A bunch of us sat around a table, digging into our plates from the different restaurant stations at Taste of Dubai, dissecting what could've made that deep-fried batter coating on Rivington Grill's signature fish so light and poofy. It started out with an airy golden brown crunch, and then, as I distracted myself with newspaper-wrapped fries, it gradually fell apart from the white fish flesh and started sponging up all the salty sour streams of malt vinegar, fresh lemon, mushy green peas, and tartar cream that had pooled together on my plate. In the land of deep-fried decadence, that last final mouthful of juice-dripping batter - all on its own, without the fish, without the fries [as much as I love them both] - warrants a separate dish all on its own. So was the fish batter at Rivington Grill beer'ed up or not? Without offending the teetotalers in the crowds at the festival, myself being one of them, I NEED to know the answer to that question because such poofiness, such sponginess, must be replicated at home.
Lick-my-spoon blogger Sukaina raised an eyebrow at my question - "They can't, not publicly in Dubai without telling folks. It's got to be sparkling water." Tip noted. For all future deep-fried treats at home, switch to sparkling water for ultimate poofiness. I did come home and google Rivington Grill's fish and chips recipe online. The entire recipe stands exposed on BBC Good Food. And it calls for 500ml of beer. So did they stick to the standard recipe for Taste of Dubai, or tweak it for the public? I think I may need another helping of batter encrusted fish doused with salt and malt vinegar to figure it out. In case you're heading out to Taste of Dubai and have 30 bucks to spare for this tiny plate of deep-fried goodness, definitely go grab a plate and give me a shout-out if you know what went into that batter. Or maybe, just ask them and help me put an end to my mental guessing game. In addition to the fish and chips, I sampled a bunch of other stuff. A HELLUVA LOT of other stuff to be precise. Like the chicken pastilla from Almaz by Momo, a crispy Morroccan pastry stuffed with chicken, and...get ready to either be revolted or inspired...sprinkled with a coating of caster sugar and cinnamon.
I'd fallen in love with this sweet, crispy, chickeny Moroccan specialty back in my New York days, and Almaz by Momo's version totally lived up to that experience.
Also munched my way through a plate of assorted maki rolls from Haru - two of them were a tad bit too fishy for me, but the one doused in spicy mayo, tempura crunch and caviar was explosive. In a good way.
My reaction to the above fish taco from Maya: oh, fish taco, me used to adore thee back in my spicy, crunchy, mayo-slathered, catfish taco face-stuffing days [until I discovered that catfish are quite hideous at sight, far removed from the purring feline forms I thought they'd be. catfish never quite tasted the same after.] You look just like them incredible catfish tacos. And I'm sure you taste just like 'em too. I'm sure you taste of [first bite]...[ponderous expression]...taste of...[chew chew]...[deeper ponderous expression]...taste of...[swallow]...taste of nothing.
And thus we have blandness disguised in the form of a fish taco.
Another outstanding disaster were the Peking duck pancake rolls from The China Club. Had somebody thought to cook those pancakes, or was the raw floury taste meant to be part of the dish? And duck sauce, where were you...overpowered by the raw pancake exterior?...I missed you.
Luckily, my evening was redeemed when I discovered free samples of truffles at Carluccio's. Really unique ones these were, with the thick texture of smooth chocolate, but the prominent flavors of cappuccino, white chocolate or hazelnut, depending on which ones you tried. I of course tried them all, and then dragged back fellow bloggers, Sukaina and Sarah, to sample my proud free discovery. They gave their seal of approval too.
Moving ten notches higher on the sweet decadence scale was the sticky date pudding at the Wharf. Moist with liquid gooey toffee, don't be put off by the boxed up plastic appearance. Sukaina and I just plonked it out on a plate, drizzled it artistically à la Lick My Spoon with toffee syrup, and dug in gleefully like little giggling girls at a birthday party.
Twenty notches lower on the same scale was Indego's attempt at a summery yoghurt smoothie. Chef Vineet Bhatia, I hate saying this especially since you were such a friendly down-to-earth gem of a person at the event, but this sour fruity yoghurty mixture had me gagging after one lethal spoonful. That said, I know at least one other far more sophisticated dessert conoisseur [Sukaina] who loved the minty ice cream on top...but my final plea O steamed yoghurt, red currant and mint pistachio ice cream, is that you never land yourselves simultanously on my tongue ever again.
On a happier note, actually, ecstatic note, is that I *think* I discovered my fantasy coffee bean at Taste of Dubai. For those who've read my earlier coffee posts, Parts 1 and 2, you'll know that I've been on the prowl for a non-acidic, not bitter, smooth and subtle espresso bean for my coffee machine at home. Who else other than Raw Coffee Company to have had it all along - a sweet velvety swig of their cappuccino made with their "Working Blend" espresso beans makes me think I have found The One. It's so hard to believe that I've actually found my dream bean that I'm not risking making a big show of it until I've sampled the coffee a second time at their original location at the Garden Center.
Other must-trys at the show - partly cause I'm proud that I found such awesome hidden treats in my food-coma'd rounds of the Taste of Dubai grounds, but mostly because they're gloriously free, include:
...bread dipped in a sample of super fragrant, really deep and earthy white truffle oil at one of the gourmet stands at Taste of Dubai. My ability to remember names had completely died in some food-sodden part of my brain by this point, but I do know that this exhibitor had the word 'Gourmet' in their name and offer an [also-free] cup of warm and comforting chai tea latte.
Another free treat presented itself as cubes of manchego cheese at Al Hambra. Glossy with rosemary-perfumed oil on the outside, and full of sharp, almost parmiggiano-like cheesiness at the center, this deserve to be piled up in a big bottomless glass bowl right near my bedside.
Something I didn't try but that looked really promising and somewhat adventurous were the beef cheeks at Gordon Ramsay's Verre.
Me: which part of the body does the beef cheek come from? [plausible answers: (a) unrelated to cow face (b) related to cow face (c) related to cow rear - aka butt cheeks *wretch*]. Server: from the cheeks on the face [silently: DUH LADY, D-U-H.] Me: Ah ok, what do they taste like? Server: Really soft and fleshy and tender and...[all other related adjectives that would get me to pay the 20 or more odd dirhams this plate was priced at.] Me: Ok, gotta come back for these. Sadly, I never did go back during my six hour long binge at the Taste of Dubai. Till the next time I come across beef cheeks, from Food-Drugged Me to all those out there visiting or who plan to visit Taste of Dubai, eat up, drink up, and try to con someone else into driving you home cause it's painful to drive under food coma. Over-stuffed and out. (Disclaimer: Yes, I did receive free tickets to Taste of Dubai. No, I did not agree to cover the event in any specific way or write anything positive about what I ate there. Yes, life as a blogger really rocks.) Taste of Dubai URL: http://www.tasteofdubaifestival.com/ PROMO code [still valid as of 04/03/2010 at 17:00. Gives you 2 standard tickets at AED 30 each instead of at AED 75 each]: BLOG