That’s Amore!

We’ve been on the hunt for a good pizza delivery place since we landed in Dubai over three years ago. We’ve tried them all, from the restaurants to the fast food places; 800Pizza, Red Tomato, Prego’s, Pizza Express and the experience has been mixed from decent to dismal. We’ve gotten limp and undercooked thin crust that can barely carry the weight of the toppings; we’ve had poor quality ingredients and mediocre execution. There was one time the pizza arrived with the entire topping stuck to the top of the box and we were left with a mass of gooey half cooked dough. There was another time the pizza had folded into itself so that it resembled a calzone. We eventually became totally disillusioned, disheartened and all the other dis’s. We were resigned to the fact that we would never enjoy good pizza delivery in this country and we moved on.

Lately we’ve been hearing some buzz about a new American chain that had arrived in Dubai called N_K_D Pizza.  Actually, it’s NAKED Pizza but they weren’t allowed to call themselves that in the UAE so they improvised. Founded in New Orleans in 2006 and billing itself as the world’s healthiest pizza. They use a 10-grain crust and “whole food ingredients” without unnecessary fillers, processed food or additives. Well, they weren’t going to trick us. We’d fallen for false claims before and had learned our lesson. NKD Pizza – sounded gimmicky. We ignored it just as we’ve ignored all other pizza advertising since the last delivery debacle.

Then disaster struck. We’d both been sick and hadn’t left the house for days. Food stocks were dwindling fast. The flyer had been sitting on the dining room table for weeks and when the desperation truly set it and we’d run out of canned tuna we decided to bite the bullet and place an order.

We went to the website to place our order. The transactional site needs some work – but this is Dubai after all so our expectations are low when it comes to e-commerce. After muddling through a few screens we finally figured out their system and placed our order.

  • One large thin crust: pepperoni, basil, extra mushrooms, red sauce, mozzarella (57 dhs) – old school!
  • One large original crust: extra chicken, cilantro, red onions, mushrooms, red sauce, mozzarella (67 dhs) – for the foodies in us.
  • One small “smokehouse”: bbq sauce, red onion, double chicken (29 dhs) – just out of curiosity.

The delivery was prompt; the pizza was steaming hot, intact and looking beautiful. The taste was really good, the crust was well cooked (we prefer thin crust over regular), the ingredients were plentiful (you can order “double”) and overall it was a delicious experience – it tasted like a pizza should! And, the whole “healthy pizza” angle is not a gimmick. When our meal was finished we noticed that absence of that slightly bloated feeling (you know what we’re talking about!) that is typically achieved post-pizza.

N_K_D Pizza

We’re pleased to announce that after countless failed attempts, the search for a decent pizza delivery joint in Dubai has finally come to an end.

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The Full Monty

The Galeries Lafayette gourmet food market located on the top floor of the store in the Dubai Mall is like a candy store for foodies. With 4,000 square feet of space containing a mini-supermarket, bakery, chocolatiers, temperature controlled cheese room, butcher and gourmet delicatessen, it is a food shoppers paradise. The space also has various islands of prepared foods (eat-in or take-out) from various regions including: sushi, Indian, Italian, Chinese, and other cuisines.

On this Friday we paid an early visit to the butcher to buy some lamb for our Easter dinner the following night. Having rushed over before breakfast we decided to grab a quick bite while they were preparing our meat order. On the menu: The Full Monty – 2 eggs anyway you like, choice of veal bacon, beef or chicken sausage, baked beans, baked tomato, grilled mushrooms, potato cake and choice of white or brown bread. In this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The Full Monty

This was a fresh, high quality and hearty plate that will take you from breakfast to dinner. We only had a couple of minor complaints – the eggs were slightly under cooked despite being ordered over easy and the potato cake arrived ten minutes later as we were finishing the meal.

The Service
The service can be slow and confused at times, but the servers are friendly so this can be forgiven at such a casual dining environment. If you’re in the Dubai Mall and looking for something different for a quick bite Lafayette Gourmet is definitely worth the visit.

The Price
The Full Monty – 45 AED

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Back to the Beach: Part 2

So we’ve been having some major plumbing issues at the house and decided that a night at a hotel was in order while we had people come in to fix things. We’ve stayed at a few of the local hotels in recent years (with the Park Hyatt being our favourite to date) but decided to use this opportunity to try something new. After much debate, we settled on the One & Only Royal Mirage as it’s a stunning property by the waterfront and also happens to be 5-minutes from our house.

Now, if you’ve been following our recent reviews, you’ll remember that our last one Dining Beachside was for the Beach Bar & Grill at the Royal Mirage and frankly the review was less than stellar (some might say harsh).  However, we felt that we needed to give the place another chance as our previous visits there had been very good, except for service problems.  So, after a quick check-in we headed down to sit on the terrace and order some lunch.

The Space

We have described this space before from our dinner experience; yacht watching, terraces, ambiance, lapping waves and mood lighting. It’s a lovely place to have dinner. For a casual lunch the space is even better. The sunshine makes the terrace very lively, the proximity to the water delivers a cool breeze and strategically placed shading begs the ultimate question – to tan or not to tan.

The View

The Food

Having decided to go for a swim after lunch we chose to order a few appetizers instead of mains. The dozen oysters were creamy, fresh and light. The grilled calamari was flawless. The grilled shrimp served with roasted peppers and salad was smoky and sweet; just right. The fried calamari was crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and good all over. In other words the food was fabulous.

The Service

Now we finally understand why the Beach staff never get the dinner service right – they are trained (very well) to deliver casual and charming service for unhurried lunches. The staff was friendly and attentive. They served us food and wine effortlessly and helped to make our local getaway a pleasure.

The Price
Dozen oysters
Grilled Calamari – 78
Grilled Shrimp – 90
Fried Calamari – 72

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Dining Beachside

Dining Beachside

Between all the recent travelling and minor illnesses, it’s been a few weeks since our last review.  Samer’s brother and family were in town and the weather was a pleasant 25-30 degrees (Celsius) so we felt that an outdoor dinner would be just the thing.  With only a few weeks left before the humidity strikes, outdoor seating is hard to come by in Dubai and some restaurants are taking reservations a week or more in advance. 

One of our go-to spots is the Beach Bar & Grill at the One & Only Royal Mirage.  It’s in a great location directly on the beach and serves excellent grilled fish.   We were fortunate to get the last reservation for our table of four.

The Space

Despite all the new hotel openings in recent years, the Royal Mirage remains one of the most beautiful properties in Dubai with huge green lawns dotted with large palm trees.  The Beach restaurant is a stand-alone building directly in front of a large sandy beach with an expansive patio overlooking the yachts cruising along the Arabian Gulf.  At night, the patio is dimly lit to create an intimate atmosphere for restaurant goers.

The Food

The menu is predominantly fish and seafood with a smattering of grilled meat options for the carnivorous diet.  They offer a broad range of appetizers and we sampled a few of them: The poached baby lobster with green apple, avocado, snow pea salad and sumac crème fraiche was tasty but slightly tart; the Foie Gras with toasted brioche and a sweet red onion chutney was absolutely delicious; the Grilled Calamari served with mesclun was perfectly grilled to a succulent tenderness and left us wishing for more; the Grilled Scallops atop an artichoke salad and sauce vierge (French sauce made with olive oil, lemon juice, tomato and basil) was similarly good though the artichokes were served at fridge temperature and made an unnecessary addition to the dish.  By and large our starters were a hit with the table and we were all looking forward to the mains. 

Unfortunately, things started to go awry here.  To start our mains arrived without the sides we ordered and even though we complained a few times to get the kitchen to hurry them up, by the time they appeared we were done eating.  The Surf & Turf was disappointing both in flavor and texture.  The “Surf” was a tiny half lobster that was chewy from being overcooked while the “Turf”, which was ordered medium, was actually verging on blue.  The dish also came with a piece of grilled white fish which completely lacked flavor to the point of being inedible.  The Mixed Grill Platter was a combination of hammour, shrimp, chicken, lamb chop, beef fillet.  The lamb was under-spiced and tasted fatty, the beef was overcooked (ironic given the other piece was undercooked and they were both requested medium).  The quality and flavor of the chicken was unpleasant.  We did receive a ground lamb kebab that wasn’t listed but was tasty.  The fish also had the same problem as the one from the Surf & Turf dish. 

On a positive note, both the Grilled Hammour served with Barley, Celery Salad and Chermoula dressing and the Seabass Fillet served with lentils, asparagus, tomato concassé, atop a lemon and chive dressing dishes were very good – we often order these items and have never had a bad experience.  Also, the presentation of the dishes was beautiful. 

However, given the inconsistency of the food we were served on this visit it would appear that the kitchen was having an off night.  It’s either that or they decided to promote the dishwasher to run the show as its inexplicable how a head chef would allow some of these items to leave their kitchen.   Overall, we were left with a feeling of disappointment because we know how good the food can be at the Beach.

The Service

The service is the real shame at the Beach however we’ve always overlooked it because we’ve enjoyed the food and location so much.  While our mains were inconsistent and unimpressive on this visit, the food is usually excellent.  The service on the other hand is always poor, slow and confused.  And to make matters worse the staff are all very nice and seem to genuinely want to deliver a pleasant experience – they just don’t know how. 

Price:

Lobster Salad – 168
Grilled Calamari – 78
Foie Gras – 115
Scallops- 78
Surf & Turf – 198
Grilled Hammour – 105
Seabass Fillet – 110
Mixed Grill Platter – 205

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Noodle Delight

We spent last week on a short trip to Honk Kong visiting some friends and scoping out the city.  HK has a fantastic food scene that will please both the highbrow and frugal crowd; with something for everyone.

This was our first time in Hong Kong so we were really looking forward to getting the full-on experience.  No trip to HK would be complete without the requisite stop at a wonton noodle joint.  Not surprising – the choices are endless.  Our friends navigated us to a little place called Tsim Chai Kee on a little street full of restaurants and wine shops near Central.

This is a tiny restaurant.  It’s about 10 paces wide by 5 deep with an open kitchen and communal seating.  The menu is even smaller than the room.  Pick your noodle (flat, vermicelli, egg) and your protein (shrimp wanton, beef brisket, fish balls – you can take one, two or all three of these if you like) add broth (or not) and you’re done.  If you really want something special you can have bok choy on the side.

It took about two minutes to order our bowls of egg noodles with shrimp wonton and beef and about three minutes more for these to arrive at the table.  We grabbed some chopsticks from the central repository added some vinegar to the dish and dug in.  The wontons were big, plump and delicious.  Our only regret is that they only gave us three per dish.  The beef was also extremely tender and complimented the rest of the dish.  We didn’t ask how they made it so tender and frankly don’t want to know.  It was great.  Noodles were fresh and the broth was ok until we added soy sauce, when it became great.  There was some trial and error on the vinegar and sauces, but everyone finally found their comfort zone and enjoyed the meal.

Portions are large and prices are cheap.  For $16HK (8AED; $2.50US) you really can’t go wrong for lunch!

We somehow overlooked taking pictures of the food and only managed to get one of the street and these two little white girls that were sharing the table with us, but if you’re curious to see the food you can check out this CNN review.


Tsim Chai Kee
98, Wellington St.
Central, Hong Kong

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A visit to the Abu Dhabi Riviera

It was a Tuesday night and somehow we found ourselves staying at the Shangri-la in Abu Dhabi.  The hotel is located in the Qaryat Al Beri area which is a big waterfront development in the capital.   The nearby souk has a number of food and beverage outlets with alfresco dining terraces that overlook the water.  When we asked people where we should have dinner, the advice came back over and over again – Bord Eau, the French fine dining restaurant at the hotel.   This restaurant is often mentioned at the top of the list of Abu Dhabi restaurants so we decided to see if the hype was warranted.

We made reservations through the concierge desk and arrived shortly thereafter.  While we were warmly greeted it seems that they did not have our reservation.  A few minutes of confusion ensued until we were seated at the predictably half empty (or half full depending on your perspective) restaurant.   However, things immediately turned around for us as we were offered complimentary glasses of champagne to start our evening.

The décor is classic French European with high ceilings, grand lighting and big windows overlooking the strait that separates Abu Dhabi Island from the mainland.  All of this lends itself well to the “romantic” atmosphere that they are trying to create.  The outdoor terrace overlooking the canal is also lovely and allows for smoking.  The only minor complaint about the indoor space is that it’s somewhat cavernous and the music of choice that evening seemed incongruous with the mood and so low that we felt we had to whisper.

The menu – like the space – is classically French but with a contemporary touch that does not disappoint.  We decided on King Crab two-ways and Scallop Ravioli for starters and a duo of meat (Angus beef fillet and T-Bone) as a main that is intended for sharing.  As it turned out, the t-bone part of our main was not available so we settled for two Angus fillets but in true professional fashion the chef presented us with a second course of grilled octopus to ease our disappointment.

The king crab was extremely fresh but needed the acidity of the accompanying avocado lime mouse to bring out its flavour.  The scallop ravioli was divine and could easily have been served as a main at the best Italian restaurants.  Our complimentary course of octopus was flawlessly cooked to give it that tenderness that most kitchens are unable to achieve.  The fillets were similarly well prepared and served with a piece of perfectly seared foie gras though our side dishes of green beans and spinach were unnecessary and frankly uninspired.

Bord Eau lived up to its reputation as one of the best restaurants in Abu Dhabi. The service was attentive without being overbearing, the food was a very high standard and the ambience was pleasing for an intimate dinner à deux.  If you find yourself in Abu Dhabi and looking for a refined dinner we recommend Bord Eau.

King Crab – 96 dhs
Scallop Ravioli – 92 dhs
Angus Beef x2 – 376 dhs
Green Beans – 20 dhs
Spinach – 20 dhs

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Arabic Breakfast Anyone?

So we woke up late on a Friday morning only to discover that we had 3 eggs remaining in the fridge and very little else.  We threw on some clothes and dashed over to the Al Halabi at Mall of the Emirates to order breakfast before their stated noon cut-off time. 

Quickly seated in the “terrace” of the fashion dome we started to look over the breakfast section.  All the classical arabic breakfast options were there: boiled eggs, cheese, foul, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, saj and the list goes on….

Mouths watering, we called over the waiter to place our order of boiled eggs, vegetable platter, foul and hommous only to be told that they stopped making boiled eggs at 11:30 (it was 11:40).  Five minutes of debate ensued in Arabic and the manager got involved at one point but we finally got our eggs.

A short wait later, the dishes started to arrive at the table and we dug in.  Everything was faultless – from the perfectly seasoned foul to the hard-boiled eggs with just a touch of a soft centre. 

Breakfast Fixings

The delicious simplicity of an Arabic breakfast is without equal and Al Halabi knows how to deliver.  Next time we’ll try to wake up earlier.

Al Sultan Breakfast (includes vegetable platter, foul, hommous, coffee, juice, sweets) – 42 dhs
6 Boiled eggs – 42 dhs
Halloum Saj – 16 dhs

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Hit and Miss at Certo

We are finally breaking our self-imposed restaurant exile after taking a few weeks off to recover from all the holiday dining.   Last night was one of those evenings where neither one of us felt like cooking and we procrastinated about it for so long that we were left with no choice but to go out for dinner.  We decided to drop into a restaurant that we haven’t visited for some time.  Our choice for the evening was Certo at the Radisson Blu Media City as it’s close to home, the food is considered “authentically Italian” (or as authentic as it can be outside of Italy) and the prices are reasonable.

The evening started off really well when we were pleasantly greeted at the entrance with a warm Buona Sera by the Italian restaurant manager.  After being promptly and efficiently seated, we were provided with water and warm bread (accompanied by roasted garlic cloves and dip) for munching while we perused the menu.  We also noticed an Italian couple seated a few tables away from us which we took as a good sign.

The space – Uninteresting with one exception which is a 2-storey glass enclosed wine cellar located in the middle of what would otherwise be a very cavernous room.  This centre point effectively serves to create two separate and more intimate dining spaces while also providing some much-needed character to what would otherwise have been bland decor.  Also, the ceilings are slightly too high and because of the overly bright lighting this detracts from the mood – but this could be easily corrected if they brought down the lighting.  The music was also all wrong on this visit as it sounded like Italian pop though it was difficult to make out for sure.

The Food – The menu has numerous options in all categories; pizza, pasta, carne e pesce to whet your appetite.  Everything sounded really good so we felt mildly overwhelmed by the selection.   To start, we settled on the Incontro di Calamaro (Ricotta cheese and mint stuffed calamari served with caperberries, olives, tomatoes and arugula salad) and the Asparagi Grigliata (Grilled asparagus salad served with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction).

The ricotta-stuffed calamari was tender yet lacked all flavour.  It was only when it was combined with one of the astringent items on the plate (arugula salad, olives, caperberries) that some of the flavour started to come through slightly.  Overall, we were underwhelmed and left with the feeling that they somehow missed on the execution.

The asparagus is not for the faint of heart.  This is a serious goat cheese salad and unless you love the stuff you should probably pass on it.  But if you do love it, we recommend that you take a little bite of everything on the plate and then take a deep breath through your mouth to truly appreciate its character.

Mains were the Cernia (Grilled hammour fillet with green beans olives and potatoes) and the Branzino (slow cooked sea bass, porcini mushrooms, spinach and baby potatoes).  When the dishes arrived they were bursting with vibrant colours and the smell was delicious.  However, the first bite of the sea bass revealed that it was not fresh.  This was extremely disappointing given that the accompaniments were beautifully prepared and rich in flavour.  To their credit, when the manager was called over he promptly removed the plate, apologized and offered to bring us another dish.  The hammour was also average which is unfortunate given that it’s a local fish.

Sidenote:  while we were waiting for our food we saw the staff bring out a cart with the world’s largest t-bone on it for the Italian couple.  This dish is so important that the manager came out to cut the meat for the diners.  It was also accompanied by a mountain of roast potatoes and other vegetables which looked and smelled amazing.  Left us wishing we had ordered that meal instead.

The Verdict – We were left frustrated as all the elements for a great meal were there.  Where it fell apart was essentially in the quality of the fish they were serving – both for the appetizer and mains.  Perhaps we picked the wrong night for fish or it’s possible that we got the “B” crew in the kitchen.  A great chef will not allow sub-standard food to leave their kitchen.   Despite this experience, we aren’t ready to walk away from Certo completely as we’ve had excellent pasta dishes there on previous visits, but perhaps pesce is not their thing.

Price:
Asparagi – 62 dhs
Calamaro ricotta – 68 dhs
Cernia – 95 dhs
Branzino – not charged

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The Last Supper

For our final night in Toronto we chose to visit one of the new west end Toronto restaurants we’d been hearing about.  Enoteca Sociale bills itself as a “real Italian wine bar” and despite the fact that it was a cold and blistery Thursday night, the restaurant was packed.  Walking in, the décor is unassuming and underwhelming but this spot is really about the food and the atmosphere – which was lively and upbeat on this visit.

The menu is somewhat small and can be limiting for people with food restrictions but the wine list is extensive.   We decided to go all out and ended up ordering more than half the items on the menu during our five-course extravaganza.

For starters we had: 

  • Arancini with arugula salad – generous portion, crispy on the outside and gooey cheese filling
  • Buffalo Mozzarella with tomatoes and anchovies – the anchovies were unnecessary and the dish needed salt in order to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes but overall a decent dish
  • Grilled Octopus –  nicely prepared and tender
  • Baccala cake – fantastic, light and tasted of the ocean

Our second course:

  • Bucatini all’amatriciana (minus the pork) – good but not great
  • Spaghetti with pecorino and black pepper – rich texture and amazingly flavourful for such few ingredients

For our third Course we had a sharing plate of rack of lamb – well prepared, mild and accompanied by crisp brussel sprouts

Dessert was a chocolate budino and ricotta tiramisu – both were pleasantly light dishes

Not to be outdone we also ordered a three cheese tasting plate to round out our meal.  All excellent selections though overpriced given the tiny slivers that we were served.  Overall Enoteca lived up to its reputation serving up really good food, decent service and a casual atmosphere.  

arancini con stracciatella, arugula & caramelized onion  $11
ontario buffalo mozzarella, anchovies & summer tomato  $12
grilled octopus, swiss chard & new potato  $12
baccala cake, spicy aioli, chickpeas & arugula  $11
spaghetti cacio e pepe (pecorino & black pepper)  $12
kale, white bean & guanciale  6
Rack of Lamb with roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts  $60
chocolate budino, olive oil & sea salt  $8
ricotta tiramisu  $8
Selection of cheese $18

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Sotto Bene

Anyone who has been to Sotto Sotto knows what we do – it’s superb.  We were looking for a restaurant for dinner that had great food with a local/neighbourhood feeling on a Sunday night, which was not easy to find given that most of the trendy kitchens were closed, but not this small Avenue Road icon.

Sotto Sotto is one of Toronto’s long standing classic Italian restaurants that is popular among both the Toronto locals and visiting celebrities.  Your experience of this subterranean restaurant will start awkwardly; there is nowhere to wait for your table to be ready and so you have to stand either in the doorway as people try to go in and out or among the dining tables looking over the shoulders of your fellow diners.

The décor is Milanese grotto meets Toronto wine cellar with a lot of “Mamma’s Old Stuff” thrown in for God knows what reason.  The tables are squeezed as close together as possible in order to maximize seating, yet somehow the ambiance in the restaurant is cool and conspiratorial.  On this visit, we were actually seated at their best table – a little private alcove in the furthest corner that gave us some privacy from our fellow diners.

The Food:  The menu offers an ample variety of simple Italian dishes: pasta, pesce, carne, and antipasti without being overwhelming.  Additional daily special dishes from the kitchen are also available.

The last time we visited Sotto Sotto we were less than thrilled with the food.  It was like the years had stripped the kitchen of its flair and made this another run-of-the-mill trattoria.  But that was a couple of years ago and we had our fingers crossed for this evening.  During this visit we ordered:

Campagnola Salad – Plenty of arugula salad with mushrooms and a soft fresh cheese

Prosciutto with olives and parmesan – reasonable antipasto offering.  The prosciutto was delicate and nicely complimented by the excellent parmesan.

Linguine with meatballs – A special for the evening, it was delicious in its simplicity.  The meatballs are a blend of beef, chicken and veal while the tomato sauce was bursting with flavour.

Grilled Calamari – perfectly grilled and tender texture accompanied by a simple green salad with an olive oil and lemon dressing.

The food tasted the way it used to in Sotto Sotto’s haydays.  Whatever the issue had been during our last visit, it was resolved and the kitchen was putting out truly inspired, simple Italian dishes – just the way they should be prepared.  We spent the entire meal oohing and aahing, trying to figure out how they got the meatballs to taste so good, or what the secret to the grilled calamari was.

Parma – $16
Campagnola – $14
Linguine and Meatballs – $20
Calamari alla griglia – $25

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