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Come az*u*r and taste the organic side to Dubai - By Rebecca Wicks

Excellent restaurants aren't difficult to come by in Dubai. But staff who seem to really, truly love their part in them are. Az*u*r (read 'as you are') blows smoothly through a somewhat superficial crowd like a breath of fresh air. I wanted to hug everyone as we left the other night - so nicely were we treated. Both my friend and I felt we'd had a real experience, instead of simply being left to eat another dinner in another restaurant.

Tucked away in a wing of the 5th floor, at the Harbour Hotel (opposite Mina Seyahi and adjacent to Grosvenor House), Dubai's 70% organic restaurant is cooking up a menu with a difference, inspired by inventive styles from countries around the Med and beyond. The menu choices are just a part of what makes this place so special, however, as this is also Dubai's first 'farm-to-fork' restaurant, serving up in style the kind of food that your mum always wished she could make, but probably couldn't! This is the stuff, folks, that has made Mediterranean cooking a clear leader - the world's most popular dining choice and certainly 'P' and I's new fave.

The aim of az*u*r was to mirror, here in Dubai - a city that can be a little artificial in places - the authentic food one can experience in regional Mediterranean towns and villages. In these places, local produce is provided fresh on a daily basis, and whipped straight into traditional menus, often following family recipes. Of course, much is imported (the sands of Dubai don't really cater to creating the greenest of vegetables) so deliveries come in daily from South Africa, and other places of plenty.

Flavours of Spain and Morocco in the west jump off the giant menu, clashing with offerings from Lebanon in the east. French and Italian have their say and all in all, our cutlery was quivering as we were forced to choose between such dishes as seared scallops, pumpkin frittata and mouth-watering fois gras. Knowing that all the ingredients were fresh, seasonal and authentic justified the fact that we were eating about a million calories of course. It sucks, but just because cream is organic, it doesn't mean it doesn't go straight to your thighs.

The flavours were intense. Pan-seared scallops came aboard a dish of mini starters (we couldn't decide what to have, so in the end, Executive Chef, Christopher Baker put together a selection, so we could sample a few without exploding!) The afore-mentioned pumpkin frittata stood out in the crowd, as did a lobster tail with salsa. The colours were beautiful, too. Each dish is arranged so that oranges run into reds, which compliment greens and purples. A beetroot and sheep's cheese appetizer was practically glowing in its natural state of pink.

Chef Christopher has been lucky enough to travel for his research. 'Farm-to-fork' was at the forefront of his mind and vocabulary as he visited fruit and vegetable farms, local bread mills and bakeries, and even fish-markets to source the best ingredients! In fact, his home made bread is now so popular that people order in advance and come and collect it from the deli counter. Get in line, if you're looking for a slice of the good stuff.

For our mains, we sampled the stuffed crab with béchamel sauce, served atop glazed vegetables, which was unbelievably tasty and very rich. It went perfectly with the Lebanese red wine. The beef sirloin was also exceptional, although perhaps not as impressive as the dragon fruit, strawberry and mango flambé we sampled for dessert. Our waiter wheeled up a table and prepared it right before us. As the smile on his face was lit up by the flames, we could tell it was his favourite part of every meal.

Rarely does a restaurant offer you such an experience. We felt totally spoilt, entertained and educated, and even as the Chef packed up his hat for the night and waved goodbye, we didn't want to leave! Az*u*r has done an amazing job of creating something Dubai desperately needs at times - a tantalizing taste of something that's actually real.

For reservations call The Harbour Hotel & Residence on +971 (0) 4 319 4000.

Posted: 16 August 2008

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