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Enoteca - a fabulous Italian restaurant in Bangok!

Wanting tio go somewhere special, we chose this place because of its glowing reviews and stellar ranking on tripadvisor.com.

Across all categorties, it's number 2 of over 500 restaurants in the city! And I'm delighted to report that it lives up to its billing - and more. Never mind Bangkok, this is one of the best examples of modern Italian cooking you'll find anywhere. The technique is brilliant and perfectly judged, the ideas are ingenious and the service - conducted by a smiling, knowledgeable, young Italian maitre and a fleet of beautiful Thai waitresses - combines both friendliness and precision.

I don't normally go for taster menus but we took the taster route because there were so many delicious sounding things on the a la carte menu that we wanted to try. Portions were smaller than a usual main course, but we knew we'd eaten well and heartily by the end. (My date even mumbled something about being full and skipping dessert, but I knew she didn't mean it.)

I also took the manager's wine recommendation, so much on trust that I don't even remember what we had. But it was what he described as a "crispy" white and it served us perfectly well throughout all four courses.

I enjoyed this meal so much, I'm going to describe each course in detail. (Feel no need to read any further if you just want to know if the place is any good or not. It is!)

First up was a glass pitcher containing a layer of potato puree over a layer of impossibly tender squid in a highly seasoned black ink sauce. The manager advised us to dig right down and get a taste of both layers in each spoonful. The black and white made ravishing, swirling patterns on the glass as we ate it. And as well as being beautiful, sophisticated and witty, it contained one of the ultimate comfort food combinations - fish and potatoes. All in all, a triumphantly clever, exuberant dish.

The next course continued the comfort food theme with a ragu of duck with pappardelle. To make a ragu, you take a strongly flavoured meat such as hare, boar or venison and braise it forever, so the meat virtually tuns to crumbs. When made well, it's intense, dark, rich and satisfying. But a danger of long, slow cooking is that the flavours can sometimes be dulled. This duck was so ducky it was still quacking. It was perfectly complemented by just four or five ribbons of gloriously silky pasta.

Next came an illustration of the fact that in the kitchen, simplicity is king. Two chunks of sea bass, fried till the skin is crisp, sitting on a straightforward circle of boiled potato, with a vegetable broth and a few vegetables. That's all. At first taste, I might have asked for just another pinch of salt to kick it up a notch. But the more I ate, the more I realised the chef's brilliance in balancing this so that every single flavour tasted exactly of what it was: half a tiny cherry tomato, a couple of green beans, a couple of capers, half a black olive....total perfection.

20 years ago I ate something just as prosaically simple - poached chicken with a couple of boiled vegetables - at the world famous River Cafe in London, which I can still taste today. I know I will remember this sea bass dish as long and every bit as fondly.

Desserts were an unpretentious but solidly delicious chocolate mousse and a fabulous tiramisu with the all-important shot of espresso poured over it at the table.

All this, plus a couple more espressos, cost the two of us 6,600 baht. Stratospherically, almost guilt inducingly expensive for Bangkok of course, where you can by a perfectly good plate of noodles off a stall for 15 baht. But if you compare it to other restaurants of this quality around the world, it's an absolute, jaw dropping bargain.

Marinating your Bloody Marys.

Hi wovermyer.
You probably don't need both, I just happened to have both lying on my worktop while I was mixing it!

I think the dry sherry is the thing that balances it nicely. You can make it as citrussy as you like, but the mellowness of the sherry works with it to make it very tasty!

May 22, 2009
paddydubai in Spirits

Marinating your Bloody Marys.

Like most Chowhounds, I'm constantly in search of the perfect balance of ingredients for a Bloody Mary. I made one last weekend that hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying too much attention while I mixed it, I was just throwing it all together while guests were turning up for lunch.

But as best as I can remember it was three parts Absolut to two parts dry sherry (I think the sherry makes all the difference, adding a savoury dryness) then a lot of celery salt, ditto for limes and lemons and I also gave them a little squeeze rather than just chucking them in, quite a lot of Lea & Perrins but not too much tabasco (that's the part I usually overdo). Oh, and I used Clamato instead of tomato or V8 juice. It was just gorgeous! Punchy, tasty, packed with multi-layered flavour.

But then it got better. I made a big jug which only got half finished, so I put it in the fridge and actually forgot about it for a couple of days. After that time to rest, the flavour had improved 1000%! I only had to add new ice to freshen it up.

Just thought I'd share!

May 15, 2009
paddydubai in Spirits

Dubai - China Sea (and UAE ingredients)

Hi JSQ.

Dubai may have its faults, but I think it's fair to say that it's a fabulous place for a foodie, both in terms of restaurants and places to buy ingredients. In the latter respect, it's getting better all the time, with new places opening everywhere.

You made a great choice with China Sea. The place won two Time Out magazine awards the other week - and the staff there are totally, wonderfully oblivious to that fact! The meat and vegetable dishes are no better than anywhere else, but the dumplings, steamed or fried, are sensational!

Another place you might like is Xiao Wei Yan, also in Deira. It's on Baniyas Road, right next door to the Twin Towers and near the Radisson. It's a big chain in China, and this is the only one outside China. It's a hotpot place. They light up a gas fired wok on your table, then fill it with two different broths, one savoury, one very fiery. (The wok is divided into two sides, so they don't get mixed up.) You order the raw stuff from the menu - it ranges from regular stuff like prawns, squid, thinly sliced beef and lamb, to very exotic items like lamb's spinal cord! There's also a table with jars of different spice combos and dipping sauces. You just help yourself to whatever you like the look of. Then dump all your menu items in the wok and let it cook. It's delicious and great fun, especially if you go in a group.

Hope you enjoy your explorations.

Where can I buy braising meat cuts / offal in Dubai?

Hi. Actually, Spinneys does occasionally have brisket and also silverside (not sure, but they might be the same thing!) which slow cooks very nicely.

Also, the new Waitrose in Dubai Mall had tripe when I was there the other day - can't stand the stuff myself, but they do have it! They also had very nice fresh rabbit from France which I bought and made a great pie.

If ever you're passing Park & Shop in Wasl Road, it's worth having a look at the butcher and pork butcher, as they often have some things you don't see in many other places.

Finally, HyperPanda at Dubai Festival City has a very big butcher counter. Can't remember exactly what it stocked, but might also be worth a look. But do check the freshness. I bought what looked like a very nice piece of pre-packaged monkfish there but when I got it home and unwrapped it, I could tell by the smell it was well past its best and I had to bin it.

Good luck!

Must eat's in Dubai?

There's a huge variation in prices. The cheap Indian and Pakistani places like Ravis (mentioned above) are incredibly cheap. same with many Lebanese/shawarma/kebab places. On the other hand, dinner in a highly rated restaurant in a 5* hotel will cost the same as the equivalent in any big city, if not more.

How to enjoy PEARS without Cheese?

They make a delicious addition to a cold Thai beef salad, with crunchy beansprouts and Asian greens, and a Thai four-flavour sauce on them.

Jan 08, 2009
paddydubai in General Topics

Pet Peeve: "Bisque"

It's thought by some that Bisque comes from a stew originally made around the Bay of Biscay, which is on the north Atlantic coast, so it would inevitably have been made from seafood originally. The Bay of Biscay runs right up from Spain into France, so food from that region it isn't necessarily Spanish only.

Jan 08, 2009
paddydubai in General Topics

cilantro vs. coriander

Sammy, it's all the same stuff basically, just different quality. The coriander leaves sold in English supermarkets are often a bit pale and weedy - I suspect they probably pick it too young. You'll be more likely to find the robust, stronger smelling leaves that you're more familiar with if you look in local greengrocers or, better still, Indian or Asian grocers.

The other thing with the weedy supermarket variety is that it's usually cut off close to the leaf, with no stalks. The Indian shop bunches will be more likely to have full, long stalks, sometimes all the way down to the root, which are indispensible if you want a very strong flavour of coriander in, say, a soup or if you're making Thai green curry sauce.

Jan 08, 2009
paddydubai in General Topics

Why is Cheese Forbidden in Authentic Italian Fish Cookery?

Pasta with clams is a great favourite of mine. Once in a snooty Italian place in London I was treated to a telling-off from the surly old waiter when I asked for parmesan on it.

I think it depends a lot on the context. If you're in the mood for warming, comfort food, shovel the cheese on. If you're in a more refined frame of mind and you want to truly taste the fresh, subtle flavour of the seafood, leave it off.

One of my other favourites is spiedini di pesce - grilled kebabs of assorted fish, lightly flavoured with garlic, lemon and parsley - and I wouldn't dream of putting cheese on them, as it would kill the taste.

Dec 31, 2008
paddydubai in General Topics

Does Saffron go bad?

I bought a few ounces of it for a ridiculously low price about five years ago in Saudi Arabia, of all places. I've kept it in the same airtight tin that it came in, on a shelf in the kitchen. It still seems OK. I used some the other day - the colour, smell and taste were all still there, although I probably used a little more than when it was younger.

Dec 31, 2008
paddydubai in General Topics

Wabbit season

Rabbit is one of my absolute favourites. When I lived in the wilds of Cumberland, north west England, we used to quite often catch them on summer nights, on the way home from the pub. They're ridiculously easy to catch as they often stand stock still when they're frightened - hence the phrase 'rabbit caught in the headlights'. We'd take them home, skin them, clean them and and cook them right then and there.

Brown the meat in hot oil, add a little stock - anything liquid will do, I once made a kind of stock out of vegetables and Southern Comfort - and a few vegetables. We used to use freshly pulled carrots and cabbage straight out of the garden. Salt and pepper. Tarragon if you have it, or any other sweet herb. Simmer for just 20 minutes or so. To make it extra luxurious, add a swirl of cream at the end. Fantastic!

Dec 18, 2008
paddydubai in General Topics

BBQs in Dubai

This is probably far too late to be useful, but Ace Hardware at Dubai Festival City sells a full range of Weber barbecues and accessories, plus other makes. The Dubai garden centre on Sheikh Zayed Road has them too, but it's more expensive than Ace.

Malt question: Horlick's vs. malt extract vs. Carnation

Liquid malt extract can be found at many health food shops and it is, as you might expect, extremely malty. Delicious! It's also very sticky and viscuous so it's easier to stir it into warm milk than cold. Whip it up till it's got a frothy head. Add a linch of cinammon or nutmeg on top. And a tot of rum! Amazing!

Dec 14, 2008
paddydubai in General Topics

Beans On Toast...?

I don't think even the most ardent Brit patriot would try to tell you that they're a classic. They're just a standard, quick, cheap and tasty comfort food, loved by kids and penniless students.

It says on the tin that you shouldn't let them boil, but I like to put a heartstoppingly large chunk of butter in and lots of fresh black pepper and boil them down a little bit till the sauce thickens and darkens.

Dec 14, 2008
paddydubai in General Topics

Kettners

The reviews have been universally bad - I've read three or four now. They all seem to say that Kettner's was fine as it was, so why much about with it, especially if the changes are for the worse. Can't argue with that really.

Kettner's did used to be a great place - ridiculously cheap eats in a uniquely stylish place. The fact that it was a little bit faded and louche only added to the charm.

Dec 14, 2008
paddydubai in Food Media & News

Abu Dhabi and Dubai update

Hi.
Just wanted to bump this thread with a few cheap eating suggestions:

China Sea - right next to the clocktower on the exit that leads to Nasr Square. Fantastic cheap dim sum, especially on Friday lunchtime. Everything is beautifully fresh and the chef rolls out the pasta for the dumplings in front of you. Two tips: go with someone Chinese if you can. And don't call it dim sum - in my experience, no Chinese person calls it that! Just say dumplings. My personal favourite is the spicy chicken and the leek and vegetable gootie.

Spring Bamboo - a few doors down from Barbecue Delights mentioned above, near Lamcy Plaza. Top quality yet unbelievably cheap Chinese, very popular with Chinese families. Order the crab.

Another Chinese place whose name I forget but it's on the ground floor right next to the Twin Towers on the creek at Deira, slightly to the left as you face the towers. This is actually one of a well known Chinese chain, the only one outside China. It's a hotpot place. They set a pot in the table over a burner, fill it with two different broths, one spicy, one herby. Then you order whatever raw stuff you want to throw in and let it simmer - wafer thin slices of pork and beef, various offals such as lamb's spinal cord (!), big prawns, chicken and fish balls, tons of different veg and greens. There's also a table with about six different types of sauces - help yourself to whatever you fancy. Great food and great fun if you go in a group.

Tahera - Indian kebab place, right at the crossroads of Computer Street, Bank Street and Mussalla Plaza, next door to the York hotel. Only recently re-emerged from behind the hoardings that surrounded the metro construction. Superb barbecued kebabs and great veg curries, all for just a few dirhams.

Special Ostadi - Middle eastern food, mostly barbecue, on the street that runs down from the crossroads towards Al Fayidhi roundabout and the creek. It's been there for 30 years. I've occasionally seen Dubai royal family cars parked outside while the chauffeur is inside picking up takeaway - quite a recommendation! Limited menu, but great kebabs and soups.

Karama Hotel - a scruffy place in perhaps the scruffiest street in Karama (and that's saying something!) but the restaurant on the ground floor does great, very spicy and very filling Indian food. Plus you can get a beer with it if you want.

Would love to hear any more Dubai recommendations.

Phuket - please critique this list

Baan Rim Pa is great. Well worth a visit!

But as discussed on another thread, smart and expensive Thai places in Thailand don't necessarily serve the finest food. In Patong, Phuket, there's a cafe called Lucky Six (or is it double six) that's open onto the street on Rat-u-Thit Road, which is one of the main thoroughfares. The food is fantastic!

I used to eat there regularly and one time I asked the lady to let me try the spiciest thing she had on her menu. "Sure?" she asked, quizzically. "Sure," I said. She brought me this bowl of something that she announced as 'local curry soup'. It was dark green, almost black, and seemed to consist of a couple of kilos of black pepper, a couple of dozen chilis, oh, and some shredded chicken. It almost literally blew the top of my head off but boy, it was delicious.

Some London schooling on curry, please

Sorry to spoil anyone's fun or besmirch anyone's reputation, but a clutch of recent reader reviews on another foodie site were unanimous in their condemnation of Gaylord's in Mortimer Street. Awful food, atrocious service, rude indifferent waiters and manager...the list went on and on.

I read it with particular interest and some sadness because, back in the 70's, Gaylord's was rated as probably the best in London. I had some magnificent meals there. What a shame!

Another one that seems to have fallen by the wayside is the Lahore Kebab House in the East End (Commercial Road?) My extended family has used it for years for big get-togethers but we were a bit disappointed on our last visit in September. It's insanely popular and has expanded into adjoining premises so it now takes up most of the street, but we all thought the grub was a bit underpowered. OK but nothing special. Maybe they've blanded the spicing down a bit to suit the tastes of their new clientele, who seem to be mostly City workers.

Houstonhound, do try New Tayyabs, which several other posters have mentioned. Nothing fancy, but sensationally good food.

My own favourite Indian has always been the Sunderban on Blackstock Road in Finsbury Park, which is a good hike (and more or less on a different planet) from South Kensington. It's just an unassuming High Street local but I rate their chicken dhansak as the best I've ever eaten, anywhere on earth!

Dec 04, 2008
paddydubai in U.K./Ireland

London - Best crispy duck

In the food and drink section of The Independent, Terry Durack (a critic that I rate highly)recently reviewed a new place that specialises in Beijing Duck - and he said it was absolutely sensational.

It's called Min Jiang in the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Given the location, I would expect it to be very pricey, but well worth going for a special treat. I don't live in London any more, but I hope to try it on my next trip home.

Dec 04, 2008
paddydubai in U.K./Ireland

Question about Bangkok street food

Bangkok is one of the few cities where there really isn't much point in splashing out on expensive indigenous food. The stuff you get off the street stalls is often just as good. The trick seems to be to look for a stall that has plenty of locals eating at it. Either point at what you like the look of or if you see someone eating something that looks good, try asking them what it is - Thai people are friendly and helpful by nature and will usually do what they can to help you out.

That was how I found my way to eating a delicious dish from a stall in Soi 5 Sukhumvit a few weeks ago. Called (I think) tom chiu, it was pork balls with a few greens in an incredibly deep, satisfying pork stock that must have been days in the making. It's not at all spicy (although I have no problem with spicy myself) - the Thai lady who introduced me to it said that the Thais don't put chillies in this one.