The Culinary Boutique, Dubai: Wow!

 


The Culinary Boutique, Dubai, Wow! What can I say ?

I walk in with two of my friends and my two kids, tell the first employee, Hans, that I read about them in the emirates magazine, Portfolio and he greets me with such delight, tells me about the cafe, takes me on a  tour, introduces me to the head chef, who takes over, tells me about their philosophy (which I’m very impressed by), introduces me to his staff, shows me the prepping room for their signature lavender croissants, tells me about their cooking schools (which I’d love to try when I visit Dubai again on holiday), then after about 20 minutes, send these down for my party of 5:

Prawn on sweet potato mash

Okay, it’s not coffee, but I’m coming to that.  But when you get service beyond your imagination, you’ve got to commend, congratulate and tell all.

Okay, so  the place is gorgeous in decor, just look below;


I can’t add anymore. Attention to detail. Even if you just visited to look around, you’ll be forced out of sheer will to buy something and yes, I confess it’s expensive, but so is everything with quality – you get what you pay for. Look, a rose croissant;

Rose croissant

Rose croissant

I must confess, I initially visited because of the coffee but the other stuff just blew my mind.

Okay, so let’s get to the coffee. Before my tour, although dressed in typical emirati gear – custom made and designed by me – I exposed my strong coffee sense, naming their machine, a la marzocco GB5, the grinders, asking them about their coffee blend (Kenya and Colombia), roasted by newbie Dubai based roastery, Seven Fortunes. Initially I was a bit apprehensive with the type of blend, as Kenyan coffee beans tend to be very fruity and will take over when brewed as an espresso. I mentioned that most coffee aficionados tend to prefer fruity coffees, so before I could even place an order, Hans arranged for the Ugandan barista, Andrew, to make a single shot for me;


Yes, it was a bit fruity, but the acidity was mellow enough to consume without frowning. I mentioned that yes, people used to drinking coffee at your usual coffee chain will have their taste buds mesmerised by a fruity espresso blend and may frown. However, I recollect that when I tried such an experiment at my cafe in Cape Town (2010-2012), I had to offer free coffee tasting lessons so that people could appreciate what I was trying to do. Perhaps Culinary Boutique should try this. However, as a coffee lover, I won’t change the coffee – let people know that you are different and educate them about why your coffee tastes different. Stick to your guns Culinary Boutique.

So, of course I ordered a cortado – not on the menu, so that I could appreciate the fruity coffee with a bit of milk.


Delicious !!!

So impressed was I with the coffee, that I asked if I could buy some of the beans, which being as accommodating as they were, they obliged, yay! More on that in a later post on Dubai cafes and roasteries.

So thanks to Hans, Andrew, the Capetonian cafe manager and the head chef and of course the owner, whom I didn’t meet, but I was informed about her strong commitment to providing the best and it showed.

Looking forward to trying out their food next time insha’allah.

Check them out at :

AddressVilla #56,Jumeira Beach Rd,Jumeirah 1 – Dubai – United Arab Emirates
Phone+971 4 345 0023

 

 

 


Coffee: The rule is, there is no rule


I know that sounds like a paradox and I’m sure some of my followers are like “what is he talking about” For many years, Lameen, that’s my real name – has been saying adhere to the golden rules – measurement, temperature and volume, to name a few. BUT, the main reason I’m writing this, is that occasionally I’ve strutted into a place to dictate how my coffee should be made, and on more than one occasion this year, I’ve been pleasantly stunned by coffee served to me without the rules I hold dear.

Don’t teach an old dog new tricks with Espresso

That’s the pic at the top of the blog. So, after not having espresso for about 5 days, I strutted into the airport lounge and spotting an espresso machine, asked for one naturally. As soon as the barista started making the espresso, I said “la!” i.e. no in Arabic and asked if I could make it. So, I clean the very filthy group head, flush it and ask for the coffee. To my horror, it’s pre-ground espresso, stored in a drawer and although there’s air condition inside, it’s like 40C outside. For a coffee geek like me, my mind is “oh no the moisture, the crazy unstable temperature will affect the coffee, which has already been pre-ground and for how long has it been pre-ground”. Resigned, I’m like, okay, here’s how to tamp. I attempt to tamp with wait for it,  the bottom of the glass, because the tamper is not large enough to cover the porta filter “aargh!” – this means that although some of the coffee will be pressed, the coffee on the border will not. OK!, so I now attempt to make an espresso – flush the group head and place my porta filter inside the group head and brew – what a disaster – the coffee is all over the place and the coffee resembles…. I’d rather pass.

The barista and his colleagues detecting deep disappointment on my face, then resorts to pull an espresso for me – I watch him and the only thing he does differently, which makes me feel happy, is that he cleans and flushes the grouphead before he pulls the shot and guess what – it looked a lot better than my attempt. So, how did he break the rules;

  • he used pre-ground espresso, as opposed to grinding on the spot
  • he didn’t measure the coffee, as opposed to using about 18-22 g for a double
  • he didn’t really tamp, as opposed to the rule of 30 pounds of pressure
  • the espresso machine was really hot – I’d guess close to 100C, as opposed to about 93-94.5 C

And that’s what I could see. So how did it taste. Not bad and above my expectations given the rule breakers. So, to conclude, the rules were broken but a decent shot ensured.

 

Never buy pre-ground coffee

Okay, on this occasion, the coffee was bought for me. Whenever my colleagues travel and buy coffee, they bring it back for me to brew and serve them, which I try and do every Friday when I’m not busy – a rare scenario of late. If ever they ask me “whole beans or ground” I always answer, “whole beans”. On this occasion, a colleague brought me this bag from Kenya, apologising for having not brought back beans. I casually looked at the bag, Java House , Kenyan AA arabica, which looked well presented and was even more taken aback by the tasting notes of grapefruit, blackcurrant and lively. Again, sceptical I brewed it using my french press recipe of 60g to one litre of 95C water. Wow! guess what? There was a bloom on top of the coffee (a sign of fairly fresh coffee) and more importantly of all, I tasted a grapefruit acidity with a hint of blackcurrant. 


Okay, so that rule was broken.

 

Espresso is always brewed at 9 bar pressure for about 22-25 seconds

So, just this week, after Ramadan, I headed to my fave cafe in Vienna, Balthasar to check out their new espresso machine a Slayer Espresso machine. Otto, the owner, had been telling me for months that it was coming and he was so excited. In fact when I met him on Wednesday, I should have interviewed him as he relayed to me for about 4 minutes what the slayer could do. The gist was that you can brew at different bar pressures and for as long as you want, so I ordered a fruity espresso. In short to get a fruity espresso, it is brewed at 3, then 9 and then 3 bars of pressure over about a minute !!! what ? Usually, espresso is brewed at 9 bars of pressure for about 22-25 seconds with about 18-22 grammes of freshly ground coffee yielding about 25-30ml of espresso.

 So, what has changed ? The whole game with this type of espresso machine – the rule is, there is no rule, because you can now brew espresso how you like, like a recipe ordered to your preference “fruity, nutty, low acidity, high acidity….?” carry on.


 A really fruity cup with over medium acidity.

 

Just one more thing

Well! I’ve got to redeem myself somehow – we can’t just give up on the rules, ion not there’ll be anarchy.

So, as a prelude to my first experience, way back in January this year. I ordered a cappuccino at a top hotel in Zimbabwe (Meikles) because I spotted a La Marzocco GB5 machine, BUT. Watching the barista, I saw he used pre-ground espresso coffee, didn’t flush the group head, didn’t clean the group head, didn’t tamp with any real pressure, didn’t measure the coffee systematically, frothed a foam mountain and didn’t appreciate the kind of machine he was using. So, I stepped in and he was so willing to learn but on this occasion I didn’t touch the machine – I just guided him from across the counter. In the end, I got a good cup, with thick crema and although no latte art was present, it was along the lines.

 

To top it off, the barista was excited by what he had just learned, he was going to access youtube to learn more skills and watch latte art being poured. Yay! a job well done.

So, yes sometimes the rules can be broken and you may succeed but in general, adhere to and know the rules before you tamper (sic) with them.

 


I’m Drinking a Special Coffee: JB Kaffee

JB Kaffee Espresso

A couple of years ago I went into a coffee shop in London and on the menu they had a guest espresso from “Jb Kaffee“. Puzzled, I asked if I could have the guest espresso as an espresso. He replied “sadly, we’re out and we won;t be getting anymore either, but I think this roaster is one of the best in the World”. Okay, I was curious – that was quite a profound statement and accolade. I forgot about this company for a while and then last year when I was looking for some new cafes to try in London, I saw Mother’s Milk, now located on 22-23 Little Portland St, London W1W 8BJ,  advertised that they were serving Jb Kaffee. To quote them:

We only offer JB because we think it’s the cremé-de-la-creme and so tasty it’s actually nice.

JB Kaffee is Johannes Bayer and Johannes Bayer is a top notch coffee roaster in Schwabhausen, Schwabhausen was recently voted the “nicest smelling place in Germany”.

And I’m sure the coffee roasted there is one of the reasons for this.

Luckily for me, Mother’s Milk were selling bags and I quickly purchased an Ethiopian Kochere bag. In any case, my curiosity didn’t stop there – I started searching for them and hey presto!, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could purchaser their coffee online. Since late 2015, I’ve ordered at least three times and for Ramadhan, my treat was to order 1kg of their coffees; 500g of espresso and 2 filter blends.

My coffee

So what do I like about them:

  • Easy to order online even though their website is in German
  • Delivery is fast with DHL, usually within a few days
  • But what about the coffee:
  • Wow! the aroma
  • Wow! the taste
  • Okay they roast pretty light, but my current brew at night is using the Colombian Antioquia san pascual with 16g with 240ml 90C on the hario V60 was, wait for it smooth like butter. Yes, there were other tastes but that sums it up.
  • you can order by size, 250g, 500g and up
  • And Wow! the price – not sure if I should say this, but definitely the best value for money for coffee of this quality in the World – check the prices yourself and gawp!
  • And most of all, its delectable and different


IMG_7787

So head to http://www.jbkaffee.de  and if you’re struggling, consult a German friend you have.

I can’t say more, but, you’ve got to try this coffee.

 


I was at Ratios Coffee, Sharjah, UAE


I know, back in the UAE again – I can’t help it, if Emirates offer the most competitive routes to the countries I travel in Africa, at least currently, and let’s face it, A 48 hour stopover in Dubai is too tempting to pass off. Okay, so sifting through Instagram, my eyes were caught by the introduction of the UAEs first or at least one of the first Synesso espresso machine at a shop in Sharjah – the next emirate to Dubai. So, when I visited just last week and I was tole we had to attend a wedding feast in Sharjah, I quickly opened up Instagram to try and find out which cafe it was, so that I won’t miss the opportunity to check out another specialty cafe. By chance, I actually found them through another committed coffee geek centre, Speciality Batch, (Espresso Lab, Hundred Wellness Centre, Dubai) whom I’ve never visited, but who seem to have the exclusive rights to Synesso in the UAE.

After stuffing my self with all kinds of food, I encouraged my friend, another keen coffee guy, to search and try out Ratios coffee. After driving around for close to 30 minutes – committed – we found the shop, which is like a goldmine in terms of speciality coffee in this region.
Overlooking the Sharjah Creek by an area called the Corniche, connecting both Souq Al Arsah and Souq Saqr, Ratio prides itself on keeping things simple. It works with speciality micro-coffee roasters from the region, which in this case is Speciality Batch, located in Dubai.

Khalid Faisal Al Qassemi, Vice Chairman of Al Qasimi Group and Owner of Ratios, said: “We opened Ratios to offer our guests perfectly brewed coffee unlike what is served in branded shops amidst a vibrant atmosphere and supported with exceptional customer service (source: Khaleej Times)

and I can’t complain about that…. although it was busy, you could tel that when busy, there’s a really relaxed vibe here, the kind you find in your typical neighbourhood cafe in New York or London.

Upon entering, it’s quite obvious that coffee is the champ here – okay they’ve got some sandwiches, pastries and sweets on display but the coffee stuff outweighs the others; there’s an uber boiler, a chemex, bags of specialty batch coffee everywhere, other coffee tools and of course the Synesso in customised colours.


I decided to place an order for a piccolo – a mini-latte but stronger in terms of coffee – double shot coffee with a lot less milk, because the drink is made in a 120ml cup.


I couldn’t however resist the cheesecake topped chocolate brownie – forgive me, but there wasn’t any dessert at the wedding, so I was craving something sweet and wow! Nothing like a great dessert to accompany a great coffee.
I took pics and sent them to my daughter to taunt her – it worked – “daddy can you please bring me a slice” Erm! not sure how that will work on a 5 hour flight.


The barista, Ronald, is really into his latte art, very easy to talk to and give advice.


On the latter, before leaving for Dubai, Ronald asked us to check out Cremolata, located in the University City of Sharjah, apparently awarded the best gelato in the Middle East but more importantly for me, they serve coffee from another new and top micro-roaster, gold box – another place to check sometime soon insha’allah. On this occasion we had an espresso – medium acidity and smooth, with hints of caramel.


So, if you’re tired of Dubai and wants o explore another Emirate not too far away, I highly recommend Ratios Coffee. If you can’t ask make it before Ramadhan, i.e. before 6 June, then check them out after and cool off with some gelato at Cremolata too, who also have a branch in Dubai.For more, see ratioscoffee


Thanks @ Hackney Coffee Company for a Friendly Coffee

  

 Thanks to Jon Penn, co-founder of Hackney Coffee Company, located on 499 Hackney Road, London for reaching out to me through Instagram and sending me a bag of delicious Nicaragua Nuevo Segouia Catuai, natural dried arabica coffee.

About the coffee, the taste profile is advertised as rum, raisin and cascara tea. I can’t say for sure that I picked up those exact profiles, except for the cascara tea, when I tested it cold, leaving the coffee fro about 20 minutes. What I picked up was dried berries, like cherry, a fruity burst, medium acidity, well balanced and on calling dark chocolate.

   
  My colleague, an expert wine taster actually described it as a

Friendly coffee

By that, he meant, well balanced, pleasant to drink, raspberries, medium acidity and well balanced.

A pleasant cup.

On brewing method, I tried it out using an aeropress, but I must confess I loved it better using a Hario V60. This is where I was able to pick up a high tasting notes. In fact I liked this coffee so much, that I visited their website to try and order it, but form what I gather, they don’t have an online shop yet.

  
so, if ya down in East London, go grab a cuppa at Hackney Coffee Company, mate – sorry couldn’t help myself in putting a typical cockney accent.


The Sum of Us, Dubai: Revisited

  
I guess I kind of give the impression that I live in Dubai – well, my jealous daughter just told me “You stop-over there so often”, and my reply “don’t be a hater”. Anyway on yet another stop-over, just last weekend, I was naturally craving coffee, even though the curry fish I had the previous night didn’t provide relief but grief. It just so happened that on this occasion, the Sum of Us was the closest decent cafe to get to before rushing off to the airport.

On entering, I was pleasantly surprised. First up, when I visited in the summer, the cafe had only been opened about 4 weeks and hence was not on the radar yet, making it quite empty – read more here. So, on this occasion, the cafe was literally packed, both inside and outside (it was only about 24C). I only wanted a good cup of milk-based espresso a flat – a magic. 

  
After placing my order, I wandered around and went back to wait by their “take away” station. 

  
After downing my caffeine bliss, I was very intrigued by the expresso blend used – it was quite exceptional and so after discovering it was their house blend, aptly called “Tsunami”, I walked off to the roastery section to purchase my bag of beans.

  
Upon entering, there are gadgets (aeropress, Hario V60 and more) on the left-hand side of the wall, plus I was greeted very nicely by Kersti from Estonia. As we talked, she sensed I was not just another buff and mentioned that she was also holding a coffee tasting session later that day.

  
 I noticed two coffees from EspressoLab, Cape Town, chatted for a bit and ran out to meet my very patient cousin, who was driving around wondering why it was taking me 10 minutes just to drink a cup of coffee.

So, whats changed? More people, eclectic atmosphere, the smell of success and coffee tasting. By having your own roastery, you have access to multiple revenue streams – you gain control of your raw material and product line, coffee, you can sell coffee to other cafes and of course, you can hold coffee tasting sessions. On the latter, for the great value price of AED75 (Euros20), you can have an hour or more session on how to taste coffee – I did something similar at Escape Caffe in Cape Town, once a month. Hats off to the Sum of Us/Tom Arnel and Sergio.

But we’re not finished yet…

  
The coffee, which I brewed this morning, called the Tsunami or the Sum of Us house espresso blend.

   

I call it splitting the heart. Enough of the pedantic, what did it taste like? Hints of toffee and believe it or not caramelised cashews, yummy. Worth the price and transport from Dubai to Vienna in my baggage.

So, if you’re in Dubai and are reading this, pop down to the Sum of Us, enjoy some breakfast, coffee and atmosphere for me and buy some coffee to be brewed how you like.

Ma’assalama, as they say in the Emirates.

 


The Best Coffee Shop in a Mall: Common Grounds, Dubai

  
Usually, malls are dry places for creativity, where only the big chains can afford the exorbitant rental prices, stifling independent and artisan retailers, so when you see something different in a mall, it catches my eye, and no more so that coffee or/and food shops.

I recall about 7 years ago walking into a mall in Cairo and seeing the famous Venetian coffee shop, Caffe del Doge – sceptical, I went in and was really intrigued by the enthusiasm of the baristi – the coffee was typical Italian, dark roast, but prepared with care and lots of etching (not latte art, but using chocolate syrup to draws patterns). Back then, I thought that was the best coffee shop in a mall. Then about 3 years ago, I went into Westfield Stratford in London and was pleasantly surprised to have coffee at Grind. Attention to detail in preparation, coupled with great espresso machines, topped up with cakes, customer friendly staff in a very busy environment made for a very electable coffee shop environment and for me back then, the best coffee shop in a mall.

But now…. we have a new contender… drum roll…..

With two Victoria Arduino Black Eagle two group machines (i.e. the most expensive espresso machine in the World, designed by Jim Hoffmann – see my last post), 

  
 a coffee menu, offering filter coffee especially brewed for you using a chemed, aeropress or Hario V60, coffee beans on sale, a very welcome spread of cakes, sweet bites, pastries and more, including a food menu with wide appeal, friendly staff, the brainchild of serious coffee fanatics and located in a the city of malls and more, comes…..

Common Grounds in the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.

  
The brainchild of Tom&Serg, Common Grounds is their third outlet in Dubai, after the Sum of Us. The latter location is now their coffee heaven location, where all their coffees are roasted and dispatched to their shops, with espresso blends and filter roasts  on offer.

Located in a mall, Common Grounds had to be different – first off all, it’s in the Mall of the Emirates extension – this remains one of Dubai’s most popular malls and is famous for the one that has the ski slope, amongst other popular attraction and designer shops. The shop is not too far from the movie theater area in the corner. For this location, Tom&Serg had to offer more food and dessert and own 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I visited I had a burger, prior to my flat white of course 

  
and was really spoilt for choice on the desserts (almond and orange cake, mini-cheesecakes, chocolate cakes, brownies, pastries and more), I decided on the almond and orange cake.   

The staff from France and South Africa were really friendly and couldn’t do enough. The barista were available to offer coffee geeks like me a choice of coffee based on brew process – I settled for the chemex.

I could easily have been in a cafe in central London in terms of the attention to detail – with it’s laid back feel and no evidence of being a chain, Common Grounds has a unique and independent cafe appeal. As you know, I like shopping (mostly outside and not in malls, unless it’s for food) and visiting Dubai, but now I’m rest assured that no matter how much shopping I’m doing, not to mention, my wife and daughter are doing, I can always escape if I’m Dubai to a cafe to relax and drink great coffee.

A well deserved title from me “the best coffee in a Mall”, but let me know if there’s somewhere else, I’ve missed in the World of Coffee.


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