Taste of Dubai and gingerbread cake
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’.
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).
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 – slightly 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)
150 ml (5 fl oz) milk
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (350 F or Gas 4). Grease and line a 900 g (2 lb) loaf tin.
- Sift together the flour and ginger in a bowl then add the salt.
- Warm the sugar, butter, treacle and golden syrup in a pan over a low to medium heat.
- 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.
- Pour the mixture into the tin.
- Bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- If serving cold, leave to cool in the tin.