Coffee shop review #7: Tim Hortons

Alas! The coffee shop everyone’s been talking about! Me and my friend were excited to check out this beauty at it’s new JBR branch. So we strolled down The Walk and headed inside the most talked about café. Little did we know we had simply picked the wrong branch. I ordered a chocolate muffin while my friend called for their café latte. After receiving the bill, the staff realized their chocolate muffins were out of stock. Is it wrong to believe that when you’ve paid for an item you should receive it? Or at least be warned of its unavailability before paying for it. Nonetheless, my friend substituted the muffin with their chocolate croissant and we headed upstairs with our orders. Perhaps sitting outside would have been a more suitable choice. Let’s just say the view upstairs was nothing out of the ordinary and so was their coffee. Considering the menu, perhaps, students would appreciate the prices, the variety and their efficiency at preparing orders in no time. No wonder, my peers and colleagues have been raving about this place so much! This coffee shop is growing rapidly and is soon to open more branches across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If you’re a coffee addict, you must check out this bustling café at Sheikh Zayed Road.

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Taste of Dubai: A Cinderella tale to a Prince’s appetite

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Dear foodaholics, if you missed out on Dubai’s food festival then let me inform you of how big a loss you’ve encountered. Three wholesome days of music, fun and lots of food for everyone! Pardon the excessive exclamation marks you will find in my narration since this was my first time at Taste of Dubai and I still haven’t recovered from the shot of pure-awesomeness that my appetite experienced.  For three days.

  Considering this was my debut at a food festival, I was unaware of the dress code, ethics or the table manners to be followed. So I went with casual in flip-flops and immediately realized just how wrong I was. Contrary to my belief, hundreds of people swarmed around me in the best of their wardrobe: classy and chic and there I was, standing in my jeans and Aeropostale beach slippers. So I decided to make amends for the next day. Little did I realize those weren’t the only amends to be made.

    My friend accompanied me as we discovered this food festival on foot. Stalls, more stalls, fashionable crowd, staff distributing vouchers and pamphlets, goodie bags, a live band which honestly could have performed better, live cooking stations featuring celebrity chefs (oo la la!) and people queued outside stalls on a work-free-Friday. Now that you know the summary, let’s get to the juicy details!

  The food stalls were cleverly arranged to feature retail outlets at the start, a few award winning restaurants further ahead and the world-renowned celebrity chefs’ creations at the very end. Since we were already familiar with PF Changs, Da Shi Dai, Chi Zen and other retail dining restaurants, we decided to invest in the unknown eateries. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, we experimented with Gaucho, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Seafire and Mahek.

While we indulged in what appeared to be a samosa stuffed with minced beef from Gaucho, our curiosity drifted towards the funny steak from Ruth’s Chris. As for Mahek, I couldn’t ignore the reality behind the name of this luxurious Indian restaurant. Mahek is literally translated to aroma, and that is exactly what attracted us to this fine outlet. We munched on their spicy kebabs dipped in lentil sauce and decided to approach the lamb chops shamelessly with our hands. Which, we realized three minutes later after having sauce spilled on either shirts, was probably not the best strategy when you’re dealing with Indian food.

  And for the highlight of our day, drum roll please…….it’s Seafire! Atlantis is synonymous for having the best restaurants in the city but also the most expensive. And it took us just one restaurant to awaken the delight that such good food does exist in Dubai. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best steak I’ve enjoyed in my existence: the Atlantis tenderloin wellington served with mashed potato courtesy of Seafire, also awarded as ‘The best steakhouse of 2011’ by TimeOut Dubai. We couldn’t ignore how absolutely delicious Seafire was and given their good customer service we came back for more, and more, until the Atlantis tenderloin was no longer served. It was now time, to move on.

  Live cooking stations were a visible success since people had queued for half-hour and some had to wait as long as an hour. And really, what’s more fun than getting your hands messy in the company of friends. Although we didn’t experience this signature event, our graphic designer Anton enjoyed it “The one-hour cooking session was most definitely the highlight of my day. Due to high demand, we had to queue for over an hour to get our space in the Miele cooking session. Luckily for us, our chef was none other than Suzanne Husseini, a celebrity Arabic chef whose specialty is creating an infusion of traditional and contemporary cooking. Amongst the lucky 30, we spent the next hour cooking meatballs in cherry sauce with honey and spices, in addition to a baklava with a modern twist. Most importantly, however, was to remember the main ingredient “Love”. And the fun didn’t end there; we got aprons and recipe cards to take home. Lots of fun, great idea, amazing utensils and a brilliant chef”

  Taste of Dubai was an interactive exhibition of what’s delicious in town, what’s coming up and where to invest for those occasions! For a noob like me, the three days were a Cinderella-ish fairy tale to a prince’s appetite!

  As published in One Eight One’s April issue. Written by Ayesha Akbar Ali-

Coffee-shop review #6: Gloria Jeans

 A rather oddly placed café inside Dubai Mall, Gloria Jeans has played modestly with brown interiors, leather furniture, and comfortable seating arrangements. We ordered a rather interesting crème brulee macchiato with Tiramisu. Yes, I’d been missing tiramisu for a while and Gloria Jeans seemed like a perfect stop! Besides the rather small portion of coffee, my bare Tiramisu was drenched in more cheese than cake. If you haven’t tried out this heavenly pastry, let me tell you, tiramisu is MUCH much more than just good cheese, it’s the perfect synchronization of coffee, cocoa, sponge cake and cheese. But the pastry that lay in front of me was NOT the tiramisu I worshipped. My friend didn’t find his macchiato any different either. Gloria Jeans, maybe we haven’t found the right combination to discover your magic. Another time, perhaps.

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Coffee shop review #5: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Before I begin, let me say, what lovely interiors for a café located inside a mall. Coffee bean and tea leaf works on elegant interiors and classy furniture without losing appeal to a younger and vibrant customer base. My friend opted for the iced caramel mocha latte while I chose the marble cake. Our orders arrived early enough and eager as he was, sipped portion of his latte before he realized the ice hadn’t been crushed efficiently. Soon, he complained about the disappearance of caramel and the emergence of plain coffee. Considering my love for their interiors, I believed it was just that cup of iced caramel mocha latte that my friend had trouble with. So I set to explore my marble cake with the expectations of a fifteen year old whose about to receive her birthday gift. First bite: not bad. Second bite: this might be good. Third bite: it just needs to be warmed a little. Fourth bite: okay, that’s it! This cake is like a rock! How are you supposed to eat it?! And that’s the story of how the lovely walls couldn’t keep me away but the food inside it couldn’t make me stay. True story.

A slice of joy, cream and sweet tangy excitement

You say, I say, we all say cheesecake! Say hello to this lavish dessert that I discovered after twenty years. Yes, two decades of my existence lived without this delicious flavor. Let me add that my ignorance has nothing to do with living in Dubai. My ex-consciousness for healthy food denied my tongue the guilty pleasure of cheese in all its forms except for the occasional pizza treats. Yes, I’ve lived without having cheese in my burger, separated it from the pink sauce pasta, removed it from sandwiches, cheese croissants, you name it and I’ve abandoned it.

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Raspberry cheesecake from Columbiano cafe, Abu Dhabi

  My relationship with cheese goes back far to a young memory of a very…..obese child munching on a burger with cheese all over his mouth, his fingers and dropping from the sides of his exponentially-impossible-for-me-to-even-bite-that-big-a-burger. So what happened after two decades that convinced me to experiment with my new found love? First, the initial resolution that I had to quit looking like a stick and work on acquiring some muscular fat, and latter, my savior in beef, the Shake-shack burger. The New York joint that recently opened doors in Dubai and has often been described by my friends as food-gasmic, has been the best beef burger I’ve had, and yes with cheese. The burger got me started, and it only took a few days for this vital ingredient in pasta to take it’s toll on me. Let’s just say, I no longer appear to be a stick 😉

Now coming back to my affair with the cheesecake, it started on a sunny afternoon, when I arrived at my favorite coffee shop to grab my favorite tiramisu and finish up some important work. But the universe had a different plan, my sacred tiramisu was out of stock, and I had to choose between the obtuse-yet-large carrot cake, the all-too-cliched three layer chocolate cake (how different can a there layer chocolate cake be when ALL layers are of chocolate!) and the Strawberry cheesecake. Now I didn’t want to spoil the memory of my mother’s handmade carrot cake, so I really had only two options. And I didn’t want to invest 15 AED in a dessert that would only taste like all the others I’ve tried before, so I went for the cheesecake (call me frugal, but I do spend a lot of time weighing my options against cost and value).

That, dear readers, is the story of how I discovered this remarkable feast of joy, cream, and sweet tangy excitement, all boxed up in a slice. One small triangle of happiness. Sigh….makes me want to have some more. And what about you, do you love cheesecake too? What’s your favorite flavor? Why don’t you share your love for this universal dessert in the tiny box below *points to comments*

Ayesha Akbar Ali

Coffee Shop review #4: Kino Cafe

Want to surprise that special someone in your life with the little things in life? Head down to Kino Café after sunset and watch Dubai Mall’s musical fountain at its best. Yes, this humble café is the unexplored view of the famous fountain that gathers hundreds of people every night. You can choose between the elegant indoor seating and the fresh, breezy outdoors. But if I were you, I’d either eat rather spend the mandatory AED 50 and eat outside with a steady breeze flowing and the glorious musical fountain playing in the background. Alright, enough said about the venue, but our menu was beyond amusing. Coffee and tea varieties we had never realize even existed. If you’re a tea person, you’ll definitely be excited with their Jasmine tea. Our Sumiyaki arrived pretty quickly, and felt like a suitably blended aromatic cup of coffee. Little did we know that the Japanese coffee is distinguished by the use of coconut milk! If your eyes do catch a glimpse of the grey buzzer placed at the table corner, you won’t have to struggle beckoning them for your order.

What can we say about the café? Amazing view, perfect atmosphere for a quiet chat with a friend and an interesting menu that encourages you to experiment!     

 

Coffee-shop review #3: Second Cup

And another café with brown leather seating, but this modest café had a dash of bright orange infused with the dull dark brown interiors. Stretched across a pathway at Dubai Mall, the bright orange tables give away it’s location. Service? Self, again, which meant waiting for the baristas to prepare our order. Besides the usual café lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, they have a variety of signature blend espressos so my friend picked the maple espresso. We were rather inquisitive about our maple espresso. Would it be as fascinating as the vanilla espresso? How would the maple’s element be accommodated within the coffee blend? What about the portion? We watched the big mug of coffee being poured as the staff beckoned ‘Maple espresso!’ The coffee was rather thick and well blended. It was a better espresso for him, as he gulped down their signature creation. Albeit it’s housed comfortably, Second Cup appears more suitable for family gatherings or business meetings. 

Coffee shop review#4: Caribou Coffee

Another coffee shop with brown leather furniture. Sigh. Pardon me, since it was just very common to find cafes with the traditional seating. We seated ourselves and waited for their staff to attend to us, but in vain. Caribou is another self-serving coffee shop, so we ordered and headed towards our seating after receiving our beverages. We chose a caramel macchiato and mini chocolate cheese cupcake (for just AED 7!). Funky combination eh? What’s more amusing are their customized napkins with doodles and scribbled text that added life to the vacant café. So I wasn’t satisfied with their interiors or service, but I did leave my last expectations for their food. My friend stared at his huge glass of macchiato “I did order for their smallest portion, right?”, while I dived for their adorable mini cupcake. The cheese melted while the chocolate icing lathered my mouth. Yummm……….two eager chocoholic bites and my mini cupcake was done. While my face exhibited composure, my head performed a Bollywood version of ‘noooooooooooo!’ Ahem….I’d also recommend their blueberry cheesecake and brownie slice (ask them to warm it and feel the difference!). Their branch at Dubai Festival City appears more comfortable, so if you’re looking for a lovely brunch with friends, Caribou at DFC would be just right!

Our bill: 26 aed 

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Coffee-shop review #2: Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Co I’d be surprised if you’ve missed to spot this vintage-English café right besides Galleries Lafayette. From the crockery, menu to the furniture and pastel colors, this little coffee house takes you back to the 18th century when beauty appeared in antique interiors. The staff were very presentable and attended to us immediately.

Vanilla espresso sounded like an interesting combination, so we went ahead with it. And it sure was! Imagine a cup of hot coffee topped with a thick scoop of vanilla ice cream. What was once hot soon turned ice cold once the vanilla merged with the coffee. If you prefer iced coffee with a little difference, this would be perfect for you! Also, the Shakespeare-ish coffee house gives you the suitable background to try that fake bri’ish accent you’ve always wanted (what? We’ve all tried it once! Little Britain, anyone?) If you’re a fan of Jane Austen classics, you would certainly enjoy the experience! As for the rest of you, go easy on the slightly outworn furniture would you? It’s supposed to look old, ya know?

(As published in ‘one eight one’ magazine, now being sold at virgin megastores across Dubai and Abu Dhabi)