Sean Connolly at the Opera: One of Dubai’s Finest

Living right next to Downtown Dubai’s Opera for almost two years now, I’ve been to the building multiple times and I just love it. The fact that people were looking for a culinary offering there can be seen from the amounts of people pouring into the nearby ‘Carribou’ for a quick bite to eat either before or after the show. When I heard that there is a new restaurant Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera opening up, I was excited to try it out and intrigued by what concept could have been cultivated to fit in with the the surrounding settings.

While Chef Connolly is a bit of a celebrity in both New Zealand and Australia especially after opening up five restaurants and making numerous tv appearances, this was his first venture in the Middle East. I never dined at any of his restaurants before, but after some research I was excited to head to Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera  to try the “contemporary brasserie serving seafood and steak”. We went there on a Sunday for lunch and upon arriving to the second floor were pleasantly surprised with an incredibly well lit, open-space that had the prettiest coral and oceanic tones. While the restaurant was empty when we first arrived at around 12pm, it surprisingly got more busy towards 2pm. The brasserie features two bars, one serving cocktails and The Raw Bar serving oysters and other types of shellfish, as well as The Fire Bara grill for pizzas and such.

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Photo by Brooke Halm from Yatzer.com

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Photo by Brooke Halm from Yatzer.com

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Photo from Yatzer.com

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Photo by Brooke Halm from Yatzer.com

The à la carte menu features a selection of raw seafood and light appetizers while the main dishes are a variety of pasta and seafood dishes as well as meat grills. In addition to the à la carte menu, there were two pre-theatre options, one which included 2 courses for 155 AED/pp. and one that included 3 courses for 195 AED/pp. The pre-theatre menus include options such as Oyster fritters, Tomato Tart Tartin and a Raw Plate for appetizers, Fish and Chips, Roast Aubergine and a Daube of Beef for mains, and Opera Cake, Lemon Tart and Frozen Nougat for dessert.

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We opted for the à la carte menu, with Watermelon, Strawberry Tomato, Torn Mint and Whipped Feta Salad, Grilled White Peaches, Buffalo Mozzarella, Pistachio Pesto and Salmon Sashimi for appetizers. Both the Watermelon Salad and Buffalo Mozzarella had such a refreshing taste, with the watermelon forming a great combination with the strawberry tomato, mint and feta. The white peaches and pesto were also a great addition to the buffalo mozzarella and each bite just completely melts in your mouth. The quality of the salmon sashimi was also exquisite.

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Moving on to the mains, we opted for the Crab and Chilli Linguine and the 300g Sirloin with a side of Duck Fat Chips. The Linguine was a wonderful cross between creamy and lemon-ey and the portion of crab on the plate was very generous! The Sirloin steak was cooked to perfection and the chips were also perfect, crisp on the outside and soft and delicious once you bite into them. When it came to the dessert, we were actually quite full but nevertheless decided to try the popular Hazelnut semi Freddo coated with popped corn and salted caramel sauce. This served as a delicious end to a wonderful meal, especially with the ice cream hidden beneath layers of popcorn and salted caramel.

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The Verdict: There was honestly not a single dish that I tried and didn’t like on the menu, from the well crafted appetizer dishes to the perfectly cooked mains and creative desserts, I can definitely say Sean Connolly is one of my favourites in Dubai. The service there is also great and quick, with the waiters recommending the best dishes as well as answering any questions we had. The atmosphere of the restaurant indoors was also bright and spacious and I can see it being a great dining destination in the evening as well. While we didn’t get a chance to step outdoors, it also looked like a great place to grab a quick bite and drink before the show, especially with the Burj Khalifa view.

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As always, if you’ve been, please let me know your thoughts and if you do end up going sometime in the future I would love to know about your experience!

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Noire: A Unique Dining Experience in Fairmont DXB

The first and only dine in the dark experience in the Middle East, Noire is a restaurant that everyone should visit at least once while in Dubai. When I first heard about the concept I got very excited at the thought of trying something different! The concept is quite simple yet innovative, you have a 3 course dinner meal in pitch darkness and no one can see anything except the waiters who are wearing night goggles (Yes, they do have some funny stories to tell if you stick around after dinner!)

We arrived at 7.00pm with dinner scheduled to start at 7.30pm. We were first led to a small reception area where we had welcome drinks and were briefed on what to expect inside the room. Now mind you, I hadn’t actually thought about dining in pitch darkness until that moment when we were told to put our hands on each others shoulders as we were led group by group to our tables inside the “room”. As we first entered the pitch blackness, I did think about turning back and walking out! However, here is where something very special about Noire comes in, and it is the waiters and service. The waiter that led us to the table was very kind as he took me by the hand and led me to my seat, helped me place my bag and explained where everything on the table was. The same was done for every person who then entered the room and throughout the entire night the waiters were always on point in helping out whenever we needed anything.

As for our meal, we had 3 courses scheduled and you can inform the team prior about any allergies that you might have. The menu changes every week so there is no way you can know beforehand what you are going to be eating that day. As the appetizers were set on the table came the challenge of figuring out how to eat! Where was my food? Did I scoop up anything the first time? (Usually not btw, and a tip is to scoop from outside in rather than top down) Then when I finally managed to put something on that spoon, came the question of what exactly am I eating? Something was crunching, but then there was some sauce, was it fish? chicken? You would be surprised at how dumbed down our taste senses are when we’re not seeing what we’re about to eat. As people ease up and get used to the darkness, they start chatting and laughing freely. People start guessing what’s on the main dish menu out loud as it is placed in front of us. Funny thing is, your taste buds don’t get better at recognition by the time dessert comes.

After almost an hour and a half, our waiters lead us back to the reception area where our chef is waiting with a full display of the three course menu that we had just eaten inside. The “fish” I thought I was eating turned out to be Foie Gras, the main dish was duck on a bed of mashed potato (I did guess the mashed potato, but the duck took me a while before I eventually guessed, I first thought it was steak!), the dessert turned out to be sponge cake and ice cream (which was probably the only thing that almost everyone guessed right)

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The chef presenting what we actually ate inside!

 

We stayed back to chat with Reagan, one of our waiters for the night who has been with Noire since it opened, and he spoke to us about some of the funny stories that he has witnessed during the past 4 years. It was very awe inspiring to see the attachment that the team had to the restaurant, they spoke to us about how they place a personal touch on every event they help people organizing whether it was a birthday, a proposal (yes, a proposal in pitch darkness, I’m just glad the poor bride to be didn’t swallow her ring!). They even showed us some photos they took of the different events they helped organize. Service in such an experience is very important as the guests cannot see anything, so a big amount of trust is placed in these waiters and rightly so because this team understands the importance of customers having a good time! Of course, we also got to try on the night goggles and go inside the room and see everything from the perspective of the waiters, which is something I would also definitely recommend doing.

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A very thoughtful gift from the Noire & Fairmont team!

Noire runs every Friday to Monday with one seating between 7.30-10 pm, with the room having a capacity of 30-40 people. It is priced at AED 325 per person.

Top 5 Milk Cakes in DXB

If you’re one with a sweet tooth, this article is for you! Here you will find my top spots in Dubai for milk or “Tres Leches” cake, one of my favourite desserts!

Now, before I reveal my top spots for Milk Cake in Dubai, I want to give some background on what it actually is, where it came from and what milk cake actually contains.

According to the majority of articles and research that I read, Tres Leches is South American in nature, Mexican to be very specific. Originally, Torta de leche is cake batter poured into a pan of sweetened scalded milk, baked and served floating in its milk sauce. More recently, pastel de tres leches is made of three main elements: a cake soaked in sweet milk, topped with whipped cream or some form of meringue.

Some people say that milk cake might taste a bit weird, but what I personally love about it is the sweetness and softness that literally just melts in your mouth.

My top 5 spots for milk cake in Dubai are (not in order of preference):

1) Gossip Cafe & DessertsLocated in Box Park, this cafe is small but cute. I love their Rose Milk Cake, which is also one of their most famous desserts

Location: Boxpark, Al Wasl

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2) L’eto CaffeThis has been a favourite of mine ever since I was in London, when they moved to the Middle East, they also added a Saffron milk cake to the list, but my favourite will still be their original milk cake. Make sure to order it early on because they tend to run out very quickly

Location: City Walk II

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3) PeyoteThis quickly became one of my favourites because of the strawberries, raspberries and blueberries that it came with. Not only that, it also had milk ice cream and red berry jam. The perfect end to a dinner meal

Location: Gate Village DIFC

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4) WakaTheir tres leches was perfect and I think it is the closest version of the original Milk Cake as it came with the 3 milks sauce

Location: The Oberoi Hotel, Business Bay

 

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5) Home BakeryAlthough their Galleria Mall location is a bit small, it is totally worth the visit for their milk cake!

Location: Galleria Mall, Al Wasl

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Photo courtesy of homebakery.ae

 

Ramadan’s Best Iftars @ DXB

Now that Ramadan is over, I can safely say I have tried almost every tent/buffet/set menu that Dubai has to offer (around 20 to be more exact). A few places remain on my list for next year (Majlis at Madinat Jumeirah *cough cough*) but here are my top 3 picks for this year:

 

1. Tresind at Nassima Royal Hotel

 

Type: Set Menu

Price: 150 AED ++

The set menu included:

Amuse Bouche/ Pre-Starters: Date candy (Yes, the dates were wrapped in candy that actually pops in your mouth, points for creativity), Za’atar Focaccia, Hummus, Stuffed Olives and Sweet Peppers, Dragon Fruit Chaat, Salad Canapé)

Kebab Platter: Lamb chops, chicken seekh kebab, tandoor prawn, wagyu boti kebab (My favourites: Lamb Chops, Wagyu Boti Kebab)

Biryani Selection: Lamb, Chicken, Prawn

Curry Selection: Butter Chicken, Kerala Fish Moilee, Rajasthani Lal Maas

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Dessert: Mithai Thali, Paan Candy Floss

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Yes, this may seem like a lot of food, and it was. But most importantly, it was good food. You can also order seconds from whatever you liked.

Service: Superb, even though everyone is being served at the same time, this did not affect the quality nor speed of service at Tresind

I actually went to Tresind for iftar twice because of how much I liked it!

2. Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek

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Type: Buffet

Price: 155 AED

Buffets in my opinion are quite tricky, you’re compromising quality when your quantity is overdone. There are two main reasons why I preferred Hyatt Regency’s buffets over the other countless buffets I went to this Ramadan, the first being their service. Their service was on point throughout our time there, whether it be with cleaning up dishes as we went to get more food or with getting us anything we needed. The second reason why I liked this buffet was that the quantity was just right, not too little to leave you wanting more flavors but also not too much that it compromised the quality of the food being served.

Their buffet included a soup station, salad station, mana’eesh and pastry station, lamb & rice, Indian, Moroccan, Mexican and Spanish dishes.

My favorites: The steak and lamb chop station!

3. Anise at Intercontinental Festival City

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Photo credit to @dining.dfc

Type: Buffet

Price: 215 AED

Anise is probably the biggest Iftar buffet available in Dubai for Ramadan. They have everything, Shawarma, Pizza, Sushi, Asian, Arabic, you name it, Anise has it! It is also the only buffet that is open from iftar to 10.30 pm, usually other places close by 9.30 pm maximum. Their food was good given the crowd and quantities, but what they lacked in my opinion was good service. The service was absolutely horrible, right from the moment of us getting seated to us having to beg the waiter to clear out our table every time we got new dishes. The manager was quite nice and friendly, but unfortunately Anise has a long way to go in terms of service before it can rise up to number 1 on this list.