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Wake Up Reykjavík – The Foodie Tour With a Difference

January 2, 2017
Wake Up Reykjavík Food Tour Review

With food being such an important part of our daily lives and culture, is there a better way to get to know a new city than to eat your way around the most delicious and unique spots?  We don’t think so!

When we decided to forgo driving Iceland’s Ring Road, instead mostly basing ourselves in Reykjavík, it was entirely down to the number of fantastic options based in and around the capital city, including the Wake Up Reykjavík food tour (which consistently ranks top on Trip Advisor).  We knew that if we were to spend a fair bit of time in town, we’d want to know the best spots to eat at so booked onto a Wake Up Reykjavík food tour on our first full day in Iceland.

Tip:  Try to book your Wake Up Reykjavík food tour towards the beginning of your visit if you can so you’ve got plenty of time to revisit your favourite spots over the rest of your trip.

From our initial emails with Egill, it was clear that this wasn’t your ordinary foodies tour.  The Wake Up Reykjavík team are serious about fun and incredibly passionate about what they do.  Started by two local friends keen to show visitors the very best of Icelandic cuisine (and we’re not taking about the traditional sheep’s head and fermented shark – though there is an opportunity to try the later should you choose), the team will help you eat your way around the capital city, munching on the very best Iceland has to offer.

As instructed, we met our host, Gabríella at the entrance to one of Reykjavík’s most beautiful buildings, Harpa.  The city itself is relatively compact so makes for an easy walk, even in the snowy, windy conditions we faced.  Be sure to rug up warm with lots of layers though as you’ll be in and out of the weather as you duck into each new location on the tour.

We started the tour with one of my favourite stops of the day – an amazingly flavourful lamb soup which was served with with delicious fresh bread.  This soup is a traditional favourite in Iceland, varying depending on the part of the country you’re in – some areas serves it as a broth whilst in other parts of Iceland it’s more like a stew.  This one was somewhere in the middle and the lamb melted away instantly – it was the perfect start to our afternoon!

Next came the opportunity to try the very traditional fermented shark.  Due to the long, harsh winters Iceland used to face with limited resources, eating all manner of things became a necessity and fermented shark fell into this category – maybe not the tastiest thing around but nutritious and somewhat a right of passage for visitors to the country.  Described as being pungent and somewhere between fish and cheese, everyone in the group tried it but me (someone had to take the photos, right?) and the reactions varied from “well, I wouldn’t do that again” to surprise at how good it tasted.  I don’t think anyone was in a hurry to have a second nibble but it was great to be given the chance to try something so unique to Iceland.

On we continued to our next location where we sampled a range of local cheeses and meats.  Not traditionally a cheese making country, Iceland is proud of how far it’s come in a short space of time and their cheese speaks for itself – gouda, brie and blue, all creamy and delicious.  

They are better known for their high quality meat though and it didn’t disappoint – lamb, goose and horse (the later of which I didn’t try but Nathan loved) were all served up in bite-sized portions.

With a beautiful view of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, we again sat down, this time to the most surprising dish of the day.  Without telling us what it was, Gabríella encouraged us to dig in and though we had no idea what we were eating at first, we all agreed that it was delicious.  It turned out to be an unexpected combination of bread and ice-cream – that’s right, rye bread crumbs baked again and mixed in with freshly made ice cream, topped off with fresh whipped cream and rhubarb syrup.  It sounds like a strange combination (and it’s face it, it is) but it was amazing – flavourful, sweet and a little chewy – yum!

Already feeling pretty chocka, we were presented with our next treat as we walked back down town.  Skyr is a local milk-based product, similar to greek yoghurt but when flavoured it tasted a bit like a creamy strawberry yoghurt.  It’s high in protein and a real Icelandic staple for many families – when you visit Iceland, be sure to pop a tub in your trolly at the supermarket (or even better, join this tour!) but don’t be fooled into picking up the original flavour unless you like things on the sour side.

Marching on, we visited Reykjavík’s first fast-food stall where they dish up incredible hotdogs.  There was an obvious line even when we visited mid afternoon and people there just to take photos so we knew we were onto a good thing and man were we right!  Lamb hotdogs, fresh bread rolls and a combination of delicious sauces (one which was similar to a honey mustard and another almost like mayonnaise), what isn’t to love?  When offered a second one almost all of us excitedly said yes – they were really that good!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Icelanders love their lamb and for good reason – it’s amazing!  They’re not just about their lamb though – puffin, whale, reindeer, stingray, goose – there’s not much they won’t eat.

One thing the locals are known for is lobster soup and of course our food tour swung us by one of the local spots known for this dish.  Piping hot, served in a broth with lots of fresh bread and butter it was the perfect warmer everyone needed having braved the cold all afternoon.

After wandering through a gorgeous part of town, complete with Christmas lights and an iceskating rink, we arrived at our last stop for the day – a converted old pharmacy designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same architect that created the iconic church at the top of town.  There we were served hot chocolate, tea and coffee along with the most amazing dessert concoction which combined apricot with caramel mousse and a hazelnut base alongside passionfruit and mango sorbet.  At first it sounded like an odd pairing but our tastebuds were easily convinced otherwise.  What a way to finish!

Throughout our tour we learnt a great deal about Iceland’s history, tourism industry, produce, education and political system and about what it’s like to live in Iceland.  My favourite of all though were the stories from Iceland’s past – gods, trolls, elves and all sorts of mythical creatures add a touch of magic to a part of the world that is obviously filled with it.

Our guide, Gabríella, was knowledgeable, approachable and had a great sense of humour.  She did an excellent job of bringing the group of us together and was incredibly considerate our our needs (she even surprised us with an Icelandic chocolate bar each at the end of the tour)!  She was an awesome example of what we found Icelanders to be – warm, friendly and keen to share their passion for their beautiful country.

We whole-heartedly recommend Wake Up Reykjavík for foodie fun in Iceland’s capital.  Together with other like-minded travellers you’ll visit the best restaurants, delicatessens and and food stalls around and with their their expert help, you’ll be set up with delicious dining options for the rest of your visit.


Thank you to Wake Up Reykjavík for so warmly welcoming us as their guests on this tour.  Nathan came away saying that food tours are one of his favourite things to do on holiday now, so you know we were well and truely sold!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Dubai Food Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Catch 22 – Dubai’s Newest Addition to JBR

December 21, 2016
Catch 22 JRB Dubai

Located in JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence), one of our favourite parts of Dubai, Catch 22, a newly opened casual-dining restaurant has opened its doors.  Eclectically decorated, with a beautiful, big teared deck that faces that ocean, it’s a fantastic place to sit and enjoy the comings and goings of the area.  

With a focus on seafood and quality meet and with menu items that take inspiration from Asia and Mexico, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes at Catch 22.

As we were invited to sample the Catch22’s new menu, we were given the choice of three set options – seafood, meat lovers or vegetarian.  Nathan loves seafood, but I’m not such a fan so it was an easy choice to go with the meat-based menu and a lot of it really impressed us.

We started with the most delicious drinks – a virgin pina colada and a berry and mango smoothie.  Both were a treat, but the pina colada was especially tasty.  In the UAE most restaurants serve a great assortment of non-alcoholic cocktails which is great news for us as we’re not big drinkers.

When it came to our food, the plates were brought out to us on the deck as they were ready and were perfectly presented for sharing.

We started the night off well with their filet minion sticks; these were tender and cooked beautifully and best of all, came with the most delicious, soy based sauce (which we kept aside to enjoy on some of our other dishes – it was that good).

From there we moved onto the cheeseburger quesadillas.  Cut in three, they were exactly what you’d imagine – burger patties sandwiched between wraps and toasted, served with plenty of cheese, sour cream and guacamole.

The largest dish of the night was the double stack angus club sandwich, which, served with wedges, was also our favourite.  Delicious slithers of steak came cooked in a subtle BBQ sauce with capsicums and onions (which I promptly removed – anyone that knows me, knows that I’m not a fan).  The bread was nicely toasted and slathered in a tasty sauce, served with melted cheese.  Sometimes the simple options really are the best – this dish was delicious and not at all sickly as dishes that contain BBQ sauce can sometimes be.  One to return for, for sure!

Nathan finished his meal with the C22 short rib roll – an enjoyable fusion of sushi and deboned short rib steak.  It was a nice, light ending to the savoury part of our meal.

Almost undoubtedly though, the highlight of any meal for me is dessert and checking out the menu, they sure did look delicious!  We were tossing up between an amazing sounding fruit crumble and the popcorn chocolate ganache which we eventually decided on.

It looked fantastic when it arrived but, as with any restaurant, the odd teething problem might be expected.  Though we ordered it with vanilla ice cream it came out with pistachio ice cream (which it turns out, we’re not fans of) and though the idea of the dessert was good, it didn’t quite stand up to our expectations.  The filling was too chocolatey (I would have questioned whether there was such a thing prior to this – turns out there is) and the cookie undercooked and floury tasting.  On the bright side though, the raspberries were fresh and juicy and the dessert did look impressive (plus, we’ve since read awesome reviews of it so maybe it just wasn’t out night).

We’ve heard fantastic things about the lotus french toast and it comes in a generous portion so that would definitely be our first pick next time around!

Would we return to Catch 22?  Absolutely!  We really enjoyed our entrees and mains and the location can’t be beaten.  We liked the casual, quirky feel of the restaurant and the prices were very reasonable for the food on offer.  We’d certainly recommend it as a relaxed place to meet friends for a bite to eat!


JBR Review Catch 22 Dubai

Thank you to Azur Blue and Catch 22 for welcoming us as their guests.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Abu Dhabi Food Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

The Sweet Taste of Caramel – Abu Dhabi Restaurant Review

December 17, 2016
Caramel Abu Dhabi review

Abu Dhabi has a plethora of world-class restaurants, offering practically any cuisine one could desire.

American food may not traditionally stir up thoughts of fine dining but Caramel, on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, will challenge your perceptions of what American-inspired dining can offer.

Set in a moody but welcoming lounge-style restaurant, the restaurant will welcome you in whilst the food will have you coming back for more.

Here, traditional favourites are served with a flavourful twist.  Mac and cheese (with truffle oil and three cheese dipping sauce – you didn’t think this would be your standard mac and cheese did you?) and kobe BBQ beef sliders can be found on the menu, sitting alongside ingredients and inspiration taken from the UK and Asia as well.  At Caramel, the focus is less on one particular cuisine and more on delivering meals of the highest standard – the benefit of this is that everyone will find something they’ll enjoy eating.

Entrees

After much debate, Nathan decided on the marinated kobe beef tacos whilst I ordered Caramel’s signature ‘buffalo style’ chicken lollipops.

The kobe beef tacos were fresh and tasty, served with aubergine ra and stuffed with Wagyu beef – Nathan devoured them in no time (a sure sign of their quality).  Straight away, we knew we were onto a good thing!

Together we worked through my serve of chicken lollipops.  Neither of us had tried this style of chicken before but we’re both absolutely converted.  In essence, they were buffalo wings, but thanks to the chef’s handy knife work, all of the hassle of eating chicken wings was removed.  We were left with tasty morsels of chicken, with crispy skin and a tasty, spicy buffalo sauce, that were easy to cut apart.  Served with a mild blue cheese sauce which was appreciated to help put out the fire (though they were the perfect level of spice).

Mains

Next up were the mains and upon our servers recommendation we leapt at the chance to try two of the most popular dished on the menu – steak and frittes along with the seared Chilean sea bass.  We found out first-hand that they’re popular for a reason!

Fries.  Fries served with parmesan and garlic.  Seriously, this is absolutely the best way to eat fries, so I found out.  Everything about my main was spot on – from the delicious pommes frites to the beautifully cooked medium-rare tenderloin and accompanying steak and peppercorn sauces.  On the surface, the meal was relatively simple but all of the flavours shone through, creating a main that we both seriously enjoyed.

Nathan’s a real lover of seafood (me, not so much) and he was very pleased with his choice to order the seared sea bass.  The fish itself was served on a bed of rock shrimp risotto and lobster broth, topped with tomato, basil tapenade.  It was literally the best risotto he’s ever eaten and an option he highly recommends for seafood lovers.

Desserts

Dessert was a real toss-up with four options catching our eye.  The choice between a butterscotch bomb, baked Alaska, dark chocolate fondant and vanilla bean creme brûlée wasn’t easy but in the end we decided on the later two.  Thought I don’t doubt that all of the desserts would have been amazing, I can vouch for how special the two we had were.  

My chocolate fondant was cooked to perfection – rich cake on the outside with a gooey centre that somehow avoided being too sweet.  Normally served with cappuccino ice-cream, I requested vanilla bean instead and found it to offset the dark chocolate fondant beautifully.

Nathan’s creme brûlée (made with fresh cream, vanilla beans and caramelised bananas) was amongst the smoothest creme brûlées we’ve ever had and a real highlight.

Our Thoughts on Caramel, Abu Dhabi

Though Caramel isn’t exactly priced at the budget end of the spectrum, the servings are very generous, the food delicious, the setting very special and the staff professional.  It would make a perfect choice for a date night, special occasion or evening when you just want to treat yourself.

What a treat it was for us!


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Caramel Review, Abu Dhabi

Thank you to Caramel for inviting us along to review them.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Abu Dhabi Food Reviews United Arab Emirates

Handsdown, The Best Desserts in Abu Dhabi

November 12, 2016
The Best Desserts in Abu Dhabi

Desserts in Abu Dhabi are serious business.  With such stiff competition and so many residents harbouring a sweet tooth, it’s not surprising to find that the quality of dessert treats in the city is exceptionally high.

If you’re looking a sweet addition to your day, read on to discover the best desserts in Abu Dhabi.  The best part is they’re all takeaway options so you don’t even need to get dressed up.

L’Artisan Gourmand

If you’re looking for decadent, uniquely beautiful eclairs, you can’t go past L’Artisan Gourmand.  Each pastry is an absolute work of art, overflowing with perfectly balanced flavour.  With flavours like passion flower, macchiato, Madagascar vanilla, pistachio and salted caramel, these are so much more than your standard eclairs.

Seriously, look at them – it’s no wonder they’re widely considered amongst the best desserts in Abu Dhabi.

Though the pastries are the main drawcard to L’Artisan Gourmand, they offer a fantastic range of additional products – tender macarons (literally the biggest we’ve ever seen with lovely little macaron feet), chocolate covered dates and a selection of carefully crafted teas and infusions; all perfect to take home for an afternoon snack.

Brownie Blues

Gooey, fudgey, flavourful and delivered fresh to your door; courier deliveries do not come sweeter than this!  Brownie Blues takes one of your favourite comfort desserts and ramps them up a level with flavours like red velvet, rocky road, ferrero rocher and peanut brownie.  As amazing as they are fresh, the classic is even better warmed up with a little ice cream.

Available in single servings of boxes big enough to share, there are plenty of options, all as delicious as the next… and the best part?  You don’t even need to get out of you PJs!

Nata Lisboa

Looking for perfectly formed pastry treat in Abu Dhabi?  Creamy, delicate custard combined with crunchy, light pastry these traditional Portuguese tarts from Nata Lisboa will put a smile on your dial.  Served with icing sugar and cinnamon, they’re absolutely delicious and can be served as sweet as you like with a little sprinkle from each sachet.

We’ve not tasted the real thing in Europe but we’ve heard from a number of people that there’s literally no difference between these tarts and the originals in Portugal and in my books that makes them even better (as we can pop down to the WTC Mall and pick up a box anytime we like)!

Fresh Bakes Cafe

Tucked away in a local mall, Fresh Bakes Cafe has well and truely won Nathan over with their cupcakes which is no small feat.  We’ve popped in store a few times now and every time the cupcakes have been perfectly cooked, moist and flavourful.

With a massive range of flavours, there’s something for everyone. The jaffa dark chocolate, apple biscoff and strawberry lemonade were all standouts but I don’t think you could go wrong with any flavour choice!

Their menu extends far beyond cupcakes with delicious cookies, cheesecakes, muffins and a full service mains offering – if you’re floating around Khalifa City, make sure you stop by Fresh Bakes Cafe.

Ready for your sugar fix?  You can’t go wrong with any of the above recommendations – trust us, we’ve sampled plenty of desserts over the years!

What our your Abu Dhabi favourites?

PS: If you’re looking for an amazing eat-in option, check out Tamba!


Do your sweet tooth a favour and pin this post!  It’ll let you keep tabs on the best desserts in Abu Dhabi.

Best Desserts in Abu Dhabi

We have no association to any of the above businesses, we just love desserts!

Abu Dhabi Food Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Tamba: Perfectly Balanced Indian Fusion in Abu Dhabi

November 3, 2016

Visiting gorgeous locations and reporting back to you all is without doubt, one of our favourite things.  Blogging is a real labour of love though – some posts we write come together effortlessly whilst others take a little more time to craft.  Then there’s this one – how do you write a post reviewing a restaurant when you’re left speechless?

I suppose, like anything, you start at the beginning… From the moment we stepped through the door of Tamba (until the minute we left) we were treated like royalty; not the uncomfortable level of attention that you get in some top-notch restaurants but like we were long lost friends, invited over for the most amazing of meals.

Tamba is a relative new-comer to the flourishing Abu Dhabi food scene, serving up Indian food with a unique twist.  Each plate pulls on traditional Indian flavours but is combined with a wide range of ingredients from around the world – the result is an exciting and sometimes unexpected dining experience.

The restaurant itself is absolutely gorgeous and carefully designed to match its own name.  In Hindi, ‘Tamba’ means copper and the warm metallic shades throughout the restaurant help to create a welcoming atmosphere.  An exotic rooftop restaurant with a sophisticated club feel, Tamba was everything we look for in a date-night restaurant.

As we looked over the menu we were instantly taken by just how knowledgeable the Tamba staff are – they know their food inside out and their passion for the concept shines through.  Trusting in the Tamba team, we shared some of our favourite foods and took them up on their offer to craft us a personal selection that we would love.

Did we love it?  Undoubtedly!

Each course came out as it was ready but for the most part we worked steadily though the smaller sharing plates before the mains arrived.  When you’re hungry, the idea of plates continually making their way out of the kitchen is great news!

From the mild but tasty ‘chicken 65’ entree to the memorable seafood starters that Nathan enjoyed, it was obvious to us that each and every ingredient at Tamba is carefully considered and then cooked by master chefs.  We found out later that every dish passes through the head chef’s hands, ensuring perfection at all stages (and they are indeed capable hands, having just been awarded Abu Dhabi Chef of the Year).

One of the surprise stand-outs from the first part of the night, for both Nathan and I, was the sweet and sour pumpkin paratha, eaten taco-style.  It is literally the first time I’ve eaten a vegetarian meal that hasn’t felt like an alternative to a meat based dish – this one stands on it’s own two feet, overflowing with perfect flavour.

Delicately flavoured chicken curry (their version of butter chicken, but shhhh we’re not meant to call it that), lamb chops marinated and cooked to perfection (how many times have I used that word?!), the biggest scallops we’ve ever seen; every dish that came out was tasty and a stand-out in its own right.

Thanks to the nature of Indian fusion, even those that aren’t huge fans of this style of cuisine will be happy; with so many different flavours finding their way into the dishes, some would almost trick you into forgetting their Indian roots.

No meal is complete without the addition of a refreshing drink and tasty dessert and fortunately, Tamba have both of these in abundance.  Fresh, fruity and beautifully presented, Tamba has a wide range of beverages on offer with the same high level of ingredients found in their food – homemade syrups and creative garnishes, they’ve thought of every detail… let’s be honest though, a great drink is one thing but a remarkable dessert is a whole different beast (in the very best of ways).

India is not traditionally known for its dessert offerings but Tamba has managed to hit theirs out of the park.  With five solid options on the menu (and a cute little story explaining how they were named), they’re large enough to share… though you won’t want to!  My personal favourite was ‘the Break-Up’, an amazing  dark chocolate mousse, peanut semifreddo, salted caramel, chocolate sauce concoction whilst Nathan loved the caramelised banana toffee cake which was served with pecan nut praline, fresh banana and homemade cardamon ice cream (known as the ‘Sticky Situation’).  All three were delicious – to be honest, I really don’t think you could go wrong with dessert there!

It’s a good sign when even with three desserts between the two of you, you’ve already chosen what you’d like on your next visit (cheesecake with ginger snaps, passionfruit curd, whitechocolate and honey shards and popping candy – seriously dessert heaven!)

I know this review sounds unbelievably positive but honestly, we mean every word.  If you’re currently living in Abu Dhabi or planning a visit, we’d recommend swinging by Tamba to see for yourself.  You won’t be disappointed.


The Hub at The Mall,
World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi (Level 6)

+971 2 672 88 88

reservations@tambarestaurant.com

Weekdays 12:00pm – 01:00am
Weekends 12:00pm – 02:00am


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Tamba Abu Dhabi review

Thank you to Tamba and PurpleHoney for so graciously hosting us.  As always, all thoughts are absolutely our own.  We can’t wait to return!

Dubai Food Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Busaba – The Answer to Your Thai Cravings in Dubai

October 8, 2016
Busaba Eathai JBR Dubai review

It’s hard to beat a good Thai curry but over the last year in the UAE our Thai-food intake has drastically declined.  There are lots of fantastic food choices here in our corner the Middle East but we’ve struggled to find a stand-out Thai option – that is, until now.

We were invited to join the team at Busaba to sample their new menu and when we read that they served amazingly authentic dishes in a location that people travel the world to visit, it was an easy decision; my friend Tracey and I booked in a girls night!

Jumeirah Beach Residence (known locally as JBR) is a 1.7km stretch of prime waterfront in Dubai.  It plays host to a huge collection of high-end restaurants, cafes, retail shops, entertainment offerings and beautiful beaches.

Not far from the world-famous Palm, a visit to this part of Dubai feels totally surreal – sometimes it’s hard to believe that we actually live here, where a visit to a breath-taking spot like JBR can happen with such ease (and on a school night, no less!)

Busaba itself is located on the Southern end of JBR, just back from the water.  The restaurant is tastefully furnished and the combination of aromatic curry and incense drifts through the air, inviting you inside.

Throughout the evening we were treated to plate after plate of delicious Thai food – perfectly cooked seafood (so I’m told, I must admit I don’t generally eat seafood myself), tender lamb chops ( a real surprised in a Thai restaurant), the most amazing pad Thai.  Everything was fresh, perfectly seasoned and served hot from the kitchen.  I’m not sure who’s working their magic back there but they certainly do a good job, paying attention to every little detail.

The surprise of the night for me came in the form of a vegetarian dish.  Everything was delicious but those of you that know me well, know that I would never generally order the veggie option; the aromatic pumpkin curry was one worth writing home about though!  Served with coconut rice (seriously, they think about every little detail), I could have happily munched away on it all night.

After feasting on what was easily the best Thai food I’ve had in the UAE, we finished up the meal with a personal favourite of mine – mango sticky rice.  After learning to make it in Chiang Mai and standing amongst the hustle and bustle of Khao San Road in Bangkok whilst enjoying this Thair dessert treat, whenever I eat it, I’m transported right back there.

So, after driving for an hour to Dubai, was it worth making the trip?  It certainly was!

If you’re looking for tasty Thai food, generous portions, a sophisticated but unpretentious environment in one of the most striking parts of Dubai, be sure to check out Busaba Eathai.


best thai dubai busaba

Thank you to our friends at Azur Blue and Busaba Eathai for hosting such a fabulous evening out.  All thoughts are our own – like we’d do it any other way!

PS: Don’t forget to have your parking validated after dinner too – that way you’ll get three hours of parking for free.

Activities Europe Food Italy Rome Tours

A Foodie’s Paradise: Eating Italy – Rome

July 21, 2016

There are few countries as synonymous for their food as Italy; even before setting foot here, we were aware of how Italians cherish their food and the traditions that come with it.  It seemed inevitable then, that part of our time in Italy’s capital city, Rome, would be spent checking out some of their local dishes and when we stumbled across Eating Italy we decided there was no better way to enjoy the local cuisine than on a walking foodies tour with the help of a local!

After all, if you walk in between nibbles, you’re allowed to eat more – right?

Our tour met on the benches outside a little cafe not too far from the centre of town.  It was easy enough to spot but unfortunately in our haste, we jumped off at the wrong spot; we suggest you learn from our mistake and pop CityMaps2Go on your smartphone to help you find the spots you’re looking for easily.

Once we’d been introduced to one another and to our guide, Bethany, we were given some background regarding to the importance of the Testaccio area.  This neighbourhood was the birthplace of cucina romana (Roman cuisine) and for this reason it is known to Romans as the heart of the city.

We soon learnt that a tour through this area would introduce us to a range of local characters, each with personalities and stories as integral to the tour as the food itself.

Our first stop was at an amazing local deli where, in the tradition of the neighbourhood, we started off by eating on the street.  In years gone by, new shop owners struggled to drum up business as Italians are fiercely loyal, sticking with those they know that offer high quality produce.  To counter this, new stores would offer samples to passers by in a bid to convince them of the quality of their products, hopefully winning their custom.

If I were an old-school Italian, I can tell you right now, that deli would have become my absolute favourite!  Together we sampled prosciutto (literally melt-in-your-mouth good), parmigiano and truffled pecorino cheeses and salami infused with barolo wine (the best salami I’ve ever eaten!) before being invited inside to learn about the different types of balsamic vinegar (and of course, sample them).  We had no idea of the range of balsamics on offer – as a general rule we learnt that the longer a balsamic is left to age, the sweeter the final product and we were introduced to a white balsamic (which was delicious – fingers crossed we can make room in our bags to take some home for Nathan).

The entire tour was supplemented with fantastic information about the produce and area, helping us to develop an understanding of how, where and why Italians eat as they do.  Everything we tried came with a backstory, making this tour so much more than an extended lunch!

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisEating Italy Exploring KiwisFrom there we forged on to a pizzeria where we munched on fritti (fried street food, commonly eaten as an entree to pizza) made from eggplant, peppers/capsicums and courgettes/zucchinis fried in a light batter.  Though they were delicious (Nathan was excited to get his quota of vege up), the standout of this stop for me was undoubtedly the fried apple, sprinkled lightly with sugar – oh my!

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisAfter stopping off for some quintessentially Italian pizza (of which we learnt there are two different styles served here), we made our way to the Pyramid of Cestius, one of the best preserved ancient buildings in all of Rome.

This structure, of course inspired by the great pyramids of Egypt, was built approximately 12BC and has remained standing (when others have fallen) mostly thanks to its inclusion in the Aurelian Walls that provided protection to the city.

In the same area is the Cimitero Acattolico (“Non-Catholic Cemetery”), the final resting place of many poets, artists and scholars that made their way over to Rome in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century.  Though a visit to a cemetery may feel like an odd fit within a foodies walking tour at first, the grounds are spectacular and the site has a gorgeous calm about it, making it great place to explore in between food stops.

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisReady to fill our bellies again (or pukus for you Kiwis!), we wandered over to the newly relocated local market to pick up some fresh produce.  Stopping off at the fresh vegetable stall for a variety of Italian tomatoes, another with artisan crafted bread and finally a wee stand that sold fresh buffalo mozzarella (made this morning – it doesn’t get fresher), everything was whipped up into an on-the-go feast for us.

Little did we know that around the corner were were about to find the savoury highlight of the day though… Food trucks and boxes have now caught on in Italy and a team of guys at the market are taking traditional Italian nibbles and adding a modern twist to them in the best way possible.  We were treated to the most delicious fried rice balls (known locally as ricetta supplì al telefono); this traditional Roman street food is stuffed with flavoured rice, mozerralla and meat before being deep fried to crispy perfection.  They get their name because of the long stretchy bits of cheese that pull out as you’re eating them – just like a telephone cord (for those of us old enough to remember when we had corded phones).  Regardless of whether you’re familiar with the style of phone, you almost certainly will fall in love with supplì!

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisFollowing on from the fried rice parcels, we each tried a pork dish, made up of a strip of pork enclosing bacon and cheese, lightly crumbed ready to be enjoyed.  This one was another real standout of the day for the both of us – it was tasty and beautifully cooked.

Whilst at the Food Box we also sampled some local craft beer – whilst Italy isn’t generally known for its beer, breweries are now getting onboard and crafting special brews within the country, so if you’re here, be sure to try one along with the fine Italian wine on offer (oh and there was plenty of that during our lunch stop!)

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisAs we left the Testaccio Market, we swung by what used to be the old slaughter house and saw the remains of  the old clay pot factory that used to service all of Rome.  In ancient times, food would be stored in ceramic pots (known as amphorae) but due to their narrow necks, they were impossible to clean; because of this, when they became too dirty to use, the pots would be dismantled and laid flat on the ground.  Like a perfectly structured puzzle, layer upon layer grew until a modern-day landmark grew up from the ground – Monte Testaccio.  What looks like a normal hill in this area of Rome is really a man-made mountain of discarded pottery (see the image below, it’s mind-blowing).

Sitting down in a forty year old restaurant dug into this mountain of clay we were served three traditional home-made pasta dishes (carbonara, cacio e pepe and amatriciana), accompanied by both red and white Italian wines.  The dishes were all tasty, with Nathan favouring the tomato based option whilst I fell in love with the carbonara and it’s crispy bacon-cheek strips.

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisBy this stage we were all well and truely full but when dessert is offered, who can say no?!

Off we went to one of two sweet-stations (with yelps of joy on my part!) where we started with samples of Italian pastry/pie and learnt about the ‘right way’ to drink coffee in Italy.  Romans have a series of guidelines that they live by when it comes to food (each one maximising the amount of food you can eat comfortably it would appear) and coffee falls into these rules just like anything else.  Freshly informed, coffees were ordered and enjoyed before moving onto our last stop on the tour…

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisNo Italian food tour would be complete without a generous serve of gelato and thankfully our last stop took us to one of Rome’s most respected gelaterias.  Much to our delight we were informed that no matter how small your gelato order, everyone is entitled by law to two flavours and a dollop of fresh cream too.  Italy takes it’s gelato seriously (as they should, it’s seriously good!)  We also learnt how to spot genuine gelato from the fake stuff (an important life-skill) but I won’t give that away – we’d better leave some secrets for the tour!

Eating Italy Exploring KiwisWith full and happy tummies, we farewelled each other and slowly made our way home to digest the feast we’d just been treated to.

All food and drink was included for the length of the tour and it’s fair to say that absolutely everyone went away full.  We didn’t have breakfast and didn’t need dinner until 8pm this evening!

If you’re looking for a local’s perspective in Rome and something to do that’s a little outside of the ordinary sight-seeing, we highly recommend Eating Italy.  Bethany, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable, friendly and fun and shaped the tour into the experience it was.  This tour went beyond being just a walking tour to try different foods, instead offering up history lessons, tips and tricks and of course, good food, all in a relaxed and casual environment.

Eating Italy tours, cooking classes and specialty dining options are available in Rome (we went on the ‘Taste of Testaccio Food Tour‘) and also Florence and Venice.  You can also explore the local sights and tastes in London, Amsterdam and Prague through Eating Europe.

Should you decide to join the fun on an Eating Italy experience, we’d strongly suggest requesting Bethany if possible – I do not doubt the other guides are just as fabulous, but she really made our tour memorable.

Thank you to Eating Italy for generously hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

PS: Because Eating Italy are so amazing, they’ve given us a 10% discount code to give to our fabulous readers.  Just enter ‘Bethany’ as you’re making your purchase.

Abu Dhabi Expat Life Food Middle East United Arab Emirates

U-Turn: An American Diner in The UAE

June 24, 2016

Let me start by saying how much we really love a good burger… our love for burgers is on par with our adoration of the United States and all of their ridiculously delicious (and naughty) food in general!

Imagine our excitement when reviews for U-Turn Diner started popping up all over Facebook – Abu Dhabi’s very own American styled diner.  Now take that level of excitement and turn it up a notch, when not only did we have the chance to visit U-Turn but we were invited to trial their new menu.  The stuff of dreams!

U-Turn opened six months ago and has brought a relaxed and fun atmosphere to Abu Dhabi’s casual dining scene.  In a nod to their American roots, they serve generously sized portions

uturn abu dhabi monster shakesAmazing desert treats seem to be popping up the world over, with one of the biggest trends currently in the form of calorific freak shakes.  We were lucky enough to get our hands on all of the new flavours and they didn’t disappoint.  Choose between:

  • Armadillo (46AED): A caramel chocolate shake, with peanut butter.  Topped with a snickers chocolate bar, M&Ms and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and loaded with chocolate and caramel sauce.
  • Chocolattack (49AED): An oreo choc shake, topped with whipped cream, brownie, muddy chocolate, pretzels and an oreo cookie.
  • Strawberry Fantasia (47AED): A strawberry shake, topped with marshmallows, colourful sprinkles, and a mini cupcake.
  • Cloud Nine (48AED): A strawberry cheesecake shake mix, topped with a slice of cheesecake, sprinkles, strawberry sauce and cream.

We were served these monster shakes as an entree but next time we’d order normal drinks to accompany our main and order a shake as our dessert.  They were delicious but definitely better suited to a post-dinner treat.

uturn abu dhabi monster shakesFollowing our shakes, we sampled a range of starters (as seen below), including chicken bites, ‘bang bang shrimp’, chicken quesadillas and ‘pepe fries’.  All of them were tasty – the shrimp got great reviews from the other diners and I personally enjoyed the cheesy chicken bites and U-Turn’s take on poutine.  The servings were generous (especially when you consider the size of the mains to follow) so be mindful that you don’t over-order.

uturn abu dhabi food

Just when we were starting to feel full the mains made their way out to us – though we weren’t very hungry, we couldn’t resist tucking in.  The bread was the perfect middle-ground between savoury and sweet, the patties perfectly cooked and the toppings flavourful.  Each burger was served with a massive pickle and a side of beautifully seasoned fries.

We sampled theMamma Mia Burger (Italian influenced), Este Punto Burger (Mexican style), the OMG Burger (a serious burger – triple patty beef (120gr each), cheddar cheese (real & sauce) , strips of beef bacon, hashbrown, grilled egg, red coleslaw and grilled onion!) and also had a little taste of their U-Turn AD Burger (with a camel patty).

For all of us, the OMG burger was the clear favourite.  It was cooked to perfection and the hashbrowns and bacon worked well with the other flavours.  It would easily have been the biggest burger we’ve ever seen and would be well suited to sharing with someone else, but is one we’d order again without doubt (though we would ask them to withhold a little of the cheese).

I was brave and tried a little of the camel burger but must admit, it wasn’t to my taste.  I found it to be too salty, but for all I know, that could be how camel should be served.  I’m not very adventurous with my food so really enjoying it was always going to be a long shot!

uturn abu dhabi burgersAll in all, the food at U-Turn was tasty, generously sized and great value for money.  The monster shakes were an awesome once-in-a-while treat and the burgers delicious.  The menu has a wide enough range to cater to most tastes, but even still, try to book your trip into U-Turn on a cheat day… there’s no point heading somewhere like this just to order a side salad and water!

uturn diner location

If you’re keen to check out the U-Turn diner for yourself (and we suggest you do), you’ll find them not too far from Al Wadha Mall.

Sunday – Thursday: 8a.m till 11:30p.m

Friday & Saturday: 8a.m till 11p.m

Please note their hours may change (due to Ramadan etc.) so give them a call if in doubt…

info@uturndiner.com
+971 2 666 8070
+971 2 666 8060

Thanks U-Turn for having us along!  Nathan and I both had a great evening munching on delicious food in a fun environment with great company.  As always, all views are our own.

Dubai Expat Life Food Middle East United Arab Emirates

Freaking Out over Freakshakes in Dubai!

June 11, 2016

Anyone that knows me, knows that I have a major sweet tooth. In the past we’ve traipsed all over town (and sometimes further afield) to track down a delicious looking treat so when we saw the most amazing freakshakes popping up on Instagram there was no question that we’d be driving over to Dubai – the only questions were how soon we could get there and what flavours we’d choose (this proved to be a difficult decision)!

We looked over the menu and decided on a savoury start, as apparently milkshakes don’t cover all of the essential food groups required of lunch. We expected the shakes to be amazing, but didn’t have too much of an idea of what to expect from the other menu items; it’s fair to say I was blinded by the monster shakes.

Chicken wings were the easy choice for me and they were seriously good!  Crispy wings, beautifully cooked (remaining tender whilst not being even slightly greasy), served with a lemon and coriander dip.  I’m not normally a fan of coriander but everything about the dish was amazing.

The shakes are what drew our attention to Fume but I think the wings may just be what keep us coming back – yum!

Amazing chicken wings, Downtown Dubai, FumeIn preparation for our monster shakes, we decided we’d better stock up on water. For those of you who haven’t visited Dubai yet, there’s no such thing as ‘free water’ in restaurants – the majority of people don’t drink tap water in the UAE which means that water comes from bottles and it, of course, needs to be paid for.  We’re used to sometimes being charged a small fortune for bottled water but at AED10 for a 750mL bottle, we were pleasantly surprised – well done Fume.  I couldn’t resist a snap of the bottle either, check it out (melted snowmen, too cute!)

With water on hand, it was time for the main event…

Fume Downtown Dubai waterFume have four monstrous shakes, AKA freakshakes, on their permanent menu (chocolate, caramel and two berry based recipes) and they periodically add new ones (like their Ramadan date shake which is now in rotation).  Deciding which ones we’d like to try was a difficult decision (first world problems, right?) – check out the amazing ingredients that go into each of these shakes…

Fume make many of the different components for their monster shakes themselves, right down to the gooey brownie and cheesecake toppers and the delicious ice cream that is mixed in (and sits on top) of the shakes.  We enjoyed chatting to the pastry chef downstairs who is responsible for these calorific-delights and it was clear to see that he is immensely passionate about these creations – with good reason, too.

Freak Shakes Dubai Fume Downtown menuWe’d heard great things about the Bro-Nut and Popping Cereal but decided that with chocolate overload, a fruity shake probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, so we decided on Berry Freaky to complement our Bro-nut.

How amazing do these look?!

Freak Shakes Dubai Fume DowntownThey tasted every bit as amazing!

The Bro-nut chocolate creation was my personal favourite. The brownie was deliciously gooey and a very generous portion. It went far beyond being a garnish… In fact, it was amongst the best chocolate brownies we’ve ever eaten! The shake itself was, of course, sweet but avoided being overly so.  It had the perfect mix of milk chocolate, caramel and white chocolate, mixed in with their homemade, ice-cold ice cream.  Fresh cream topped off the shake along with M&Ms and a couple of Kitkat bars.  I’m not sure how Fume managed to create something that looks so absolutely decadent but isn’t overwhelmingly chocolatey, but they’ve managed it.

Freak Shakes Dubai Chocolate BrownieNathan favoured the Berry Freaky monster shake – a healthier combination of mixed wild berries, yoghurt, ice cream (because you can’t be too healthy when you’re talking freak shakes!), fresh cream and a wafer cone.  This shake was almost tart in comparison to the Bro-nut; a fresh option that nicely complimented our chocolate shake.  You could clearly taste the berries and yoghurt, and just like the Bro-nut, Berry Freaky was served icy cold, making for a very refreshing mid-afternoon snack in the desert heat.

Eduardo, the manager of Fume Downtown, explained that he personal favourite berry shake was the Funky CheeseShake – a strawberry concoction with a slice of cheesecake to top it off!  When we return, that’s going to have to be top of our list too as I think it would be the perfect combination of both sweetness and refreshment.

Whilst we were in Fume, a number of patrons ordered their monster shakes and the delight on their faces was a pleasure to observe!  Something about these shakes brings out the child in everyone – they’re decadent, beautiful and a little bit ridiculous (in the very best way).  They’re memorable and exciting which is exactly what you want when you’re deciding on where you’ll spend your hard earned cash.

Fume’s customer service was second to none (literally, the friendliest service we’d had in Dubai), their decor was funky and welcoming and the atmosphere energetic.  Everything about Fume was unpretentious but impressive; from the industrial styling, to the gourmet but upfront home-cooked food, everything had us wanting to come back for more.

If you’re stopping by in Dubai, be sure to venture outside of Dubai Mall and across the road to Fume – you will not be disappointed!

We came for their monster shakes, and left realising that Fume offers so much more.  Was it worth making the hour+ drive from Abu Dhabi over to Dubai to check these freakshakes out?  You bet!  Will we be back?  One hundred times, yes!

Fume Dubai view of Burj Khalifa

Thank you to Fume and Jas Hospitality for so warmly welcoming us as their guests.  All views are 100% our own – Fume is just that good!

Abu Dhabi Expat Life Food Middle East United Arab Emirates

Ramadan in Abu Dhabi – Iftar at Majlis Alfareej

June 6, 2016

Ramadan (in Arabic: رمضان, Ramadān), known as the Holy Month, is an incredibly important period of time for Muslims.  Over this time, Muslim’s go without food and drink during daylight hours, forsake desires and often help to improve life for others that are less fortunate, showing a great deal of respect and compassion.

ramadan-in-numbers-2013_51e55c598384d_w1500

Thank you to Wond for this infographic – though it is a few years old, much of the information is still relevant.

Today was the first day of Ramadan and over the Holy Month, Muslims in the United Arab Emirates will fast for over 15 hours, in temperatures of over 45 degrees celsius.   Those not observing Ramadan will show respect to those that are by eating and drinking only in private spaces which means the limited cafes and restaurants that will be open during daylight hours will be shrouded with black curtains and eating/drinking/smoking where someone else might see you is absolutely not allowed.

The morning meal, eaten before dawn is known as Suhoor, whilst the evening meal, eaten after the sun sets is called Iftar.  These meals are social occasions, where families and friends come together, united by their faith.

Imagine our excitement when we were invited along to not only our first Iftar but an Iftar preview (fancy, right?)

We were hosted by Majlis Alfareej, a new restaurant that’s opened in the up and coming foodie hotspot, Danat, where they serve Emirati fusion dishes in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

Iftar (in restaurants) tend to be either set menus or buffets of traditional Emirati food.  The food tends to be a combination of beautifully cooked and spiced meat, served with traditional breads and rice.  Majlis Alfareej take these traditional meals and put their own special twist on them.

We started with a range of delicious soups – Nathan devoured his broccoli soup (enjoying the little surprise bursts of cheese) and I enjoyed a traditional chicken harees (a wheat and chicken broth) before being offered a range of traditional salads (which came jam-packed with all sorts of goodies, including strawberries and pomegranate seeds).

My favourite dish followed; khameer bread pockets, stuffed with flavourful meats (chicken, beef or lamb) and sauces, served with either Oman chips or fries – we will certainly be back after Ramadan to enjoy these for lunch!  Yum.

Clockwise from left: Peachy Loody, chicken and beef khameer sandwiches and broccoli soup.

Dinner came out in gorgeous traditional serving dishes, all with yoghurt and lemon and each one tasty and beautifully cooked.  The meat was tender and the rice flavourful without being overwhelming.

Fogah Samach – King fish and rice, cooked with Emirati spices and dried lemon.

Machbous Diyay – Chicken and rice, cooked with saffron and Emirati spices and a chickpea topping.

Like any good meal, we finished with dessert and were pleasantly surprised by the pistachio cake – it was velvety soft and a lovely light end to our dinner.  I’ve never really understood the inclusion of pistachio as a sweet dish in the Middle East but this cake absolutely had me onboard with the idea!

Of course, anyone that’s spent a reasonable amount of time in Abu Dhabi will be familiar with lgeimat; delicious fritters which are a staple over here (and one of my favourite local desserty treats).

Top: Pista Cake – Pistachio cake and icecream, Coffee Date Cake – Coffee infused sponge cake with a thick layer of cardamon cream cheese, drizzled with date syrup and batheeth crumbs. Bottom: Lgeimat – Fried balls with cardamon and saffron spices, served with date syrup and sesame seeds.

Throughout our Iftar we enjoyed a range of drinks, the best of which (in my opinion) was the ‘peachy loody’, an amazing concoction of frozen mango and peach with pomegranate syrup.  Honestly, one of the very best things I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.  That’s not an exaggeration in that slightest – it was that good!

We’d certainly recommend Majlis Alfareej to others, both as an Iftar/Suhoor option, but also as a great way to experience traditional Emirati food, which surprisingly enough is relatively difficult to come across in Abu Dhabi.

We had a fantastic evening chatting with others that have also made the UAE their home and enjoying delicious Emirati food; what a first introduction to Iftar!  We’re booked in to attend another few throughout the month of Ramadan and are looking forward to the food, the socialising and to learning more about the Muslim religion.


Apologies if I’ve made a mistake within this post; I am by no means an expert (in any way, shape or form) when it comes to Islam but I do feel fortunate to live in Abu Dhabi and to be experiencing my first Ramadan alongside my students, colleagues and friends.  Living in a country where religion is so closely linked to everyday life has been a real treat – these new experiences are what expat living is all about!  

Thank you to Majlis AlFareej and Q Communications for so kindly hosting us at this Iftar preview evening.  As always, all thoughts are entirely our own.

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