With something to excite every taste bud, it is hardly surprising that Dubai is a paradise for food lovers.
Words: Chef Bakshish Dean.
Before embarking a red-eye aircraft to Dubai a few years ago, my familiarity with Middle Eastern food was based on after-work doner kebabs back home in Delhi, some food festivals during my Taj days and my time in Spain (which I frequent every year for the Madrid Fusion) and sampling baklava in Seattle at my aunt’s place. In review, I think this worked in my favour because it meant that I arrived in Dubai with exactly no anticipations when it came to food the first time round. Needless to add, I fell in love so much with the food that I worked on and ran Lodi – The Garden Restaurant in Delhi, which is quite the rage even today for its Middle Eastern dishes, for a few years.
It was time to go back and discover what’s on with the Dubai food scene right now. I have a few days on me and with a visa on arrival for Indians, thanks to the US visa stamp, it makes it easy to plan. I am in Dubai in less than three-and-a-half hours and check in to the JW Marriott Marquis, the second tallest hotel in the world.
A quick breakfast and shower later, I am ready to explore. While I will travel to great lengths for anything related to food, it’s not every day I hop on an abra boat to do so. To get to the Souk El-Kabeer, you need to travel by boat across the Dubai Creek. As is the case in a lot of Middle Eastern markets, spices and dates are the main attraction. It’s a fun experience here; I stop for a cup of tea, grab a spot to sit, and settle in to watch a very different sort of world go by.
Soon it’s lunch time and Zou Zou at La Mer, the new beachfront district, comes highly recommended. As you might predict, hot and cold mezze are a highlight. My favourite is the kibbeh and the pizza like arayes with minced lamb, parsley, sesame paste and pine nuts. I also try the fish that comes with a smoky edge from the charcoal grill. Baklava is actually not a dessert, but rather an event in Zou Zou as the smiling server brings a hot tray, cuts
a slice and turns it into an ice-cream sandwich… decadent to the core!
Next stop is 144 stories high above the sprawling city. The way to At.mosphere at the Burj Khalifa is via the Armani Hotel. A glass of red wine in hand, I cannot get over the incredible 360-degree night-time view of this dazzling, brightly lit scene in front of me that significantly sets the vibe for my evening ahead.
If I lived in Dubai, I’d come to Cocoa Room often. With an in-house bakery and a familiar menu that satisfies every craving, this cafe has the recipe for breakfast success. Share your dishes as all are gratifying right from the banana nut pancakes with digestive crumble, toffee sauce and caramelised banana chunks to Turkish scrambled eggs with baguette and the countryside English muffin sandwich. All of these are delicious, well presented and efficiently served as are the donuts, cruffins and coffee!
I am in Dubai, so a stroll through the Dubai Mall is a must not only for the shopping but also the food and beverage offerings. Here there are over a whopping 160 outlets in the mall counting my namesake Dean & Deluca. I spend a lot of time admiring the well-preserved Grand Dinosaur when I notice The Cheesecake Factory right next to it. The menu is neat and easy to navigate with a separate one for those who count calories. The dim sums do not disappoint and the Louisiana chicken pasta is truly outstanding. Needless to add, I end my meal with a strawberry cheesecake.
My dinner is booked at the Indian restaurant Rang Mahal at the JW Marriott Marquis. I must say, head chef Amrish Sood aims to combine good taste with healthy food and modern presentations with impulses from across the globe with the finest cooking procedures. Most dishes served have a balance of flavour and texture, the beauty of simplicity, and the understated sensuality with well-paired spirits and wines.
On the menu here is the best of kebabs, curries and breads. For starters, I love the Karara Kekada, which is a beautifully fried softshell crab, served with a raw mango relish. My vote goes all out also for the Kerala shrimp biryani. The Makhani Daal, which is stewed for 48 hours with home churned butter, is to die for. The décor breaks away from the clichéd interiors associated with Indian cuisine restaurants. It serves authentic Indian cuisine in a stylish, contemporary setting. Even if you are not staying at the JW Marriott Marquis, it’s worth stopping by for a meal here.
The next day is Friday and also my flight back home, but not without the Friday brunch. So I head to the Bread Street Kitchen & Bar by Gordon Ramsay, one of the most popular modern European restaurants in the city, at Atlantis the Palm. The best part about the buffet here is that you do not have to brace yourself in queues of tired, hungry people but instead the main course is brought à la carte style and tastes fresh and hot! My lamb with chorizo, bell peppers and tomato is beautifully cooked and justly tender, sided with crunchy smithereens of grilled bread, but it is the tomato sauce that gives it that kick!
Not surprisingly, Dubai is called a paradise for food lovers. And the culinary journey seems to get better each time one lands here. You can take my word for it.