Taste Bud Round-up – 101 Great Places to Eat Out in UAE Favorites
They say that “Life starts at the edge of your comfort zone” and i’m a firm believer in this, so when the Producers of 101 Great Places in the UAE reached out to me to become a presenter on the show, I was far removed from my comfort zone. I was nervous and excited at the same time, a sentiment which immediately propelled me to say yes. What I didn’t realize is that presenting is quite different from blogging, in fact the two are literally night and day, despite their common thread of eating. Blogging goes something like this: Eat, Reflect, Write, while presenting goes something like this: Smile, Eat, Speak, the differences are stark. It’s a tricky trade but a rewarding one at that, to step into the kitchens, meet the chefs and learn the tricks of the trade is such a privilege.
And, of course, I’ve eaten many great meals along the way. For those of you that have or haven’t seen the show, below is a quick brief on the most memorable restaurants and my favorite dishes at each.
- Qbara – Its no secret that Qbara has good food, although I’ve been a skeptic in the past, my visit to Qbara to film 101 sealed my opinion on the glamorous restaurant. Stepping into their kitchen with Qbara’s Syrian-born Chef was a lovely surprise, his love of food was radiant behind the scenes, his face lit up at every opportunity to speak about his culinary creations. Famous for the way they have reinvented traditional Arabic dishes, I had the pleasure of trying their rendition of Falafel, which swaps chick peas for regular peas. I was an interesting take on the fried croquette although I still prefer the traditional version. The dish that stole the show was the Duck Breast, prepared two-ways, with pomegranate molasses over a walnut puree alongside pan-fried radishes. A dish I would have never thought to order and completed changed my perception of Qbara, positively a favorite among all the episodes I’ve filmed.
- Sacci– Italian restaurants are abundant in the UAE and so I was immediately looking for a differentiating factor when I stepped into Sacci in Abu Dhabi. For starters the space is simple, rustic and charming, the combination of brick and hardwood floors immediately caught my eye. Glass mosaic-like panels separate the spaces from each other and the ground floor location has a lovely terrace for an al fresco dinner. As explained to me upon my arrival, Tuscan cuisine is simple and basic from the ingredients to the final dish and so the first dish I tried was the Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper) Risotto, just as simple as its origins. There was actually an entire wheel of cheese placed at the base of the plate for a very rich and creamy dish, but the pepper aroma and taste was the standout ingredient. The Amedei Cioccolate, a dark chocolate soufflé, was probably the second best dish I had during my tastings on the show – it was bitter and sweet at the same time. If you do try it, be sure to carve a hole in the soufflé and drop some vanilla gelato inside before indulging in your first bite!
- Benjarong– Benjarong is the Dusit Thani’s signature restaurant globally and now I know why. I can’t speak for all of the other locations, but here in the Dubai Chef Naramun charmed me beyond words. With over 30 years under the chefs hat, Naramun cooked for the royal family in Thailand for many years – appropriately so as the restaurant serves up Royal Thai Cuisine. I’ve never understood the difference between regular Thai food and Royal Thai cuisine until we filmed at Benjarong, apparently the different is in the preparation and quality of ingredients versus the actual taste of the dishes. The restaurant evokes an essence of the far east, the finishing’s are intricate, the porcelain plates are colorful and the food was no different. Served to me by Naramun herself, I absolutely loved the Gaeng Phed Ped Yang (Duck Red Curry) which was spicy and sweet with pineapples, grapes and Thai sweet basil – most certainly a stand out dish.
- Al Hallab Bab Al Bahar– I’ve been a longtime fan of Al Hallab but honestly didn’t even know that Bab al Bahar, their seafood counterpart, even existed until we filmed there recently. This restaurant, which is the largest restaurant in downtown Dubai – no small feat as you know – is keen on putting a seafood twist on traditional Arabic dishes, think Kibbeh Samak (Fish Kibbeh). Their signature hot mezza dish, the Shrimp Fetteh, was my favorite dish of the day here. The traditional chickpeas are replaced with eggplant and shrimp atop fried bread all soaking in a garlicky yogurt for a hearty, crunchy and creamy small plate vibrant with flavors of the Levantine. The salt baked fish is set ablaze tableside for show and is paired well with the Sayadieyeh rice. And the twists weren’t limited to seafood, as the chef replaces the cream (2ashta) in Halawet al Jibn with mastic-flavored ice cream (photo above) for an enhanced version of the Middle Eastern delicacy.
- Chamas – If you haven’t been to a Brazilian Churrascaria and you are a carnivore, you should definitely try it. Chamas in Abu Dhabi boasts a promising all-you-can-eat variety of 16 meats, as well as a salad bar and dessert bar, but who cares about that when you have 16 cuts of meat to attend to. I tried four out of the 16 and the verdict: the Parmesan Crusted Tenderloin was my favorite, we all know that meat and cheese pair brilliantly together and this was no exception. Do save some space for the side dish of fried bananas if you need a quick diversion from beef.
- Positano – We are a long way from the Amalfi Coast but Positano here in Dubai is all about trying to keep it authentic. The restaurant specializes in Limoncello’s – a follow up visit is on order to get acquainted with the lemony beverage – and has adorable miniature Italian lemon trees adorning the tables. The vibe is fresh, airy and welcoming, the kitchen is completely exposed for diners to watch the preparation of their dinner and the Chef is, of course, Italian. The chefs colorful specialty – available only by request – of seafood-stuffed black squid ink ravioli in saffron sauce made quite the impression but their Burrata in 25 year old aged sweet balsamic vinegar won me over, creamy and sweet. Do not leave this Italian outpost without a taste of their Tiramisu, served in a mason jar, which does the Italian dessert justice.