Dubai Gourmet Food Trail

Gourmet Food Trail
I was recently contacted by the Dubai Food Festival to help dredge out a trail that I would be more then willing to get my hands dirty for, a gourmet trail actually. The Dubai Gourmet Trail is a trail that winds you through Dubai, the old the new the swanky and the not to swanky restaurants that it has to offer. Forget the tour bus, if you want to explore Dubai through a differing angle, I’d suggest this trail. Why I personally love this initiative is because it was created by some of Dubai’s best food blogger. It wasn’t a company that paid to get on the trial or that one business man that exerted his influence, restaurants on the trail are there because of there merits and nothing more. The lovely ladies involved in the making of include Foodiva, The Hedonista, WhenShaikhaCooks, Saba Wahid, and Secretsquirrelfood. We each recommended 5 restaurants under Arabian Inspirations, Around the World, Best Cheap Eats, Best-Kept Secrets and Ultimate Dining Experiences for a total of 25 of the top restaurants. Have a look at all our recommendations and I hope you enjoy the trail! http://www.dubaifoodfestival.com/culinary-scene/ Love, Tala

Toko

Toko
There’s no doubt that the Vida hotel has done an excellent job in reigniting the ghost town that was once Qamardeen Hotel with the introduction of La Serre, Picnic Brunches and now Toko, a new trendy and upscale Japanese restaurant. There were scandalous whispers before the opening of Toko that they poached someone from Zuma to start Toko as they did someone from LPM to start La Serre. Upon my arrival I do ask the manager on deck “ So where are you chefs from?” He diplomatically responds, “That is private information but the majority hail from Japan.” If your wondering, Toko is not a homegrown concept as is La Serre, but a franchise from the beautiful costs of Australia and we love everything Australian. Walking around the restaurant the mood is sophisticated cozy, brown wood interiors, nothing overbearing true to the culture Down Under. Two main features distinguish the space, an open kitchen to make any foodie smile and a terrace laced with Japanese umbrellas. We take our seats and comb through the extensive menus. The extensive menu business seems to be the case across all Japanese restaurants such as Zuma, Sake, Tomo etc.  Granted the Japanese love their options, but how about a one page Japanese menu? Any one? Any takers? Ten minutes and a tedious selection later our orders are made and my drink arrives to replenish my energy. A beautiful creation in theory, lychee and passion fruit, but in reality the cocktail falls short. First come the edamame and miso soup, check and check. Next, the Tuna tartare, and not just any, the kind of tartare that comes with fresh shavings of truffle. Lighter then a steak tartare my dinner dates comments that she could have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I agree. The eggplant meso follows, with the light flavors that preceded the heavy and overly sweet eggplant disappoints. I have strong appreciation for soft shell crab and it’s a dish I constantly order. When our plate arrives, I let out an “Oh wow!”, it’s the first time I see and experience soft shell crabs of that size. Duking the grab legs into the wasabi sauce and then into my mouth is wonderful. Our spicy tuna makki, prawn nigiri and shishito peppers are adequate but we both decide that on our next visit they would be reshuffled for something else on the menu. Finally our Alaskan king crab, at AED 235 a plate, perfection is our anticipation. Taking a bite of the crab, it’s juicy sauce dribbles down my chin. Juicy it is, but the crab had clearly been cooked in butter, which we find too over bearing. With a comment to the manager the king crab is swiftly taken off our bill and dessert made complementary. Whisky foam, coffee ice cream and honey comb for dessert, not quite Japanese but hey there’s whisky in my dessert, I like it. There are hits and misses in the dishes we tried keeping in mind we only sampled 10% of the menu while the prices are nothing to take lightly. But the service, the welcoming of the space and the power of 2 excellent dishes will make me return. Enjoying quality fusion Japanese no longer requires a side order of pretentiousness and dense crowds. Oh did I mention the terrace?
THE DETAILS
LOCATION Vida Hotel OPENING HRS. 12 -3 6-12 CUISINE Fusion Japanese PRICE PER COUPLE AED 850 TELEPHONE # 04 4428383 WEBSITE Toko
THE FORK-O-METER
A Craving Quencher Restaurant
 

Sapori di Bice

Sapori di Bice
One of the trickiest things a high-end restaurant can do is successfully open a casual dining spin off. Why? Two reasons really… Positioning the casual restaurant in a way that wouldn’t cannibalize the high-end restaurant’s business, i.e. offering a more casual experience at a more casual price tag. And second, the price tag can’t be too casual or else people will start to question the sensibility of margins at the high-end restaurant. It’s a fine balance that I believe Sapori di Bice has hit. Sapori di Bice, as the name indicates, is a casual restaurant from the Bice restaurant group. Bice, once a staple in the fine dining restaurant scene in Dubai, saw an unfortunately decline from the expatriation of heavy weight talent from them to Roberto’s. Bice seems to have faded away like red lipstick after a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. A remanence is there, a pink shade if you will, but nothing compared to the bold red in it’s heyday. Its Friday afternoon and a friend and I are walking around City Walk on Wasel Road, investigating the mushrooming of newly opened shops and restaurants. Shisha, pass, more shisha for heavens sakes, pass, desserts, pass, soul-less, pass, pass and pass. And then a flutter of Italian being spoken around the corner, I pear my head over and the white space draws me in. After working up an appetite and spending a healthy amount on a new skirt in Sauce in the Hood, comfort food is in order. Beef Carpaccio, spaghetti bolognaise and a café gelato for dessert please. My surprisingly cute Italian waiter (attention, cute waiter in Dubai translates into an oxymoron) responds with, “Right away Miss, the spaghetti Bolognese is not on the menu but I will ask the chef to prepare something special for you.” Could it be, I ordered something off the menu and wasn’t greeted with a deer caught in the headlights expression from my waiter? The result, a smile and a thank you. My beef Carpaccio arrives with a drizzle of truffle oil and slices of mushroom, both of which I feel there is no need for. My specially prepared spaghetti arrives, I push away the Carpaccio to make room. Swirling my fork in the pasta, I create the perfect tightly wrapped bite sprinkle some Parmesan and take it all in. El dente, well seasoned and comfortable, everything a bolognaise should be. Extra sprinkles please I say… A café gelato, maybe one of the best flavors created by man. Velvet-ty and lovely and with each spoonful my troubles and spending woes wash away. A casual Italian that is not in a mall or in a Hotel, how lovely… Would I make a trip to City Walk for a meal at Sapori Di Bice? I’m not sure, but if I’m shopping or walking around that area, that’s the only place I’d sit down for a bite. The next dish to try, freshly roasted chicken. But if we’re speaking take away, I did make my way over to Sapori Di Bice just to pick up a couple of scoops of café gelato for a dinner date. How sweet it is.
THE DETAILS
LOCATION City Walk Wasel Road OPENING HRS. 8am - 11 pm  CUISINE Italian PRICE PER COUPLE AED 250 TELEPHONE # 04 344 2550  WEBSITE Sapori
THE FORK-O-METER
A Casual Hit the Spot Place

The Softer Side of Lebanon

Lebanon
It's always a joy letting people know that I'm from Lebanon. Their eyes light up as they respond with "Oh, I have heard great things and I really would love to visit." Or "Oh, I was just there and it was fabulous." Although, I've noticed on more then one occasion that both responses are followed by a reference to the party scene in Lebanon. Though I have never seen a culture more geared, willing and resilient to having a good time, no matter the circumstance, that's not my Lebanon. When I'm on vacation, in a country I've never been to, it's never too relaxing and my days are consumed with running around and taking advantage of every second I have. When I vacation in Lebanon on the other hand, its a vacation I can truly relax in. At home, visiting my family and my home land. I give you the softer side of Lebanon in the below pictures, from the sea side, to the valley to the snow capped mountain tops... sit back, relax and enjoy. Love, Tala

Bu Qtair

Bu Qtair
By virtue of coincidence and by my obsessive compulsiveness towards daylight, my friends and I experienced a seamless Bu Qtair evening. It’s 3:58 pm on a sunny Friday afternoon on the shores of Dubai. My eyes closed, I lie on my towel with my toes in the sand and enjoy the sounds of the waves crashing onto the shore. Sublime, nothing could be more relaxing. The clock strikes 4:00 pm and my beach bum persona washes away with the earlier wave as the general in me kicks in. “Alright everyone up… to Bu Qtair we go!” With two hours left till sundown, I hastily herd my friends over to their cars in order to capture our Bu Qtair experience in daylight. Upon our arrival at 4:10 pm, the fishermen are weaving their nets, the cats are taking a snooze but no one is in site. Inquiring with someone in the cabin, we are informed to return at 6 pm when the first order is made at 6:30 pm and no exceptions are made… not even if you say please… not even if you explain that you want to take photos… not even…. Anything. After a leisurely stroll around Jumeirah, we return at sunset and already notice a queue starting in the cabin. As customer number 5, our male friend (hero) selflessly volunteers himself to stand in the ordering queue as we graciously and happily accept while we wait outside. Fatigued from the beach and the walk around Jumeirah, my friend and I pop a squat on plastics stools. “Serene… I need to put my camera down somewhere, lets just grab that table over there…” As we move our stools over and make ourselves comfortable on the table, we notice in that short laps of time, the queue extending out the cabin and onto the road, with not a free stool or table in sight.  Phew… good timing! After enjoying the outdoor breeze and watching people from all walks of life join in, Arab, French, Pilipino, English and more our fish and shrimp arrive along with our side orders of rice, salad, sauce and bread. Breaking into the dark crusted fish which reveals the ever so white and juicy meat is beautiful. As juicy as possible and yet not as fishy as anticipated each bite, though on plastic chairs and tables, is as luxurious as can be. I adore fried everything, fried squash flowers to fried potatoes and fried dumplings, but I believe, one ingredient that should never touch the fryer is shrimp. Their meat is too delicate for harsh oils.  And so, my attention is subsequently set on the fish. The bread is extra fresh and warm. My bite, enclosing the juicy fish with the warm bread and drizzling the spicy tomato sauce on top… and repeat. Though I prefer a fresh tomato sauce to the cooked version… this version will do just fine. By the end of the evening my friends and I can easily count around 250 people, which is incredible. Bu Qtair symbolizes something I love, if you offer quality food consistently, everyone will come. Is it the best combination of flavors I have tasted? I’m not sure, I’ve had delicious fish at an Abu Dhabi fish market that I dream of, but I know that Bu Qtair delivers on one of the best food experiences in Dubai. Eating along side the beach, in open air, a stone throw away from the fishermen themselves, on a sand pit mind you, makes it surreally on some level and an experience I wouldn’t mind frequenting when ever possible. Oh and they’re happy to wrap up anything you haven’t finished, so don’t be shy and order as you please. The Plan of Action:
  1. Arrive at 6 pm sharp.
  2. Ordering starts at 6:30 pm although you should start queuing at 6:00 pm.
  3. Have one person order and the others wait outside wile securing a spot to eat.
  4. Order your choice of fish and shrimp.
  5. Pop a squat on some stools even before the tables are set up.
  6. Once the tables are out, grab your stool and claim a table.
  7. When you’re seated and have ordered your fish, a waiter will approach your table to make the order of sides being salad, bread and rice.
  8. Have fun, get your hands dirty and enjoy the fresh air and sunset.
THE DETAILS
LOCATION Jumeirah OPENING HRS. 10:30-3 6:30-12 CUISINE Indian Seafood PRICE PER COUPLE AED 100 TELEPHONE # 055 7052130
THE FORK-O-METER
An Experience to Remember

Tom and Serg

Tom and Serg
There has been a tremendous outbreak of new restaurants throughout Dubai. And rightfully so, it’s ‘fall’ in the city after all, the couple of months that make the blazing summer heat all worthwhile. I use the word restaurant loosely because the majority of openings go to the multipurpose lounge/bar/restaurant/live band/ international award winner/slash/slash/slash larger then life venues. That’s lovely and hurrah to the owners for raising big money to accommodate their grandiose nature, but I’m a simple girl, who yearns for the simple yet perfect things. I just want a restaurant, tables and chairs and that’s it. My eyebrow arches when I read that Tom and Serg has opening in Al Quoz. I have to admit, a hint of jealousy ran through my heart because it was always a location at the back of my mind for a café, if I’d ever open one. I remember asking my cousin if she would go to Al Quoz if I opened something there, she responded with Really?, which made me think so contrary to the norm and hence so perfect. Chapeau bas for the choice of location. Stepping into Tom and Serg the word exposed comes to mind, exposed kitchen, exposed walls and exposed ceiling, everything is stripped bare and what lies beneath is something rare, a real space. Manning the kitchen Mr. Tom himself and managing the floor Mr. Serg him self, all hands on deck. I like that, if your name is on the door then you should be. Parking my behind on the table next to the door for the sole unashamed purpose of people watching, gazing rather, proves to be fruitful. For the people who stroll in and out of Tom & Serge are your city hipsters, my favorite type of people.  Creative, grungy and a tall drink of OJ. Sipping my flat white, coffee I have just been introduced to, may prove to be my segway into the world of coffee from one of tea. Extra milk mind you, the strength of their baristas, are made clear. My broad shouldered rye bread and butter arrives. I slather on some butter and then some more, me like butter, and have a bite. Beautiful bread but the butter is too subtle for my taste. Have my taste buds been calibrated to French butter? Perhaps… My confident poached eggs, plump and firm are placed on my table. Running my fork through the first, the yolk dribbles through and paints my plate a sunny yellow. Eggs, avocado, dressed beans and rye bread in one bite proves to be sublime. So much action in one dish I would recommend it to kick start your day. I have issues with beef bacon, is never like bacon and its more to the leathery then crispy side. The clock strikes 12 pm and I am blessed with the option of ordering lunch. But you just had the eggs you say, but the roast chicken has been on my mind since I held the menu I say, love at first sight. Roasted leg of chicken on a bed of corn infused mash, roasted fennel and slices of fresh celery. Taking a bite of the chicken, it’s uncharacteristically soft, the sweet corn and peppery celery make for beautiful compliments. And to end, dessert is a must, banana éclair and chocolate tart. I believe bananas should stay on banana trees, end of discussion. And I believe the chocolate, citrusy and caramel infused tart should continuously stay within reach of me! Walking up the stairs to the mezzanine level, I do feel that the ceiling is a touch low, which by default will always make my seat selection down stairs aka the table next to the door. To end, I love Tom and Serg, in one meal it has shot itself to my favorites list. It does everything that I have preached so how can I not. Independent, home grown, stand alone, creative, service oriented and delicious clean food. The pair have really set the bar high for all independent restaurants to come and for that I am grateful for. PS: Please stay open later then 4:00 pm. PSS: They have Wifi!
THE DETAILS
LOCATION Al Quoz Nxt to Ace OPENING HRS. 8 am to 4 pm CUISINE Australian PRICE PER COUPLE AED 85 TELEPHONE # 04 338 8934 WEBSITE www.tomandserg.com
THE FORK-O-METER
A Love At First Site Restaurant

My San Sebastian

San Sebastian
It’s been a handful of months since I've been back from Spain, but memories of my experience still vividly cross my mind during passing moments when I close my eyes and let my thoughts wander. One memory or city rather that resonated with me the most is San Sebastian. A somewhat lesser known city to the general tourist, but a more well known city to a foodie, San Sebastian boasts the title of have having the most Michelin start restaurants per square foot in the world.  With the quality of produce that I experienced in San Sebastian, that comes as no surprise. Although not purely a foodie city, San Sebastian’s residences are an eclectic bunch. You have your foodie’s, your hipsters, your surfers, your fashionistas and more. It's a city that offers everything for everyone with a calling. Start your morning with a chocolate croissant while walking along the ever entertaining surfer beach.  As its early, catch the vegetable and flower market. Poke your head into an alleyway and enjoy the company of hipsters sipping excellently brewed coffee.  Book a table at one of the best restaurants in the world. Stroll along the shore line and enjoy sunsets that hypnotize. End your evening by walking through the old town and pass through hundreds of local bars that serve up delicious pintxos (tapas) and txakoli (wine) where the culture is, have a drink and a bite and move on to the next bar. A big city in its offerings but a small city in its size, the preferred method of transportation is by bike or by foot, how lovely. And what I believe San Sebastian does best is offer the right balance between traditional and modern. Below are some of my favorite snaps of the city, have a scroll through and enjoy! Love, Tala

Taqado Mexican Kitchen

Taqado
Taqado opened several months ago and had always been on my mind to try. But I could never allow myself to set aside a meal to be consumed in a Mall, let alone MOE food court. Months following, when it opened in DIFC, my doorstep, I thought it was time to give it a taste. Walking into the land of men in Suits (DIFC) is constantly a pleasure. Although as I’m currently not dressed to greet any man in a suit and have 4 hungry friends waiting for me in the park I think a swift pick-up is in order. Greeted by the friendly staff, I place by broad stroking order of almost one of everything on the menu – I love doing that. And with each order a customization of rice, beans, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and cheese. Paying the bill, I most importantly collect my Snapp Points and with a team 2 Taqado staff, lug my order over to my car. Windows down and listening to Wicked Games by Para (my new play on repeated tune), I wonder why we don’t have more picnics in Dubai. With the weather nearing perfection, I make a pact to take advantage of the outdoor culture in Dubai. And with an entrance fee of AED 3, nothing could be sweeter then Safa Park. Throwing open my picnic rug, my friends arrive one by one hungry for some Mexican grub under the sun. Laying on the grass my hand reaches for the bean burrito, a meal I constantly had during my after school days. A bite into my burrito and memories of my girlfriends and I laughing come rushing through. Naively content with by bean burrito I take a bite of a special creation burrito, made of barbacoa Pulled beef, red Spanish rice, cheese, sour cream, salsa and guacamole and all other dishes fade to the background as I enjoy the flavors of Mexico. The nachos, salad, fajita and tacos all deliver on what they promise, although as a personal choice, nothing compares to a burrito. And for those crazy people who don’t eat carbs, you can get everything in a box, meaning no shell or wrapper, just the fillings in a box. A spoon full of soup in all its chunky glory and despite the 30-degree weather is a touch on the salty side but none-the-less satisfactory. Slipping out churros from its cone like a sword from its case, I drive it into the chocolate sauce and then into my mouth. Crunchy, yes, sweet, yes but after having a Maya churros my loyal taste buts don’t accept any other. With my tummy full, shades on, book in hand and toes on the grass, content is exactly the mood. Taqado does many things right, it’s a homegrown concept that offers casual and tasty Mexican food at a price that we can all enjoy. Their current locations of MOE and DIFC were a smart choice to build awareness for their brand, but for their next location, I would ask for something more inviting like Jumeirah so we can enjoy their dine-in experience.
THE DETAILS
LOCATION DIFC OPENING HRS. Sun-Thur 7-7 Fri-Sat 9-6 CUISINE Mexican PRICE PER COUPLE AED 140 TELEPHONE # 04 351 5210 WEBSITE www.taqado.com
THE FORK-O-METER
Ur Burrito Fix

La Serre Boulangerie

La Serre Boulangerie
Waking up, still cozied up in my beloved quilt cover, I think a reward is justified for pulling myself out of bed. And for me, a reward equates to a lovely meal in a lovely space. Walking into La Serre Boulangerie at 11 am, I worry if a table for two is available. With someone paying the check at that moment, I patiently wait, indicator turn on to the left and swiftly slide myself into the table as they pull out. In true French style, breakfast offerings include croissants, variations of eggs, fruits and more. Keeping with my reason to get out of bed, I begin with an order of truffle-topped scrambled eggs. My breakfast date arches his brow and comments, I wouldn’t feel comfortable paying AED 125 for a plate of eggs, regardless of the truffles. I respond by saying I wouldn’t feel comfortable paying X amount for Business class, regardless of the extra legroom. We all have our guilty pleasures and its no secret that food is mine. Making my way through the fluffy scrambled eggs, truffle shavings and beautiful bread, some of the best in Dubai, is a lovely experience. An extra crack of fresh pepper would do wonders. If waffles are not on the menu then I’m afraid its not breakfast. Piercing my fork into the sugar doused waffle, I feel its’ crispy crust. Immersing the bite into the berry compote and cream I prepare myself for delight. And rather unexpectedly, I get the flavor of orange zest in both the sauce and the waffle batter. A purely personal opinion, I don’t enjoy orange in ANY of my desserts because of its over powering flavor. To remedy the situation, I ask for honey, which gracefully expunges any trace of orange in my waffle, much better. And to end our breakfast on a healthy note, a can’t-go-wrong bowl of fruit salad. Apart from the bread, there is nothing that La Serre Boulangerie offers, which you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in Dubai. Although with the floor to ceiling windows and almost revolutionary street front positioning, stepping into its beautiful morning hustle and bustle is almost hard to match.
THE DETAILS
LOCATION Vida Hotel OPENING HRS. 6:30 am - 10:30pm CUISINE French PRICE PER COUPLE AED 220 TELEPHONE # 04 428 6969  
THE FORK-O-METER
Ur French Breakfast Spot
 

Comptoir 102

Comptoir 101
It’s a strenuous exercise trying to find a casual spot for lunch on a Friday afternoon. And per most of my friends’ requests, guilty of the food and drink consumed the evening prior, Friday lunch must be healthy. Recommended by the chef and brains behind Chez Charles, I feel I’ve checked the yes to Travel Insurance before paying a visit to Comptoir 102. Swinging open the vintage iron door, I’m welcomed by something interesting and somewhat unfamiliar - character. A space where cookie cutter and franchise strictly do not apply. Laying down my laptop and camera, I take a stroll around the beautiful retail section of the store which includes jewelry, shoes, bags, notebook, furniture and more. Running my fingers along the interesting textures of the retail space, my hands stop at some of the loveliest tableware I’ve seen in a long time. Although at a minimum price tag of AED 230 a plate, my hand lets go and a mental note is taken for a future splurge. With the sun pouring in and my Wi-Fi connected I select the set menu for my lunch. In an inspiring and chic setting, combing through my emails on a table for one becomes an enjoyable experience. The restaurant fills up with a trendy clientele leaning towards a predominantly French and European crowd. In response to a recent Juicing Documentary I had just watched or was forced to watch rather, I trade my usual tea, for a carrot infused juice prepared to boost my immune system. My starter arrives Rawcchini Plate, thinly sliced zucchini topped with Parmesan cheese, roasted pine nuts and fresh basil. One of my favorite textures and tastes in the World (yes that was dramatic, but true) is raw zucchini therefore making my way through the fresh flavors and nutty Parmesan is pure pleasure. My main arrives of black-eyed peas salad seasoned with sage, garlic and fennel seeds. Taking a bite of the beans and salad, the flavors are fresh, but I instantly get main course selection remorse. With such a big vegetarian movement underway, I feel my dish is a cop out and with an impressive starter I expect more creativity. And for dessert Matcha Mousse a mix of macadamia and green tea powered top with fresh raspberries and kiwi.  A healthy, tasty dessert (previously an oxymoron but now a reality) does exist. The nutty creamy flavors provide a lovely backdrop to the tangy raspberries. Finishing up my work and final drop of juice, immunity fully powered, I pack my things, say thank you to the staff and see you soon to Comptoir 102. Arriving home, I share my healthy experience with my brother while finding myself finishing off the story at the base of my fridge. A creative meal, yes it was, but based on my current location, (the base of the fridge) I would enjoy more quantity. I can only image how my brother, the beast, when it comes to food, (I love you BTW) would feel after that meal. Next time I’ll try the pita sandwiches. I will return, over and over again to Comptoir 102 because it represents a movement of home grown restaurants that have heart and soul. It definitely gets my Friday lunch recommendation.
THE DETAILS
LOCATION JBRoad Across Beach Center OPENING HRS. 8:30am - 6:30pm CUISINE Healthy European PRICE PER COUPLE AED 150 TELEPHONE # 04 385 4555  
THE FORK-O-METER
Ur Friday Healthy Spot