Tea, The Bard & Me 

Hello from Abu Dhabi. What am I doing here? Well of course I’ve come for a spot of tea to Shakespeare & Company- a Victorian era themed restaurant offering a diverse menu of reputed international fare with a elegant French patisserie for most of their short acts. 
The minute one steps into the gateway doors, is transported to a scene right off Downtown Abbey- sans the eloquent language in tow. As part of my #AbuDhabi #Foodtrail, this quaint little bistro is first off my list. From the overpowering interiors of Victorian frills and decor, to the friendly staff this has everything on spectacle- as an offering. 

The Dessert Bar 

The dessert bar, stretches far and wide with sumptuous fare, that tingles my tastebuds, leading me to the cardinal mistake of what we all suffer from- ones eyes being larger than ones stomach! I did eventually fall prey to the same and zestfully ordered more than I could chew, for lack of a better word. After all, I recollected the words of the famous bard in the background as I gorged on my first offering. 

Our bodies are our gardens,

Our will are our gardeners. 

-William Shakespeare

Will? Hah. Act One, as I lovingly called it was a Will, that fell as fast as the cookie crumbled.

 I decided to put my ‘smart consumption‘ skills to the test and try the Caramansi- a white sponge cake, coated with a creamy caramel chocolate and rice crisps sealed with oozing calamansi cream and lemon zest peel with noga for company in a sort of airtight containment formed this decadent dessert. 

Act One- The Caramansi 

Don’t let the photography fool you. This calorie monster, was no bigger than a bangle- in the palm of my hand. And I had the feeling of being well satiated with the serving as ‘apt sizing‘. However the buildup to the tea was the ultimate goal, so I truged along like a trooper. 

Act Two- Cheesecake

And then there was Cheesecake. You must be wandering how this dessert made its way in the middle of my choicest selections? Well, I’m a creature of habit and a cheesecake is a must have in any French patisserie. The quintessential raspberry jam with baked Cheese cream and a digestive biscuit base. They were taunting me with the word ‘digestive’ which was anything but, with all the calories flying around midair like scribbled crumpled pages to a rooms corner as did the famous bard. I could feel his snickering presence haunt me as to the faux pas I was in the process of committing. 

Act Three- Hazelnut Success 

This was NOT intentional. The server did not understand the gravity of the situation, when she mistakenly mentioned the following words;’ Almond Macaronade biscuit laden with hazelnut cream coated with caramelised Hazelnut chocolate coating’ , that sent all my senses into a tizzy much like a pinball machine on power surge with me almost demanding for one in a toned matter of speaking, ‘give me that and no one gets hurt‘. 

Think I scared her out of her wits as I didn’t see her for the remainder of the evening. As I said. Unintentional is the keyword I’m falling on. This is turning out to be a tea time snack of EPIC proportions. (No pun intended) 

Act Four- The Rising Flower & Caramel Eclaire

What I really did come to savor was the Rising Flower. The art and balance of carefully selecting a flower bud and allowing it to blossom inside a transparent tea kettle, watching it bloom entirely over 8 minutes (to the ‘T’)  was truly magical. The process of transforming hues with the tea light candle for company, was mesmerising and before one knew it the flower,had blossomed  with whifty tones of camomile & infused jasmine for that ethereal calming effect. Two sips and I decided to square it off with their signature Caramel Eclaire – fate a choux with caramel creame. It’s hard to describe the senses that rushed through my brain at first bite. The choux pastry was a perfect melted moment with the caramel creame for company oozing out at every bite. 

I sat there, with a satiated look on my face for the better half of the hour post consumption. However, this foodtrail has gotten off to a great start with the bard whispering in my ear, as I depart- “All’s well that ends well” 

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A Date with Opa’s Arak 

I’ve dated a German before. Well, a few actually! Such warm and reserved folk and so dedicated to a cause. So when I heard, I was heading to OPA Bar & Cafe it perplexed me a little(OPA in German means Grandfather). I enter with a few friends only to have the fragrance of exotic mixes of sheesha fill the open air lounge. It’s heady and intoxicating almost instantly- with hints of green apple, paan, mint and orange filling the air. So much for my expensive perfume which was engulfed in entirety. 

I place myself at a table post the meet and greet and transcend almost instantaneously to the by lanes of Marrakech- a gentle morning session with the bustling streets with a cuppa chai and a sheesha for company a long long time ago. The chai in this case was the Arak Haddad Elite. Fast forward, to the first time I consumed this unassuming rather potent drink at a close friends place in Mumbai. It was an import procured by her on a recent trip to Istanbul. It was cause for a celebration with her husband and we decided to go for it at the stroke of midnight. In the confines of her house with no recording devices for proof, I distinctly remember the taste as clear as an hour before. Post consumption the next I find myself  waking up next to cat litter (thank god for small mercies my face was far away from the spoils of war). Remember the word unassuming? My point exactly! 

Since then I have kept this incident at the back of my mind. Apart from the deadly trio (Absinthe being one of them) which I hold and respect in reverence to the way they can turn you into a clapping monkey- Arak ranks high with its potency range of 40-63% proof. 

Dried dates with feta cheese and almonds 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

The dried dates filled with Feta Cheese and almond shavings were delightful. While this was the item not coveted on the menu served by many, it had a significance in its role given the hardiness of the dates in fiber as well as the feta cheese to line the walls of ones stomach for that perfect sealant lining. It’s the best prevention for massive drinking (in this case minimum damage with a shot or two) to prevent the impending hangover. 

 Arak Haddad Elite
Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

I have been informed there is going to be a dedicated section in the near future serving Moroccan tea and sheesha under Bedouin tents atop the terrace under the stars. As a concept and I look forward to those aromatic blends with gusto. There is nothing quite like it – a bucket list item so to speak. So if you feel lazy to hop into a flight to Turkey, head on over to OPA instead. 

The Legend of the duck 

I admit- this experience has got to be one for the books, for a multitude of reasons. For one, I have never really had a fascination for duck (even when I visited China way back in 2007 and dined at the famous Bianyifang -the first restaurant specializing in Peking duck, having being established in the Xianyukou, Qianmen area of Beijing in 1416. But as time progressed, this dish grew on me having enhanced and expanded my palate over various cuisines on my numerous travels. Peking duck is a famous dish from Bejing that has been prepared since the Imperial era, and is considered a national dish of a China.

The ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with pancakes, scallion, and hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce. Having said this and being witness to the meticulous process observed by Chef Yang at China House- a restaurant designed to exude the warmth of a typical chinese home, that offers a casual dining experience with a modern approach, it was a treat in store for me. One of the popular restaurants at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai, the design integrates interactive glass show kitchens into a multiple-seating layout accompanied by surrounding table booths and lounge areas. And with Chef Yang at the helm, who I believe has spent the last 10 years perfecting the art of the Peking duck, it was an opportunity to be seized.

The Duck being roasted for 45mins @ 270 degrees centigradePic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

While I was trying to be obscure in my curiosity towards the hand crafted progress of the meal, it eventually did get the better of me. I sneaked into the interactive kitchen keenly trying to observe what Chef Yang was hard at work on. He was kind enough to take me through a few nuances of the process- especially the special ‘herb water’ used to fill the duck with, to moisten it during the roasting process. This comprised of a mixture of celery sticks, wolf berries, schuan pepper, spring onions, cinnamon sticks & star anise. The uniqueness of this dish is the attention to detail the duck endures before it reaches ones table. For e.g., the ‘7’ times the duck is dipped in sugar water. Why so? To give it that crisp caramel texture showcased on the skin. And of course, the ‘herb water’ mixture described above, which is poured into the duck and corked at the base with a dry bamboo shoot comprising of mango wood, to ensure it is cooked with all the herbs within over a 45-50 minute process in a wood fired oven. Peking duck is traditionally roasted in either a closed oven or hung oven. The hung oven was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty. It is designed to roast up to 20 ducks at the same time with an open fire fueled by hardwood from peach or pear trees. The ducks are hung on hooks above the fire and roasted at a temperature of 270 °C for 30–45 minutes. While the ducks are cooking, the chef uses a pole to dangle each duck closer to the fire for 30 second intervals. And whats interesting, is almost every part of a duck can be cooked. Each aspect is carefully monitored and is taken with pride and gusto by the chef in charge.

Left to Right: Crispy duck skin & breast  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

The art of educating the customer is a must see at China House- the way the duck is served and consumed is something that excited my senses.To the quick carvings- a step process starting with the skin being a delicacy, is normally consumed by dipping the skin in a bowl of refined sugar, to give it a crunch to ones pancake. The meat is slivered in three stages- the skin is one serving. The breast is laid out perfectly and is succulent and tender and the third carving has a mixture of the thigh and skin to give it that coarse and crunch to the moist pancake. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes, spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Cucumber sticks and chopped spring onions are provided for accompaniments. The sauce is evenly concentrically spread, and optional sugar is sprinkled, over the pancake. The pancake is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand.

Mind you the duck can feed a table of 4 with ease. So do order carefully.

In 2012,The Huffington Post ranked Peking duck 1st in list of “10 Foods Around The World To Try Before You Die”.

The #legendoftheduck awaits you. What are you waiting for?