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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

FOODIE SPECIAL.... Dining In Dubai

Dining In Dubai


Exploring the emirate city's chic restaurants, quirky cafes, bars and lounges, all in instagrammable locations

Dining decisions are tough in Dubai. It may be a tiny emirate on a spit of land spiking out into the Persian Gulf, but its eating out options can leave you as woozy as views from the vertiginous Burj Al Arab. This way for the world's highest restaurant (At.Mos phere). This way for an underwater eatery (Al Mahara). `Mediterrasian'? Head to Zuma where chefs will wow you with flaw less meals amalgamating the two cuisines.
Dubai's foodscape sizzles with chic res taurants, quirky cafes, happening bars, lounges and hotels in instagrammable lo cations. All vie to create an ideal dining experience for punters. Yet you can also dig into pocket-friendly and tasty plates of curry, rice, or noodles at under $5. With over 200 nationalities calling Dubai home, the emirate has got nearly every craving and budget -covered.
Though modern Dubai is frequently panned as a self-indulgent panegyric to consumerism, there's just as much fun to be had in the unalloyed pleasures of “the Orient“. Take a food trail in Deira for a taste of Middle-eastern exotica. This Chandni Chowk-esque location offers bona fide Emirati, Palestinian, Iraqi, Irani, Turkish and Lebanese food experiences in an authentic setting. In Deira's cavernous kitchens, I also meet humble and talented chefs dishing out delicious sesame-en crusted falafels, gooey knafeh (cheese des sert), soft pita, muskahan (Lebanese pie) and other irresistible goodies. Breakfast binges `Healthy' breakfasts are quite the thing in Dubai these days with a crop of expat chefs putting a creative spin on healthy produce for the day's most important meal. One such meal took me to The Farm at Al Barari, on Dubai's outskirts, to Nad Al Sheba, making me wonder if I was indeed in the desert emirate.
Surrounded by lush botanical gardens and lakes, The Farm is a contemporary, glass-walled space with dappled sunlight.Wooden decks jut out over a small lake allowing patrons to dine at tables amongst an array of colourful plants, sink into bean bags or recline in a hammock next to the water. Through large, floor-to-ceiling windows you can see chefs fussing over their creations in the open patisserie.
Fresh, organic produce from The Farm's onsite herb garden and nursery is harnessed daily for a sustainable menu curated by chef Yves de Lafontaine. “Our flavours are inspired from around the world, from Thai and Mediterranean to Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian. The idea is to create pure and fresh dishes which also reflect Dubai's multicultural ethos,“ says Lafontaine.

My `Arabic breakfast'
reinforces the chef 's philosophy to the T, showcasing classic Emirati and continental gems.There's assorted manakish (tiny flat breads anointed with zaatar, thyme, cheese), grilled haloumi, foul medammas (fava beans), fresh mixed greens, and Arabic breads served with labneh and hummus. There's a superfood-boosted avocado and green apple smoothie to wash it all down with.
Another breakfast meal takes me to the freshly-minted, sunlight-drenched Cocoa Kitchen. At this cocoa-centric restaurant with chalkboard menus, each dish -sa voury or sweet -comes accented with cocoa. The use of a simple mono ingredient makes it tough for a conditioned mind (and palate) to accept that cocoa can indeed be a wonderful starter, or a main course ingredient, and not just a dessert. But this revelation is just the point at the eatery.
“We celebrate the flavourful cacao nib and its successful fusion with a wide variety of ingredients. Cacao nibs are versatile, so they can be used in savoury cooking at any point in the recipes to lend their distinct flavour,“ the chef informs me as I fork into a cocoa-infused breakfast. There's beef sausage, blackened tomato, field mushroom, maplenibbed glazed turkey rashers, house beans and poached eggs. A beautiful bread board offers cocoa butter as well as spreads like pistachio, white chocolate hazelnut, milk chocolate almond and dark chocolate, not one item overpowered by the taste of cocoa.

A Moveable Feast
Mobile kitchens or food trucks -a recent addition to Dubai's dining scene -are where the city's budding chefs are cooking up a storm kerbside. We drive down to The Last Exit Truck Park, located on Jebel Ali, near the Abu Dhabi border to check out what the fuss is all about. The area is a whirligig of activity on a nippy evening with a dozen vintage airstream trailers servicing gaggles of families with gourmet street food. The carnival-esque atmosphere is augmented further by children's play zones and an air-conditioned seating area which recreates a classic car workshop.
The Last Exit's Americana-meets-MiddleEastern smorgasbord includes hotdogs, burgers, falafels, bakes, cakes, Emirati delicacies, Turkish ice-cream and even `karak chai'. Each truck is individually customised by big foodie brands like Clinton St Baking Company, Poco Loco, Operation Falafel, The Hot Dog Stand, and Urban Seafood. Customers order via each truck's intercom system, eat in their cars or head to the al fresco seating. Most trucks use biodegradable packaging as well as other carbon footprint-friendly kitchen practises.
“Basically, we offer motorists and riders, commuting between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, additional dining choices,“ Milly Mason informs me as I sink my teeth into a juicy hot dog bursting with flavour. “The venue has both dine-in and drive-through formats along with a mix of convenience facilities, car parking spaces, rest rooms and ATMs.“

A Toast to the Coast
Dubai's sea-fronted hotels and restaurants have always leveraged their beachside settings to optimal effect. But increasingly, a new breed of restaurateurs are putting an inventive spin to their food and settings. The recently-refurbished Shimmers, located smack dab on the shores of the Arabian Gulf at Jumeirah Mina A'Salam Hotel, has the feel and style of an authentic Greek Tavern.White washed woods, textiles in turquoise shades and relaxed seating on the sand offer welcome respite from the heat and hubbub of the city. There's a sheesha bar, should you feel so inclined.
The eatery offers casual, toes-in-thesand atmosphere during the day, and a relaxed dining setting at night. We tuck in next to the lapping waves as a twinkling Burj Al Arab looms over us. Inspired by his mother's recipes, Greek chef Yiannis Katsikas serves up Mediterranean dishes but with his own twist. For starters, he sends us delicious Tyrokaftrei, a traditional spicy feta cheese dip served with freshly baked pita bread and zucchini kefta (kofta) with tender chargrilled octopus. The slow roasted beetroot salad and the Greek salad pop with colours and taste.
Up next are the mains -succulent lamb chops and briam -a flavour-charged Greek vegetable bake straight from the oven. For dessert, there's “Bougatsa from Thessaloniki“, a semolina custard with icing sugar and cinnamon. “Loukoumades“, the restaurant's signature dessert, achieves perfect harmony between cinnamon, honey, walnuts and vanilla ice cream. However, it's the light-as-air baklava that has our taste buds singing.
Another salubrious beachside experience is offered by Seven Sands restaurant where we eat while gazing out to a glittering sea.Spread over two stylish floors at the southern-most tip of The Beach in JB, the eatery has a glass-covered section on the ground floor containing sand from each of the seven emirates (hence its moniker). As you wait for your order to arrive, you can soak in the decor accentuated by white walls depicting images of old Dubai: horses, falcons, camels and the Bedouin life. Our table, however, is set on the terrace, with the sea breeze and the distant clatter of beachside activity providing a pleasing backdrop for the meal.
The food at Seven Sands reinterprets traditional and contemporary Emirati cuisine.The appetizers -squares of crispy bread with zaatar -followed by shark sambousa -samosas, essentially, of tightly packed minced shark with spices elicit grunts of approval at our table. The fried bezar prawns -wrapped in vermicelli and served with a sweet chilli dip -disappear from the plates faster than we could say `Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum'.
Mains comprise Lamb thareed, a traditional Bedouin stew made with marrow, pumpkin, potatoes and tomatoes), and fouga, an Emirati pilaf combining spices, basmati rice and falling-off-the-bone meat. The dessert -toffee and bread pudding -is more British than Bedouin. But it didn't last long enough in the bowls for us to kvetch over its provenance.
Neeta Lal
ETM 20JAN17


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