Jun 14

Mezlai, Abu Dhabi


Foodies travelling to the United Arab Emirates will find a whole host of delicious foods to try from all over the world. You can find a good selection of restaurants serving regional food, particularly from Lebanon, but it is much harder to find a truly local meal. The UAE produces more food than you’d think. Smaller Emirates grow a surprising amount of fresh produce, and much of the dairy consumed is produced in the country. Although there are a good number of Emirati ingredients available to try, a true Emirati meal is harder to come across.

It was therefore with great excitement that I found out about Mezlai restaurant, which is located in the utterly spectacular Emirates Palace Hotel, serving authentic Emirati cuisine.

Mezlai has the look and feel of a regional restaurant, with local musicians playing and many Emirati families dining here of an evening. The menu offers an interesting selection of regional specialties – most of which we hadn’t come across before.

We started off with the Mezlai salad, which was a simple crunchy salad of lettuce, sliced apples and pomegranate seeds, which was very plain, but extremely refreshing in the hot climate, and, we found, exactly the kind of thing we fancied after a day in the sun. We also tried the excellent Rocca salad with lobster, which included delicious chunks of sweet, cool lobster and fresh spinach.

The restaurant is very helpful and accommodating when it comes to look after diners with food intolerances, but, if you can, do try the Rgag breads. I’ve not had anything quite like them before, and they were wonderful. They’re more like a crepe quesadilla than a bread: wafer thin, crisp rounds of pancake-like bread filled separately with za’atar, egg and cheese and utterly moreish. The za’atar and egg fillings were particularly successful.

Moving on to the main course, we shared the lamb medfoun, which is a traditional marinaded and roasted shoulder of milk-fed lamb. The lamb was exceptionally tender and served on the bone with some of its cooking juices and rice. The standout dish for us was the chicken with yoghurt, which was in fact pieces of chicken marinated in a yoghurt and dried lemon powder sauce and chargrilled. The chicken was exceptionally juicy and tender and the dried, ground lemon gave it the most intriguing flavour. It was served with some delicious roasted cauliflower.

Drinks are really interesting. There are a number of milk-based drinks flavoured with cardamom, dates and rosewater and the like along side a really delicious selection of juices.

There are some very tasty desserts on the menu, with the cardamom and rosewater milk pudding a favourite for us. Do finish, if you can with a

Chai caraic and an Arabic coffee, which is a white coffee flavoured with cardamom and rosewater to complete the Emirati experience.


Jun 14

Marco Pierre White, Abu Dhabi


Marco Pierre White’s restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel in Abu Dhabi is a firm favourite celebrity destination in the Middle East. Opened by HRH The Duke of York in 2009, it is the three Michelin starred chef Marco Pierre White’s first restaurant outside the UK, which offers a modern take on traditional English dishes. Speaking of his style of cooking, Marco says: “we are in an age of refinement, not invention; all the greatest dishes have been done, Mother Nature is the true artist and our job as cooks is to allow her to shine.”

We visited on a dry night, part of the religious calendar in the UAE, meaning that it was not possible to consume alcohol for 24 hours. Although Marco Pierre White’s offers a fantastic selection of carefully chosen wines to match the food, we actually didn’t find that the lack of wine detracted from the meal. In fact, we kicked things off with a delicious glass of Gold Emotion, which is a luxurious lightly sparkling apple juice containing 24 carat gold flecks and packaged in a champagne-style bottle that’s very popular in this part of the world. To whet our appetite, we nibbled on some particularly excellent gluten free bread with a selection of butters, including a sweet butter with dates, a sea salted butter and one flavoured with Pommery mustard.

To start out meal, we both tried the prawn carpaccio with a bloody mary sorbet, which was a particularly delicious combination temperatures and textures, with tiny quenelles of cold bloody mary sorbet placed on delicate slithers of prawn, topped with creamy avocado, crunchy prawn crisps and some teeny tiny sundried tomatoes.

We also tried a very tasty pan-fried scallop topped with a parmesan crisp on smoked haddock and cauliflower purée morel with bacon confit and sous vide egg yolk. Despite the lengthy description, it was a very delicately presented but deeply flavourful dish.

For the main course, we shared a board of steak. Marco Pierre White’s offers a fantastic selection of the most premium steaks money can buy served in small but perfectly-formed portions. There is a really interesting variety of top-of-the-range Wagyu beef steaks on offer on the menu – really the best of the best from Japan. Our absolute favourite was unanimously the rib-eye steak. Guests have a huge range of sides to try, too, with our top favourites being the cauliflower and broccoli cheese and the triple fried chips with truffle aioli – outrageous, but really delicious.

Marco Pierre White’s is famous in the UAE for its desserts, with the sticky toffee pudding and Banoffee pie being particularly popular. A delicious Cambridge cream was made for us as a gluten free option.

The service at Marco Pierre White’s is particularly friendly and efficient and a real effort is made to look after guests with food allergies.

If you’re after a delicious taste of home in sumptuous surroundings in Abu Dhabi, then a visit is a must.

Jun 14

Top 5 things to do in Abu Dhabi


There are so many things to see and do in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding areas, and here is a selection of my highlights. For more information on things to do in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding areas, please visit visitabudhabi.ae/.

1) Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi is a must for anyone wanting a fun day out. It offers a wide range of rides and flumes suitable for children and thrill-seekers alike. If you are not staying in a hotel with a swimming pool, then it’s also an excellent opportunity to swim and sunbathe, too.

2) Ferrari World Abu Dhabi will captivate car enthusiasts and speed junkies alike with over 20 exhilarating rides, attractions and historic cars to discover. Be prepared for strange expressions as you flex up to 100 facial muscles on Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster in the world! If you are interested in experiencing how it really feels to be behind the wheel of a Ferrari Formula 1 car, you can try the simulators used by drivers to train before a race.

3) Visit the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for its totally breathtaking architecture. The Mosque is set among beautiful reflective pools of water and boasts 82 domes, over 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. Ladies, cover up before you go. Do wear a long skirt or trousers and take a scarf with you. You may also have to borrow an abaya to wear for your visit (on loan on site).

4) In the heat of Abu Dhabi, a dip in the Arabian Gulf’s clean turquoise waters is a must. Head to Abu Dhabi’s pristine Corniche beachfront to take advantage of the glorious white sand, and the heavenly warm sea.

5) Experience afternoon tea to remember, by heading to the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel and enjoy a selection of delicious drinks and cakes. The iced coffees are particularly good. The Observation Deck at 300 is the highest vantage point in the whole city and shows off the spectacular 360° view across Abu Dhabi and the ocean.

Jun 14

The Tannery Restaurant, Dungarvan, Ireland


Paul Flynn is one of Ireland’s most respected and well-loved chefs. He regularly features on TV channel RTE’s food programmes, and was Head Chef at two Michelin starred restaurant Chez Nico in Battersea at the tender age of 23.

Back home on the Emerald Isle in 1997, Paul and his wife Máire set up the Tannery restaurant in the beautiful costal town of Dungarvan in County Waterford, South East Ireland. Such has been the success of the business, they have now expanded, and their foodie empire includes an elegant wine bar, cookery school, complete with its own kitchen garden and accommodation all within a few paces of each other in the town.

Paul is a regular feature at Irish foodie events and is a passionate advocate of good Irish food and ingredients. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap and is exceptionally friendly with a wicked sense of humour that really makes him so enjoyable to watch.

I recently paid a trip to The Tannery to try Paul’s cooking for myself. The Tannery is situated in an old building in the heart of Dungarvan town centre, which is just a few minutes detour from the main N25 road, which runs between Rosslare ferry port and Cork City, making it very easy to get to. Downstairs is an elegant and atmospherically lit wine bar, perfect for an evening drink, and upstairs is the bright, light and stylish dining room.

We kicked off the evening with a couple of cocktails from the restaurant’s own cocktail menu. Well made and beautifully presented, they are a must try when you visit.

The food at the Tannery was excellent. Standout dishes were the mushroom pie – beautiful buttery and flaky pastry filled with rich, tender mushrooms, perfectly made and topped with fresh flowers. If only my homemade pies looked as good as this.

For the main course, beef lovers really must try the delectable short ribs. Cooked to perfection, the meat is richly flavoured and perfectly cooked with slightly crisp edges and meltingly tender, generously sized chunks of beef that just fall off the bone.

Paul’s cooking is just the sort of thing I find exciting at the moment. It is really all about moving away from fancy, elaborate dishes and cooking more simple food supremely well, with a focus on fresh and seasonal Irish ingredients. Anyone with a larger appetite won’t be disappointed by the portion sizes, too. This is generous cooking at its best. We were given mashed potato to accompany our main course, but we couldn’t manage it. And, regrettably, after a starter and a main, neither of us could manage another morsel, which was a great shame as the dessert menu looked very enticing indeed.

A two-course meal for two with drinks costs around £100, which I think is good value for such good food. There is also an excellent selection of wines available by the glass if a bottle is too much to manage, or, if like me, you like to match a glass of wine to each course. However, if you’re looking to spend less, there is an excellent value ‘Easy Evening’ menu on offer every day apart from Sunday at specific times, priced at just 30 Euros for three courses.

I wish there were more restaurants like the Tannery. A meal here is an opportunity to enjoy contemporary Irish cooking at its very best.

Jun 14

Shangri-La, Abu Dhabi


Shangri-la is a fictitious place synonymous with an earthly paradise, which was described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, written by James Hamilton.

The Shangri-la hotel in Abu Dhabi is one of the most popular places to stay in the city and is part of the small, eponymously named hotel chain, so, with high expectations, I was very much looking forward to seeing what it was like for myself. As you might expect, the hotel is in a great location facing out onto the water, with plenty of outside seating and an infinity pool carefully positioned to make the most of its views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The hotel is also interconnected to a modern souk by its own waterways. The hotel offers a free abra service around the site, which stops at the souk and will come and collect you when you have finished shopping, which is a very nice touch.

The entrance to the hotel is as grand as you would expect for a hotel in this area, and has plenty of very pleasant areas to sit and enjoy a drink, both inside and out near to the lobby. Rooms are very large and well-equipped with everything you need, and the staff really went out of their way to check we had everything we needed during our stay. Plenty of mineral water is provided free of charge to keep you hydrated in the intense heat in this part of the world during the summer months, and bathrooms are well-stocked with Bulgari and L’Occitane toiletries.

For travellers wanting a bit more luxury and service, an upgrade to the Horizon Club is an option. Selected food and drinks are offered throughout the day, and breakfast is also served in the club offering a good selection of food in a more private environment.

Breakfast can be taken in the main Sofra restaurant, with plenty of outside heating if you fancy some warmth. The choice of foods on offer is huge, and includes omelettes, fresh fruit, bread and pastries and many other types of international cuisine. Food allergies are catered for with notice, and if you’re taking breakfast at the Horizon club, you’d be advised to let them know in good time, so that they have everything you need.

Food lovers really should try the hotel’s French fine dining restaurant, Bord Eau, which has won many awards including Restaurant Chef of the Year 2013 and Restaurant of the Year in the BBC Good Food Awards, also in 2013. The tasting menus are highly recommended, as you get a real flavour for the Bord Eau signature dishes. The food is very good, the selection of wines is interesting and the restaurant itself is extremely elegant with lovely views over the canal for guests to enjoy. The quality of the cooking is excellent, and the slow-braised veal cheek is an excellent example of this, with its meltingly tender meat, served with a delicious infused jus, which is carefully made in an exacting three-day process. Allergies are catered for very well, and if you can, do try the truffled brie, which is home-made, by slicing brie in half and filling with a homemade truffle paste and is absolutely exquisite.

A stay at the Shangri-La hotel is a lovely experience, where you will be well-looked after in gorgeous, relaxed surroundings.

May 14

Shoryu, Kingly Court, London


Shoryu Ramen has very recently opened on Kingly Court, just off bustling Carnaby Street in London. Not long ago, we popped along to try it for ourselves.

The restaurant features an open ramen kitchen where diners can watch the chefs at work. Owned by the Japan Centre chain, Shoryu is a sleek, modern and stylish restaurant, brining a real flavour of Japan to London.

Shoryu prides itself in offering in the most authentic tasting Hakata tonkotsu recipe outside Japan, with many delicious varieties of the dish on the menu including yuzu, piri piri and their signature Shoryu version. I went for the Dracula (pictured) for an intense garlic hit, and I’m very glad I did. You can see how nicely the food is presented from the picture. The menu also includes a range of delicious side dishes such as hirata buns and amazingly delicious gyoza, alongside a selection of exclusive dishes that change on a regular basis.

Shoryu also offer a really interesting selection of gluten free dishes, which includes the most delicious gluten free buns we’ve ever tasted. Staff are clued up on what diners with allergies can and can’t have, and are really helpful when it comes to checking ingredients with the chefs, so you do feel in safe hands dining here.

The bar offers a huge range of sake such as royal warrant Gekkeikan Nouvelle from Kyoto, awarded the monde selection gold medal for 4 consecutive years 2008-2011 and Gekkeikan Gold containing flecks of beautiful 24 carat gold leaf. A selection of sake cocktails are also available, which are most interesting. The Umeshu royal and Negroni San cocktails are also a must.

Portions here are large, but the ice cream, if you can manage it, is a must. Choose between matcha and black sesame flavours to finish off your meal, or, as I did, try a scoop of each and see which one is your favourite.

For more information, please see Shoryu’s website.

May 14

Wine and cheese pairing at Theo Randall, InterContinental Hotel


Theo Randall is one of the country’s top chefs, with his award-winning restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel on London’s Park Lane being one of the best restaurants in town.

It was with much excitement that I recently headed over to try the new wine and cheese pairing experience, designed to be a journey through Italy’s terroir and traditions. Priced from £24 per person, the tasting is tailored to guest preferences and includes four carefully selected Italian wines with four regional cheeses.

The suggested selection starts off with the pairing of two adjacent regions in Piemonte, north-west of Italy; the Roero Arneis and the Robiola delle Langhe. The first is a wine made from the Arneis grape that blends together with the Robiola, a mixed cow, goat and ewe’s milk cheese, to create a honey-like texture.

Moving from the mildest to the strongest flavours, the second cheese is a Pecorino Ubriaco di Pienza, a sheep’s milk cheese made in a small town southern part of Toscana, near Montepulciano and the Maremma. Maremma is also home to the Principi Corsini Bonacossi Birillo, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that works beautifully with the Pecorino’s fruity, rich and floral aroma.

Next on the plate will be the Taleggio di Valsassina from around the hills of Bergamo in the Lombardia region, which is matched with Ronchedone from Cá dei Frati, made south of Lake Garda. The creamy, mature and salty cow’s milk cheese marries fantastically with the juicy strawberries, cherries, vanilla and soft tannins of the Sangiovese, Marzemino and Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

Last, but not least, is the matching of a Gorgonzola and a sweet Moscato Passito di Strevi from Marenco. The dried fruit and sweetness of the Moscato contrasts perfectly with the spicy, strong flavours of the Gorgonzola. The whole plate is accompanied by a “sweet-and-hot” Mostarda di pere and homemade crackers, and gluten free options available for those who need it.

Theo says, ‘The restaurant is designed to be accommodating and flexible so we encourage guests to join us at the bar for wine and cheese, cocktails and antipasti, a glass of wine and bowl of pasta, or to enjoy a full dinner.’ The new menu joins the recently launched selection of aperitivi, Italian cocktails and Theresianer beers. For more information visit theorandall.com.

May 14

The Merrion, Dublin


There is only one place in Dublin where celebrities and politicians alike stay in Dublin, and that’s the Merrion Hotel. Despite its prime location in the city centre: smack bang opposite Leinster house, Ireland’s main government building, and around the corner from St.Stephen’s Green, one of the loveliest parts of the Irish Capital, the Merrion is possibly one of the most discreet 5 star hotels you could find. No grand entrances, flags or car parks outside, but as soon as you enter; you are immediately transported in to the luxurious surroundings of a world-class hotel.

The welcome is warm in this elegantly decorated city-centre hotel, so popular it has been extended from the original Georgian building, with the new wing accessible through a glass walkway running through the hotel’s gardens. The original building is formed from a number of joined townhouses, and signs are placed throughout the building so you know which part you are in. Indeed, this is a building steeped in history, particularly Irish political history, right up to the present day, and evidence of this decorates the walls, including a signed Good Friday Agreement by the lift. It is also home to one of the most important art collections in the country, mainly including 19th and 20th Century pieces which adorn the hotel walls.

The bedrooms are really large and incredibly elegantly decorated. The marble bathrooms are decadent and luxurious. Fresh flowers make a wonderful touch, too.

The Merrion’s lounges are stylish, yet comfortable and are both a perfect spot to relax by the fire in the winter, or admire the gardens in the summer.

Dining at the Merrion is absolutely essential. Executive chef Ed Cooney is a member of EuroToques and is absolutely committed to bringing the best of Ireland’s produce to the menu, which features Irish fish, meat, Toonsbridge mozzarella, Glenilen yoghurt and more. The evening menu is varied, interesting and importantly absolutely delicious. Highlights included the black sole with beurre noisette and Szechuan spiced duck, both served with carefully matched wines.  A real effort is made to look after guests with food allergies

Breakfast too is an absolute must. The coffee is excellent, juices delicious and the fresh fruit is not only flavourful, but perfectly ripe. There is so much to choose from (although a slightly reduced menu is served in Sundays) and is one of the best hotel breakfasts we’ve had in a long time.

The Merrion is an absolutely wonderful place to stay in Dublin, where luxury meets discretion. You also really get a sense of place staying here, both with the food and surroundings – you are most definitely in Dublin – not just any luxury hotel in the world. And you never know who you might see, whilst you’re there.

May 14

Cauliflower pizza with roasted tomato sauce


I’ve seen a lot of talk about cauliflower pizzas for some time now. As I cook a lot of gluten free food at home, I thought it would be a great thing to try. I had a brief glance at a couple of recipes online, and decided to make my own version.

Since my first attempt, I’ve made this a couple of times, refining the recipe each time. I have made the base using hand grated cauliflower, which works well, but the process is vastly sped up by using a food processor.  In fact, making the pizza base this way is much quicker than making a flour-based pizza base, be it gluten free or with wheat flour.

The resulting base mixture is soft and has to be shaped by hand into a pizza-like disc. Once baked, it’s crispy around the edges, and although it doesn’t look and taste quite like pizza as you know it, the flavour is actually delicious and flavour-wise blends well with the flavours you’re most likely to use to top a pizza.

I highly recommend making the roasted tomato sauce to top your base, too. It is very simple and quick to make and adds a wonderful depth of flavour to the pizza.


Makes two large pizzas

For the base:

400g cauliflower, grated or blitzed in the food processor to fine chunks

75g parmesan cheese, grated

2 large eggs

Sea salt and pepper

For the sauce:

400g cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, skin on

Olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

For the topping:

1 large ball good quality fresh mozzarella cheese, torn

2 large flat mushrooms

2 thick slices prosciutto


To make the base, preheat the oven to 220C Fan. Cover two large baking trays with baking parchment and set aside.

Grate the cauliflower or blitz in the food processor. You want it to be in small slithers or chunks. Place the cauliflower into a heat-proof bowl and cook in the microwave on full-power for 6 minutes. This will tenderize the cauliflower. Once the cauliflower has been briefly cooked, place it into a colander and press down to remove any excess water.

Mix the parmesan and egg together in a large bowl and add the slightly cooled cauliflower. Stir until well combined. Divide the mixture between the two trays and shape into a pizza base shape by hand. Watch it is not too thick, particularly in the middle.

Bake the base on its own for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 200C and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Top with sauce and your toppings and bake for a further 10-12 minutes until the toppings are melted and bubbling. Serve immediately

To make the tomato sauce, place the tomatoes and garlic cloves, skin on, onto a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, season and bake at 200C for around 20 minutes until the tomatoes are tender. Remove from the oven. Squeeze the garlic out from the skins. Blitz the tomato and garlic together in a food processor or blender until smooth. Use to top a pizza base immediately. It also freezes well

I topped this pizza with mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella. I find that placing raw sliced mushrooms onto a pizza base can make it soggy, so I always cook them first. Simply slice the mushroom and cook in a little olive oil over a high heat for around 10 minutes. Then use to top the pizza.

Apr 14

Fota Island, Ireland


Fota Island Resort must be one of the most unique hotels in Ireland. It’s sat on its own island in Cork Harbour, which is home to its own Wildlife Park.

The Fota Island hotel is modern in design and newly built. The rooms and suites are large, comfortable, private and spacious. They are comfortably decorated with huge balconies and lovely views across the island. It’s blissfully quiet and peaceful providing a perfect secluded retreat in which to relax and get away from it all. Fota Island Resort is an extremely popular destination for both foodies and sport fans as the food and facilities are both excellent. The resort has its own golf course and academy that enjoys a superb reputation, being a popular destination I with both celebrity and sporting guests. Fota Island Hotel is also very well located to explore the local area which is beautiful all year-round and particularly popular with visitors in the summer.

The hotel is large in size, but the welcome on the front desk is warm from the delightful managers and concierge who are extremely friendly. Adjacent to the reception area, guests can enjoy expertly made cocktails in the bar – they’ll even surprise you with a custom made cocktail especially for you if you ask.

Rooms are a good size and comfortably decorated with the highlight being the bathrooms featuring their own TVs and sound systems.

The main restaurant is open every night. The menu offers a good range of dishes, and makes a concerted effort to source their meat and selected other ingredients depending on the season locally. The beef on the menu is particularly good, and guests with food allergies are looked after. Breakfast is also taken in the restaurant, offering a large buffet of hot and cold foods.

Fota Island is particularly recommended as a great destination for anyone wanting peace, quiet and fantastic scenery to enjoy, just a short distance from Cork city centre.

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