Sunday, 15 January 2017

Taking Indian cuisine to new heights

When the noise and the humdrum of the world outside is far too much for you, take a breather and come to Gazebo. It is one place that's guaranteed to offer you a feeling of coming home. Do let me explain...

We’ve just returned from my brother’s wedding in India. If you know anything about Indian weddings, you know how loud, long and loving they can get. There’s always ample food that you can’t refuse and lots of excess baggage that you inevitably bring home. We were happy that all went well and we were equally happy to return to the peace and quiet of Sharjah. Believe me there’s a lot of it here. My mornings are spent with a cup of chai watching the world go by. 

Since it was the weekend, we decided to go across the road to our favourite venue, Gazebo. It has been around for close to two decades and the food and the service is always top notch. The group of restaurants has in fact opened five new outlets recently.

Where it all began
As with any good establishment, things grow. From humble origins the Gazebo group, now has 17 restaurants across UAE that offer signature authentic Indian dishes prepared by chefs, who are descendants of the bawarchis (cooks) and rakabdars, presiding over the Mughal kitchens.
Irfan Gaya, Managing Director of Gazebo, says the restaurant was initially set up to fill the gap in the market for an authentic Dum Pukht restaurant. Today Gazebo has won awards for bringing to the table traditional recipes from the royal kitchens of Lucknow, Awadh and the North Western Frontier, which were ruled by the Dum Pukht cuisine.
Dum cooking is done with live coals placed in layers under the cauldrons to impart just the right amount of heat to cook a particular dish. This, like many other little details are part of the trade secrets, which have been passed down from one generation to the next.
“As passionate food connoisseurs, we never make compromises on the quality of ingredients, authenticity of the cuisine or the skill of the Chef. We ensure all our outlets reflect the standards set by our flagship restaurant that has positioned us as the best Indian in the country,” he adds.
The Biryani at Gazebo is legendary. It sits in the menu as the uncrowned king of the Dum Pukht family. While we laughed and shared pics of earlier visits to Gazebo, our doting waiter Aqeel coaxed us in to ordering at least one biryani. He was spot on. With just one bite, I was suddenly transported to Hyderabad where I had tasted a home cooked biryani with all its amazing aromas.

When you are at Gazebo you will be stumped with a million choices. I'd strongly recommend the Jhinga Zaitooni, Palak Paneer and the Dal Makhani. There's something for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian foodies. The gosht galawati kabab literally melts in your mouth. Make sure you’ve saved room for dessert as the rasmalai and rabdi will leave you smiling from ear to ear.  

Gazebo also delivers fresh and steaming hot food to your doorstep. We’ve ordered their food when my Dad was on a short visit from Kuwait and various family members were in town to celebrate his birthday. I’ve also visited the same branch just before I delivered my first baby.  He is now 10 years old. Those tastes, those memories don’t come easily. They come when food is prepared with love. 

To make bookings in Sharjah call: 06 553 2999.
The new outlet in 
Business Bay, can be reached at:04 344 4088

Monday, 12 December 2016

How to fight holiday weight gain

For most of us the holiday season can come with a lot of temptation. With just a few days to go to a big family wedding, I’m pretty sure I will be tempted to eat all the home made goodies. Fortunately help is at hand.

The holidays can be a challenging time for weight-watchers, with tempting choices lurking around the corner that ultimately add up by the New Year. Jennifer Chalouhi, brand ambassador of Tima Love Life's, personal trainer and mother of three, shares some top healthy tips to help you fight unwanted weight gain during the holidays.

Tima is the brainchild of Fatima Batook who started a fitness apparel line in Saudi Arabia, a few years ago. Her aim was to offer women a positive vibe when it comes to exercise. Here are some extremely do-able tips.

Be sure to get plenty of rest and sleep.
The number one culprit during the holidays is staying up late and not getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. When your body is depleted and running low on energy, your muscles lack recovery and the first thing most of us crave is food. Making the right choices for nutritious and healthy food is extremely difficult when we are tired and sleep is your best weapon against this.

Eat every 3 to 4 hours.
If you think skipping meals and saving yourself for the one big meal at that holiday party will help, it will actually do the opposite. It may result in you overloading on unnecessary calories and might put you in a ‘food coma’ where you will feel bloated from having over eaten. It is also best to keep your insulin levels stable and eat every 3 to 4 hours with healthy breakfast options such as a fruit smoothie, oatmeal topped with fruits or scrambled eggs with toast. The best snacks in-between your meals would also include a handful of almonds, an apple, veggie stick or a 1/2 cup of yogurt.

Never arrive to a party hungry.
Come 6pm you’re probably thinking that with dinner being at 8pm you’ll be fine to wait. Think again. The last thing you want is to arrive to a holiday party super hungry. First, make sure you’ve been drinking plenty of water during the day. Have a light snack before arriving to your lunch or dinner engagement and aim to stay near the veggies rather than cave into chips or snacks with high calories.

Watch your portions.
If you are arriving to a buffet style lunch or dinner, aim to fill your plate once with everything you want. Eat slowly and stick to that portion rather than going for a second round. This also goes for dessert. I’m always up for moderation. If you are eyeing that one dessert you can’t wait to dig into, stick to that one dessert and enjoy it!

“If you’re going to commit the crime, make sure you do the time.”
I always say this to my clients and of course I mean it in a funny way, if you know your holiday plans ahead of time make sure to get that extra bit of cardio in or choose a workout that you enjoy and stick to it.
Putting exercise on the back burner during the holidays is something most people actually do. When people are on holiday they usually let go, but added calories will creep in if you keep eating fatty foods and if you are inactive most of the time. Our bodies need to constantly move in order to burn any extra calories we may be consuming during the holidays. Let’s be real, the holidays are a time to celebrate and enjoy being with loved ones and what better way to celebrate than with food. But you don’t have to allow food to set you back 5 or 10 kgs, rather beat those unwanted holiday weight gains and include a daily workout plan whether its jogging, yoga, zumba, a workout from home or running around after your kids. Just make sure to stay active.

TIMA is available for free delivery across the GCC at . A limited collection is available at Piloga Studio in Umm Suqeim, Dubai.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A wintry white Dubai

Yes its the most wonderful time of the year. A time for family and celebration. For those longing for white winters, there's a special event just for you.

The Dubai Winter Festival is back to light up Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, bringing the largest, most enjoyable weekend of festive fun to the city from 8-10 December.

Now in its fifth year, the festival remains the UAE’s favourite festive celebration, with everything the city loves about Christmas in one place, including plenty of seasonal features for the whole family. Activities include Santa’s Grotto, shopping at the Winter Market, Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and special concerts.

The West End show ‘The Rat Pack’ are set to perform their greatest hits with special evening magical entertainment to get everyone in the festive spirit during the opening night on 8 December. Visitors will get a chance to sing along to their favourite hits including ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’, ‘Mr Bojangles’, ‘New York New York’, ‘My Way’ and many more.

This year’s pantomime is “Aladdin and Princess Jasmines Adventure”, where guests will watch Aladdin and Abanazer fight to use the powers of the magic lamp in order to fulfill their dreams.

The Special Occasions Kids Zone promises an unforgettable weekend out for families, with plenty to keep the kids entertained, including cookie decorating, arts and crafts and face painting. For those
feeling creative, kids can decorate their own edible gingerbread house at the family workshop led by the French Bakery.

“We are delighted to bring the much-loved Dubai Winter Festival to the city for the fifth time,” says Chris Fountain, Manging Director of Turret Media, the organisers of Dubai Winter Festival. “With plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy, this year promises to take visitors on an
unforgettable festive adventure as we once again deliver Dubai’s biggest and most enjoyable weekend of festive fun.”

Tickets are available from

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Never give up

Most of us are a privileged lot. We may not want to acknowledge it but yes, our lives much better than we imagine. Nick Vujicic is someone who doesn’t mind using his own example to show you what you can achieve.
Nick was born in Australia in 1982 without arms or legs. All through his childhood and adolescence Nick questioned why he was the way he was. Bullied and ridiculed he often struggled with depression and loneliness. With the help of a loving family and some true friends he decided to turn things around. Since his first speaking engagement at the age 19, Nick has travelled around the world, sharing his story with millions, sometimes in stadiums and conference halls speaking to a range of diverse groups of people.
His story has always intrigued me. When he was born doctors never believed he would ever be able to walk and yet Nick has gone around the world. He even walks in his own style. This is someone who loves to swim, paint and has many books to his name.
His message of hope is universal. In a complex world that has no shortage of contempt, one can relate to his determination. He is coming to the UAE and I can’t wait to meet him.   

You can attend Nick's session: 
Thursday, November 17, 2016
10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Expo-Center in Sharjah -‘Attitude to live with Nick.’
Friday, November 18, 2016 
7 p.m.-10 p.m. - ‘Night of Hope’ at the DOME, Dubai Sports City.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Hot chocolate for the soul

Like many people who appreciate the sweeter things in life, chocolate is my weakness. In a battle between a pair of designer shoes or a bar of tempting milk chocolate, for me the latter would certainly win. If you are a bit like me, it is time to rejoice, because Divan Patisserie is heaven on earth for chocoholics like us.

The Turkish café, recently launched their first Dubai store in Dubai Mall. Located on the lower ground level, the café offers a selection of bespoke Turkish delicacies, from a luscious array of ready-made hand crafted creations, to personalised exquisite blends of chocolates and macaroons.
The hot chocolate has an ability to make you weak in the knee but don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Served in just the right amount and not lumped in an over-sized mug, it soothes and somehow tempts you to kick off your heels before you get on with the rest of the day.

The cutlery has elegant illustrations of the famous Hagia Sophia which seem to sway visitors along the waves of the Bosphorus. Its chic black and white décor and light jazz music offer a delightful heady feeling, or maybe that’s an overdose of chocolate.

What started as a single shop within the Divan İstanbul Hotel 60 years ago has now grown into a famous brand locally and internationally with its well-known Turkish desserts. The menu also includes chocolates infused with pistachios, almonds, coffee, coconut, truffles, macaroons in never-before tasted flavours. The new store is open for guests seven days a week from 10 am – 12 am. A colourful array of macaroons are priced at Dh. 9 per piece. Try the pistachio flavour for an unusual taste of nutty goodness. Gift boxes are in no short supply.  

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Grilled to perfection

With so many eateries springing up in this busy city, its often hard to select the ones which will stand the test of time. Since it opened in the UK in 2004, the Sahara Grill has achieved its fair share of success.

Their first venture outside the UK is in the UAE. I was wowed by the venue’s large bay window that offers a stunning view of the Burj Al Arab Hotel and Jumeirah Beach Hotel -- the iconic landmarks of Dubai. The vast blue expanse is refreshing as is the cool air that is let in to the restaurant via the gigantic wooden-framed windows. 

The rest of the restaurant is chic and simple but my mind is only on the food. Known for its fresh cuts, Sahara Grill only serves freshly imported meats. The meal is flavourful and grilled to the right degree, a plus for those of us who are avoiding fried foods.
Tye Razzaq, CEO of Sahara Grill says, “Our aim is to serve high quality traditional dishes with our own signature that appeal to foodies and are affordable for families.”
 Located in The Mall at Jumeirah Road, the opening night sees a large crowd of people. Pakistan’s cricket player Shahid Afridi is a chief guest but he arrives way after I have left. After a spectacular sand art depiction the media is taken for a food tasting and by then most bloggers are watching their clocks.
The melt-in-your-mouth lamb chops is their signature dish and one that I find hard to resist. The owners offer visitors a chance to indulge in other appetizing international dishes with a twist. The chicken wings are good but nothing like the juicy lamb chops. One can sample a rich Oriental Hummus, a fresh Greek salad or a juicy Mexican Fajita none of which are in short supply. The dessert menu is made of a number of Italian dishes but I never made it to them. Return I will, with a bigger appetite and enough room for dessert.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Where time stands still

Most Indians growing up in the 80’s and 90’s are familiar with the distinct sound of Asha Bhosle. Her unique voice reaches high notes effortlessly and her songs remain popular to this day.
The songstress shares another completely different passion and it has to do with food. Here is a woman who has belted out a tune for countless Indian films. Who has sung at packed concerts all over the world and is considered the world record holder for her contribution to Indian popular music. When did she find the time to cook, let alone perfect well known Indian dishes?

For most Indian women, cooking is expected to be second nature. We may never want to step in to the kitchen but that’s often a choice they aren’t given. Perhaps this may have been the case with a young Ashaji (ji – is a term of respect Indians give to seniors). It wouldn’t be off the mark to imagine that she would have been expected to learn to cook before she was allowed to become a full-fledged recording artist.
The Asha’s chain of restaurants captures the essence of this Indian nightingale. Its charming interiors are soothed by a hum of her music playing in the background. Frequented by locals, Indians and foreigners, one can step in and step back in time. Of course you must leave your calorie counter at the door. 

Jheenga Jalpari 

Sample the Jheeenga Jalpari which consists of deep fried king prawns stuffed with cheese and prawn chunks coated with bread crumbs and served with sun-dried tomato chutney. Pure heaven in my opinion. Vegetarians can sink their teeth in to a delightful Kofta Kham Khatai, a crispy fried bottle gourd and potato hash patties, pan tossed with tamarind chutney, ginger and fennel. Now, it is completely out of the ordinary to use a bottle gourd as a starter, so you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
Making a royal entrance is the smoked chicken or Bhatti Ka Chaap where a boneless chicken leg is marinated in a mix of spices and yoghurt and cooked in the tandoor. The waiter brings it to the table covered in a translucent covered dish and lets out the smoke and the wafts of flavours all at the same time.  
Leave room for the Chamandi Prawn Biryani. It has prawns cooked in a coconut cilantro pesto with lemon juice and coconut milk. The Muscat Ghost was prepared by Asha after a visit to Oman. One bite and the flavours literally burst in to your mouth.
This is not a venue for a rushed meal. You need to take your time to savour the flavours and the effort that’s gone in to the preparation. The Calicut Gosht Biryani is made lamb, onion and yoghurt, spiced with cinnamon and star anise. Each dish is carefully crafted like a symphony playing in your palette. The house favourites like Dal Makhani are cooked overnight to achieve that right consistency.   

Bhatti Ka Chaap

“A great recipe is like an immortal tune, it happens but only a few times in one’s life,” says Asha Bhosle. It is believed that the singer has fed Indian film celebrities and dignitaries with her tempting biryanis. Her many awards for music include the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award and another for outstanding merit by the Dubai International Film Festival in 2014. She currently holds the Guinness World Record for ‘Most Recorded Artiste in the world.’ 

Asha Bhosle adds her touches to signature dishes

It would be a crime to skip dessert, what with its melt in your mouth Kulfi with Pistachios on offer. Other regulars like Gulab Jamun and Carrot Halwa are pale in comparison but they make the cut just the same.
Though I revisited Asha’s a whole decade later, I left feeling pleasantly full.

Asha’s currently operates in Manchester, Bahrain, Birmingham, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.
For reservations in Dubai call: + 9714 324 4100 

Kofta Kham Khatai
Listen to one of my favourite Asha Bhosle songs: Courtesy of You Tube