2017 proved to be a phenomanal year for Out & About UAE and as the blog celebrated its second birthday it grew far beyond our initial expectations. The last year has been a year of unexpected achievments that led us to become guest judges at the Fact Abu Dhabi Dining Awards, which in turn granted us the opportunity to write monthly food articles for the magazine. Working with Fact has perhaps been the pinnacle of the year, opening many doors including the opportunity for international press trips to both Sri Lanka and Oman.
A whirlwind of a year, 2017 resulted in close to 200 restaurant visits (not all of which have been catalogued on Out & About UAE) ranging from exceptional to downright miserable. Our love of food seemingly knows no bounds (and doesn’t our waistline know it) but it was all worth it with the year culminating in a media partnership deal with Taste of Abu Dhabi and our first foray into television with our appearances on What’s Cooking UAE. Stay tuned for more episodes on 2018…
Above all 2017 has been rewarding on both a personal and professional level and it’s pleasing to see all the hard work really paying off. As we look back at 2017 with extremely fond memories, we’d like to share a brief rundown of our 17 favourite dishes of the year:
17. Aubergine – Molcule, Dubai Design District:
Aubergine is an ingredient we’ve never really been the biggest fan of until we dined at Molecule, the funky bistronimy concept in D3. The dish presents the aubergine sliced lengthways and tops it with cool labneh and pomegranate to create a remarkable plate in which the creamy labneh cuts through the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses to bring body to the impeccably plated dish.
16. Savoury Baklava – Maison Beirut, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr:
The blog post is still pending on this new Lebanese restaurant at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. Spoiler alert — there are some great dishes mixed into an otherwise mediocre experience, with the highlight being a savoury baklava. The idea of turning a popular Middle Eastern dessert into a signature main is a brave endeavour but one that fortunately pays off. Layers of sweet flaky pastry, oozing cheese and beautifully seasoned meat, make for an exceptional dish that is miles above anything else on the menu.
15. Beef Kofta – Jodhpur Royal Dining, Roda Al Murooj:
Before heading to Mint Leaf Of London, Chef Pradeep Khullar left diners at Jodhpur with one final showstopper. Only available as part of the Iftar set-menu, Khullar’s. pulled beef kofta spheres were a pleasant surprise. Wrapped in katafi (the vermicelli noodles used in kunafa) and topped with a strawberry and chili chutney that finds the perfect balance between sweet and fiery. This may not quite be as good a dish as Jodhpur’s Beef Short Ribs With Aam Papad glaze that featured in out best dishes of 2016.
14. Sea Bass Ceviche – Catch, Nation Riveira Beach Club:
Since dining at Catch back in January we’ve been raving about this seafood spot to literally anyone who’ll listen. Numerous visits later and the appeal hasn’t worn off, cemented further by our developing friendship with Chef Roudy Petersen (who is also Executive Chef at the Louvre Abu Dhabi), the food at Catch is arguably some of the best in Abu Dhabi. If we could pick one favourite we’re torn between the braised short rib and this Sea Bass Ceviche. The latter is a plate unlike anything we’ve seen before and an apparent work of art (Petersen’s plating is easy to recognise) in which the sea bass has been rolled amongst pickled onion, chunks of sweet potato and garnished with edible flowers. It’s a dish of immaculate precision and well balanced flavours that complement without overpowering.
13. The Jungle Book – Carnival By Tresind, DIFC:
In little over a year Carnival has established itself as one of the best restaurants in Dubai thanks to a mix of service, atmosphere, quirky presentation and some of the best Indian food in the city. Season III brought us The Jungle Book, a dish served within an actual recreation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel in which diners are asked to forage through leaves in search of the food. A beef skewer of unbelievable texture, marinated in dates and steamed within a bamboo leaf. It doesn’t get much better than this…
12. Waka-Mole – Waka, The Oberoi Dubai:
I distinctly remember my visit to Waka with Homamino and not expecting much from the place. The craze for all things Peruvian has saturated the Dubai market in recent years, but Waka proved to us that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Its tough to pick a favourite dish when the Carne Y Trufa and Conchas Y Coral are on offer, yet it was the Waka-Mole that had us hooked. Waka’s take on guacamole presents a mix of avocado, onion, chilli and lime, smoked with applewood beneath a glass dome. The flavours this process brings are truly remarkable and we strongly suggest that the team at Waka offer a scaled back portion of the Waka-Mole complimentary to all diners (here’s hoping)!
11. TiramIzu – Izu Brasserie, CityWalk Dubai:
We dined at Izu Brasserie on the 30th December (blog post on the way) but one dish made such an impact that it HAD to be included in the list. Regular readers will know of our love of tiramisu and our struggle to find a good version in the UAE. Despite a lack of alcohol this tiramisu from Chef Izu is the best we’ve tried, for the flavours and textures blend together effortlessly in a dish that is neither to strong nor to sweet. Lovers of Tiramisu, seek this out NOW!
10. Baked Scottish Sea Scallop – The Atlantic, Souk Al Bahar:
Another one from the early part of the year and we have to admit being blown away by The Atlantic and not just because of those Dubai Fountain views. The signature Baked Scottish Sea Scallop is served encased in its shell and secured via a pastry seal before being baked. The seal is chiseled away at the table and as it opens, emits a powerful aroma of cinnamon and lemon, representing the most aromatic dish in recent memory. It’s difficult to describe the sheer delight these delicate scallops bring to even the most seasoned of diners.
9. Daxa’s Chocolate Slice – Tasha’s Al Bateen:
Out & About UAE is not always about the fine dining and the opening of Tasha’s in Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen is a good reminder of this. We’ve enjoyed countless breakfasts, coffees and catch-ups at this increasingly popular spot and the extensive menu has some excellent choices. As much as we’d recommend the burrata or carpaccio, we adore the the Daxa’s Chocolate Slice. A heavenly dessert offering a light and moist chocolate sponge topped with caramelised hazelnuts, vanilla ice-cream and a milk chocolate pouring sauce.
8. Rib Coca Flatbread – Toro, Toro, Jumeirah At Etihad Towers:
The Pan-Latin concept from Richard Sandoval, Toro Toro brought Latin flavours to the capital this fall. We almost didn’t order our favourite dish, which came as a recommendation from our waiter, but the Short Rib Coca Flatbread is a dish of shredded short rib beef on top of a crispy flatbread with a manchego cheese sour cream. The contrasting flavours are rich and would be our recommended order should you visit anytime soon (this and the grilled octopus). Stay tuned for a review of the Toro, Toro Abu Dhabi brunch early in 2018…
7. Lamb Shank – Mint Leaf Of London, DIFC:
Chef Pradeep Khullar has done it again! Leaving behind the gimmicks of Jodhpur and refining his craft at the stunning Mint Leaf Of London. There was one dish that had our entire table talking and that was the Lamb Shank, thanks to a beautiful cinnamon and chilli glaze that manages to strike a discreet balance between sweet and savoury. The meat is cooked for four hours, adorned with a gold leaf garnish and literally falls off the bone. The shank may be good, but the stock-based sauce of saffron, red chilli and cinnamon is better, and we had to ask for extra naan to ensure that none of it went to waste.
6. Salmon Causas – Lima Dubai, CityWalk:
Ramadan brought us the opening of Virgilio Martínez’ Lima Dubai, a restaurant we formed an instantaneous connection with. The ceviche’s here are some of THE best in the UAE but it was the Salmon Causas that had us hooked. Taking the traditional Peruvian yellow potato and layering it with salmon, fig preserve and a sour grana padano (cream cheese). The dish is light, unexpectedly sweet and quite revelatory.
5. Salmon Maracuya – BU, The Hub Abu Dhabi:
BU is a restaurant that has continued to impress since opening in the capital in spring 2016. A recently launched new menu has been implemented as a means to encourage new diners and it certainly worked for us! The Salmon Maracuya blends together unexpected flavours and looks like an artwork of vibrant colours. Chunks of salmon are presented amongst maracuya (a species of passion fruit native to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina) and mint oil, with additional texture provided in the form of a tapioca crust. It’s a dish we wouldn’t hesitate to order again and one that successfully manages to navigate the fine balancing act between sweet and savoury. Feeling at times almost-like a dessert, thanks to the bursts of sweetness from the maracuya.
4. Noix De St. Jacques – Le Cirque, Ritz Carlton DIFC:
Dining at Le Cirque was one of our favourite experiences of the year due to a combination of exceptional food and service. Much of the meal verges on perfection with the escargots being of particular note, superseded only by the Noix De St. Jacques. Scorched scallops beautifully plated upon a black canvas with a striking swathe of orange from sweet potato puree and pops of colour from a garnish of edible flowers. A meticulously constructed dish enhanced via the addition of a warm coconut and ginger creme, harmonising the flavours of the plate into something altogether remarkable.
3. Erizos Con Caviar Sevruga – Toro & Ko, CityWalk Dubai:
The award for our favourite new opening of 2017 has to go to Toro & Ko a tapas concept with a difference. How often can you go to a restaurant and comment on each dish you try as being exceptional? Have you ever eaten sea urchin? Well, our meal at Toro began with the erizos con caviar Sevruga, an interesting mix of Sevruga caviar, sea urchin and quail egg that comes presented upon a golden spoon amidst wisps of smoke and offers a delicate and creamy taste of the sea that may be too much for some, but was a standout dish for us.
2. Pita Suprise – Play Restaurant & Lounge, H Hotel Dubai:
Being introduced to the food of Chef Reif Othman (formally of Zuma) has to be our foodie highlight of 2017. From the moment we dined at Play with its unique Mediterrasian cuisine, the restaurant jumped to the top of the list as our favourite spot in Dubai. Othman’s Pita Surprise are the real uh…. surprises! Puffed parcels topped with lightly seared Wagyu and stuffed with a warm truffle butter transpired to be both comforting and sublime, and we immediately wanted more!
1. Seared Wagyu – The Experience By Reif Othman, H Hotel Dubai:
Who would’ve though that first and second place positions would belong to the same chef? Our dish of the year may be a somewhat unfair choice for the fact that you may be unable to order it yourself. You see, all dishes at The Experience form part of an improvised menu, based upon the availability of fresh ingredients and whatever creative tangent Chef Reif is currently pursuing. Call it experimental, but the dishes have a certain refinement to them, mixing bold flavours that you may not always expect. Take for example, the confit Wagyu, beautifully tender and plated with a squid ink meringue that complaints the meat and brings to mind the phrase ‘textural marvel.’
This year we also managed to cross a number of items off of our 2017 bucketlist and have added a few new inspirations for the year ahead, some achievable, others perhaps not so much:
- Burj Arab: Having lived in the UAE for half a decade, we’ve only admired this sail shaped structure from afar. As the world’s only seven star hotel, we would love to stay but realistically we’d settle for dinner.
- Palazzo Versace: A Versace hotel right in the heart of Dubai. Whether its dinner at Enigma or a cheeky staycation, Palazzo Versace is high on our agenda for 2018.
- Qasr Al Sarab: A desert hideaway in Abu Dhabi’s Liwa desert has long been on our list for a secluded getaway amongst rolling sand dunes,
- Skydive Dubai: We’ve actually skydived before (although at almost fifteen years ago now, it feels more like a distant dream) and perhaps we aren’t brave enough anymore, but to see the Palm Jumeirah from the ultimate vantage point would be awesome.
- Travel More: 2017 took us on a number of unexpected press trips to Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Oman (blog posts still pending for the latter two) and to the Seychelles, France, Ireland and Spain for leisure. With the UAE”s literal positioning in the centre of the world, Japan, The Maldives and Costa Rica are high on our list of travel destinations for the coming year.
- Eat, Eat, Eat: There are still so many restaurants we’re dying to try but high on the list for next year are La Petite Maison, Pier Chic, Westlodge, Intersect by Lexus and Nobu. It’s more a case of trying to find the time…
Most importantly, we’d like to give a huge shout out to all the avid readers of Out & About UAE. Generating an impressive 180,000 unique views to date we hope you’re all enjoying the ride! Stay tuned for a bigger and better Out & About UAE in 2018 for we have plenty of surprises in store for you.
Please keep liking, sharing and enjoying – we do this all for you. Much Love
– Team Out & About