboratory made essence which tastes and smells like truffle. It confuses the senses, overpowers everything and, if it touches something else, it lingers FOR EVER. Giorgio Locatelli is not a fan and neither am I (you might have guessed).
This was a small blip however. For a cheese and wine lover it really was the most spectacular event. The cheese choices were a revelation and matching cheese and wines from the same region demonstrated how perfectly many of them go together.
I met Patricia but was very preoccupied and didn’t talk for long (my iphone battery ran out of juice. I was trying to find my Smart Drive pick up and get in touch with a house guest who was somewhere in Dubai without my address!). She was delighted that Jones was embracing the seasonality of cheese. I bought her book on Cheese later at Jones – and what a beautiful cheesy tome it is too. I received an email with printable cheese notes to put into my little Cheese Club folder this month too. Very well done indeed.
As for bringing wine in a suitcase, it’s less easy these days. Before the liquid ban on planes I’d tuck a couple of bottles into a back pack, but now I’m most likely to order from Le Clos and have them deliver it to me before I reach passport control. A very good tip if you are travelling into Dubai.
Jones the Grocer Cheese Club UAE membership benefits and fee:
- fromager’s choice of monthly cheese hampers with detailed tasting notes prepared and priced exclusively for cheese club members
- 10% discount on all cheese, cheese accessories and accompaniments
- 50% discount on 2 cheese events per year
- on joining receive an African + Eastern voucher to the value of AED 200; restricted to licensed cheese club
- yearly membership fee of AED200
To join the Jones Cheese Club visit the cheese room at any Jones the Grocer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 800JONES (56637). There’s a Facebook page with more info too.
All of the images shown here were taken on my iphone 4S or supplied by my kind friend Seza.
NB: Some of the wines were from different producers than mentioned in our folder – if you were there and wondering why they don’t match.
Disclosure: I replied to the email to join the Cheese Club and event and then they invited me along as a guest. I’m confident I’d have written the same without such treatment and am more than happy to renew my membership in a year. In fact I was the first person to use my Cheese Club membership card in the Umm Suqeim shop.
Would you join a cheese club? Wine club? Any kind of food club?
- Tips for pairing wine and cheese plus where to taste in Dubai (mycustardpie.com)
- Your Cheesemonger: Washed Rind Cheeses (arlnow.com)
“Oooh…you’ve got an Enomatic machine.” I was as excited as man having a mid-life crisis contemplating the polished red metal of a brand new Ferrari. Why was I excited? Yuwraj Seetamonee, sommelier of The Whistler, at the new Ocean View Hotel, The Walk (JBR, Dubai) had just led me into the wine room and pointed it out with a sweep of his arm. This sophisticated piece of technology is a wine vending machine (very expensive bit of kit too – there are only three in Dubai); the main advantage is that it keeps an opened bottle of wine in pristine condition for 21 days. This means that all sorts of interesting wines can be dispensed by the glass (rather than the usual limited range). You load up your card with credit, insert it in the relevant slot (a credit card for wine, oh yes) choose to taste, sip or glug (size wise) and your chosen wine flows into your glass.
Wine nerdiness aside, there are a handful of things that get my pulse really racing these days. A room full of interesting cheese is one of them, and lo and behold, The Whistler had one of these as well. Cheese and wine. Now that’s a match made in heaven. Not all cheese and wine go together like Brad and Angelina….some matches are more Brad and Jen i.e. OK at first but then something is not quite right and it leaves a strange taste in your mouth.
There are a few general rules about cheese and wine matching (see below) but the best part is to try which combinations work best for you; here at the Whistler we (me and fellow cheese fanatic Francine aka Mrs Life in the Food Lane) marched in and started bombarding the chef with questions about sheep’s milk or goats, ripeness, washed rinds etc. (poor man). There was some interesting stuff in there including a cheese made around a single piece of straw and one matured in a fig leaf (should be called Adam?). Sadly the server had limited English and an even more limited knowledge of the cheese. However we were happy with our choices on the whole, although a bit lacking in blue.
Yuwraj confessed to not liking cheese very much, but he did a good job of guiding us through the wines and we nibbled our way through. Araldica de La Luciana Gavi was very neutral, La Chablisienne Petit Chablis 2010 had some lemon peel notes which went really well with the Comte. Les Eglantines, Touraine, Sauvion, 2011 – a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, was fresh and green with pea pods on the nose ripe gooseberries on the palate; it was excellent with Brie. I’m a big fan of many wines made of Torrentes which has become the white grape of Argentina, however the Colomé Torrentes 2011 lacked freshness. Hmmm… we should have suspected something then.
We started the reds with Punto Niño Carmenère from Chile. When we got to the Enrique Foster Malbec I was confused. “Umm, tastes a bit oxidised to me,” I muttered tentatively. Yuwraj looked shocked, tasted the wine and opened a fresh bottle immediately. The machine had been disconnected recently and clearly some error was made in getting it back up and running. The subsequent Chateau Cantemerle 2007 was also lacking freshness and replaced.
Returning a couple of weeks later with Sarah and Dima, a different sommelier, Anastasia, guided us through the cheese and wine education process. On the plus side she was really enthusiastic and chose the wines specially for us, with care. She came up with some wine and cheese matches which surprised us like Gran Tesoro Viura 2009 with a creamy Brillat Savarin, and a Pouligny-Saint-Pierre with Rosé d’Anjou ‘Chemin des Sables, Domaine Sauvion. On the downside, a couple she chose from the Enomatic machine were oxidised again (clearly not a temporary blip) and the bar was empty except for a steady stream of people who came in just to look at the view from the terrace and walk out again. There was no way we could use all the credit on our Enomatic cards in addition to the wines tasted (and still walk out in a straight line).
It took me a few weeks to write this up and since then The Whistler has changed its concept. The cheese room has been transformed to a sushi room. Wine by the glass from a wide selection remains, but there will be ‘shooters’ and sake. It’s a shame as the one-to-one wine and cheese pairing was unique – albeit unsustainable if the bar got busy. Wine and sushi matching? Who knows.
Here’s a few things to consider when choosing cheese and wine to go together:
The Whistler – Ocean View Hotel, Dubai
The 99 till 9 promotion still runs which means a bottle of wine (from a selected list) for AED 99 until 9pm every day.
For the Enomatic cards you just buy a pre-paid card and help yourself. The list of sushi and more details here.
Tel: +971 4 814 5599 Website
Where to go for cheese and wine in Dubai
Despite the vanishing cheese room at The Whistler, there are still plenty of options:
Oeno – The Westin Dubai, Mina Seyahi
Every Wednesday you can choose from 50 wines and a selection of cheese from their impressive cheese room for 195 AED. This is no sedate tasting however as there is a live band. Every other night you can taste a wine flight with choices such as the “Sauvignon Challenge” or “Clash of Titans”starting at AED 99. Their cheese selections of 3, 5 and 7 cheeses start at AED 68.
Tel: +971 4 399 4141 Website
Plantation – Sofitel Dubai, Jumeirah Beach
Every Wednesday, from 7:00pm to 10:00pm, there is a buffet of over 20 French cheeses including Bleu d’Auvergne, Morbier and Galet de la Loire matched with French and international wines for AED 180. You can upgrade (by paying 250 AED) and receive 50% off the best French or Millésime wine. A really entertaining jazz duo played there last time I went.
Tel: +971 4 4484848 Website
Ossiano – Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai
Ossiano offers cheese from Hervé Mons, plus the sommelier’s selection of wine. Daily 7pm-11.30pm.
AED 150 for plate of 6 cheeses, AED 75 for plate of 3 cheeses.
Tel: +971 4 426 0760 Website
Rivington Grill, Dubai
Offers a range of very good quality English cheeses as part of the cheese board on their menu including a delicious Wenslydale. The Souk Madinat branch will hold a cheese and wine event for you and your friends if you ask them. Want to come?
Rivington Grill, Souk al Bahar Tel: +971 4 423 0903 Rivington Bar & Grill, Souk Madinat Jumeirah Tel: +971 4 366 6464 Website
No dedicated cheese and wine experience but they do stock cheeses from Ireland including divine Cashel Blue in the ‘Cheese Laboratory’
Tel: +971 5 660 38846, Toll Free: 800 McGS(6247) Website
Vintage – Wafi Pyramids, Dubai
The longest standing provider of cheese and wine in Dubai has a special night every Wednesday. There’s a cheese buffet showcasing farmhouse cheeses from around the world, artisan breads, homemade chutney and cold cuts. AED 185 per person including wine.
Also unlimited cheese fondue and wines 7pm onwards every evening at AED 145 per person. 20% off with a Wafi card if ordering cheese and wine from the a la carte menu.
Tel: +971 4 324 4100 Website
Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai
For cheese and wine with a view, there’s a ‘Grape & Cheese’ night at Uptown Bar every Wednesday from 6.00pm to 12.00am. AED 450 for a cheese platter with a selected bottle of red or white wine.
Tel: +971 4 406 8999 Website
The H Hotel, Dubai
There’s a ‘Cheese and Vino Fête’ available via Lime & Tonic which includes ‘a stupendous banquet of the world’s finest cheeses, which our members can now enjoy with free-flowing vino and sparkling vino.’ Available on Thursdays from 7pm to 10pm. Reservations required 24 hours in advance for a maximum of 12 people. Price per person AED 130
Tel: +971 4 501 8888 For more info and to book the event visit the Lime and Tonic website.
Jones the Grocer Cheese Club, Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Selling a great range of cheeses from their cheese room, the new Cheese Club will hold events throughout the year. The first one I went to was with wine pairing by A+E. Hoping they’ll be more like it. Annual membership fee of AED 200 – see details here. Tel: 800JONES (56637)
So are you a cheese and wine fiend like me? Any cheese and wine matches to recommend? Where would you recommend to go for great cheese and wine tasting (in and out of Dubai)?
Disclosure: I was a guest for my first visit to The Whistler but returned under my own steam. All opinions my own.
As a Brit I am genetically programmed to talk about the weather. This makes living in a place where it’s warm, hot or hotter, a little challenging, but believe me, where two or more British people are gathered together it’s 10 to 1 odds that the climatic variations of the day open the conversation. So bear with me when I say that the weather in Dubai this year has been the best I’ve ever remembered. From about mid-October it’s been like a beautiful summer’s day in England (remember those?) every day; we’ve had some rain (always exciting), a freshness in the air, and week after week of balmy days and evenings perfect for sitting out in the garden. All good things come to an end eventually and the rise in temperature always comes as a blow; I scurry out with the dogs at 6am and I’m glad to reach the air-conditioned sanctuary of my house an hour later. My summer planning assumes a focus and urgency when previously it limped along.
I’m dreaming of walking in the Cotswolds and on Dartmoor. We’re revisiting Switzerland and tickets for the Paleo festival are booked (for music not caveman’s food), another trip to the beautiful vineyards in Lavaux is in my mind and perhaps another jaunt to the Jura. Back in the Gloucestershire, there is the Stroud Farmers’ Market to browse, Hobbs House Bakery in Nailsworth to drop in on and a summer’s evening (or Sunday lunch) at The Horse and Groom at Bourton on the Hill a ‘must-do’. We’ll picnic on the green at Frampton on Severn before going to Giffords Circus.
While Dubai supermarket shelves are lined with most ingredients, my first meal on English soil will include Jersey Royal potatoes and English watercress. I’ll be seeking out really good sausages (like the ones made of Gloucester Old Spot grilled in the open air and stuffed hot into a roll at Stroud Farmers’ Market), perusing cheese shops (The Fine Cheese Co in Bath) and relishing British strawberries and raspberries.
The Tavistock Real Cheese Fair is at the hub of our South-West foodie plans (read why here and here). Another visit to Riverford is on the cards, I’ll be seeking out the best crab sandwich I can find (the crab hut in Cadgwith remains unbeaten) and KP will continue his search for the perfect pasty. Lunch at the River Cottage Canteen overlooking the estuary in The Royal William Yard in Plymouth is a must, the River Exe cafe is begging to be explored and there’s a voucher for Manna from Devon Cooking School to be redeemed.
Our National Trust membership card will be flexed, for the tea rooms and restaurants which use local produce as much as the stately homes and landscapes. There is nothing nicer than a cream tea with proper clotted cream after a long walk in the countryside. A long term dream is to walk the entire South-West coast path (in stages of course as it is 630 miles long). The stretch between Polzeath and Rock is one I already know well, made more attractive by lunch at No 1 Rock Road.
The vineyards of England and Wales are top of my ‘to drink at’ lists (Sharpham was a joy), with half a pint of locally brewed ale sipped at a country pub close second. Camel Valley and Three Choirs are two places I’d like to explore. On my shopping/tasting list are wines from Portugal including, hopefully, a couple from the top 50 as selected by Julia Harding, and gin (keen to taste Sipsmith, The Botanist and revisit Bathtub).
And of course, there’s the joy of seeing family and friends who we miss so much for most of the year.
So I’ve dragged my bag from the under-the-stairs cupboard and started getting things ready to take with me. For summer in the UK this includes rain coats, walking boots, thick socks and a fleece. Fingers crossed I’ll need my sun hat too.
What are you looking forward to this summer? Any recommendations for places we should visit (especially in Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire or near Geneva)?
All pictures were taken during our summer break in 2012. This lovely site has many ‘to visit’ ideas in UK – This is Your Kingdom
“Girls. This is your Mother.” KP dropped this phrase into the conversation over the breakfast table several times this month. Meals cooked at home are the heart of my life, my family and this blog. However, I live in a city that is teeming with restaurants from the most lavish to very humble. The month of May threw so many interesting events my way it’s impossible to dedicate an article to each, as much as I’d like to, so I thought I’d share my food diary with you (click on the pics to enlarge). Here’s the top line of an incredible month of munching….
Rivington Grill Lunch is usually a cheese sandwich as my desk so popping over to Rivington Grill at the Madinat for the launch of their new summer menu was a rare treat. It’s one of the places we visit fairly often as a family, especially with visitors in town. RG at Souk al Bahar has a great view of the fountains but our favourite spot is the terrace at RG Souk Madinat overlooking the waterways, watching abras (boats) lazily drift by among the sparkly palm trees and distant view of the Burj al Arab.
I chatted with fellow Gloucestershire-native chef Chris Lester about the British style menu and bemoaned the lack of more vegetarian options for my daughter. Good to hear that RG are willing to cook something from their extensive specials menu if given notice (phone in advance). I missed tasting the savoury stuff as I was taking part in their blindfold taste test (competitive? moi?) – I failed to identify fresh horseradish (but now know that it’s available in supermarkets here). Eton mess and Bailey’s Irish Cream baked cheesecake went down well, but the real star attraction was the homemade honeycomb made expertly before our eyes. *
Zaroob was the venue for a catch- up with Arva, co-founder of Fooderati Arabia and queen of the cheap eats extraordinaire with Frying Pan Tours. Decent affordable food and funky interior – very different for Dubai and well worth a visit.
Asha’s My vegetarian daughter requested a visit to Asha’s for her birthday. It’s our ‘go to’ dine out curry house. Relaxed atmosphere, great cocktails, good food (the concept and menu masterminded by Indian music icon Asha Bhosle). The first restaurant to open was in Wafi Pyramids and it’s our favourite. I dined at the Kuwait branch several years ago which is a lovely location on the Marina. I recommend the chicken vindaloo and the pomegranate cocktails (Deli Devils).
Barracuda We took a friend visiting Dubai to Barracuda on Jumeirah Beach Road (Bu Qtair was too packed to contemplate). Maybe my expectations were too high but I thought it was so-so. Good fresh fish but really uninformed service. The rice was really stodgy and my fatoush was lacklustre. The tables outside are very near the roaring traffic too. Others rave about it so maybe I should give it another chance (guest and KP thought it was fine).
Lafayette Gourmet Food Festival Artisan food producers are rare in Dubai but the ball of energy and enthusiasm known as Chef Russell Impiazzi brought many suppliers of excellent ingredients together in the first Lafayette Gourmet food festival. I bought some oozing Irish Cooleeney cheese and Cabra al Romero hard Spanish ewe’s milk cheese coated in rosemary from the range of 180 cheeses available. The latter went spectacularly well with Balqees raw wild flower honey from Yemen – but there again everything does and we now don’t buy any other honey.
We tasted stripy beetroot, oven-baked (with Balqees honey) and watermelon radish, morsels from Spanish specialists Tapeo and from the dim sum counter. Harriet (another whirlwind) who heads up the outside catering division (highly recommended) pointed me to a display of apples and pears from her parent’s farm. More tastes of delicious steak from cattle who roam across the prairies of Canada (Canadian Heritage Angus Beef from Simply Gourmet), locally maple smoked salmon and divine chocolate truffles. I hope this will be an annual event. *
The Whistler More cheese was eaten later at The Whistler where I joined Sarah and Dima at their regular Wednesday night cheese and wine education session (more in next post).
Gaucho Steak restaurants are bottom of my list when choosing where to go out for a meal. I can easily buy a good piece of steak and cook it to my liking at home. Global executive chef Mike Reid of Gaucho changed my view completely. He talked us through the different cuts of beef (from an Argentinian perspective), what they are good for and how to cook them. Then we were armed with knives, presented with huge slabs of prime beef and we got butchering. We cooked and ate the spoils too; it was fantastic. So much more to follow about this experience…. *
Lalezar, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray A few hours later KP and I were navigating the out reaches of The Palm to reach Jumeirah Zabeel Saray – a spectacular Turkish-inspired hotel as dazzling at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul in a 5 star Dubai way. As a preview for the excellent annual Jumeirah Restaurant week we visited Lalezar and were feted by enthusiastic and charming Turkish waiters on a very pleasant outdoor terrace (with glimpses of the lavish tiled interior). *
Prime Gourmet With a crowd round for a barbecue (my oven is broken), Mike Reid’s tuition still ringing in my head, I stopped at Prime Gourmet and bought a four kilo piece of grass-fed rib eye. Buying in bulk means you get it at wholesale rates which makes a very cost effective way of buying really good quality meat for a crowd. A scant slick of oil, salting it liberally while on the grill, turning it only once and it was cooked to perfection.
Pressure Cooking Class with Tavola Although I have ever gadget known to man in my kitchen, I’m scared stiff of having a pressure cooker. I popped into the Miele Gallery where there was a cooking session for Tavola (fab kitchenware shop) customers led by Marta Yanci. I tasted the three courses that were cooked – stuffed courgettes in a tomato sauce, lamb casserole and lemon pot de creme – all delicious. Fear conquered thanks to Marta and something else added to kitchen wish list.
Vantage and Champagne Two wine tasting sessions on a school night meant I had to keep my head. Had such a fun time at Sheraton Mall of the Emirate‘s inaugural #socialhour that it was hard to tear myself away *. However a private Champagne tutorial with Champagne Jayne in the company of Dima Sharif and Foodiva was not to be missed. Dima cooked exquisite sea bass in a galley kitchen and we compared Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Armand de Brignac and Krug NV Champagne.
Dubai Wine Club Blind tasting six wines and then voting for your favourite before revealing their identity is the premise of the Dubai Wine Club Meet Up Group. Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2009 was the clear favourite by far in a range that included Folonari Soave 2010, Folonari Valpolicella 2011, Chemin des Sables Rose 2011, Italia Pinot Grigio Rose 2011 and Antares Sauvignon Blanc 2012.
Farmers’ Market There was a palpable sense of regret at the last Farmers’ Market of the current season. I went early but temperatures were already climbing steadily. My menu-planning is focussed around what I buy for the week there so it’ll be a sea-change for the next few months. There are veg box options still available from Greenheart (plus a new shop), Go Organic and Ripe for the next few weeks. Foodiva, proved later that evening, that pizza and Champagne are a very good match.
Chez Sushi Do you ever get cravings for sushi? Here in Dubai my favourite home-delivery sushi option is Chez Sushi, where I learned how to make three types of maki. I felt an enormous sense of achievement as I looked at and then devoured my rolls (even if they weren’t as pristine as the chef’s). Highly recommended. * More to follow…
Kabab BQ We ordered in that evening as we had another visitor from the UK, our usual chicken achari, chicken ginger, vegetable of the day, dhal and naan from Kabab BQ where the food is like home-cooking; the most delicious Pakistani curries around. Dining there (Umm al Sheif street) is a pleasant option too.
A smaller group for a barbecue this time so I chose individual steaks from Prime Gourmet. Since my oven broke I have cooked rosemary roast potatoes on the grill several times and don’t think I will ever go back to the normal way. Stunningly good.
Jones the Grocer Cheese Club The email landed in my inbox announcing the new Jones the Grocer cheese club and I couldn’t hit the ‘sign me up now’ button fast enough. A fantastic evening of wine and cheese matching conducted by cheese supremo Patricia Michelson with some good wines (and a craft beer) from A+E at their industrial chic offices. Despite having spent two hours in the Jones’ cheese room when it opened and being a regular visitor, there were plenty of cheesy surprises. *
Food and friends The generosity of food bloggers never fails to impress me. May from Eat Cook Explore stopped over in Dubai on her way to Malaysia. I first met May at Food Blogger Connect 2011 and one of the highlights was the Malaysian student café that she took a group of us to. Due to my workload, I only managed a quick lunch with May at Baker & Spice (on the shady terrace looking out at the Burj Khalifa). Having abandoned her for the cheese evening the night before I was keen to share some Dubai food blogger hospitality. Sarah kindly extended an invite and we tucked into Salmontini smoked salmon, tomato tartlets and a beautiful cake laden with berries brought by Stacy from Food Lust People Love (as food bloggers we were not phased at all that a slice had been cut out and reinserted!). Sukaina from Sips and Spoonfuls joined us and we all nattered so enthusiastically that I got May to her coach to Abu Dhabi with only five minutes to spare. Phew!
Le Clos En Primeur One of my wine highlights of the year is a special en primeur presentation from Le Clos combined with tasting a selection of previous vintages. Favourites of the evening (held at Mina A’Salam) included Chateau Canon 2007, Chateau Belair Monange 2008 Chateau Giscours 2007 and Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande 2006. More about buying en primeur in Dubai here and here. *
Voi, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray After enjoying our preview, KP and I returned to this opulent, tiled extravaganza of a hotel to dine at Voi. For Jumeirah Restaurant Week you choose from a set price menu which is a great way to try some different restaurants without blowing the budget. Voi’s white embossed walls and crystal chandelier made for elegant dining. The service was good, the menu interesting and most dishes good to excellent. One downside, the fish main course was severely overcooked but the restaurant handled this very well and reduced our bill. We peeped into Musical Hall on the way out – packed, smoky, vibrant – an experience for another evening.
Brunch at a friends made me realise what an excellent match a full English breakfast and rosé Champagne can be.
Birthday party A lively party with good friends; a sumptuous spread ended with a truly show-stopping trifle. Clever Lee.
Ravi A visit to Ravis in Satwa; revelling in the late arrival of summer temperatures, we sat out on the pavement and ate Pakistani food. I ordered my usual chicken tikki (cooked on an outside grill) and aloo paratha. The bill for eight of us (with tip) was 200 AED (35 GBP, 54 USD).
Canadian cheese and wine tasting My experience of Canadian wine is limited to ice wine and WSET theory. Seizing the chance to widen my knowledge, I jumped at the chance to go to a wine and cheese evening at The Agency extended by the Canadian Embassy no less. There was a strong French influence to the cheese making and the grape varieties used in the wine ranged from Chardonnay, Gamay to a very well-made Pinot Noir. Ice cider was like drinking a tarte tatin. *
Gaucho food and wine matching I can’t wait to tell you in full about my afternoon at Gaucho matching Argentinian wine and steak under the guidance of Marina Diaz, one of the nicest and most enthusiastic sommeliers I have ever met. Soon, soon… *
Al Iwan, Burj Al Arab This was followed by a preview of the incredible spread that the Burj Al Arab will serve throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan for Iftar. To say I waddled home that night may have been an understatement. *
Asha’s Another trip to Asha’s for a relaxed night out with good friends rounded off the month. Special thanks to Smart Drive whose services I have used rather a lot of late and have never let me down.
Hello June – they’ll be a lot of salad-eating in my house this month.
So what did you get up to in May? I’d love to hear about your culinary highlights.
* Disclosure. Items starred mean that I was a guest. All opinions my own.
In my kitchen. Do you ever get those harried moments when you try to think what you cook on a regular basis, every single day of the year, and your mind goes totally blank? Your cupboards and fridge are full, but seem bereft of anything that could be transformed into supper. It’s a strange kind of amnesia that strikes me at the most inconvenient times. Apart from the staples that probably grace the table of a great many British families – chilli con carne, pasta ragu, sausages and mash, spaghetti carbonara and Spanish omelette – what on earth DO I cook for two particular eaters, one vegetarian and myself? And what shall I cook tonight? It’s on moments like these, more often than not, that I turn to Annie Bell’s In my kitchen. “Oh YES, that’s what I cook” and ideas come flooding back, the cupboard no longer looks bare . Take a deep breath, put on an apron, clasp my knife, face the chopping board and get cracking.
The book is organised, like life, into catering occasions. So there’s a chapter for grazing, one for weekday suppers, another for Sunday lunch and one for summer eating. Two chapters are dedicated to different celebrations and two for baking and puddings respectively. There’s nothing brash or flash here. No bragging e.g. best ever. Just recipes that work really well with a great balance of flavours, all revolving around family life.
There is a sentence in the introduction which sums up exactly why I feel the need to have a recipe book like this, when presumably after all these years, I can cook (and more than just spag bol).
‘There are two schools of thought as to whether we need recipes at all, but personally I’ve always found comfort and reassurance in the smaller details that guide you towards a particular end. Even after years of cooking, I prefer to consult a recipe telling me exactly how long I need to roast my potatoes for or how much cream to add to my mash, because sadly I don’t have an encyclopaedic memory and see no point in leaving good results to chance.”
Now, before you hold up your hands in horror and never darken the door to this blog again, let me reassure you that I can add cream to mashed potatoes without measuring it, but it’s the gist of this statement that I agree with. It’s the small details that make a clutch of fairly familiar recipes deliver in terms of taste and keep me returning to cook from them. It’s the helpful reminders when you are pushed for time and inspiration that are so valuable. I don’t need someone to tell me that adults and children alike love a plate of caramelised golden brown cocktail sausages to nibble on, but the suggestion of an easily made, creamy, mustard dip spiked with lemon juice elevate them for having with pre-dinner drinks. The mustard element in her Devils on Horseback and sausage roll recipes is what makes them special too.
For weekday suppers she suggest things like chicken saltimbocca and toad in the hole, frankfurter and potato goulash and a divine kleftiko. Sunday lunch solves the problem of catering for meat-eaters and vegetarians in one sitting by pairing roast chicken with a giant dish of macaroni cheese. There are some low effort, but equally satisfying alternatives to the full on roast with all the trimming such as roast beef, chips and aioli plus some excellent non-meat alternatives like Gruyère and wild mushroom gratin. A pea, feta and basil tart has become a firm favourite and which I now make in individual tart sizes as my vege daughter’s Christmas dinner.
There’s a trace of lifestyle that creeps in too, Annie’s summers in Normandy, celebrations for her children’s birthday, ‘grazing’ in the garden with friends and the glimpse a Champagne bottle. Her choice of elegant Muji bowls and Kaj Franck’s Kartio glasses, an Eero Saarinen Knoll table in her kitchen is mentioned as an appreciation of well-designed equipment that is as beautiful and timeless as it is functional, rather than brand-name dropping. There isn’t a trace of smugness or showing off; to quote from her blog, which has food-centred accounts of her time in France “Now in our house the teenager is dressing maestro (I’d like to think if he has to do something thirty times during the summer holidays it will have stuck by the end)”. Her writing is refreshingly down-to-earth without a trace of ‘domestic science teacher’ dullness about it (which can permeate other practical home cook writers). There is a page on her website entitled Simplicity which has nothing to do with deprivation. She’s deliberately low-key, the antithesis of the celebrity chef and has crafted a writing career (Vogue, The Independent, You Magazine) in a way that is becoming nearly impossible to follow.
In the preparation for Christmas I leaf through magazines, drool over Nigella’s Christmas, but this book is permanently open on my counter. No ‘over-egging’ of classic recipes by adding superfluous flavours; I don’t want ‘everything but the kitchen sink spices’ into cranberry sauce, exotic sprout purée or vodka gravy. If I was put in one of those impossible ‘either/or’ scenarios that my teens seem to be intent on asking me, given a choice between the turkey and Annie Bell’s bread sauce I would choose the latter. Christmas pudding gratin is such marvellous perfection i.e. Christmas pudding cooked in brandy-laced custard, that I had to overcome a miserly inclination not to even mention it here. I want to save it for the off-chance you might come round to my house on Boxing Day for supper and watch your face as you take the first spoonful.
I’m keener on the cake recipes in another Annie Bell book I own – Gorgeous Cakes; but there are ‘bankers’ for every day like raspberry and almond tray bake as well as more elaborate fare for parties. Key to this is that Annie Bell’s recipes work – and this is central to what she does:
I wouldn’t be so rash as to make a claim that you will never go wrong with one of my recipes, there are too many variables involved in cooking. But, I can hand on heart say that a huge amount of effort, testing and retesting goes into getting the recipes right – a little like applying polish to wood, you will only ever get that sheen if you keep on buffing. It is the single most important aspect of what I do.
With more than one hundred cook books , this is part of a series of quick reviews to see why they’ve earned their place on my shelves, in my kitchen and sometimes in my heart. Love to know what you think.