Chickens, hens, eggs and chocolate

Chicken, hens and chocolate eggs

The title might suggest a bit of an Easter theme but I am not about to launch into a post on new beginnings, rebirth, fluffy animals or indeed, chocolate. The chocolate in the title was trespassing on serious cheesecake territory and the egg was more spherical than ovoid. Confused? Me too. It’s these misleading menu descriptions. They do it to me every time. They lull you into thinking that you know what you ordered. Too late, you realise that chef, in a burst of madcap inspiration (culinary genius that he is) has deconstructed your favourite dessert. The clues were there after all. I might have guessed that the passion fruit and yuzu cheesecake sounded too good to be true.

When the waiter leaned in, eyes reverently lifted skywards, whispering that chef’s ‘signature dish’ is a not a ‘traditional’ interpretation, my internal dessert alarm went to red alert. Afters was about to go down the Swanee.

It arrives. A creamy white sphere, placed over the ubiquitous ‘smear’ of what I assume, rightly, is passion fruit puree. Smears are a particularly unpleasant trend and one that has been with us for far too long. They are so ungenerous for a start. Give me a proper taste of what it is or don’t bother. Don’t just wipe your knife across my plate and expect me to regard it as a legitimate addition to the dish.

Back to this peculiar looking sphere. Is this the cheesecake bit? Not from an initial prod of the fork as it seems strangely unyielding. I look round the dining room and wonder how I am going to eat this dessert without it bouncing off my plate and into someone else’s lap. It should have come with instructions. By this time I realise it is a white chocolate shell so all the cheescakey goodness must be inside. I really need to crack this – literally. If this came out of Michel Roux Jnr’s kitchen I think I can guess what he might say. “Think of the customer.” No one has, so I only have one option. I hold my breath, hope for the best and bash it with my spoon.

Now the cleverness is revealed. Sorbets of passion fruit and yuzu mimic the yolk and white of an egg. A refreshing and fragrant foil to the white chocolate sweetness. It was pleasant enough but remains a pointless pretender to the cheesecake crown. Those who love cheesecake (me) are left deeply disappointed by this and people who hate cheesecake are not going to order it. Lose, lose.

I am developing an interesting ‘we welcome your feedback’ kind of relationship with this particular venue so it would be unfair to name names but they should reflect on the messages some of their other menu descriptions send out. I cite the ‘dish of the day’. To mere mortals it turns out to be ‘chicken breast’, probably ‘nestling on a bed of’ whatever. I didn’t get to hear the rest because I was too busy asking the waiter to repeat what he just said. He must be trying out his stand-up comedy material. The dish of the day is a ‘hen’s breast?’ Are you having a laugh? No, this pretentious nonsense is alive and clucking in this Dubai kitchen, where stating the obvious gender of the chicken is deemed critical to your eating experience.

I asked Twitter whether such information was justified on any level. Suppose I set my heart on rooster breast? What then? The chef, writer and broadcaster Rachel Khoo (@rkhooks) helpfully pointed out that roosters are slaughtered when older and are therefore tougher. So does stating ‘hen’ make the dish sound more appealing? More interesting? Or just weird?

The New York Times food blogger, Frank Bruni thinks such verbose language is a touch precious and wrestled with this issue some time ago in relation to the ‘hen’s egg.’ Thank you Sue Quinn, freelance editor and food blogger (@penandspoon) for sharing the link to Bruni’s interesting and amusing thoughts.

Male or female, the chicken I want to buy, cook and eat is the one reared with care and compassion and preferably in the locality. Tricky business in Dubai where everything is flown in and locally grown and reared produce is harder to come by. I am currently investigating my options on chickens and eggs. It is often hard to know what you are buying here. Free range, organic chickens are available in selected supermarkets. They taste great but they come all the way from France. Tiny, locally reared organic chickens are sometimes available at a recommended Farmer’s Market shop.

I am grateful to Laura Allais-Maré (@VivereSlow) for pointing me in the direction of Greenheart UAE, an inspirational organic farm and shop in Dubai selling fruit, vegetables, herbs, honey, cheese and exceptionally tasty free range eggs.

The website tells me that Greenheart chickens have been hatched at the farm through several generations and live in large open-air enclosures shaded by trees with plenty of space for them to run around. At night they sleep in fanned and comfortable Barasti huts made of natural materials. They are fed on a natural diet of grass and vegetables. Contented with these arrangements, the hens (obviously) produce small white-shelled eggs with a delicious, rich orange yolk. Lightly poached and served on a slice of decent bread? Oh, yes!

From a ridiculous menu to a sublime eating experience. It’s been an eventful week.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Tom

    Hilarious – It wasn’t a signature dish, it was a ‘Signature Sphere’.

    Spherical food doesn’t belong on a plate, it belongs in space. Maybe Dubai’s next tallest building will actually serve spherical cheesecake in zero gravity!

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