Saturday, 17 December 2011

Whittard's Coffee Shop, Dubai Festival Centre

A British product that I've never seen back home!

Back in the UK, my favourite shop for all things coffee-related is Whittard's. For those unfamiliar with the brand, they sell colourful crockery straight out of Alice in Wonderland, huge mugs reminiscent of Central Perk, freshly ground coffee and fragrant tea. The Whittard name is synonymous with quality and are professionals in their field at making a house a home with their cheerful wares. Imagine my delight to find that they have a cafe in Dubai's Festival Centre! Conveniently located next to M&S, British expats can have a double helping of retail therapy to combat homesickness. Along with their extensive tea menu, they do a fine array of coffees, their Americano passing my stringent quality control. A must for all coffee addicts is their Turkish coffee too, beautifully enhanced with cardamon. If you want to bring the magic of Whittard's home, they even sell some of their famous cups, however their selection is limited compared to their UK stores.
It's left me wondering why they haven't thought of this concept back home as I'm sure it would go down a treat; everyone could indulge their inner Mad Hatters and celebrate their 'unbirthday' there!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The wonderful world of Dubai Airport Free Zone!

An unlikely hidden gem- who thought airports had cheap food?

The path to settling in a new place is like the runway of a substandard airport. Some bits are smooth, then when you're least expecting it, it gets rather bumpy. Coming to Dubai has been no exception. I'd somehow ended up with no fixed address and living out of a suitcase! I was residing in the Layia Plaza Hotel in Al Qusais (review to follow), very nice, but eating in hotel restaurants can break the bank. What's a budget-conscious curry connoisseur to do? Luckily, I had had a tip off from a member of my Curry Royalty who happened to be a pilot- head for the Airport Free Zone. Good food and dashing pilots- what more can a lady ask for?

The Airport Free Zone, commonly known as DAFZA, is not the terminal building but a separate office block home to all manner of businesses. Thanks to its cheap cuisine, it is heavily frequented by airport staff and Qusais locals, offering an alternative food court experience to the malls. International chains like Subway are side by side with national chains and local one-off outlets, all happily nestled together in a foodie extravaganza. A tip for you- Subway offers the cheapest and most potent coffee! My outlet of choice is the Arabic buffet. At 28 dirhams, this is an all you can eat extravaganza complete with starters, main and dessert. Couscous, soups, salads and rice dishes make up the buffet, along with favourite dips like Mutabal, complete with the delectable Umm Ali for dessert. If that doesn't float your boat, go to the Indian outlet next shop along with its bountiful thalis, bargainous biryanis and masala chai to wash all those spices down with! The biryani barely moves your bank balance, costing only 15 AED, the thalis approx 22. Or, if you're having a break from the spicy stuff, you can always grab a six incher from Subway. Never have I been so enthusiastic about a food court in all my life.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Zaatar W Zeit, Festival Centre, Dubai

The chain that sucks the life out of Lebanese cuisine!

My regular readers are going to say 'I told you so' when they read this. Normally, I avoid chains like the plague as I am all about supporting independent businesses. I love the atmosphere of eating falafel in a noisy backstreet of Bur Dubai, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of not just the dish, not just the eaterie, but the whole surroundings. However, I was in a mall, and as we all know, malls have as much atmosphere as the lost luggage room at an airport. After having Sidra and Al Mallah withdrawal symptoms, I could hear halloum and mutabal calling me- yes, my Lebanese cravings were back.
I had recently discovered the Festival Centre mall which I liked due to its calm, tranquil atmosphere, the polar opposite of Deira City Centre where you are constantly shoved, poked and trampled on. Normally, I make a beeline for the food court, but as I couldn't be bothered hunting for it (I know where it is now though!), I grabbed a table in Zaatar W Zeit as I mistakenly thought it was affiliated with my local, Labneh Wa Zaatar. Yeah right, like Mc Donalds is affiliated with Burger King...
It took a whopping 10 minutes for the waitress to bring a menu, an omen it was going to be a bad review. The two guys next to me looked obviously frustrated as they had both received the wrong meals. Oh yes, this was going to be one of my infamous Fawlty Towers experiences. As I opened the menu, I gasped in shock at the fact that they were charging for a pickle plate, a nicety that most Lebanese eateries in Dubai offer for free. I wanted to escape, especially when I saw the size of my neighbour's meal and the fact it was served in a sort of basket rather than a plate. The prices were ridiculously high for street food; topped with the waitress running round in a ditzy way like Rachel Green from Friends, I was slowly losing my patience. Also, the veggie choice was minimal, either a halloumi sandwich or a falafel sandwich. Wow, mind-blowing. In the end, I settled on a fried halloumi dish, which was just that. No sides, no fresh plate of salad a la Sidra. The meal was a couple of sorry-looking pittas, a thinly sliced tomato on a plate with a limp cucumber slice, and a skillet with about 10 pieces of cheese in. Who can possibly eat 10 pieces of Halloumi with nothing much else? Don't get me wrong, I adore Halloumi and have been known to raid a cheeseboard for dessert, but even the most loyal cheese connoisseur can't polish off 10 pieces of the same cheese in one fell swoop. I was beginning to get really cheesed off. Please, don't excuse the pun, my jokes are as limp as Zaatar's salad. Moreover, this exotic creation along with a bottle of water took a whopping 25 mins to emerge from the kitchen.
After that heartburn fest, I was itching to get out and buy a bumper box of Rennies, but as this was Fawlty Towers, it took another 15 mins to flag the waitress down in the style of a tourist suffering from heatstroke on Jumeira Rd flagging down a Camry. ZwZ's advertising on each table then had the audacity to ask me to 'like' them on Facebook. Instead, I shall confine them to my list of profanities along with N*ndo's and the R*inforest Cafe.