Thursday, 23 February 2012

Nawab, Jumeira Plaza, Dubai

I love Jumeirah 1, but often find eating out a bit 'samey'. There are some great independent malls there which do not have the sweaty hustle and bustle of the big players of the Dubai mall scene, but are sadly lacking in imaginative food options. After being stung at their many overpriced British and American coffee chains, I normally default to 2nd December St for bargain Lebanese grub if I plan to spend the day being a Jumeirah mall rat. Sure, the Mercato mall has one of the prettiest food courts in Dubai but severely lacking in mouthwatering veggie options, and the French-themed Cafe Gerard near Magrudy's has possibly the best coffee in the city but extremely bland herbivorous dishes. Casting my mind back to when I first arrived in Dubai, I remembered spotting a cosy-looking Indian in the Jumeira Plaza mall, the location of China Times. Welcome to Nawab, Jumeirah's underestimated hotspot for Vindaloo Kings and Queens.

Nawab is a happy medium between the more rustic Indian eateries that populate Dubai and the ridiculously pricey 'high end' curry houses. It is reminiscent of 1980s UK curry houses with carpeted floor, kitsch artwork and fixtures and fittings from a bygone era. Its USP for me though were the booths. Booths for extra privacy are my favourite feature that a lot of UK curry houses are now ripping out in favour of a generic wine-bar style refurb. Regular readers will know the Holy Grail of curry houses for me is Liverpool's UnI, unique in the fact that it has retained its 1970s essence including aforementioned booths. Nawab is similar in style, offering a mixture of tables in the main body of the restaurant and booths along the back window, perfect for having a private conversation over a business lunch. Eschewing starters for complimentary popadoms, these were served with this fresh pickle that (above), not dissimilar to UK style pickles. Mint, mango chutney and an extra spicy chilli and lime pickle were the perfect start to the meal. For main courses, I ordered a Bindi (okra) Bhaji with plain naan and pilau, and Carnivorous Colleague ordered that old British staple, Chicken Tikka Masala (below):

As you can see, my Okra and Potato dish was bursting with flavour- if only computer screens were lickable like Willy Wonka's famous wallpaper!

Heightened with chillies and cumin, the okra/bindi were bursting open, releasing their juicy insides onto the potatoes, mingling with the spices, a unique blend of flavours which created a real party in the mouth. The Naan was perfect for scooping up the mixture, allowing me to do it properly and shun my cutlery. Naans in Dubai are much easier to eat and to use as an eating utensil than in the UK. Back home, they are pillowy, stodgy and leave your fingers with a film of grease that lingers for hours. Nawab's Naan was a perfect consistency and had a lovely fresh-from-tandoor aroma to it! The pilau was in the same style as I mentioned in my previous review for Curry Box- colourful grains interspersed in white rice. Quelling the flames of the curry, the Mango Lassi was the perfect antidote. If you find hot curries hard to swallow, always put out the flames with a yogurt based drink- water is a false friend as it just reacts with the spices, causing heartburn. Lassi neutralises it- try it next time!

For those of you who find Jumeirah a bit of a trek to get to, Nawab also have an outlet in the food court of Mirdif City Centre, but for a more authentic ambience, the Jumeirah branch is definitely worth the taxi fare.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Curry Box, Sheikh Zayed Rd, Dubai

Sometimes it gets tiring, this eating out lark. Yes, visiting restaurants is my main hobby and I love discovering a new one, soaking up its atmosphere as well as enjoying the food. It's not always convenient to eat out in congested Dubai,a car-oriented city where you can't always take a leisurely stroll to your local eaterie for fear of being mowed down by a Jumeirah Jane multitasking a Pajero with Nokia Snake. Either that, or you get blown away by a sandstorm or melted like a snowman in the heat- thank goodness for the many takeaway outlets that deliver to your doorstep! UK star Kelly Brook recently praised Dubai for the fact that 'even Mc Donald's deliver to your hotel room here' so decided to try it for myself. No, not Maccy D's, but a highly recommended hidden gem, the Curry Box.

Curry Box is a funky Indian/Pakistani takeaway, more Manchester than Bur Dubai as it features some of Blighty's much loved curry house classics like Chicken Tikka Masala, Vindaloo and Peshwari Naan. Unlike Dubai, British curry houses often blur the line between Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisine and generically name it either 'Indian' or 'Tandoori'. Some curries have been adapted for the British market, like my namesake Vindaloo being a potent dish rather than the traditional hot and sour pork dish. Biryanis in the UK tend to be served with an omelette on top. Anyway, back to Curry Box. Our meal arrived slightly earlier than scheduled (good as my tummy was rumbling) in the neatest presentation box I have ever seen a takeaway in:

Although there were a multitude of starters on offer like Bhajis and Vegetable Patties, I didn't want to be greedy so went for Vegetable Achaari, Pilaf Rice and Peshwari naan. Carnivorous colleague predictably went for Chicken Tikka Masala with a Sweet Lassi to wash it all down with. Chutney and onion salad were thrown in complimentary. As you can see from the pic below, the Achaari was packed to the brim with healthy greens, not a frozen vegetable in sight:

The portions of both curry and rice were enough to feed two, so it was a good idea not to go for starters. The Achaari was bursting with flavour, non-greasy unlike some of the ones back home, padded out nicely with green beans and peas with a hint of aubergine. Piquant yet sour at the same time, the pickle base harmonised well with the aubergine and spices. The rice had a unique blend of aniseed and coriander and appealed to my traditionalist tastebuds as it had coloured rice grains in; I remember a time when every curry house in England used to do this rice but nowadays it seems to be disappearing in favour of the yellow pilau.

I was happy to see Peshwari naan after such a long time, it seems to be a rarity in Dubai, but it was well worth the wait. An equal balance of raisins, coconut and bread, this Pesh was not too big, not too small, but just right. I hate it when some Peshwaris have minimal filling, you may as well have ordered a plain naan. This was the right thickness to mop up the remains of my Achaari. The plain but sweet lassi was a break from my Mango Lassi rut, a flavour I have never contemplated trying before, but hit the spot as the perfect tonic to digest the Achaari.

with such a large menu to work your way through, a copy of the Curry Box menu needs to be in every discerning curry enthusiast's kitchen drawer. Curry perfection.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Liverpool's Lost Restaurants

I recently wrote an article for Liverpool lifestyle website Sevenstreets about one of my passions- restaurant nostalgia! As you all know, I'm not a fan of chains, anything that calls its meals 'tapas' and isn't Spanish and anything that's known as a WAG location. My trip down Memory Lane certainly polarised the readers but at least it got people talking and more importantly, their tastebuds watering. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I love reading your comments so in case you missed it, here's the article.

Seven Lost Liverpool Restaurants

And a picture of El Macho's finest Nachos!

Al-Safadi, Sheikh Zayed Rd, Dubai

Vindaloo HQ has been busy again, a whirlwind of excitement as I've been househunting! I need a permanent place to call my home as I intend on staying here for the long haul, so have been exploring the city in search of my perfect pad. I must say, nothing has matched up to my lovely home back in Manchester and my eyes have been blinded by the awful avocado bathroom suites in properties that estate agents have the audacity to call des res! Housing disasters aside, this quest for the perfect home may not have been that fruitful, but along the way, it's helped reveal a whole host of eateries in parts of the city I'd never ventured in before! I had always dismissed the SZR as a tourist trap full of the usual chain suspects- the sight of N*ndo's and St*rbucks deterring me from exploring further. Never judge a book by its cover though, as in actual fact, tourists are outnumbered by businessmen and suchlike in the area, meaning the faceless international chains are also outnumbered by independent eateries and local chains. A wealth of cute coffee shops and authentic eateries were waiting to be uncovered by Vindaloo Queen.

Al Safadi is nestled between the Dusit Thani hotel and the Financial Centre Metro station and offers the usual Lebanese dishes that one becomes accustomed to in Dubai. It is a small local chain that has retained a sense of individuality that chains like Zaatar W Zeit has sacrificed for a more Nando-istic approach. With cosy seating both inside and out, the outside seating being centred around a water feature, customers can while away the hours over a shisha, grab a quick shawarma or make the day of it with a monster meze. Unlike most Lebanese eateries in the city, Al-Safadi serves a double whammy of bread, giving both the pre-packaged pittas and oven baked ones.

The meal began in the usual Dubai-Lebanese way with a pickle tray and unprepared salad, the freshest I have experienced as yet. I could actually eat the olives without wincing at their bitterness, the pickled radish sweeter and crunchier than usual. I was overjoyed to see a pristine clean salad as standards seem to be slipping recently, even at some of my fave eateries on Al Dhiyafa Rd. If the standard of food keeps up for the rest of the lunch, I think we'll have a new Lebanese restaurant king on our hands to topple the undisputed champion Sidra...

In order to make a fair comparison, I ordered my usual spicy potatoes and instead of a falafel shawarma, I was in the mood for halloumi so went for a halloumi sandwich. The sandwich was served on a 'sub' type bread instead of the usual pitta but nonetheless was tasty, the fluffy bread complementing the rubbery halloumi garnished with rocket and spinach. Time to try the potatoes, they did have some pretty big shoes to fill if they can compete with Sidra... Amazing. These potatoes have what it takes to topple Sidra from its throne of the spiciest potato provider in Dubai. Spicy yet not overpowering with just the right amount of coriander, cut into perfect bite-size chunks and not mere chippings like those of Beirut, sautéed but not soaked in fat, these spuds were perfection on a plate. My carnivorous researcher gave his Shish Taouk full marks too, giving it extra points for presentation as it was served with exactly half tabouleh, half chips and not 99% chips and a couple of salad leaves. Definitely the top location for a Lebanese feast in the city centre.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

China Sea, Al Maktoum St, Deira, Dubai

Back home in England, there's nothing I like more than going for a weekly Chinese. Whether it's the subterranean rabbit warrens of Edinburgh's Lee-On, Liverpool's 1940s style Shanghai kitchen Ma-Bo or Manchester's modern yet authentic Fu's, a good Chinese has to have 4 magical qualities for me: authenticity, unpretentiousness, Chinese diners and the ability to whip up a soup that I'll still be talking about a week later. After traipsing the streets of Dubai, dazzled by glitzy signage and minimalistic decor, I found China Sea on my doorstep.

At the entrance, I was greeted by a multitude of live fish and shellfish in tanks, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits them, while a chef in the window proudly cooks and prepares their friends into a masterpiece. Also on display is a selection of Sea Cucumbers, considered a delicacy but as a veggie, I was rather intimidated by their off-putting colour and shape. Was China Sea going to be a herbivore's idea of hell?

The dining area is split with a small partition, offering the diner the option of a street view or kitchen view. The kitchen is certainly a hive of activity, the chefs' concentration in whipping up masterpieces apparent, providing a great focal point. Trolleys laden with dim sums and other delicacies are pushed around, the delectable smell wafting around, whetting my appetite even more. I needn't have worried about the veggie options as there were more than enough, and dishes can be modified to remove the meat. There are 2 menu types, the dim sum one which seemed to be popular, featuring appetisers as little as 2 dirham, and the normal menu which had the usual British staples like Chicken and Sweetcorn soup along with more traditional Cantonese dishes.

To start, I opted for the spicy cabbage and vermicelli soup. A vegetarian delight that captures even the carnivore's tastebuds:

Now, often when cabbage soup is mentioned, people usually think of some horrific diet dish. Indeed, this was a healthy starter, but not in a boring way! The cabbage is piquant, leaving a wonderful aftertaste and the soup is given more substance with the addition of vermicelli a.k.a Glass Noodles. For the main event, I decided to go for one of my old favourites, Ma-Po tofu with a massive portion of Egg Fried Rice.
Brit readers, please pay attention here. Traditional Chinese restaurants like this one aren't like the anglicised ones in the way the meal follows a strict order of starter then main with everyone in your party being served at the same time, but come whenever each dish is ready. Naturally, we got our soups first, followed by my tofu 10 minutes later, then another 15 min later, my colleague's sweet and sour chicken came and strange for us Brits, the rice came last. All part of the authentic Chinese experience, along with the brusque but unintentionally-rude staff. The staff appear to be a little ignorant, but when speaking to them, it seems to just be due to the language/cultural barrier.

The Ma-Po tofu that arrived was huge as you can see in the pic! Bursting with spice and peppers, this silky tofu dish was enough to feed 3 so regretfully I left a fair bit; good to know for next time though. The EFR was completely different to British style, and that's in a good way. Fluffy rice, not swimming in grease like back home, with distinct pieces of egg in, not unidentifiable mush. Carrots and peas mixed in the rice livened proceedings up, giving it some bite. Finally, I have found my Dubai outpost to Manchester's Chinatown.