Dubai Restaurants

This is a salute to the army of cooks at Shake Shack in Dubai; to the troops of waiters at the Cheesecake Factory; to the happy, singing squad at FatBurger… When you’ve invested in bringing a franchise all the way to the desert, it only makes sense that you staff it.

We went to CaliBurger today for our Kawkable Saturday lunch with the peasants and baby Jude… and… well.. ok, let me do this the loving Tante way, starting with the positive. The burgers aren’t bad. They come close to Shake Shack and FatBurger. The buns have a good balance between savoury and sweet, the beef is juicy and the sauce is tasty. My favorite burgers remain New York’s Burger Joint (open in Dubai and in need of an upcoming review) and the West Coast’s In-N-Out. The fries tasted like potato, and I suspect they weren’t frozen. Nothing tasted weird except the awful chocolate milkshake I decided to try.

So CaliBurgers are good, but there’s a catch. Joining the Dubai burger scene late, and in the same neighbourhood as FatBurger and Elevation Burger, the minds behind CaliBurger needed a unique selling proposition. Their competitive edge is that they offer the “Slowest Fast Food in Town”, and boy do they deliver on this promise. It really is as slow as fast food can go. The first strategy they implemented was introducing two lines – “Order Here” and “Pick Up” with two cash registers for “Order Here”. Then, they wisely staffed all three with one person. The second strategy was to train this individual in Selective Attention Techniques. For some of our peasants, their order never came, because it was never processed. Others had to wait as the orders of those behind them in line were prioritised. Kawkab, on the other hand, had to wait for a few minutes to watch the cash register get reconciled before giving the order. The place was full, and there were several people complaining about their order being late, but then I heard an honest cashier explain to walk-in customers that there is a 40 minute waiting time.

40 Minutes? For a burger? No ya mama. Your burgers might taste good, but would Kawkab open a Man2oushe place next to other Mana2eesh places with a special 40 minute waiting time? What is it you said? A burger is different than a Man2oushe? You mean to insinuate that burgers are better than mana2eesh? You know you’re starting to get on my nerves now, don’t you? Oh I misheard… Ok.. I’m glad you didn’t.

6 people to run the place isn’t enough darlings, so go back to Cali… w ana rej3a 3al jali…..

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Dubai Restaurants

One of the peasants, known as “The Sfitch”, will be getting married this summer. She decided to employ the talents of Favorite Peasant in photography to prepare a Save-the-Date e-card. So they headed to The Address Montgomerie, figuring that the greenery would make a nicer background than Sheikh Zayed Road or the mall. As a royal spinster, you might imagine that Kawkooba would not be able to relate to the occasion. You couldn’t be more wrong. As I approach my golden fifty four, I have decided to send out my own Save-the-Date invitation soon. If the Sfitch can send one out before locking a venue, Kawkab can send one out before locking the groom (a minor detail in today’s wedding arrangement plans). Groomfully or groomlessly, you will all be invited to your Tante’s fiesta to join me in celebrating my declaration of self-love.

Meanwhile, I suppose I should mention Monty’s, the restaurant overlooking the golf course at The Address Montgomerie. The scenery gets 5 out 5 Kawkabs, because anything green (unless slimy) is always welcome in this city. The food ranges between two and a half to three and a half Kawkabs, depending on what you order. Take your loving Tante’s advice and stick to the chicken fajitas and frozen strawberry margaritas. The fajitas are rich in well prepared chicken and are not heavy on the tummy. They have more tomato sauce than your average fajita, and less onions and peppers. The margaritas are made with fresh strawberries, unlike many other places that only use syrup. The chicken burgers aren’t bad. You can have them with extra bacon, cheese and guacamole sauce. My lobster ravioli though was below average, as it tasted like a microwaveable frozen meal. It very well might have been, as it came too quickly. For dessert, the gluttonous peasants shared a chocolate fondant, which turned out very average and a bit dry.

I was running in between errands yesterday, so I have to make a disclaimer. Monty’s is great when it is not rushed, much like a wedding. The service is friendly, you can have drinks and enjoy a nice scenery. Just like Kawkab’s future wedding. Until that comes, we have the Sfitch’s. May the force be with all of us.

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Maria Bonita

Dubai Restaurants

It was 5 years ago that I met one of my closest Dubai peasant-peeps. Nostalgically, we decided that it’s been a while we haven’t dined in that place we first met, and so we organized tonight’s dinner at that restaurant – Maria Bonita. We put together a little “friendaversary” with our respective significant others, of course. Conveniently, the rest of the troupe bailed out, which meant more guacamole for Mama Kawkab.

Maria Bonita is a simple place, where you can have a very pleasant time or a horrific one. You can have a good time, if you stick to ordering the basics, which cannot fail you. Alternatively, you can have a miserable time, if you experiment too much with the menu; or if you expect beers & margaritas, as they don’t serve any alcohol. If you need a drink with your Mexican meal, head to Loca.

We sticked to two orders of guacamole and some mixed fajitas. The guacamole can’t really go wrong, unless the avocados are rotten, which they weren’t. We ordered two; one as a starter and one as a lavish side for our fajitas. Both the shrimp and chicken fajitas kind of taste the same, as they’re cooked with peppers and onions and share the same sides of beans and sour cream. They’re like background music, which you become aware of if it’s too good or too bad – they’re neither. We enjoyed our dinner at Maria Bonita, mostly because of the company and the familiarity of the setting. I heard that extras on movie sets are now referred to as “atmosphere” as it somehow sounds more dignified. The dishes at Maria Bonita played their part as atmosphere, but weren’t the stars of the show. Our random stories were, so Happy Friendaversary Ass!

Speaking of nostalgia… Maria Bonita li 2ajlikom 2a3mal… w enjoy the video ya roo7 roo7a lal tante:

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Smiling BKK

Dubai Restaurants

As wise a tante as Kawkab may be, there are still some unanswered mysteries when it comes to the Dubai social scene. Why would someone pay three times the price of regular sushi and not get full? (rhymes with Puma) Why submit your name on a list, wait in line, pay an entrance fee, then not even dance in an ‘underground’ party that plays mostly mainstream music in a crammed rooftop? (rhymes with Monotonic Ways) It doesn’t have to be hard work to have a good time in this city.

Let’s refer to one of my ultimate favorite Dubai peeps as B-Money, for the purpose of this blog entry. The thing about B-Money is that you cannot be around him and not be smiling. When the forces of the Tante and B-Money united for a dinner plan, it was bound to be an out of the ordinary outing. The B started off well with an edible bouquet, knowing that nothing in the Tante’s way goes undevoured. One can only imagine the disturbing consequences, had this truly been a real date, full of edible objects. Thankfully, we had some fantastic company join us. B-Money’s recommendation was “Smiling BKK”, so we headed towards the original one in Al-Wasl road, hidden in a small alleyway behind the petrol station.

Smiling BKK is a quirky, little Thai restaurant that would leave you perplexed as to how you have lived in the city this long and not been there yet. It’s a dimly lit place that serves tasty, authentic Thai food in a fun atmosphere, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Although we didn’t find the plastic guns and Monalisa-with-a-moustache masks, we still enjoyed a bit of a wacky setting: a long stick that you shake to ask for the waiters (a little awkward though), Bruno Mars & Taylor Swift randomly singing in the background, friendly service and a bizarre menu of items, literally listed as follows:

– Would You Like An Amazing Banana With That? (35 dhs)

– Oh Yes, I Need A Very Big Amazing Banana With That! (39 dhs)

– Never Look At A Man While Eating An Amazing Banana (43 dhs)

None of the items contained any actual bananas. Being slightly confused with the kinky menu and phallic references, we trusted the B-Money & his friend to make the order. We started of with the self-proclaimed “Amazing” Tom Yum soup, which which is a no-miss if you like spicy food. It has prawns, tomato, chilli, peanuts, green beans and a whole lot more ingredients that make it truly amazing and every bit Yummmmmm. Everything we shared was well prepared in curious sauces that made it all so flavorsome. We had “Money Bags” filled with a strange mix of chicken and shrimps, prawn cakes, coconut chilli shrimp and a Som Tum (Papaya salad). We also shared a few mains, like cashew nut chicken and beef hot plate. My favorite was the Pad Thai, the stir fried noodle dish, rich with chicken, peanut sauce and lemon wedges. The food was so good, that I forgot to stop at the moment where I have to pretend I’m just as full as everyone else. Eventually, the time did come for dessert. We shared the sticky rice with Thai Mango. It’s hard to declare it as stellar, being a devout chocolate lover, but the combination of the fresh fruit and the creamy rice is worth a try. So try it ya 3yoona lal tante, yalleh byisti7eh bitroo7 3leh.

B-Money and I promise you more reviews of upcoming outings of strange finds in this city. For now, I am adding Smiling BKK to the list of “Kawkab’s Underground Must-Go Eateries”. All it takes to stay smiling, my peasants, is a bit of good food and good company.

Keep Devouring…

Your Loving Kawkab

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Indego by Vineet

Dubai Restaurants

Dear Mr. Vineet,

Forget your two Michelin stars. Tonight you’ve been awarded a Kawkab. You’ve got literally two stars and a whole planet as of now.

After sensing a bit of heavyheartedness in Kawkab’s spirit, my favourite peasant in the world spontaneously organised an Indian dinner to let the spice make it all nice, and let that Naan make Kawkab’s blues gone. Much appreciated from someone who doesn’t eat spicy food, but knows of Kawkab’s fondness for Indian cuisine. We couldn’t have been more ready, after having watched “The Hundred-Foot Journey” the night before. The film features Helen Mirren with a fake French accent, as a restaurant owner with a cold, villainous exterior and a heart of gold. Mirren, who owns a classical French restaurant, is at first dismayed when an Indian family moves across the street to open Maison Mumbai as her competition. The film starts off with an amusing rivalry between the two sides of the street, but then develops into a predictable compilation of cliches. Surprisingly, it’s produced by Steven Spielberg, as a collaboration with the obnoxious Oprah Winfrey. There’s a video of the two of them online, giggling like amateurs who just finished their first film school project. At one point, Spielberg remarks: “I was always terrified of the phone ringing to say that somebody lost the tip of a finger”. This is from the man who brought you Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Minority Report.. to name a few. Kitchen scenes were a whole new frontier for him.

Look at your tante rant. You have to stop me when I do, peasants. This is not a review of this mildly pleasant, mediocre movie. This ought to be a review of the mouthwatering dinner at Indego by Vineet restaurant in the Grosvenor House hotel in Dubai Marina. We ordered a feast, and it was all impeccable to say the least. The Almond Tikki made a good vegetarian starter, as a combination of crisp almond crusted green pea tikki, Punjabi chickpeas, and sweetened yoghurt with tamarind chutney sorbet. The butter chicken was the best I’ve ever had. I dare you not to lick every drop of that buttery sauce, after you’re done with the pieces of chicken. If you don’t, I’ll invite you for a reviewable Kawkab dinner (if only out of curiosity to find out what’s wrong with you). We also shared the chef’s signature dish of Coastal Jhinga, which is basically chargrilled coconut-curry leaf jumbo prawns poached in lime-coconut sauce. All was delicious, especially the usuals: Black Dal, a mix of Naans and Raita. Ask for the special coconut & raisins Naans to go along with your Dal. As much as we were full, we didn’t pass on dessert. We ordered the Chocolicious Indego platter to share, and boy did my silly diet get a scare. It’s chocolate with an Indian twist, that you can only understand when it’s in your mouth. So work on getting it there.

If you’ve read some of my reviews, you know I have a hard time enjoying a meal when the food is great, but the service is not. Here, the service was just as fantastic as the food. The waiters were all very pleasant and helpful and they too get the stamp of “Kawkab”. As the great Elissa of Lebanon once said “I don’t tanks to tanks”, but tonight I must: Thank you my favourite peasant for thoughtfully organising. Thank you my birthday-hating friend for joining. Thank you Chef Vineet. Thank you India.


Maison Mathis

Dubai Restaurants

Kawkab really likes Dubai, but what she loves more is the potential of Dubai. It’s hard to deny how Dubai is an example of creating something out of nothing. Sometimes, I wish I can fast forward a decade, knowing the city is bound to be more interesting by then, because you can tell it is only going to get better.

Almost six years after moving to Dubai, one is always on the lookout for “hidden gems” or “un-Dubai like places”. For those who live here, you might relate these to good dining places that are not in malls or hotels. So for today’s lunch, Kawkab gathered the troupe and headed towards Arabian Ranches, hoping for such an experience. We went to Maison Mathis, a Belgian restaurant with an outdoor terrace, overlooking the golf course.

After having written a somewhat negative review of a somewhat rotten lunch yesterday, Kawkab had every intention of looking at the glass half full today. Throughout the lunch, I found myself repeatedly probing on what tastes good and what the peasants could enjoy if they only tried harder. When the cutlery didn’t come today, Kawkab jumped to the rescue, sparing any drama with the staff. Thankfully, the service station was next to us, so we attended to ourselves most of the time. I can’t deny that there is a bit of a halo effect, in the sense that I was extremely aware of my own cognitive bias, wanting to find great things to write so as not to sound like a bitch-tante who writes two negative reviews in a row.

So let’s jump to the food. The pot of moules marinière was good and filling. Not as great as that of Belgium Beer Cafe, but not really bad either. It could have perhaps used a little more white wine in the sauce. The plates of asparagus with poached eggs were underwhelming, as the waiter had explained to my peasant friends that they are served as main course. They found themselves later on with five spears of asparagus with one poached egg on top. Naturally, we ordered more food after that. Keeping in the positive spirit, the mushroom pasta was… ‘amusing’. Amusing in the sense that when Shereen ordered it, it was very dry and seemingly cooked only with some butter. When starving Gaby ordered it later, it came very rich in creamy sauce, and with extra spinach. Either the chef’s skills drastically improved within half an hour, or the menu was suddenly reengineered. The banoffee pie seemed to be everyone’s favourite among the dessert orders.

Kawkab probed a lot, but no one really agreed that they would return to Maison Mathis. Yes, they serve alcohol; and yes, the setting overlooks the golf course. But the service is slow, the ambience is a bit bland, the waiters are dispassionate and the food is inconsistent. On the other hand, the food is neither THAT bad nor THAT expensive. The total bill was 190 dirhams per person, including appetizers & desserts, and tips. See? I guess I am still trying to look at the bright side. Today’s lunch felt like trying to make something out of nothing. And that’s never such a bad thing.

Sahtein ya 3yoon el tante el mka7alleh!



The Hamptons Cafe

Dubai Restaurants

Play along with your tante. Let’s say you meet a beautiful woman (or handsome man). You go on a date, and discover that she/he has a wonderful personality to top the gorgeous looks. But this person smells… smells nastier than an unattended toilet. Would you go on a second date with this hot looking skunk?

We went to The Hamptons Cafe today for lunch. The restaurant occupies a whole villa on Jumeirah Beach Road. The rooftop was fully booked, so we had a table inside. Very cozy and homelike atmosphere. As Kawkab is known for her self-proclaimed, balanced reviews, let’s start with what went right. The food was fantastic. The butter milk fried chicken was crispy, crunchy, juicy and very generous in portion. The seafood pie was flavorful, a great combination of well cooked seafood and baked potato mash. The Burrata crostini wasn’t bad either for an appetizer, and the chocolate cake was moist enough and had a creamy icing.  Great food in a very nice setting… but I guess you see where this is going.

The service was abysmal. The kind of service that makes you ready to pay money to get back those two hours of your life and undo the whole dining experience. Upon arriving and being seated on an unclean table, we waited for a total of 20 minutes before anyone showed up to offer us any menus. I have to interject my rant now with one positive comment, which is that the menus (once they do come) are on iPads, a very welcome touch, as you can see the different options visually and read descriptions of each dish – descriptions that would come in handy given how clueless and unhelpful the staff is. After ordering, we of course expected a delay, which we were okay with. The main courses arrived first, ahead of the appetizers. The remarkable thing though is that they both arrived before the cutlery, which the waiters seemed to have a problem with. I never imagined ya tante that cutlery could be such a prominent part of a dining experience, or a review for that matter, but in this case:

1- Cutlery showed up, upon request, after the main courses & their consequent appetizers arrived.

2- Cutlery and plates for three arrived for a total of four people.

3- For dessert, which was also delivered without cutlery, forks were presented without knives after requesting both. Upon re-requesting the knives, only one was delivered. Sikkeene bi zyedeh 3a ra2bitna, lest we use it to lash out at everyone.

4- One of the forks had what I can only imagine is mucus or something like it. (picture attached to avoid bias) When I took it to the attention of the manager/ hostess, she responded that the restaurant is very busy. Because that is always a great excuse for lack of hygiene.

When asking for mustard, the waiter responded that there is none. After some back and forth with his tante, he discovered that he obviously has mustard. When we were done eating, more than twenty minutes passed before anyone came to clean the table. It took three follow ups for that to happen.

The Hamptons Cafe is a very busy place, understandably for the great food it offers. It is however a severely understaffed place, that seems to be terribly managed. Not only were the waiters zoned out all the time, they kept changing. I have to note that we were offered free coffee and tea to make up for our obvious dissatisfaction. But I would rather pay for my coffee anyday, than have to waste the weekend on such a strenuous dining experience.

Some would date people with wonderful personalities and great looks, even if they smell so bad. You can after all shut your nostrils and focus on your other senses. If you have good patience and a tolerance for incompetence, you may have a wonderful time dining at The Hamptons Cafe. I, for one, am a tired tante that has neither such thing.

PS: There’s a sign at the entrance that explains that customers are allocated 90 minutes per table to ensure fair table availability. The lunch took more than 2 hours, not because we enjoyed staying there, but the waiting time between bringing the menus, then the food, then the dessert was almost an hour in total.

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Aprons & Hammers

Dubai Restaurants

You never know who might be sitting behind you in a restaurant. You never know whether the group of people joining you as you sing Happy Birthday could be Grammy and Oscar winners. But in this case, Kawkab knew. Boy did she know!

It’s hard to find room for Aprons & Hammers in this review as the highlight of the night wasn’t the food, so let’s get that first out of the way. For an Aprons & Hammers experience, you have a few choices in Dubai. Skip DIFC and skip the Beach branch, where you can’t have alcohol. Always opt for the boat one near Barasti. A pill of Dramamine might help before you go, because the boat, while not sailing anywhere, is constantly bouncing, much like Kawkab’s hefty bosoms as she climbs up the stairs to the upper deck. Being a wise tante, I never take a look at the menu. Always order the same thing: a couple of salads to share (shrimp avocado, and fresh crab), crispy calamari, a large bucket of jumbo shrimps with 3 choices of sauces on the side, and some french fries. Skip the useless clams. Good value for money. A little less than 300 dirhams for a big seafood meal including alcohol and all (an overpriced Ksara bottle which in Lebanon costs 10 bucks and goes here for 90 dollars, but that’s everywhere here).

Now that we’re done with the fish, let’s go to the meat of the evening. Tonight was the birthday of one of my peasant friends, who shall remain nameless for the purpose of this blog. She is however conspicuously featured in the photo below. This friend is not a fan of birthday rituals, so naturally we organised for her a typical birthday ritual. As the Aprons & Hammers waiters brought the cake and sang her Happy Birthday, a friendly table sitting behind us joined in. Kawkab’s ears noticed that there was some good harmony going on and a very welcome addition of pleasant voices to the unsettling chanting of my peasant friends. We assumed that they must be a local church choir or a group of expats who get together in seafood restaurants and reminisce on “what could have been” had they not opted for careers in selling shampoo and bank telling. In exchange for their friendly gesture, my nameless friend offered them cake. Generous (and slightly arrogant) Kawkooba decided that they too must be featured on tonight’s blog entry. After all, they deserve to have their 15 minutes of fame. As we pompously explained to them that “we have a blog”, we asked them if they have “a name for their little group” and Hiba asked them “are you guys like a thing?”. As they started modestly introducing themselves, we naturally started googling them. w ya 2arid nsha2eeh w bla3eeneh! (translation for my non Arabic speaking readers: May there come an earthquake so I get swallowed by the ground) One of them was the award winning music producer of Moulin Rouge and Pink Floyd The Wall. As he chatted with us, he explained how he is planning to visit Beirut in preparation for an album for a Lebanese singer, whom his group didn’t seem too familiar with. He told them “she is apparently #1 in Middle East”. It turned out it’s for Fayrouz. Among the other friendly diners were a Gregorian monk, the producer of X-Factor, the producer of The Voice and a European rock star.

So many life lessons from tonight:

1) When your friend doesn’t want cake, always bring cake and make a loud happy birthday scene. Only good things can ever come out of it.

2) Never assume anything about anyone. I still can’t believe we were luring Grammy winners with the opportunity of being featured on a “.wordpress” blog.

3) t3allamo mnil ajenib ya tante. Last month we saw a Lebanese singer, who shall also remain nameless (but goes for the humble title of “The Sun of the Lebanese Song”), walking out of Mall of the Emirates. She was surrounded by literally 8 bodyguards. The titles of our egomaniacal group of Arab singers are ridiculous, as they each declare themselves respective kings and queens of the stage and the solar system. Sti7o w t3allamo from a group of super humble international artists with amazing achievements, who went around singing Happy Birthday to two tables of complete strangers on a random, serendipitous Sunday night. Here are the links for two of these awesome diners who sang Happy Birthday to our nameless, anti-birthday friend:


Em Sherif

Dubai Restaurants

After a wazwaza night at Taiga, which sensibly exported Mutrib 7ambolli from Batroun to Dubai, Kawkab’s clan needed a feast of a lunch. The clan succumbed to my desire of finding a restaurant that is fitting for a review and worthy of your eyeballs. Yes yours. I cleverly suggested Em Sherif, a fantastic Lebanese restaurant I had tried in Monnot, Beirut. Em Sherif just like Mutrib 7ambolli has naturally exported herself to Dubai.

What I love about this place is that there is no menu. Nothing makes me feel quite as royal as heading that table and having food just come to me, without the need for selections. The food was a generous variety of Lebanese cold and hot mezzah, followed by mashawi, sayyadiyeh and dessert. Every little dish had a special touch: The tabbouleh had extra lemon peel, the Fattoush had aubergines, the sayyadiyeh had special gravy and so on. Other than making a timeless tante feel royal, the great thing about Em Sherif is that you feel full, but not bloated. Trust Sherif’s wise mama to decide the right portions for the right number of people, unlike the mess of over ordering that happens when you go to other Lebanese restaurants.

The highlight of the lunch was Gaby trying to tell one of his immoral stories, and Kawkab stopping him to avoid nausea, as we eat. As Kawkab exclaimed “la2 bala ma nballish bil 2araf halla2!”, the waiter paused as he was trying to serve portions of Kharouf with Mashed Potato. After clarifying the situation, the Kharouf turned out stellar and Gaby’s story was avoided.. well, postponed till after dessert.  Speaking of desserts, they were Ok, especially the Em Ali; but Beirut’s branch had more special ones. Kawkab’s advice to Sherif’s loving mama is to bring back those good old Beirut eclectic ice cream flavours. Or maybe they serve different things on different days. Who knows? Surely not I, as Em Sherif is a great lunch, but not one for every day. The total was around a hundred dollars per person – no alcohol. Baby Jude was the smartest as he brought his own mashed zucchini goo, and enjoyed my company without getting charged. Smart like his auntie.



Dubai Restaurants

After a couple of hours at Ikea that I will never get back, we stopped by Zaroob on the way back. Baynetna tante, I’m trying to shed off a few pounds that I refer to as Holiday weight, but have in fact been lingering around way before the holidays. So Zaroob wasn’t an obvious carb free option, but a tante must devour what a tante can devour. I was pleasantly surprised with the delectable options I could furnish the table with that were not part of their 3ajeen menu. We had a fattoush, simple yet good, with dibis el rimmein and pomegranate seeds. Hummos with different options- Kawkab goes for the one with shawarma.  The waiters at Zaroob are consistently indifferent and require multiple follow ups, but the food is always good. Whether you sit inside or outside, it’s a welcome break from Dubai’s mall dining scene. A genuine Levant setting (with mostly Asian staff). I highly recommend it ya tante for weekend breakfasts and after party late night binging. If you’re not on a diet, explore their excellent shawarma sandwiches, and for dessert their Cinnamon fateer.

Zaroob deyman ma7boob 3and el kawkoob, so good joob!