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All in good taste?

March 18, 2012

Siddharta lounge at Taste of Dubai 2012Taste of Dubai is one of a series of festivals franchised in cities around the world.  To quote the blurb ‘where the host city’s most acclaimed restaurants and chefs gather in a stunning venue to present their signature dishes to thousands of ‘foodie’ visitors.’  In reality this means the restaurants with enough cash to afford to exhibit usually with a ‘celebrity endorsement’.  The almost complete lack of owner-run restaurants and home-grown talent in the fine dining sector means that ‘Taste of Dubai’ could be a slight misnomer.  However, it’s a major food-focussed gathering that, in this its fifth year attracted the public in droves to eat, drink and sit around listening to music in a  tranquil, green space surrounded by steel and glass buildings.  Actually, not that tranquil once the crowds of record numbers streamed in over three days but the sense of enjoyment and relaxation was palpable.  The atmosphere was positively chilled – even at temperatures of 29 C.

Taste of Dubai

Taste of Dubai - in a green space among the towering buildings of Media City

In addition to the restaurants there are chefs’ demonstrations in two open venues.  In the Miele theatre, you can sign up to cook along with on of the many celebrity or local chefs and I was lucky enough to be in a session with my food hero Giorgio Locatelli.  After Vineet Bhatia’s demo, the cooking stations were quickly cleared and restocked with equipment and ingredients.  A man with a hoover started vacuuming as Giorgio and his team arrived.  Giorgio looked with amusement at the cloud of mosquitos hovering under the bright lights directly over his work surface.  “Who’s gonna want to cook there?” he asked ruefully, grabbed the hoover attachment and proceeded to decimate the flying insect population.

Giorgio Locatelli hoovering mozzies

Giorgio attacks the mozzies

I had watched Giorgio cook twice before (here and here) and tasted his wonderful food that  is memorable for its simplicity and flavour so I was delighted to hear we’d be making risotto alla marinara (seafood risotto).  Maybe I’d be able to get a bit closer to making the perfect risotto.

We steamed open some clams in some fish stock, sautéed the soffrito (of onion, celery and carrot), toasted the rice (the tostatura) and then poured in the first ladleful of stock. “You should be able to hear it scream” said Giorgio and came round to check and nodded his approval as the stock hissed upon hitting the hot rice,  “Keep it boiling, boiling, boiling.” he advised.

“Whatever you do, don’t add the calamari till the very end, because if you do it’ll end up like rubber”.  Hoots of laughter from one team at the back as they had jumped the gun with the calamari.  Once we’d plated up the risotto, Giorgio came round to taste each one.  I held up the plate keeping everything crossed!  “Fantastic!” he exclaimed.  We received a certificate at the end but this approval was enough for me.   I had a spring in my step all weekend.

Giorgio Locatelli cookery session at Taste of Dubai

The recipe we followed was similar to the one in Giorgio’s book Made in Sicily with a slightly simpler method of preparing the seafood and the addition of cold butter at the end.

I’ll let some pictures do most of the talking for the rest of the festival:

Gary Rhodes Taste of Dubai 2012

I found Gary Rhodes completely absorbed in reading his own cookery book. He was miles away for about 5 minutes but had the good grace to laugh when I confessed that I’d caught him.  He’s ‘hands-on’ and spends a lot of the time in the kitchen while at Taste of Dubai.

Aldo Zilli Taste of Dubai 2012

I got caught taking pictures of the ingredients prior to Aldo Zilli’s demo and the compère made me come back up to take an aerial view (red-faced).  Aldo made a kind of bouillabaise with rouille (fish stew with red pepper sauce) and some prawn and calamari skewers on griddled aubergine.  He had a good patter and the aromas were wonderful but it all looked a bit slap-dash to me.  Call me biased, but there was none of Giorgio’s finesse.  He invited some 5-year-old twins up to answer some questions:,

Aldo : “Who does the cooking in your house?”

Twin: “Our nanny.”

Truly a taste of Dubai!

Some things I ate at Taste of Dubai

Black cod from Nobu, churrasco beef from Gaucho, ravioli from Ronda Locatelli and panna cotta from Rhodes Mezzanine

It took a whole weekend of tasting (me and KP joint effort) for me to find something that knocked the socks off my taste buds:

South Indian style lamb korma with saffron pulao  from Indego by Vineet Too bland and creamy for KP’s taste

Lamb, carrot and cracked coriander from Table 9 Nice morsels of fragrant, tender shredded lamb and KP scoffed the lot. As chefs who are based in Dubai and making a brave effort at trying to do something different, it was great to see Scott Price and Nick Alvis present.  Scott reminded me to try their cookery school soon.

Churrasco style beef with Peruvian rice and tomato rocoto salsa from Toro Toro Nicely cooked steak but second place to….

Churrasco de chorizo (a marinated, spiral cut with garlic, parsley and olive oil served with a humita) from Gaucho  This was freshly cooked on the outside grill. Flecked with green; salty, fresh and garlicky all at the same time.  The humita was a mix of smoked corn, some purèed, some whole kernels, all wrapped in a little leaf.

Black Cod Yuzu Miso from Nobu While I loved the contrast in textures and the soft, yielding black cod, the sauce was too overpowering for this tiny piece of fish. For me it was the Japanese equivalent of drowning something in ketchup (sorry if this view is sacrilegious to those that worship at the temple of Nobu).  I presume the portion of fish would be larger in the restaurant itself countering the imbalance.

Food at Taste of Dubai 2012

Food voyeurism (clockwise) from Da shi Dai, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, The Ivy, Rhodes Mezzanine and Zafran

Iced berries from The Ivy  These and the next dish were served as free, tasting-spoons (more of this kind of sampling please).  I don’t like cold things very much so would never have tried them so was pleasantly surprised by how good these berries in a rich vanilla sauce were.

Bang bang chicken from The Ivy  I think this is a strange thing to put on the Ivy menu but it was a pleasant combination of crunchy veg and creamy peanut sauce.

Vanilla panna cotta with pineapple and passionfruit coulis from Rhodes Mezzanine  Not quite wobbly enough for my tastes (but that’s splitting hairs), the coulis was deliciously cooling and sharp on a hot day.  I know the pineapple was fresh but in the coulis it had a tinned quality about it making the whole thing like a grown-up version of a dessert my Mum would have made for childhood birthday parties.  This is a good thing.

Chocolate brownie from Rivington Grill Recreating dishes from the restaurant in temporary kitchens must be a challenge but there is no excuse for how dry and slightly dusty tasting this brownie was.  The very small serving of ‘Devonshire clotted cream’ (my tip is to head over the border and get Rodda’s from Cornwall) was not enough to compensate.  Regretfully chose this over the moister-sounding banana brownie from Mango Tree.

Fish and chips from Rivington Grill In my defense I held out and this was the last thing I ate on Saturday night.  Crisp batter, creamy, flakey cod, homemade tartare sauce and a mushy pea puree – not rocket science but very satisfying.  Fresh cod (not possible here) and hand cut chips would be the only improvements.

Ravioli di castagne e patate, tartufo nero pregiato (homemade chestnut and potato ravioli with buttered black truffle) from Ronda Locatelli Again, I left this to the last night feeling I was perhaps a bit biased towards this restaurant and should try something else.  This had me trying to scoop up every last drop of the trufflely butter with a plastic fork, if there hadn’t been a crowd I would have licked the plate.  Earthy, soft and comforting, it was like eating a gastronomic equivalent of the forest floor.

Miele Taste of Dubai 2012

Vineet Bhatia in the Miele school. Paul DeVisser (from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse) tutors about tuna.

The Miele Cookery School was a highlight of the event for me. You could watch the chefs in action from the sidelines and all I witnessed were really hands-on, giving as much guidance as they could.  It was great to see parents and children cooking together.

Raw and Spontaneous Euphoria Taste of Dubai 2012

Sid from Spontaneous Euphoria and Raw coffee

I met Sid from Spontaneous Euphoria selling her homemade cookies and biscuits (she’s a cupcake queen) and tasted fabulous ginger and basil-infused cold brew coffee with the Raw team.  It was good to see some small and artisan businesses – it would be great to see more next year.

Gaucho Taste of Dubai 2012Pity the poor chef behind the Gaucho barbecue.  Let me say right now that your efforts were appreciated.

Rivington Grill Taste of Dubai 2012

There was a constant queue at Rivington Grill – almost a pastiche of British food (they were serving cockles too)! Ketchup and Sarsons!

Toro Toro Taste of Dubai 2012

Take two chefs! Richard Sandoval from Toro Toro

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From a shaky start five years ago, Taste of Dubai has carved a place for itself in the calendar.  It would be great to have some low-key, artisan-led, grass-roots events to counter-balance the five-star mania.  Taste of Dubai is just part of the picture of the diverse range of food this city has to offer.  It was a breath of fresh air to see some smaller businesses with good products there but it would be great to see a lot more.  A warning to restaurants too – we notice those that serve the same menu year after year!  So here’s to some surprises in 2013….because, yes, I’ll be back.  Do you fancy coming next year?

For a full list of the restaurants visit the Taste of Dubai site.


  1. March 18, 2012 2:01 pm

    oh sounds so much fun. And yes, it would be wonderful to see smaller businesses and home foodies to find a section in there. the highlight for me would have been watching Giorgio cook. So good!

    • March 18, 2012 2:08 pm

      I’m trying to get a photo of when he tasted my risotto!

  2. March 18, 2012 2:05 pm

    Yay, you got so many nice pics! I wish I’d had more time to attend the cooking demos, but perhaps next time. Last year’s highlight was me assisting Vineet Bhatia in the cooking theatre…so much fun!
    I lost you at the end…when I left from RAW, I did pop by Sid’s stand but Dina said you’d already left. See you soon!

    • March 18, 2012 2:10 pm

      I did look for you – I sensibly thought I’d call it a day. Could have stayed and stayed. Vineet certainly seemed in his element and is a very popular guy.

  3. March 18, 2012 2:12 pm

    A wonderful event! Thzanks for sahring your impressions and pictures with us.



  4. March 18, 2012 2:15 pm

    Love the round up, you tried so much! I don’t know I missed the banana brownie by Mango Tree, sounds like my kinda thing (and anything would have been better than the dry block we got from Rivington)…wish I’d also got a free iced berry sample, momsie and I were intrigued by those but never ended up ordering cause…how creative can one get with iced berries? 😉

    Great write-up!

    • March 18, 2012 2:59 pm

      I would never have ordered these – but would pay from them off the menu if we go to The Ivy again. I forgot to say that the nice Irish waiter remembered us from our only visit last October!

  5. March 18, 2012 2:25 pm

    Thanks Sally for taking me on this virtual tour. I’ve always wanted to do Taste of Dubai – but have not managed it – so yes I do fancy coming next year. I had to laugh loud at the answer the twin gave – truly Dubai!

    • March 18, 2012 3:00 pm

      You can imagine the whole crowd turned round and looked at the Mother!

  6. March 18, 2012 2:31 pm

    What a full review of the day. You were busy!

    • March 18, 2012 3:00 pm

      Over 3 days Sarah….couldn’t possibly have eaten all this in one day….chuckle.

  7. March 18, 2012 3:21 pm

    Sally lovely pics I didn’t get to go this year but now wish i had somehow found the time! Thanks for sharing xxx

  8. March 18, 2012 3:58 pm

    Fabulous round-up. Hands down my favourite restaurant stall this year was Gaucho for both its sirloin churrasco and the dulche de leche cheesecake…just heavenly.

  9. March 18, 2012 4:34 pm

    Fabulous round up and fabulous meeting you there! I can taste the food as I read the post! You are truly an inspiration!Well done!

  10. March 18, 2012 5:05 pm

    Spendid Sally! What a feast ;-))

  11. March 18, 2012 5:12 pm

    I wish I had gone!
    I have missed it for two years in a row now!

    Giorgio Locatelli & Vineet Bhatia were two of the chefs I really wanted to go see in action!

    Thanks for sharing Sally!

    • March 19, 2012 7:50 am

      Let’s make a date for next year – the Thursday evening was nice – not too busy but still a lot going on.

  12. March 18, 2012 5:12 pm

    Hi Sally. I loved your write up. Very well summed up with great humour. I totally agree with you on the ravioli. I fell in love with it and had it twice.. (made a meal out if it) I hope I don’t sound awful but it was the only thing I truly enjoyed. I don’t eat read meat so I know that some of the meat dishes were great. Da Shi Dai was a great disappointment…. Looking frd to maybe meeting Geirgio L. Next year? How did u do that?

    • March 18, 2012 6:28 pm

      I agree that it was the only thing that truly knocked my socks off (ahem – apart from the risotto that I made which was also pretty good!) To cook with Giorgio someone invited me for a slot but anyone can go – you just have to get their early. But I also had a long chat with him later when he was at the restaurant stand signing books – that was just right time, right place.

  13. March 18, 2012 7:04 pm

    I had a great time at Taste, not as much beacause of the food, but because
    of all the people I have met, all enjoying themselves.
    My favorite had to be the Raw coffee stand as they have maintained their standard and were a lot of fun.

    • March 19, 2012 7:49 am

      I totally agree with you Tom and it was great to meet you there. I’m a big fan of the Raw guys.

  14. March 18, 2012 7:05 pm

    How amusing to catch Gary Rhodes engrossed in reading his own book! This looks quite similar to Taste London with all the stands and stuff. Looking like you had some good names there, it can get a bit repetitive in the UK with same old faces being trotted out at all the events at Olympia & Earls Court. I like Georgio’s technique with the mozzies!!

    • March 19, 2012 7:48 am

      It’s the same franchise as Taste of London I think – I’m sure that one is much bigger. The chefs were great although we get very similar ones each year too – however it’s a great opportunity (although once a year is enough!). Gary was quite funny – he said he’d forgotten some of the things that he put in there as he’d done the book 2 years ago. What I liked about Giorgio’s hoovering is that he did it himself and with a sense of humour – many others would have directed the cleaning man to do it!

  15. March 18, 2012 7:53 pm

    Really lovely post Sally-I could almost imagine myself there-one year perhaps!!

  16. March 18, 2012 7:58 pm

    Looks like a packed event! I must admit that these big events are a little overwhelming for me and I prefer the smaller ‘artisan’ style ones, but it looks like a great opportunity to meet some people and try some amazing dishes.

    • March 19, 2012 7:45 am

      I like the little events you get in the UK too (the Tavistock Cheese fair being the highlight on my year!). It was super-busy but not too overwhelming. Dubai is a small place really so you see loads of people you know and the venue is very compact. This sort of informal event is quite unusual for here.

  17. March 18, 2012 9:23 pm

    What a fun event. Wish I could have been there.

    • March 19, 2012 7:42 am

      Good fun and lots of tasting guaranteed. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. March 18, 2012 11:00 pm

    wow sally! what a nice round up!
    did u get to try the awesome wasabi prawns from saffron and the awesome sticky toffee from rivington (if im not mistaken..) my 2 favorites in that order

    • March 19, 2012 7:41 am

      So much to try – didn’t taste either of these. And I missed you too. Always next year 🙂

  19. March 19, 2012 3:04 am

    Oh wow…. everything looks so delicious and beautiful! Truly edible art!

    • March 19, 2012 7:40 am

      Thanks – that’s a good question though….is food art?

      • March 19, 2012 7:50 am

        I think that if someone pours their heart and passion into something it can be. And all the colors and creativity of flavors make it such an experience 🙂

      • March 19, 2012 10:26 am

        Well said 🙂

  20. March 19, 2012 3:25 am

    Great write up of what seems like a fantastic event. Those photographs of Gary Rhodes made me chuckle. I’m a real fan of Giorgio and loved his recent programme on the Beeb around Sicily. Thank goodness for UK proxy servers :o)

    • March 19, 2012 7:39 am

      I’ve got the book which is superb but must see if I can catch up on the series. VPN lifeline!

  21. March 19, 2012 5:12 am

    So I’m not the only one with a crush on Georgio.. 😉

    • March 19, 2012 7:38 am

      I don’t know what you mean Celia…..! 🙂

  22. faiza abbasi permalink
    March 19, 2012 10:57 am

    Hi Sally, Great review. I managed to attend Saturday only so didn’t try much food but have to agree with you on the hands on cooking, it was a fun experience. We made a pasta dish with a very simple red sauce. I watched Chef Gary Rhodes who was great with the crowd and another man who is the juice expert. They were both very inspirational. I was a bit disappointed with Suzanne Husseini who seemed to lack the live interactional skills. I expected more free sampling and felt the prices of the bigger establishments were quite high for their miniscule portions. However, I did meet some very nice foodies and am keen to find out more about the cooking school in Satwa- it seems quite promising, are you familiar with it?

    • March 19, 2012 11:06 am

      Agree on the sampling – and I think it would encourage people to buy more of the larger dishes once they’d tasted. The prices do seem to be creeping up though.
      We did a session in the cooking school in Satwa for our first ever foodie get together as food bloggers. It was a fun experience but very geared to the professional hotel restaurant chef. Miele are also offering sessions in their show kitchen, Jones the Grocer does cookery classes, and Table 9 has a cookery school. Ideally I’d love to test them ALL out!

  23. March 19, 2012 12:10 pm

    How amazing to cook with Giorgio, something I’m hoping to do this year. We’ve been to two taste of Cape Town events but they were not exciting enough to get me back there 🙂

  24. March 19, 2012 1:22 pm

    I think your review is pretty spot on. I was one of those small businesses at the show – just starting out and opposite Spontaneous Euphoria in fact. I don’t know if we met but it was great to meet so many other Dubai residents with a passion for food! I was also thrilled that people like Giorgio and the wonderful Ariane Bundy both made the time to come over and visit some of the stands. It’s a huge show now but even for a small venture like mine it was worth it. I got a lovely response and my husband and daughter got to sample some interesting nibbles too! Is there any way I can get in touch with you Sally?

  25. March 19, 2012 4:01 pm

    Love the round-up Sally! And love, love, love how the fish n chips turned out to be so satisfying 😉 Hope to make it to ToD next year 🙂

  26. March 22, 2012 2:44 pm

    wow! Looks like such an amazing day!

  27. Fuss Free Helen permalink
    March 22, 2012 5:41 pm

    It looks a darn sight better than the London one which is usually damp and muddy.

    I do question how much of a money making machine it is however, and I am horrified at the waste of plastic disposables at the shows – I asked them last year and was told via twitter that the rubbish is sorted after each session …. Hmmm I doubt this.

    I do think that it is horrendously expensive too, for another perspective on the London one, do read Luke’s post.

    • March 23, 2012 8:21 pm

      Thanks Helen – I’ll read this review. Yes the plastic waste did strike me as pretty bad. I don’t know how the Taste of Dubai event compares with London prices. It’s not a cheap day out if you want to taste a lot. Dishes average at 30 AED which is just over £5. Tickets bought in advance were 99 AED for 2 people (almost £17)

  28. March 24, 2012 2:57 pm

    What an amazing event. Look through your photos from my small beach town in Australia and can only dream. So envious of the cooking with Georgio.

  29. April 3, 2012 9:17 am

    Wow Sally,
    Such an amazing post- truly labor of love- I am so busy eating and tasting the photos is something I never manage to catch. Great job!

    • April 4, 2012 7:32 am

      Well I did go on two days this year!


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