There seem to be a lot of expats (for which read ‘mostly-Caucasian foreigners’) who are breakfasting in Dubai these days off omelettes and the full works (for which read ‘non-pork sausages and tomatoes). At the luxury InterContinental Dubai at Festival City hotel, the gal was ecstatic to find its 26th floor Club Continental lounge has berry smoothies and big bowls of fresh berries. She wandered down to the lobby to the hotel’s Anise restaurant, which seats over 200, to gaze again at a design by Super Potato that features mobiles hanging from a 30-foot high tree.
Michel Gesthuizen, a Dutchman whose name sounds just right for a passionate hotelier, runs Anise, and he showed what the locals like at breakfast. He will be serving about 350, in total, most days, and since it is all buffet some customers’ plates are well, piled. First, saj bread. Also known as markook, this flat bread is made all over the Middle East. Lumps of dough are pulled into wafer-thin rounds and cooked on a metal dome. Here in Anise, grated cheese is put on top before the bread is then rolled, and cut, to be served, warm, in bite-sized pieces.
A display of cold morsels includes bunches of fresh za’atar leaves, an essential breakfast ingredient. Za’atar is related to oregano and it has a distinctive, and somewhat bitter, taste – there are bunches of fresh za’atar to the top right of the photo, and the cheese balls to the bottom left have been rolled with dried leaves pounded with sesame seeds, dried sumac and other spices.
Za’atar-flavoured olive oil is also on display, and ready for use, together with non-flavoured oils. There are several different types of whole olives, another favourite at breakfast. The best description of breakfast specials, by the way, is in Just World Books’ The Gaza Kitchen, by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt. This won the best Arab cuisine cookbook at the Paris International Cookbook Fair, February 2013.
Which brings us back to eggs. Yes, the chefs here at Anise will cook you an omelette, full-egg, or egg white only (delicious with olive oil, especially if flavoured with za’atar) or one whole egg plus two egg whites… But one of the gorgeous copper serving containers here on the buffet has shakshouka, the scrambled eggs that the locals like. Believed to be Tunisian in origin, the eggs are slow-cooked, with tomatoes, chili peppers, onions and, believe it or not, za’atar.
Spices are essential in so many dishes of the entire region. As contrast to all this colour, by the way, the décor of this luxury hotel’s 498 rooms is refreshingly subdued. It is well worth buying a Club room to have access to the lovely lounge (and not only for its smoothies!). 2611, for instance, is a mere 50-yard walk from the lounge, down a soothing all-white corridor and through your door into an area that is taupe (carpet and furniture), zebra-wood (some wall panels) and hints of deep eggplant aubergine, with complementary pale lavender roses. I look down, to a lake, and across to the desert. Yes, there are parts of Dubai that are still natural.