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Taste of Dubai and gingerbread cake

March 11, 2011

Melting butter, sugar, treacle and golden syrup

Italian food writer Anna del Conte said recently (on Desert Island Discs) ‘Italians want the same food made only better and better’.  Her desert island dish would be pasta with a good tomato sauce.  I relate to this and find the constant novelty and drive to create a unique or different dish is often at the expense of relevant flavours and taste. Perhaps this is why I had never visited the annual, much-publicised ‘Taste of Dubai‘ event before, put off by the thought of many chefs showing off fancy food.  This was about to change.

First stop was an encounter with Brit s’leb chef Gary Rhodes who has two restaurants in Dubai which regularly get oohs and aahs from my more generously-walleted friends.  The now-less-spiky-haired chef was charming and enthused about his plan to combine Arabic classic dishes with French-style cooking.

As I was working at the Beverage Theatre at Taste of Dubai I only managed a few forays out to sample dishes from the stands, browse the food items on sale and mingle with the relaxed crowds of foodies who were enjoying the music and atmosphere.  Alas, the best dishes were not to be had at Gary’s Rhodes Twenty10 stall; frankly the white tomato soup was a bit weird to my taste (the underlying creaminess tasted a bit UHT to me) and the truffled macaroni cheese was just ok, however I was impressed to see the man himself dash out from the kitchens heaving a cauldron of soup proving he is ‘hands-on’.

White tomato soup

The Mango Tree provided really excellent Thai fish cakes but the Pad Thai noodles were a bit bland (which is not the case in the restaurant itself when I went with Samantha, Arva, Devina and Yasmin and other foodies for lunch).

The highlight for me was Al Hambra – a Spanish restaurant in Mina A’ Salam.  You could tuck into their olives and marinated manchego cheese while waiting and all dishes were accompanied by home-made, warm rolls (other stalls take note).  Patatas bravas, spicy meatballs, fragrant gambas… I tried them all and went back for more.  The churros  with cinnamon ice-cream and chocolate sauce were divine (and only 15 AED).

Al Hambra

As the renowned beef cheeks were sold out, I had an exquisite morsel of salmon with sour cream mousse from Gordon R’s Verre.  Finally, I met some friends who were too full to finish a scotch egg from The Wharf. I quickly obliged – the crisp crust around peppery game meat and a semi-soft boiled egg was perfect (although strangely not on their restaurant menu).

The scotch egg was exactly the type of British food I would have expected from Gary; at home I reached for Rhodes around Britain and it fell open at the most well-thumbed recipe – Gingerbread cake.  Simple, warming, comforting baking.  ‘Taste of Dubai’ is something I’ll return to next year for sure, but ‘Taste of Home-cooking’ will sustain me in the meantime.

Gingerbread cake

Gingerbread cakeslightly adapted from Gary Rhodes – Rhodes Around Britain

This can also be served warm as a pudding, with custard of course.


225g (8 oz) self-raising flour
2 heaped teaspoons of ground ginger
A pinch of salt
100 g (4 oz) soft brown sugar
100 g (4 oz) unsalted butter
100 g (4 oz) treacle (molasses)
175 g (6 oz) golden syrup (light corn syrup)
1 egg
150 ml (5 fl oz) milk

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (350 F or Gas 4).  Grease and line a 900 g (2 lb) loaf tin.
  2. Sift together the flour and ginger in a bowl then add the salt.
  3. Warm the sugar, butter, treacle and golden syrup in a pan over a low to medium heat.
  4. Beat the egg with the milk then add it slowly to the dry ingredients mixing to get a stiff batter.  The add the melted ingredients mixing thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tin.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  7. If serving cold, leave to cool in the tin.
  1. March 11, 2011 9:26 am

    I love the way you have combined Taste and the gingerbread recipe Sally. I didn’t realise The Wharf also had scotch eggs, thought it was just Rivington (as good as the fish n chips by the way!).

    • March 12, 2011 6:15 pm

      Ah – maybe it was from Rivington – this would make sense. It was delicious.

  2. March 11, 2011 3:48 pm

    Lovely photographs! Wish I’d seen you there!
    And that duck alarmed me, too!

    • March 12, 2011 6:16 pm

      Me too Sid (wishing I’d seen you).

  3. March 11, 2011 4:44 pm

    I love events like this. They’re so much fun + tasty too!

    • March 12, 2011 6:18 pm

      Yes, it was fun and tasty Joan. A pleasant way to spend a day.

  4. Anna permalink
    March 12, 2011 2:11 am

    I was getting worried…you hadn’t blogged for ages! 🙂

  5. March 12, 2011 5:51 am

    Got to agree with that tomato soup comment. I had read that this was one of his signature dishes that constantly rushed out the door – but I expected a fragrant consomme, not something that with eyes closed tasted like a Campbells condensed soup. Not that I mind a bit of simple food, which brings me to my second concurrence. Tomato pasta – totally agree with that – could eat it everyday. Had a superb one at Bice Mare yesterday, and it has renewed my love. Anna del Conte huh? She’s worth a look…

    • March 12, 2011 6:20 pm

      I’m glad I’m not in the minority of one about this soup…everyone else seems to rave about it. Apparently it was supposed to be a little amuse bouche rather than a proper serving…but it didn’t amuse my bouche much!

  6. March 12, 2011 9:31 am

    The ingredients for gingerbread cake look like pecorino and honey. Every tried it? It is deadly. I have never had a scotch egg… odd, eh?

    • March 12, 2011 6:19 pm

      That’s a bit spooky. We were talking about that combination at dinner last night! Scotch eggs can be horrible or magnificent…like this one.

  7. March 12, 2011 10:53 pm

    Now wish I’d tried the churros with cinnamon ice cream. And although I missed trying the white soup, the hype surrounding it makes me want to!

  8. March 13, 2011 1:59 am

    Lovely post! Lucky you going there, I went to Taste of London for the first time last year and really enjoyed it! Would rather be in Dubai…particularly at Mina A’Salam and popping into Al Hambra for some churros!!

  9. March 13, 2011 8:50 am

    I’m certainly not a vegetarian, but even I was mildly alarmed by the duck.. 🙂

    Thanks for the tour – sounds like a great day!

  10. March 13, 2011 4:30 pm

    Agree with you and Sarah that the soup wasn’t all that jazz. It was way too creamy for me, totally killed my appetite for everything else after, which really shouldn’t be the case for anything that calls itself an amuse bouche. Maybe if it had some sort of ‘crunch’ in it – maybe croutons, or something nutty – that could’ve made the creaminess a bit more manageable. That said, I did appreciate the deep tangy tomato flavor…maybe something to recreate at home with less cream, maybe even yoghurt for a lighter finish and toasted cumins for a bit of earthy crunch.

    So glad we ran into each other on both days…and thank you for saving my Scotch Egg, was too good to waste! 🙂

  11. March 17, 2011 12:42 am

    Girl…… are having all the fun. I”m so happy I haven’t visited Dubai yet – now when I do, we can actually get to meet. Don’t know when that will be but I’ll keep you posted. Love the honest reviews……

  12. March 17, 2011 8:51 pm

    Hello Sally,
    Just came across your blog, its amazing mashallah. Im glad that someone else covered the Taste of Dubai event as I did on my blog too Keep up the good work, and feel free to contact me:)
    Love shaima

  13. March 18, 2011 11:50 am

    Wow this is a fabulous event and I wish I lived closer to things like this. I love watching professional chefs work. Fascinating, for some reason: the passion, the expertise, the magic. And the bread, well, I’ve been thinking of making French pain d’épice lately and this might just be it!


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