The view from the restaurant’s terrace is as high-end as the food. Who’d believe you are in a mall? Image Credit: Supplied picture

Indian
Zafran, Dubai Marina Mall

Michelin-star chef Atul Kochhar has been credited with revolutionising Indian cuisine for a global audience, and the menu he helped to create for Zafran is testament to his penchant for fresh ingredients and innovative, contemporary twists on classic dishes.

Just one glance down the vast list of starters and mains available was enough to make my mouth – as well as my eyes – water. That was because I’m a novice when it comes to spicy dishes, and plenty of extra-hot ones have left me reaching for raita and water. Not again.

As I sat on the huge outdoor terrace overlooking the twinkling marina, I decided to go for ‘safe’ choices. I wanted to taste the exotic flavours the recipient of two Michelin stars – and the first Indian chef to be awarded one – is famous for, rather than simply set my mouth on fire.

So I eschewed the soup for the dish I spotted on all the publicity for the restaurant – the aloo tikkia, which were very pretty potato cakes, laced with coriander (a shame as it’s the one herb I hate) and served on a bed of salad, with spicy chickpea masala. They were spicy but not in a ‘this is burning’ way. They subtly made my taste buds – and lips – tingle, which is mild for everyone else.

Unlike most Brits, I hadn’t even eaten Indian food until I arrived in the UAE, so I’m a late learner! The kick cancelled out the hideous coriander taste, so I easily polished off the dish, nicely presented on black slate.

Meanwhile my husband – an Italian who loves spicy food – devoured a basket of pakoras; batter-fried prawns he declared ‘delicious.’

My main was an easy choice – a vegetable biryani. Zafran is renowned for its version, served with pastry on top, cooked dum style. Our server expertly sliced through the golden lid to reveal the steaming rice and vegetables inside. Being a vegetarian, I tend to order this at every Indian restaurant I visit, so I’ve accidentally become the biryani queen. And let me tell you, this was better than any I’d eaten even in India – the rice was perfectly cooked and the vegetables were packed with flavour and perfectly seasoned.

With a side order of buttery naan bread and a fruity mocktail it was 
an explosion of fantastic flavours.

My husband ate the intriguingly named mother’s kozhi masala from Alleppey – chicken thigh with mustard, tamarind and Alleppey spices, which he liked so much he wanted the recipe, washed down with Kashmir’s dew, a wonderful blend of fresh berries, lime and mint.

We were both too full for dessert, but ordered one between us to taste. The akhrot wala chaklet was a truly sublime walnut and all-spice brownie, served with vanilla ice cream, which we ‘shared’ – I think he ate 70 per cent while I made do with the rest. I didn’t mind – I’d eaten fine-dining style at mall prices (which is not surprising as it is in a mall!) and enjoyed every bite – even the spicy ones!

Typical dishes:
Zafran salad Dh30
Aloo tikkia Dh20
Dal shorba Dh18
Details: call 04 399 7357


Syrian
Sarouja restaurant, 
Dubai Marina

When it comes to eating as a national pastime there are plenty of contenders for the title. Italy must have a shot at the gold, surely, or India with its omnipresent cuisine. But Syria, with its rich, delicious and decadent dishes, could easily step on to the winner’s podium.

Sarouja, the new restaurant in trendy Dubai Marina, had a queue of diners waiting to be seated inside the traditional eaterie. Even at 11pm, when most diners would be ready to retire, fans of Syrian food were gearing up for another course. And it’s no wonder considering the tasty delicacies on offer.

Just looking at the juice menu was mind-boggling. With everything from the usual orange to cantaloupe and pomegranate, it was a taste of things to come.

The offerings here are plentiful, bursting with flavour and a mixture of the expected and the totally unexpected. Cream of chicken soup for my guest’s starter was a rustic, hearty yet finely-created-with-aplomb dish that went well with fattet makadem – lamb trotters mixed with garlic yogurt sauce and topped with pine nuts.

Along with the familiar Arabic bread, a mezze of hummus, baba ghanouj, fattoush and tabbouleh, there was also the unusual harraq esbao, delicious grilled halloumi – and fantastic fried mozzarella.

Talk to most people about Aleppo and they might shudder about the casualties of war. Mention the second largest city to Syrians and their mouths begin to water as 
it’s known for its gourmet techniques. Dine at Sarouja and you’ll understand why.

My carnivorous friend opted for habra and kebbeh nayyeh, seasoned and spiced raw meat. It was a bit like an exotic tartare or the ultra-sweet – though still main course – version, made with parsley and dribbled with pomegranate molasses.

We drooled over cheese and meat-filled samosa, spinach fatayer sabanekh, bazinjan (aubergine) kebab and vegetable and mutabel sarouja – a delicious aubergine and tomato dip that tasted like a stew – all served with homemade flatbread that was cooked in the oven behind us, and arrived at our table puffed up and steaming hot. Delicious!

Then there were the myriad kebabs spiced with cherry and pomegranate sauces, slow-cooked lamb, succulent prawns, thyme-grilled chicken and steak au poivre.

Our table for two rapidly became a table for four just to accommodate our huge selection of dishes, and 
I was about to become embarrassed until I saw our fellow diners all surrounded by a similar amount 
of food.

Finally, ready to explode, it was time for kanefeh b’eshtta, a dessert of cream pastry soaked in sweet syrup, and rich, cardamom-spiced coffee. Fabulous.

We started eating at 8pm and were struggling to finish at 11pm. With a menu as authentic and tasty as this, coupled with traditional-style decor – it’s decorated in the style of a traditional Damascan house, complete with fountain – and friendly, efficient staff it’s no wonder there was still a queue of people waiting patiently to be seated as we left.

Typical dishes:
Cream of chicken soup Dh20
Fattet hummus Dh30
Harraq esbao Dh24
Mutabel sarouja Dh25
Grilled halloumi Dh30
Details: 04 421 4490 
www.sarojadubai.com



Mexican
Maya, Le Royal Méridien

Say ‘Mexican cuisine’ and most people think of fast food thanks to American chain Taco Bell. But Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort and Spa’s newly renovated Mexican restaurant is fine dining at its best.

With international award-winning chef Richard Sandoval – who is behind the popular New York restaurant of the same name – in charge of the menu, the Dubai Marina resort’s made-over offering is being hailed as the place to eat.

It’s easy to see why. Set on the beach, the view is as stunning as the Latin American menu with its exotic-sounding antojitos (street food), including calamara Azteca (spicy battered calamari with chilli, snow cabbage and orange reduction) and huachinango ceviche – red snapper marinated in tomato, onion and chilli. But sometimes the simplest dish is the best and so I chose the very traditional Maya nachos, which came with melted cheese, guacamole – my favourite! – bean purée, pico de gallo, salsa and jalapeno.

The rest of my family went for the sharing platter – a trio of starters including the calamari – and declared it a winner. I couldn’t talk because 
I was too busy devouring my nachos.

We love Mexican food and Mexico. We have eaten in the finest restaurants there, visited authentic cafés and sampled the street food. We make our version of Mexican at home and try Latin-American every chance we get all over the world. And I have never tasted guacamole like this anywhere. “Delicious,” I finally muttered, before summoning a waiter for another dish. I had to let my husband and children taste this. They hardly got a chance because I couldn’t stop dipping my nachos and all too soon we’d devoured the lot.

Our mains soon arrived – my husband went for seafood mariscada, a platter of shrimp, calamari, scallops and octopus with rice and coconut sauce. My little girl – known for her carnivorous ways – had filet mignon Mexicano, a grilled American angus beef fillet steak with potato gratin and cheese enchilada, and my son the grilled lamb chops with roast potatoes and achiote sauce.

I had the vegetable fajitas, which came still sizzling along with all the dips – I ordered a side dish of grated cheese for the top – and none of us spoke for 10 minutes. Like all the other tables around us, there was the sound of oohs, aahs and mmmms…

Finally, my husband sat back full. “The best Mexican I ever ate,” he said. No wonder Maya has won best Latin-American restaurant and been named Mena’s best fine dining venue – the food really is how chef Richard wanted it to be, the flavours of his grandmother’s recipes brought to 
an international audience.

Typical dishes:
Chicken tinga Dh70
Arugula salad Dh50
Maya nachos Dh55
Details: 04 316 5550 
www.maya-dubai.com


American
Solis on The Palm

Tucked away on the Palm in the Tiara Residence is a culinary secret – Solis bistro, the ultimate in relaxed dining. The restaurant is all dark wood and ratton inside, the tables are low, the chairs ultra comfy and the menu straight out of a diner in Florida. There’s also the most amazing view of Dubai’s skyline and a huge terrace overlooking the pool, which is perfect for the cooler weather.

In the heat we headed indoors 
for the laid-back vibe and family-friendly choices.

My children both ordered spicy chicken wings to start while I pretended to be healthy with edamame beans and my husband went for the king prawns, which came marinated in spices, and served with a green salad and spicy salsa.

Each dish summed up the essence of Solis – it was all fresh, packed with flavour and could be eaten with your hands. It’s not often we let our little ones forgo their cutlery, but this 
was one such occasion and they had soon devoured their starters, and had sauce dripping down their chins. Here, it didn’t matter – even though it is sophisticated, the beachside location of the bistro means families can break the rules in style.

I could tell exactly what my kids would order for mains – my little girl went for the ultimate burger (which looked enormous but she was confident of finishing it, even though she’s only five) and my son chose the BBQ chicken burger.

My husband couldn’t resist the Angus beef fillet, while I went for 
a classic margarita pizza.

It was all well-cooked, nicely presented, and put smiles on my children’s faces. Often I force them to come with me to upmarket restaurants where they have to be immaculately behaved and well-mannered. Even if they enjoy the food they consider the experience a nightmare. At Solis, they could chat, try each other’s dishes – and eat half of their father’s steak – and not have to stand on ceremony. They were even allowed to dip their fries into pools of ketchup they made on their plates – something I would never let them do at home. Also, unlike at home, I didn’t have to nag them to finish. They happily munched their way through their burgers, slices of my pizza and the fillet, but still insisted they had room for dessert.

Blueberry cheesecake was the 
no-brainer for my son, chocolate fondant (to make her face even messier) my daughter’s choice, while my Italian husband went for – what else? – tiramisu. I prefer savoury and was happy with the cheese platter, which had creamy brie, cheddar, and a stilton – my fave! – with crackers.

No one was in a hurry to finish so we sampled every dish, and declared it all delicious.

Solis was a hit with all the family and no doubt will become a firm favourite when we want a casual dinner in gorgeous surroundings.

Typical dishes:
Buffalo chicken wrap Dh57
Seafood pizza Dh55
Cilantro grilled chicken breast served with pasta, sautéed spinach and mushrooms Dh85
Details: 04 432 9848 or email 
vaz@solisrestaurant.com