Just for the Halibut

Recently lured to Dubai Mall by the persistent Dubai Shopping Festival billboards, text messages and e-mails, we eventually exhausted our credit cards and required sustenance to keep our energy levels up.  Thus, it was in a moment of nostalgia that we found ourselves seated at Red Lobster for dinner.  Back in the day when we were poor university students, a meal at Red Lobster was considered a big night out, so having noticed its arrival in Dubai we couldn’t resist a visit.

Greeted efficiently at the unassuming entrance we were swiftly led past a lobster tank and a series of non-descript wood tables to a booth near the back of the restaurant.  We immediately commented on the fact that the décor seemed to lack the character that we remembered from our bygone days – though we might have been wearing rose-coloured glasses at the time.

We had high hopes for the menu and memories of copious seafood meals to relive.  The Dubai menu is a slightly paired down version of the North American original but all the classic dishes are available, from lobster tails to the seafood Alfredo to steak and everything in between.  The menu is dominated by shellfish dishes, mostly containing variations on the shrimp and scallops theme so don’t expect to find any interesting aquatic species or unique food preparation methods here.  We decided to take the “in for a penny, in for a pound” approach to ordering, so chose to start our meal with the coconut shrimp, lobster stuffed mushrooms and a green salad for the health quotient.

After placing our order, the server promptly returned with a basket of Cheddar Bay biscuits.  These biscuits are Red Lobster’s true claim to fame and frankly we didn’t really care about the rest of the meal after we bit into these delicious, flaky, rich, garlic-cheesy morsels.  Apparently, the real recipe is a secret, but for all you foodies out there a quick Google search will identify dozens of copy-cat recipes that claim to have perfected the formula.

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

As we were still drooling over the biscuits our appetizers arrived.  The Coconut shrimp was fried to a golden brown and had a crispy texture, although the flavor was a little too sweet and we ended up dousing it in lime and salt to enjoy.  The accompanying piña colada dip was cloying and absolutely unnecessary.  The mushrooms were somewhat small but generously stuffed with seafood, broccoli, rice, then smothered in gooey Cheddar cheese and obviously tasty – how can you go wrong with that much cheese.  The green salad that we selected to counterbalance the richness of our other appetizers was disappointing in size and quality as it was mostly comprised of iceberg lettuce and served with a not so extra virgin olive oil.

Barely finished with our first course, our mains dishes arrived and we had to shuffle the plates around the table to make room.  Continuing with the “go big or go home theme”, we ordered the Ultimate platter containing half a Maine lobster tail, crab legs, shrimp two ways – one in garlic butter and the other hand-breaded, butterflied and fried to a golden brown – all accompanied by a side of french fries.  Fearing cardiac arrest, we also selected a grilled hammour served with broccoli and an extra side of asparagus to offset the richness of the first dish.  Most of the items on the Ultimate platter are either deep-fried or smothered in butter, making them richly flavorsome with the exception of the crab legs that were unfortunately over-cooked and unappetizingly dry.   The hammour had to be sent back as it was extremely undercooked, but once it arrived it was reasonably tasty and moist.  Unfortunately, the kitchen staff hadn’t removed the fibrous stalks on the asparagus making them partly inedible.

The Ultimate Platter

Overall, the food quality was adequate and the preparation sufficiently accomplished to make the meal pleasant.  On the other hand, the service was unfortunate, as our server lacked even the most basic understanding of how to handle a table and also had an unfortunate “eau de Dubai taxi” about him that we could not ignore as hard as we tried.

At the end of the day, Red Lobster is one step above fast food.  As long as your expectations are for a family style casual dining experience, you’ll find what you seek.  We certainly left feeling full and satisfied.

Coconut Shrimp – 33 dhs
Lobster stuffed mushrooms – 30 dhs
Garden Salad – 13 dhs
Hammour – 55 dhs
Ultimate Feast – 105 dhs
Asparagus – 10 dhs

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Twas the night before Christmas

Well, ok. It was actually the night before, the night before Christmas, when we unexpectedly found ourselves without dinner plans or reservations at 8:30 in the evening. Take-out is uninspiring at the best of times and neither of us had the energy to cook, so we decided to head over to the Rib Room at Emirates Towers for a meal. Since moving to Sheikh Zayed Road earlier in the year, this has become our go-to spot for last minute dinner plans; as much for the food as for the fact that we can walk there – which is a true luxury in Dubai

As the name suggests, the Rib Room is mainly a steakhouse, though the menu also offers some fish and vegetarian alternatives for the non-carnivores. The main focus is really on the meat, with an entire page of the menu dedicated to various cuts categorized by origin. American, Australian, Canadian can all be had here. A separate section on ribs (including a pork option) is offered, along with shared mains of chateaubriand, beef wellington or the Beef Tomahawk if you like to eat family style.

The décor is modern, the room is pleasant and if they would turn up the music a little bit, it would have felt like Christmas. At this point, we’ve become frequent visitors and have sampled most of the items on the menu. Our dinners have primarily been hits, with a few misses, most notably the time when the waiter dropped our Tomahawk steak on the floor mid-service and had to order a new 1,200 gram steak from the kitchen – but the staff has always been professional despite a few kitchen mishaps.

On this occasion, we started off with the Rib Room Salad and the Spicy Calamari appetizers. The salad is a frequent choice as it combines field greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and interestingly lentil sprouts with a tangy dressing to make a very delightful and refreshing light option. This was offset by the calamari, which was anything but light. This hearty appetizer was nicely breaded and spiced, crunchy outside and not doughy, it had gorgeous flavours that were enhanced by the accompanying mushroom remoulade. This is a large portion so we recommend it for sharing. Other appetizers that we recommend include the Wagyu Beef Tartar which is one of the best in the city and prepared table side, and the Boston Lobster Benedict – oh heaven and you can skip the main course after eating that dish.

Rib Room Salad

Moving onto our mains, in addition to the Australian Tenderloin, we opted to try the Bison on this visit and it proved to be an excellent choice. Both steaks arrived perfectly medium and accompanied by a tray of artisanal mustards, sauces of choice and side dishes. The sides are your standard steakhouse fair and nothing exceptional – don’t be fooled by the description of the Tempura Wasabi Fries on the menu, they are just beer battered fries – but really after all this food they are almost superfluous.


We rounded off our evening with a Caramelized Lemon Tart served with a yogurt ice cream. The tart was nice and light with a surprisingly delightful chocolate crust and while the yogurt was an interesting palate cleanser it was unnecessary to the dish.

Caramelized Lemon Tart

Overall, great food and service on this visit. The full menu is available online and Sirius members receive a discount on the total bill.

Salad – 50 dhs
Calamari – 60 dhs
Oakey Tenderloin – 235 dhs
Bison – 315 dhs
Lemon Tart – 35 dhs

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Happy UAE National Day

December 2nd marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates and in honour of this momentous occasion we decided that we should spend the day partaking in the national pastime of unnecessary shopping.  Our venue of choice on this day was the Mall of the Emirates, offering 2.5 million square feet of retail shops and restaurants.

After working up an appetite at Paul & Joe, Harvey Nichols, Boutique 1 and the like we strolled over to the “Fashion Dome” restaurants for an energy boost.  The shopping malls in the UAE offer some of the best known international eateries so we had a slew of dining options to choose from including: the locally renowned More Café; French cuisine restaurant Fauchon; PF Chang’s; South African restaurant Tribes; Asha’s, famous for its Indian curries and biryanis; and Middle East-specialty restaurant Al Halabi.

Wanting a light lunch we opted for Fauchon and quickly found a table perfectly situated for some people watching.  We were greeted by the standard “Hello MamSir” and offered the menus for our perusal.  The options are more international than French with random dishes scattered throughout.  We opted to share an appetizer of Salmon Millefeuille before selecting salads as our mains.

Our millefeuille was presented beautifully with layers of thin smoked salmon, arugula with sour cream chive, crunchy sweet pastry crust, salmon roe and sesame seed garnish.  This was nicely complimented with a green salad and drizzled balsamic dressing.   The dish was slightly rich due to the cream, the flavours were more sweet than savoury but they managed to be delicate at the same time and melded together nicely.

Salmon Millefeuille

Our shared appetizer was followed by a Baby Spinach Salad and a Chicken Caesar Salad.  The spinach salad included shrimp, avocado and green apple accompanied by a creamy dressing.  A very healthy though somewhat bland option if you go light on the dressing.  The Caesar was fairly standard and also included a ball of deep-fried breaded goat cheese which unfortunately did not pair well with the rest of the dish.  Overall, the salads were adequate though uninspiring.

Baby Spinach Salad

The highlight of the meal was definitely the appetizer, though if you have a sweet tooth the pastries are also delicious.  While a far cry from the Fauchon experience in Paris, if you find a seat on the “patio”, order a coffee and pastry, you can settle in for some interesting people watching à la UAE.

Salmon Millefeuille – 50 dhs
Baby Spinach Salad – 60 dhs
Chicken Caesar Salad – 55 dhs

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The Summer Round-Up Part II : Athens – August 2011

Greece isn’t known for its sophisticated culinary palette, but is a fantastic place to explore the traditional south Mediterranean staples of grilled fish/meat and vegetable dishes.  There are some exceptions worth trying if you’re in the mood for a more international selection.

One of our favourite spots in Athens is Prytaneion.  It’s located on a small pedestrian street in the Kolonaki shopping area.  Portions are large, pastas are excellent and the people-watching is fantastic.  Good late lunch spot after a day of shopping.

One night we were craving Japanese food so we paid a visit to Matsuhisa Athens.  This is Nobu Matsuhisa’s chain of Japanese restaurants that are privately owned by the family and not part of the Nobu empire co-owned with Robert DeNiro.  If you’ve tried any of his other offerings then you’ll find this spot very familiar with a menu that has all the staples including the “famous” black cod and jalapeno hamachi. The food is high quality and the prices are typically extortionary – exactly what you would expect from Mr. Matsuhisa.  The location is fantastic – a 30 minute a drive from the centre of the city along the coast on what is locally known as the “Athens Riviera”.   Try to get there just before sunset and sit out on the terrace where you can lounge with a drink and enjoy the beautiful sun setting over the azure Aegean waters before your meal.

Lobster Tacos

Experience has taught us that that nouvelle cuisine and Greek food don’t go together, but on our last night in Athens we decided to ignore our instincts and opted to eat at Blue Hytra – a “modern” Greek fine dining restaurant located at our hotel.  Its unique selling proposition is that it uses molecular techniques to revolutionize traditional Greek products.  Curiosity compelled us to find out if Greek food could be modernized in Athens better than in the other places we have tried.  The menu was appealing in its description of the dishes and the plating presentation was superb.  The quality of the food was very high and the chef put a lot of effort and creativity in his dishes.  The only negative note about this place is that the staff lacks the polish required of a fine dining restaurant and instead exhibits a casual south Mediterranean familiarity that is typical in Greece.

While we enjoyed the experience it’s not something we are likely to repeat.  Call us old fashioned but we don’t feel that a stuffed tomato (gemista) needs to be “transformed” – especially since at the end of the day it still just tastes like a stuffed tomato.

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The Summer Round-Up Part I: Barcelona – July 2011

Some of you loyal followers may have noticed that we’ve been noticeably silent the last few months.  This was due to a hectic summer schedule filled with work, travel, more work, an apartment move, more travel, Ramadan, and more travel.  We’ve finally settled back into Dubai and in the interest of expediency we thought we would give you a few highlights of our dining adventures over this time.  The following entry is the first in a series featuring our summer eating adventures and misadventures.

Barcelona happens to be one of our favourite European cities, offering great shopping, sightseeing and an abundance of Michelin star restaurants.  With only two days at our disposal we spent a lot of time planning our meals.  Barcelona currently boasts six three-star Michelin restaurants among the city’s vast food offerings.  Promptly upon check-in at our hotel we visited the concierge with a list of a few of these to see if we could get a reservation.  The initial reaction we received was barely concealed laughter but the concierge dutifully told us that he would try his best on such short notice.

While we waited to find out our food fate we decided to stroll through the city and do some window shopping.  Along the way we stopped for our annual pilgrimage to our favourite tapas spot – Ciutat Condal.  We’ve eaten there on our last four visits and it’s been fantastic every time.  The place is always busy and they don’t take reservations so you may need to wait if you want a table.  They also have a terrace in the middle of the Rambla Catalunya if you want to take in some people watching.  We always sit at the tapas bar (you need to be quick on your toes to get a seat here) and we order off the chalk board or directly from the prepared morsels that are sitting on the counter.  The food is delicious with literally dozens of tapas dishes on offer, the staff very helpful and welcoming, the beer and wine are aplenty and the prices reasonable.  We recommend that you drop by in the early afternoon after visiting Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia.  Some highlights include:  Veal medallions with baby green peppers and shaved salt, tortilla espaniola (Spanish omelet with potato), crab meat salad on toast, and prawns.

Tapas at Ciudad Condal

Returning to our hotel for an afternoon nap following a late, large and liquid enhanced lunch we were contacted by our concierge who informed us that he was able to score a last minute reservation for us at the highly acclaimed Saüc at The Ohla Hotel for the following night.  You usually need to book weeks in advance but we were lucky enough to pick up a cancellation.  It was going to be on our last night in Barcelona and we were going to definitely splurge, so we decided to have a casual dinner at Vinoteca Torres wine bar that evening just down the street from our hotel.  Torres is a very well-known Spanish wine maker and this little spot carries a wide selection of their wines that you can order by the glass.  The space is very cool looking and the menu offers a wide variety of traditional Catalonian dishes.  We had eaten there on a previous trip with somewhat mixed reviews but we like the fact that you can sample different wines and pair them with your dishes easily.  This ended up being a mistake as we were both noticeably ill the next day and ended up having to cancel our Saüc reservation at the last-minute due to what could only have been food poisoning.  Needless to say, we won’t be sharing any pictures of that meal.

Ciutat Condal Price:  Prices for tapas vary between 1.50-4.oo Euro.  Our lunch of 12 tapas, bottle of wine and water totalled 50 Euros.

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The Summer Round-Up Part III: The Happiest Place on Earth

Several of my friends turned 40 this year so for their birthday we decided (and by this I mean the wives allowed us) to go on a boys’ vacation to Mykonos, Greece.  The plan was simple – 3 guys, 3 beaches, 3 nightclubs, 3 tremendous hangovers – and then home.

In truth the majority of the trip is a bit of a blur.  The beaches are full of life, the nightclubs are fantastic, and I have a vague recollection of meals and menus for lunch and dinner.  All of the restaurants we visited were very similar – serving traditional Greek, Italian, or both.  They all had charming owner/managers who were happy to chat with you in any of the ten plus languages they speak.  All of the restaurants had lovely views of beaches, bodies, blue skied vistas, and windmills, and every place had their favorite homemade wine on offer by the kilo.  They were some of the best meals that I have had – primarily because of the company more than the food.

There was one notable and memorable establishment – Nammos Restaurant By The Sea.  Located at Psarou Beach, Nammos is one of the most enjoyable restaurants I have every visited.  Situated right on the beach, the restaurant has beach beds for sun worshippers, a DJ spinning elegant party music at just the right volume, and a view of massive yachts anchored in this beautiful bay.

We made reservations in advance because we had heard that it is hard to get a table for lunch, and we are glad that we did.  We got there early, grabbed a beach bed and bottle of champagne, and settled in to watch the rich and beautiful party.  After another bottle of champagne we hit the table for a meal.  Fish, squid, and prawns all came to the table barbequed to perfection, delicate and tasting of the sea.  The dips, sides, sauces and the like were ethereal in their elegance and simplicity.

The restaurant has a great wine selection and the staff are experts at appearing and disappearing at the exact right moment with the exact right thing.  Somewhere between our 2nd bottle of wine and 3rd round of shots the DJ picked up the beat just a little bit and all of a sudden the whole place was up on chairs dancing.  Visiting Nammos means meeting half of the diners around you as everyone starts chatting and partying together.

We stayed at Nammos as long as we could, only leaving when we were sure we couldn’t last another minute.  We had eaten a fantastic meal, drank wonderful wine, danced, laughed, partied, and met a hilarious bunch of folks.  *$#@ Disneyland, Nammos is the happiest place on earth!

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Roll up the Rim!

If you don’t know what a double-double is this entry is not for you. 

Long anticipated and very overdue, Tim Horton’s has finally arrived in Dubai.  OK, it’s the American version Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bake shop where the coffee cups say “Roasted in Rochester, NY” and they serve Mac n’ Cheese on the menu – but it’s still Tim Horton’s.  We were among the lucky few to attend the soft opening and try the new menu before they open their doors to the public on September 17th. 

It’s was a Canadian taste extravaganza.  We tried everything – donuts, coffee, sandwiches, hot chocolate.  The french crullers, boston cream and chocolate glazed donuts were divine.  The bagels tasted like bagels – by which we mean they tasted like they do at every Tim Horton’s in Canada and not like someone took standard bread dough and rolled it into a circle.  The only disappointment was that they were using processed cheese instead of real cheddar.  The coffee tasted like we remember it. 

The staff is still learning the lingo but they were trying very hard.  When we placed an order for a black coffee we received a confused expression from the cashier who asked “You want double-double?”  At least he knows what a double-double is.  And thankfully, the small cup is called “Small” and not some unnecessarily Italian word meaning “Large”.

Located on Sheikh Zayed Road just beside Starbucks (Next to Financial Centre Metro Exit on the West side), we have high hopes for our Canadian company and encourage you all to get your Tim’s ON.

Samer enjoys his black coffee

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Oh Canada

The UAE has a fairly strong contingent of Canadian expats and the long distance tends to stir our patriotism as Canada Day approaches. This year a group of Canadians organized the Red and White Night at Fire & Ice Grill in celebration of the great event. Over 50 people gathered at the restaurant to enjoy a special set menu prepared by Bryson-born Chef Josh Kucharick who did a great job developing a special Canadian inspired menu for the occasion.

Our first course of the evening was a FIRED HALIBUT with Yolk Ravioli (egg yolk & salmon roe), Fiddle Head Cream and Fennel Slaw. It sounded absolutely mouth-watering on paper but was disappointing in execution. While beautifully presented, the fish was extremely overcooked and its accompaniments seemed to lack cohesion. It’s likely that the timing of this course was ruined by the delay in seating such a large group but it did serve to make us apprehensive about the remaining of the meal.

Fired Halibut

The second course was a YUKON GOLD GLACE with Dusted Jus, Cheese Curd Foam and Plum Tomato Jelly. Think molecular gastronomy meets traditional poutine. While this item got mixed reviews by our table, we thought it was absolutely superb. While minimalist in many ways, it was truly original and if you shut your eyes when taking a bite you could almost feel like you were back home.

Yukon Gold Glace

Our main was a GRILLED ANGUS TENDERLOIN with Sun choke Puree, Wild Mushroom Pickle and Scallion Crème Fraiche. Fire & Ice is a high-end grill known for its great cuts of beef so the expectations were high on this course. Chef Josh did not let us down. The meat was very well prepared and arrived hot which was an impressive feat given that the kitchen was serving 50+ plates at the same time.

Grilled Tenderloin

For desert we were served a WILD BLUEBERRY NANAIMO with Tahitian Vanilla Custard with Sweet Potato Crumble. I could have eaten five of them.

Wild Blueberry Nanaimo Desert

The menu was well thought out in it its attempts to incorporate “Canadian” ingredients into the various dishes. Chef Josh showed flashes of brilliance in some of these elements which suggests that a visit to the restaurant on a regular night would be worth it. The evening was capped by the Great Canadian Trivia Quiz which I am saddened to report we all failed miserably.

AED 550 for the four-course meal, including a welcome drink and wine pairing.

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Lebanese-style Sashimi

We’ve recently returned from spending a few days in Beirut to attend a wedding and get a short respite from the Dubai heat.  During the trip we were hosted for dinner by some Lebanese friends at a small waterfront restaurant in Jounieh.  Dorada sur mer offers a wide selection of food from Lebanese mezza, classic Mediterranean seafood preparations to Italian, French and Sushi dishes.  In typical Lebanese fashion our hosts ordered at least half the menu.  The table was over-flowing with food and the dishes kept coming out throughout the meal.   It would be impossible to list everything we ate, but we did want to make special note of one item – which we’re loosely calling snapper sashimi.

The proper preparation of sashimi is a delicate art, using precise cutting techniques to maximize flavor and freshness.   The dish we were served would have had any self-respecting master sushi chef crying in his wasabi.  It looked like this fish went down fighting.  Instead of the precisely cut rectangular slices that we are typically served at Japanese restaurants we received tiny bits of butchered meat.   Despite this, it was the freshest, sweetest tasting melt in your mouth morsel we have ever tasted and it was presented beautifully on the plate in it’s own carcass which was a nice touch. 


All the food at Dorada sure mer was delicious though fish and seafood is the specialty.  Definitely worth a visit if your travels ever take you to Beirut and surrounding areas.

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The Gods must be hungry

I’ve been unsuccessfully hunting for decent Greek food in Dubai for years with no success. Then a few months ago I was driving along Jumeirah Beach Road when Zeus threw a Iightning bolt down from Olympus and illuminated a tiny store front sign, and the words “El Greco” flashed before my eyes. It looked like a souvlaki (shish kebab) joint. I excitedly reported the news to Samer when I got home.

A few days later I went looking for it but I couldn’t remember exactly where I had seen it. I drove that strip at least twice with no luck. A week later I brought Samer along with me to look for it while I kept my eyes on the road. He seemed skeptical but decided to amuse me. After a couple of drives along the strip – still nothing. He decided that it was all just a hallucination on my part and that I needed to stop obsessing and get over it. Even I began to think that he was right and that I had just imagined the whole thing. I forgot about it and moved on. Then last week I was doing something random on Facebook when low and behold, I stumbled on the El Greco FB page proudly publicizing “Souvlaki in Dubai”. I’m not sure how the first Greek greasy spoon in Dubai came to be named by a Mexican – nonetheless, like Odysseus to the sirens – I was drawn to it.

According to the site it’s located across from Mercatto Mall. Tadaaah!

We were in the neighbourhood the other day and decided to have a look. The place is essentially a counter without seating and all of 8 x 6 feet. The menu is simple: chicken kebab or gyro, greek salad, french fries. We weren’t sure how this was going to go so chose to take it slow. We ordered one chicken souvlaki on a pita each with the works (tzatziki, onions, tomatoes, fries). We waited in the car while they cooked it to order. About 10 minutes later the guy delivered it to our window.

We raced home like Hermes with his winged sandals, and despite a 15 minute drive to the house, when we unwrapped the food it had remained surprisingly hot and looking absolutely perfect. It was delicious! The tzatziki was spot on, the pita was the ideal texture and the onion-tomato-sauce combo perfectly complimented the tender chicken pieces. All I have to say is that I’m going back for the bougatsa and frappé next week.

We have been blessed by the Gods twice this week. First we found an awesome pizza delivery joint and now the chicken souvlaki. We should probably play the lottery. 

Chicken souvlaki on a pita – 9 dhs

Update since our visit: El Greco launched a new menu in the last week with an expanded selection of food and slightly higher price point. Chicken souvlaki is now 12 dhs.

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