Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elements, Wafi City Centre

In a nutshell: not bad but wouldn’t race back


I couldn’t quite work out what the design of Elements Café in Wafi City Centre is trying to achieve. The tables and chairs are fairly standard issue, the ceiling is open so you can see the AC ducts and water pipes, the music was dancey Arabic but the paintings around the walls weren’t Arab-influenced and there is a very random selection of objects around the room that include an old-fashioned mantelpiece clock, sculptures, some metal sheep (see photo) and various little statuettes. To my mind…a bit confused!

The menu is quite varied with a large selection of saj (Indian bread filled with a choice of ingredients either savoury or sweet), dim sum, tapas (all meat though except deep fried mozzarella), salads, soups, pastas and main dishes (i.e. steak and chips, grilled salmon etc). I was there at lunchtime though and unfortunately most of the menu is only available after 4pm – until then your only real choice is the buffet. At 45 Dhs for unlimited food and 1 soft drink, it is not bad value though.

The restaurant wasn’t overly busy and I’m always a bit dubious about buffets where there isn’t a high turnover of food. Nevertheless, I took a bit from each chafing dish and actually had lovely chicken satay (it looked spicy but wasn’t, it just had that great peanut-y grilled flavour), stir-fried beef, some fried fish, rice, salad and coleslaw. There was also fresh fruit salad and nutty chocolate brownie for dessert. Apart from the great satay, the rest was edible but not worth going back for.

If you’re in Wafi and want to eat somewhere that’s quick and easy on the pocket then I would certainly give it a try (it beats KFC and co any day). I wouldn’t choose to go there again for lunch but may try it for dinner since the saj sounded interesting and I’ve never tried it before. Maybe once the summer’s over since they have a large outside terrace area – unbelievably there were some men sitting out there having lunch, wouldn’t want to stand too close to them once they came back in though!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Retreat, Premier Inn DIP

In a nutshell: tasty food but very smoky atmosphere

Premier Inn has a bar and restaurant chain in each of its hotels: The Retreat is the bar and Bedouinn's is the restaurant (don't know why they have such a strange spelling for the word bedouin though!) We live 5 minutes from the Dubai Investments Park hotel (and I used to work there) so we’ve eaten there quite a number of times. The Retreat is a sports bar with big TV screens dotted around the walls, although the seating lends it a more lounge-y feel. They also have a great outside terrace and used to have a weekly BBQ before the weather got too hot. Although the décor is attractive, there is just something about it that gives it a ‘hotel cookie-cutter’ feeling as opposed to being funky or stylish, it’s hard to put a finger on though.

For the last 2 years, the menu has never changed but finally a new menu has just been launched which is a great improvement. The bar menu is extremely limited but they were happy to serve food from the restaurant in the bar as well so we ordered off that menu instead (although it is also not extensive). There are special offers for fixed price multi-course lunches and dinners which make eating there that little bit more wallet-friendly. They also had special offers of buckets of chicken and platters of loaded potato skins for the World Cup.

I saw they had “French-style” steak and chips so I ordered that and the cut of meat was very much the ‘entrecôte’ cut you would get at a café in France. It tasted really good except that I’d ordered it medium-well done and although half the steak was medium-well done, the other half was medium-rare; good job I can eat bloody meat or it would have ruined the meal. Simon had their burger and he said it was one of the best he’d eaten! Soft bread and juicy meat.

We've always found the service extremely slow but it was pretty quick that night, another improvement it would seem. The only negative I found was that I didn’t hear anyone except the managers use any guest names. I used to work in the hotel and the waiting staff didn’t even use my name so what hope is there for anyone else?! As a regular guest, being greeted by name is a real ‘wow’ factor and it would be nice to see the team making the effort to learn and remember those names.

The biggest (and I mean HUGE) negative point was that the manager has decided to allow smoking in The Retreat during the World Cup. I’ve become so used to being able to go out for dinner or a drink without coming home reeking of cigarettes that it was a real shock entering such a smoke-filled room. I’m sure he has his reasons – although I would seriously question their validity, could it be that because he smokes he wanted to be able to sit at the bar and have a cigarette himself? Hmmm.

If I was rating The Retreat purely on the food, taking into account this is a sports bar and not a fine dining restaurant, then the score would be 3/5 for the meal we had (the underdone steak causing the lower score). However, the whole meal experience was ruined by that fact smoking is allowed and I wouldn’t go back for dinner again – maybe I’ll give it a second chance once the football is over. In terms of price it was reasonable – my steak was under Dhs 100 – and during the World Cup select drinks are only Dhs 25 (previously a beer was a very steep Dhs 36) so hopefully they’ll keep that reduced drinks price to go with the improved menu!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

KFC - Finger Lickin' Good? Not For Me!

In a nutshell: greasy with a heavy breadcrumb coating and soft chips.

Those of you who know me well may be falling off your chairs reading that I ate at a fast food place, but this unfortunately what I did. Why? Advertising really works and everywhere I drive around Dubai I see KFC chicken panini adverts and my mouth waters, so being very hungry and having walked the length of Ibn Battuta not less than 3 times I decided to give into my craving!

Upon reaching the front of the queue I saw that the actual chicken panini doesn't look half as nice as the photo on the advert (surprise surprise) and my conscience also started chipping into my thoughts. So, trying to be as 'healthy' as possible I ordered 2 chicken pieces and chips. I remember KFC chicken as having crispy breadcrumbs but this did not: heavy, greasy and generally enough to turn your stomach...needless to say I pulled the coating off and just ate the chicken. Maybe it was psychological but even the chicken seemed to taste greasy - although considering it had been dropped into a vat of hot oil it does make sense for it to taste of that oil.

At least I had the chips to console me...wrong! BBC Food on TV has shown me that for chips to not absorb the oil in the deep fat fryer, to be crunchy on the outside and to be soft on the inside they need to be cooked in oil that is at the exactly right temperature. I can't tell you what the temperature should be since I don't own a deep fat fryer and must admit that I didn't pay that much attention to the programme. I can confirm though that the guys at KFC need a lesson in what temperature they should be cooking their chips since the ones I was given had absorbed a fair amount of oil and were soft all through.

Next time I crave some fast food I'll remember this experience and won't give in to that little voice in my head telling me that I'll enjoy it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Zyng – Ibn Battuta Mall

In a nutshell: Excellent Asian food and very good service
Score: 4/5

Zyng could be described as a casual version of Toshi since it also offers a variety of Asian cuisines, including Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai. Just around the corner from Japengo in Ibn Battuta’s China Court, Zyng offers tables for four or long tables with benches where you can probably squeeze 4 people on each side (depending how big they are). It’s not Wagamama-style though; you won’t be sitting next to someone you don’t know.

One of the things I love about Zyng is their Asian Market Bowl which allows you to select which protein you want (beef, lamb, chicken, fish, prawns), which sauce (sweet & sour, oyster etc), which accompaniment (white or brown rice and various types of noodles) and finally there’s a vegetable station where you load up your bowl with whichever veg you want. Kind of like a Mongolian BBQ I suppose. On this occasion, I decided to have the teriyaki salmon instead and it was great – perfectly cooked, tender and flavoursome with a sweet teriyaki sauce and mixed vegetables. I was charged an extra Dhs 6 to have brown rice which did seem quite a lot but was worth it to avoid refined white rice. Even if they charge for it, it would be great if more restaurants would start to offer brown rice as an alternative.

To start with we ordered edamame which are Japanese soy beans, steamed and then sprinkled with salt – you eat them by pulling the beans out of the pods with your teeth and throwing the empty pod in the bowl provided. Whenever we have edamame, especially at Zyng it reminds us of the first time Simon ate edamame. He joined my family and I late for lunch – we were already eating the edamame…you can guess what’s coming…he sat down, saw all these green beans in a small bowl, grabbed one and put the whole thing in his mouth. It wasn’t until he said that he was finding it really stringy that we even noticed – and then we realised that the bean he’d put in his mouth was one of the ones discarded by someone else after pulling out the beans! Yum!!

My Mum’s favourite Vietnamese dish is Phô and (apart from seeing my sister Lucy) having Phô is one of the things she most looks forward to when she visits Vietnam, so she was over the moon to see Phô on the menu at Zyng. Phô is a rich broth with noodles, vegetables and meat in it. Although it looked like the real thing, it was quite tasteless because the broth lacked any real flavour. The Tom Yam Soup that my brother Struan had was also tasteless, again because of the stock. Maybe they’d dissolved a stock cube in hot water? Disappointing.

Despite the disappointing soups, though, I would highly recommend Zyng for a quick and reasonable meal offering options that are a bit different to other casual restaurants in Dubai. Most main courses range from AED 50-80 and the service was relatively quick – always good if you’re planning to have dinner and then go to a movie at the cinema across the way.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hoi An, The Shangri-la

In a nutshell: Vietnamese food with a flair and a smile
Score: 5/5
We’ve eaten at Hoi An numerous times and it never disappoints. As Dubai’s only Vietnamese restaurant, it offers a refreshing change from the proliferation of Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants. Vietnamese food is similar to Chinese food but is generally lighter as it’s not so deep-fried and dishes often include coconut milk, although they’re not spicy like Thai food. My sister lives in Vietnam so I’ve had the opportunity to eat the real mccoy – Simon’s and my best meal in Vietnam was actually in the town of Hoi An itself!

My Mum had read that for the month of June, Hoi An was offering an early-bird AED 99 set menu (although when you add in the cost of side orders, drinks and a bottle of wine it came to just under AED 200 per person - still very reasonable though). So we decided that would be the perfect place to take my Dad for Father’s Day. We had to order before 19:45 to be able to take advantage of the set menu but even though we were on the ‘budget’ scheme, we were still served with a welcome drink. It is a small touch that no other restaurant I’ve been to provides; a glass of non-alcoholic cocktail on arrival – a lovely start to a fabulous meal.

Hoi An’s décor is traditional Vietnamese with shutters on the windows and big fans gently stirring the air and the staff are dressed in the traditional flowing robes of Vietnam (Ao Dia). It is relatively small and pretty much all the tables were full during our meal. With only 3 staff to serve everyone, you would have expected slow service but this was not the case. The service was very slick and the ladies always had a smile on their face. It’s a testament to the quality of the staff and food that there were so many regular guests there – I lost track of the number of times a new arrival was welcomed by their name. I found the temperature of the room was perfect but both Simon and my Dad felt like they were melting towards the end and wanted to get out to the cool air of the lobby - perhaps it's a male thing!

There is a choice of 2 set menus and I couldn’t quite understand why as the starter was the same for both, I would have thought it was easier to have 1 menu with 6 main course options rather than 2 menus with 3 options each. In any case, the starter plate was a selection of 4 items: a Vietnamese spring roll, a fried spring roll, a lobster ravioli and a salt-&-pepper squid. Last time we ate here we had the full menu and I wanted to try all of the starters – and then found they offer a taster plate as a starter with a small amount of pretty much every item. Perfect.

Vietnamese spring rolls are so much more delicate than their Chinese counter-parts since the vegetables and chicken are wrapped in a rice paper pancake and it is not fried. I made them myself once but found 1. the pancakes from Choithram’s tasted quite dusty, 2. cutting the vegetables into tiny shreds was too much hard work and 3. dipping each hard pancake in hot water to soften it and then filling it with all the bits and pieces was also too much like hard work when I was hungry. Getting them perfectly made and ready to eat at Hoi An is by far my preferred way to eat them!

The main courses on the full menu are varied (last time I had fish cooked in banana leaves which was divine) but I found the options on the set menu were a bit too Chinese – sweet and sour prawns for example. I ordered the scallops which were perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious on a bed of fresh greens. Everyone else at the table had the prawns, which they all agreed were full of flavour.

I thought we had a choice of 2 desserts but it turns out you were supposed to have the dessert that went with the menu you’d chosen for the main course. I was served with a mango soup with coconut ice-cream, when I had been planning to order the crème brulée. Luckily my Dad swapped with me, although I could have eaten the soup I just didn’t fancy a cold dessert. Although it may seem that crème brulée is not very Vietnamese, Hoi An offer Vietnamese food with a French flair. Why? Vietnam was a French colony for many years so there remain a lot of French influences in Vietnamese cooking.

You may be wondering where the photos are now that I’ve figured out how to load them up. Sadly I forgot my camera!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toshi, The Grand Millennium

In a nutshell: Great food from the Orient at great value
Score: 4/5

Toshi is The Grand Millennium’s other main restaurant, along with Dante (see April 30 post). We visited on a Friday night and there was buffet plus à la carte on offer. At AED 145 for the buffet including 1 drink or AED 185 for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet, we opted for the AED 145 option (you can use your Grand Club M card on the 145 offer but not the 185). Toshi follows its Asian theme through from the little bridge you walk over to enter the restaurant, through to numerous Buddha statues, a Japanese gate leading into a private dining area and Chinese lanterns. With dark furniture and red roses on the tables and views out over Dubai (Toshi is up on the 18th floor), it is very elegant. The views would be better in daylight though!

I’m not a big fan of buffets but this one was above the norm. There was a sushi station where the chefs were making fresh sushi/sashimi (I don’t eat it so have to admit I don’t know the difference!) There were also Peking duck pancakes, an assortment of small salad plates, tempura prawns, spring rolls, dim sum, miso soup and more. It was a fairly limited selection but that lent itself to the freshness of the food since only small amounts were laid out at a time and they were regularly replenished – you could tell it hadn’t been sitting there for the past hour or so.

In terms of main dishes, the chef explained to us what each was and told us that if we wanted anything different then he could make it for us. It wasn’t busy when we got there so I’m not sure if he could be as accommodating on a very busy night, but he did make me fresh vegetables without garlic and we actually got to stand in the kitchen to watch him cook it. Again, the selection was quite limited but each dish was fresh and sometimes less really is more – 8 or so flavoursome, almost ‘straight out of the pan’ dishes win hands down over a spread of 20 choices that have been made in bulk in the afternoon and are just being topped up all night.

You would need to be a seafood lover to really make the most of the buffet since there was a strong prawn influence. There were chicken and beef options, but the majority were fish and prawn. Since Simon and I love prawns, we weren’t complaining. A dish that I haven’t seen on other Dubai buffets was Prawn Laksa. The condiments were all laid out so you could place as much of the noodles, bean sprouts, fried onions and chilli as you wanted before topping it off with the Laksa and a huge Indonesian prawn cracker. Not a spicy food fan, I nevertheless felt I should try their signature dish and, whilst it did make my lips tingle, it was well worth it. We’re going to Indonesia in 2 months so I’ll be able to compare flavours then!

I find with most Asian restaurants that desserts are a bit disappointing so I settled for the fresh fruit (lycees and pineapple). There were a couple of cooked desserts but no labels, when we asked the waitress what one particular dish was she replied, “it’s pudding”. Well, yes…Turns out it was a sort of bread and butter pudding. All the staff were very friendly, smily and helpful. Simon was in shorts but we were allowed in with the request that in the future we adhere to the dress code of trousers for men.

Next time I’m arranging a big night out with all our friends, I will be recommending we go here. Whilst not the party atmosphere of some places, I’d rather have a great meal with attentive service and then head somewhere else than risk an upset stomach from somewhere else. Only thing that could be improved is the music – an Asian restaurant should play Asian music but we had Norah Jones and co playing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

English Food – WOW!

In a nutshell: Fresh, fabulous and amazing value!
Score: 5/5

England has a worldwide reputation for poor, stodgy, unappetising food. Maybe at some point this was true, but it is definitely not the case any more. There seems to be a real focus on fresh, non-GM foods in the UK and this can really be tasted in what you eat. Apart from a few notable exceptions (and these happen everywhere in the world), we had really friendly, genuine service and couldn’t complain about any of our meals. One of the biggest ‘wows’ was the prices, helped by the low exchange rate (5.3 Dhs to the £) it was possible to have an amazing meal with alcohol for less than Dhs 100 per person!

We spent a weekend on the Yorkshire Coast and were incredibly lucky to have glorious weather – sunny blue skies with the sort of fresh breeze that we never get in Dubai. Our first meal was at The Red Lion, near York on a small country lane where we had simple baked potatoes with fillings (prawn cocktail in my case) and 3 of us ate for less than £20 (Dhs 100) including drinks. A baked potato is such a satisfying lunch and it’s a real shame more places in Dubai don’t offer ‘spuds’ on their menus – where they do they’ve usually been in the oven for hours and are blackened to a crisp. Much healthier than a sandwich and just as filling.

Whitby is famous for its seafood and it didn’t disappoint. We ate at 3 of its well-known restaurants and each one was as fantastic as the last. Trencher’s is right opposite the Whitby Visitor Centre and I had an amazing fish pie full of fresh fish, seafood and a creamy but not sickly sauce. They are famous for their fish & chips and as well as having a choice of fish (haddock, cod and many others) you also have a choice of having it fried or grilled – a healthy fish supper. At £15 a head including drinks coupled with friendly and efficient service…we were stunned.

Half way up the hill from the harbour, Hudson’s has panoramic views out over the widest beach I had ever seen. If only the sea was Caribbean-warm and you could be sure of having the sort of weather we had, this would be a sun-worshipper’s paradise (the beach that is, not Hudson’s!) Wanting to try something local, I ordered the Whitby crab salad. The crab is caught off the Whitby coast and was amazingly fresh – no surimi-crab in sight – and the salad itself was varied and included new potatoes to make that little bit more filling. £10 a head…another example of unbelievable value.

The Magpie Café is, I was told, Whitby’s most famous restaurant and at weekends people queue down the road to get in there. After a fabulous meal, I would agree that standing out in the cold would be worth it – luckily we’d booked so went straight past the queue and in the door. My scallops were the freshest I’ve had in years and came with the coral (roe) attached, as it should be. They were accompanied by English asparagus (in season for only 6 weeks of the year) which had so much more flavour than the thin air-freighted Thai asparagus that I’m used to. I followed that with a seafood chowder which was more a creamy sauce with mussels, prawns, scallops and a white fish (not sure which!) in it rather than a chunky, thick soup. Regardless, it tasted amazing. Healthy eating seems to be well-ingrained in the UK now and the batter on the fish in the fish & chips was like a tempura batter, not a heavy stodgy one – and you could have poached or grilled fish instead of fried. For a 3 course meal with drinks you’re looking at £30-35 but that is still great value for the quality of food you get.

Our last day on the East Coast, we ate a restaurant called ASK! on the Scarborough harbour front near the amusement arcades. They had outside seating but with all the crab pots near by and it being low tide (low tide here means the boats are sitting on the mud), there were a lot of little flies so we stayed indoors. It has an Italian theme with pizzas and pastas, but of course offers the ubiquitous seafood and that is what I had…a salmon, asparagus and avocado salad. In a word…fabulous. I can’t stand salads that are 90% lettuce and this was on a small bed of mixed salad leaves with loads of the actual ingredients of asparagus and avocado with a generous salmon steak on top. Yum.

Even after we left the coast, I still couldn’t get enough of the fresh fish and fresh asparagus – or those great old country pubs. In the Yorkshire Dales at The Forester’s Arms in Grassington and The Dog and Gun in Oxenhope, I ate grilled trout with asparagus. Many people think trout is a fiddly, bony fish when it is actually delicate and meaty with bones only down the middle. Simon’s Gran tried trout for the first time in her life and couldn’t believe she’d been missing out on it all these years! It’s so hard to find trout in a supermarket in Dubai so I wanted to take full advantage…I’m missing it already now I’m back home. We also ate at Napoleon’s Casino in Bradford. You wouldn’t expect very fine dining in Bradford, in all honesty, but the food here was really good and at £15 for a 4 course meal you really had to take your hat off to them – especially when we trebled our money in the casino afterwards and our winnings paid for the meal!

We also spent a few days in London and had dinner at The Forge in Covent Garden the first night and The Princess of Shoreditch on Old Street in the East End the second night. At The Forge we had a 3 course menu (each course had a choice of about 4 dishes – all of which I wanted to try!) and a glass of kir for just £27 per person. The centre of London’s tourist district, fantastic food and such a good price! The only problem with London restaurants (and a practice that is growing more in Dubai too) is to cram as many tables in as they can possibly squeeze. Getting around all the diners to get to the toilet without knocking anyone’s elbow becomes a bit of an obstacle course. At The Princess of Shoreditch I ordered a chocolate fondant for my dessert having had a delicious asparagus with hollandaise sauce to start and wild boar sausages with mashed potato (bangers and mash in other words) for my main. Chocolate fondant is always a test and 9 times out of 10 I cut into the middle waiting for the chocolate to ooze out only to find it’s been overcooked and is solid in the middle. The Princess passed the test though – divine molten chocolate crept across my plate, success!

In terms of service, almost everywhere had really friendly, helpful staff. Genuine friendliness as well, not fine dining it’s-my-job-to-be-polite type service. One notable exception was at the Waggon & Horses pub in Handforth, Manchester where our meals took over 1 hour to arrive and when they did my Gran’s had been forgotten. When we called for the manager we expected profuse apologies – big mistake. He came over with a real attitude problem and was immediately on the defensive and extremely rude, basically telling us that we must not have ordered Gran’s meal and it was our own fault. Not a single word of apology – will we go there next time we visit my grandparents? No chance! At only £5 for a meal, you do get what you pay for sometimes I suppose.

So for all those people who write England off as a gastronomic destination: think again. If you want to go somewhere you can get amazing, fresh food, friendly service and that won’t break your bank then England could be just the place for you. Give it a go.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Food in the Air - Emirates

In a nutshell: Less meals than in the past – credit crunch perhaps?
Score: 3/5 (economy) and 5/5 (business)

We flew on the morning flight in economy class to the UK and were lucky enough to use our miles for an upgrade to business class on our way home (afternoon flight). It goes without saying that the food in the 2 classes can’t be compared, but I remember always having 2 meals on flights from Dubai to the UK. The outward flight served breakfast and then a cold, stale sandwich and the homeward flight served only one meal – although it was spread out so it felt like 3 small meals!

Luckily for us we had eaten breakfast at Paul’s before we boarded…the mushroom omelette sounded nice but was actually a plain omelette with congealed mushroom sauce on top and the croissant was edible but very greasy. Later on there was a choice of chicken tikka sandwich or… chicken tikka sandwich and all the sandwiches were made with white rolls accompanied by a chocolate chip muffin. It would be so easy for airlines to offer healthier food in economy class rather than a constant stream of over-refined flour products. Everything was acceptable, but nothing to blow you away.

Coming back we had great food but there was no snack before landing, which I thought was strange. The duck salad was fresh and really delicious – we also had a choice of white or brown rolls! For my main I had grilled salmon with a tomato sauce and fresh vegetables and potatoes. How is it that they manage to retain the flavour of just-cooked food in business class but not economy? Simon and I shared both of the desserts – a praline & chocolate delice and a cranberry tart – yum. The perfect ending to the dinner was the Patchi chocolates offered round at the end. It can’t compare to an actual restaurant since you’re strapped into a seat and have limited choice, but for food in the air it definitely deserves 5 stars.

Paul’s – Terminal 3, Dubai Airport

In a nutshell: Good simple food with speedy and efficient service
Score: 4/5

Dubai’s new Terminal 3 is massive but it is totally lacking restaurants! Why? This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The old Terminal 1 has a food court, a buffet / a la carte restaurant (Safi I think it’s called) that does a great breakfast buffet plus the Irish Village. Terminal 3 has Paul’s, Burger King, Costa, a buffet restaurant for transit passengers and an appalling buffet restaurant for the general public. Millions of passengers travel through Dubai International Airport so it is unbelievable that they haven’t included some great restaurants.

If you’re passing through T3 then my strong recommendation is to avoid the buffet restaurant upstairs (poor service, cold food, ‘chef’ couldn’t speak English) and head to Paul’s. They have an efficient system set up to get as many people through as possible and it really does work. I queued for only a few minutes before placing my order, the pastry items I wanted (selection of mini croissants) were bagged up immediately, I paid and I then went to the end of the counter to wait for the hot drinks and omelette. Omelettes are cooked to order – not just reheated in the microwave – and took less than 5 minutes to come out. The staff worked really well as a team and it was obvious they’ve had excellent customer-service training.

The big question though: was the food any good? A resounding yes! The croissants tasted just as though they’d been made in France, the bread served with the omelette was a lovely wholemeal rustic loaf, the omelette itself was light and fluffy and the salad (a bit of a strange accompaniment at 06:00 I have to admit) had that amazing French dressing that I never seem to be able to replicate. Once we boarded the plane and received our flight meal I was so relieved to have had this ‘starter’ meal or I would have starved.

The only thing to give a miss to would be the hot chocolate. It tasted strongly of cocoa and was far too sweet and sickly – I couldn’t drink it and ended up throwing the entire cup in the bin. Nothing beats Cadbury’s hot chocolate at Costa I have to say!

Japengo’s Café – Ibn Battuta Mall

In a nutshell: Great menu, great food and great service!
Score: 5/5

I have to admit that my favourite restaurant for casual dining is still Japengo’s. They are all over Dubai so it’s easy to find one in pretty much any shopping mall you visit. With Japanese, Italian, Lebanese, Chinese, Iranian, European, sandwiches and salads I reckon you’d have to be extremely fussy to not find something you want to eat! We stopped in here on our way to the airport to go on holiday to the UK and we were not disappointed.

We chose to sit ‘outside’ which is actually in the main part of China court opposite the Junk. With the restaurants on each side only separated by a wooden partition and it being a busy Thursday night, the atmosphere really was buzzing and lively. The black décor with a single red anthurium flower in a black vase on each table lend it a contemporary, sleek vibe. Sitting ‘inside’ means that you get a great view into the open kitchen and the chefs at work.

Juices, as with most Bin Hendi restaurants, are freshly squeezed and are mouth-wateringly good. My grilled salmon was a good portion, pepper-free (!!) and perfectly cooked to my liking. The vegetables were fresh and crunchy, so anyone who prefers soft veg would need to request that. Simon’s burger was huge and instead of the usual iceberg or local lettuce, there was rocket in the burger which gave it that little bit more oomph.

The fresh juices bump up the price and totalled 1/3 of the final bill. Without the drinks our meals would have cost just Dhs 120 but each drink is almost Dhs 25 – well worth it though. Only negative point was that our waiter was chewing gum but apart from that the service was efficient and friendly and we left feeling sated.