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!

IMG_5918

 

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.

IMG_5884 FullSizeRender

IMG_5891

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:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0796726/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

aprons

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.

photo

Zaroob 

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!

zaroob

 

Tasha’s

Dubai Restaurants

Upon my long awaited return to the land of Dubai, three of my loyal minions took me out to lunch. The destination worthy of such a joyous occasion was Tasha’s on Al-Wasl road, or as Google maps cleverly refers to it “Al- double u, ay, es, el” road. Tasha’s do not take bookings and are almost always fully occupied, so we waited around 30 minutes. Tante doesn’t mind the wait, as it hightens the anticipation. We ordered a salmon tartare for sharing and Chicken Milanese for mains. The food was as flavorful as “min dayyeit el tante”. One item that was out of stock but is always great is the Tabbouleh. It tastes absolutely nothing like real Tabbouleh, as they play around with the ingredients, substituting burghul with Wheat and adding Halloumi. Whatever it is, it’s fantastic. Add to it some balsamic vinegar and you’re ready to go. For desserts, the Eton Mess is a great choice to mess around with your diet. As much as I enjoyed the company of the three peasants, the food was so good that I wouldn’t have minded dining alone there. (no need for sharing then)

PS: The hostess speaks Arabic so be careful making snarky remarks. If needed, pick another language.

Villa Clara

Beirut Restaurants

So I organized a little get together dinner at Villa Clara in Mar Mkhayel. Being the “sa7bit wejib” that Kawkab is, I decided to give them a call to share a heads up that we might be running a little late for our 8:00 pm reservation. Conversation flowed as follows:

“ayya se3a ya3ne?”

“ma ba3rif. yimkin 8:30. 7asab el 3aj2a”

“Bas PLEASE mish aktar min 8:30!!”

And so we rushed and made our way through the traffic to get to the reservation on time, fearing we will be shoved to the back of the queues, following that unnerving warning by the hostess, whom I suspect is the owner/ manager/ chef’s wife.

We arrived at 8:15 to a completely empty place. The valet guy wasn’t even outside. People started coming in an hour later, and it wasn’t even that full. To be honest, the food was not bad. We expected more of an experience, given the stiffness of the phone conversation, the prices and the fact that the menu is printed on a humble A4 paper given it is always subject to change. There was no visit by the chef nor were there any special recommendations by the distracted waiters. But the food was good. If you pop by Villa stuck up, order the desserts which we sadly skipped. They’re supposed to be good. And get any of the meat courses (tartare de boeuf if available or the fillet). Do not order the fish. I’m certain you already have a handful of things to clean up other than a pricy dead fish.

The bill is surely to keep a tante home eating 3arayis labneh k3azeel for a few days after. Bas yalla.. Bill hana will shifa. Nshalla Bill afra7