Sunday, October 7, 2007


Why are you doing this?

Alexander: I have a load of recipes from years of mucking about with food and noticed a couple of other people were posting up recipes on their blogs. Halfmanhalfbeer was notable in that he was posting up some smart-looking food and reviews of restaurants that were obviously notes from a fan. It seemed like a reasonable idea to pool resources and focus on attempting to create an interesting and amusing food blog.

HMHB: I suppose it is a natural extension to my other blog and when Alexander suggested it I thought it was a fantastic idea. Food is a passion, I love cooking it, eating it and talking about it and the next step is to write about it and bore everyone with it.

Who do you think will read it?

HMHB: people with too much time on their hands I suppose! Alexander and I have a hope that, in particular, the restaurant reviews of Dubai establishments might stir a wee bit of controversy and become a very healthy antidote to the saccharine reviews that are sponsored by the restaurants/hotels themselves and that appear with regular monotony in the glossy mags in town.

Dubai's restaurant scene is becoming quite sophisticated, almost despite itself, and it is about time Dubai had an independent forum to post intelligent, thoughtful but unbiased reviews. We hope this blog might just become that over time.

Alexander: And then there are recipes and articles about food, too. So it should appeal to people who like food. It's not really meant to be a Dubai foodie blog, either. It's not really our aim to limit the reviews to just Dubai or the UAE and it is most certainly our aim to do this for people that like food, that enjoy food. But not necessarily people who'd describe themselves as a 'foodie'.

What type of food excites you, then?

HMHB: All sorts. I really enjoy trying new and unusual things and have a very strongly held belief that you should not turn your nose up at something until you have tried it. Ten years or so as an adult in Asia has led me to eat some quite extraordinary things; some completely abhorrent and some very surprisingly tasty.

Generally though, in terms of what gets my juices flowing, my palate definitely leans towards Asian food and finding ways of combining both East and West tastes does intrigue me.

Alexander: I’d go with that. Asia is an amazing source of new flavours and ideas. And when fusion’s good, it’s very, very good. But I have to say, when it’s bad, it’s horrid.

I get pilloried for this every now and then, but the food at The One Café in Dubai, we call it ‘the furniture shop’, always interests me. It’s adventurous. I get excited by food that’s very, very good or very, very different.

Your restaurant reviews tend to be, well, rather direct. Even rude…

HMHB: you ain't seen nothing yet!

Alexander: We’re the punters. We paid the cheques. We’re entitled to our opinions. If other people end up listening to us, then that’s their fault. But we’re just writing what we’d say to your face if you asked us.

What qualifies you to review these places?

HMHB: Nothing except for the fact that we have paid for our meal, we love food, we know food and frankly that is probably qualification enough. We do not expect everyone to agree with us, in fact Alexander and I would really like people to be stirred by what we say. There is a lot of good out there in Dubai but it is far, far outweighed by the exceptionally mediocre charging exorbitant prices. What we want to do is open debate about this and see if we can make a difference. If only one restaurant pulls its socks up and stops taking the piss with average food at three star prices then this blog will have achieved its wildest dream.

Alexander: We’re relatively informed internationally-based consumers with high expectations and quite a bit of experience, like so many other consumers are today. So we expect that what we find, other people will likely find. And our principal reason for being in the restaurant, incidentally, is to enjoy the meal, not write a review…

Why are you so passionate about food?

HMHB: I think it probably has two main influences. First of all, my Mother is a fantastic cook, Cordon Bleu trained and so at home we ate really, really well. Secondly, and I think more significantly, is the time I have spent in Asia both as a child and as an adult. Many South East Asians take their food very seriously, but none more seriously that the Chinese, be they Singaporean, Malay, Hong Kong or Mainland Chinese, their obsession with food is incredible.

The Chinese have an extraordinary affinity with food and its properties. They have dishes which ‘heat’ you, they have dishes which ‘cool’ you, dishes to help Mother’s milk come in after birth, dishes to make you strong in bed, even a dish, well cake actually, that is celebrated still in the Moon Cake festival as it helped spread word of revolution. It is perhaps not at all surprising that the literal translation of the Chinese greeting is ‘have you eaten yet?’

This is rather a long and convoluted way of saying that perhaps a little bit of their passion has rubbed off on me.

Alexander: Food is about creativity. It’s the ultimately transient art – someone created something to please, delight and inspire and then we destroy it as we enjoy it. That’s quite cool, no?

Should we trust your recipes?

Alexander: I guess a lot of this would be best in the hands of a more experienced cook who’d say, ‘OK, like that but I’m using less tomato’ or something like that. But nobody should go wrong following these. In fact, they’re more likely to work than the many ‘chef’s recipes’ you get in Middle East magazines, because they’re created and tested in domestic kitchens using normal measures, methods and tools. So I’d say yes, trust them.

HMHB: I'm still alive. My wife is still alive. Many of the guests to our house have gone on to lead full and healthy lives. Not all granted, but most. Anyway, if it goes wrong I promise to send flowers.

Alright then. What was the best meal you ever ate?

HMHB: hmm really tough, I have been incredibly fortunate and there have been many. In many cases it is not just about the food, it is where you are, who you are with, how you are feeling and, dare I say it, who is paying. Food definitely tastes better when you are not looking at the right hand column!

To perhaps narrow it down to two: the first I was 18, in Paris and taken to lunch at the Ritz. The opulence, the extravagance, the seriousness of it all, it was like being in some sort of temple. Even though it is more years ago than I dare think about I can remember I had onion soup and chateaubriand and the whole meal, the whole experience was incredible.

My second is an extraordinary restaurant that I don’t think I would be able to find now even if my life depended on it. We were on honeymoon in Umbria and were told of this out-of-way restaurant on top of a hill in a forest that seemed to be very popular. Well, after a rather disconcerting drive down and up steep, winding dirt tracks we finally found it.

There was no menu, no one spoke English and we had no idea what we were having, nor what was coming next. The food arrived, kept coming, didn’t stop and it was all absolutely outstanding. The restaurant seemed to be in a converted barn adjoined to a working farm; the large dining room itself was pretty Spartan in décor but absolutely bursting at the seams with families having a great day out. Children were running around yelling, the local wine was so fresh and so young that it was sort of fizzy and everyone there was just so wonderful, hospitable and welcoming. We were on honeymoon, laughing at the ludicrousness of it all, and it was a truly magical experience.

Alexander: The Clarence Hotel, Dublin. The Drunken Duck, Ambleside. Ballymalloe House, Co. Cork. The Villa Sassolini, Umbria. Fakhreddine, Amman. And no, I’m not choosing between ‘em.

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