Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Blooming heck!

Magnolia Bakery, Bloomingdale's, Dubai

Being a man, and the wrong side of 30, the cupcake revolution has passed me by. This shouldn’t be an embarrassing thing to admit, right? Please tell me its okay for men my age to have more interest in things like whelks, ostrich eggs or Stilton than paltry blobs of sponge cake slathered in pretty icing and cradled in frilly little paper buckets... Thanks, I needed the reassurance.

The truth is, I would never have felt the need to investigate the wares at Magnolia Bakery at the newly opened Bloomingdale’s in Dubai Mall, had I not been made aware of the virtues of cupcakes by other men. Big men. Men who - if you so much as looked at their ribeye in a steakhouse - would happily pull your face off with their thumb and forefinger and kick it across the other side of the restaurant before ordering two more steaks and downing them both in one.

Some of these men were practically crying sugar-syrup tears over the cakes they’d had at places like Sugar Daddy’s bakery in Dubai - a cupcake shop with a pink sign and even pinker cakes. So I decided to look deep within myself, to reach out to my inner 7-year old girl, and skip merrily along to Magnolia Bakery at Bloomingdale's to see what all the fuss was about.


Bloomingdale's, Dubai Mall: disgusted valet-staff turn their backs on this embarrassing Porsche in the hope that something more blingy turns up instead, like a Koenigsegg or a spaceship.

Thing is, since I’m around six-feet tall and well-upholstered, with a buzz-cut and a five o’clock shadow, I don’t look like a 7-year old girl (unless you live in some parts of northern England). So, when I got lost in the ladies fashion section with my camera slung around my neck, I started to get funny looks from security. I saw a rat-faced man in an ill-fitting Men-In-Black suit squawk something into a walkie-talkie while staring at me through pinched eyes, so I waved at him like a 7-year old girl would and skipped off. I was in the wrong bit of Bloomingdale's anyway - the “home section” was on the Lower Ground floor.

There I found Magnolia Bakery, and low-and-behold it appeared to be besieged by a well-drilled platoon of scary-looking schoolgirls. They were all happily loading up boxes full of cupcakes at Dhs60 a go, just so they had something to nibble on or throw at their mates on the way home from school. Times have changed. In my day we’d save our sweaty lunchtime sandwiches for that. Especially if it was Marmite.

Order here. Pay here. Lose self-respect here.

Anyway, when they had dispersed I had a peek over the counter. There is no seating area at Magnolia, just a counter full of cakes to choose from. Whether it’s proper, large-sized cakes for slicing into wedges, or the famed cupcakes that make grown, hard men tearful, it all gets boxed up and taken away.

The opening exchange between me and the assistant went something like this:

Me: “What have you got?”
Her: “Red velvet sir, which is like red and velvet and like chocolate but red chocolate with white vanilla sir... then we have choc-choc, vanilla-choc, van-van, choc-van and van-choc-van...”

Of course, it made me dizzy. It just sounded like two closely-related cupcakes had been interbreeding. So I had the lot. Actually, there were only five different varieties of cupcake available, so I ordered an auxiliary cake to complete the box-set of six...

Her: This is like, not a cupcake sir, but more like a dessert sir, with brown sugar on top.
Me: Looks like a blueberry crumble.
Her: Yes sir. 

It was probably a good thing that the mall-going public of Dubai didn’t have to witness a grown man with a scowl on his face munch his way through six cupcakes and a blueberry crumble in public. So I carefully took my package home and put the kettle on.


Guess which one isn't a cupcake.

First, I went for the cupcake that looked least appealing, with the skewed logic that the rest would be easier to face after that one. So I reached for the "red velvet" which was an angry red pustule of ruddy sponge with a creamy white head of icing. From now on I'm going to call it "the zit-cake". What the zit-cake lacked in aesthetic quality and natural grace, it made up for in moistness once bitten into. And redness. Christ, it was red. The sponge looked like it had been dipped in stage-blood. And the white head made it look like it would have been more at home on the forehead of a greasy teenager. It tasted much better than it looked.

Choc-choc: will it look any different on the way out?

Next up was the one the assistant called "choc-choc". I think the fact that it was named after a Harlem pimp in a 1970s Blaxploitation movie was lost on her. What I will say is that it was very chocolaty. The sponge was exceedingly moist too, so much so that it simply disintegrated on contact with hot breath. Most pleasing of all was the residue left on the cupcake paper, which demanded to be scraped off with lathe-like accuracy and savoured.

And that's where I had to leave it - for now. Five cupcakes - and another cake - is a little too much for one sitting. After all, I'm only 7. And a girl.

Don't worry, when I get round to eating the rest I'll be sure to give you the verdict. I bet you can hardly wait...

Addendum: Should anybody buy more Magnolia cupcakes than they can eat in one go, take heed of the following tip. Don't put them in the fridge. Store them in an airtight container, otherwise they turn into lumps of brightly coloured granite sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. Not nice.


  1. Pustule-cupcake? Too funny! Since Dubai is so diverse, it is easy to be the odd man out in an eatery...must be the same if you are a big tall white guy in a South Indian diner, but somehow that earns more foodie street cred than cupcake shop :-)

    I do have a question: I'd like to try a good Filipino resto and haven't found one. I have tried a few which were packed with Filipinos but the food was bad at all of them. It was just that very cheap ingredients were used. I want to like Filipino food, if that makes any sense. But I am not sure where to start. Any recs?

  2. I've been to Pinoy Grill on Rigga Road, which wasn't too bad. And Goto King in Al Attar mall in Karama was ok, but not great. Have you tried Smiling Shabu Shabu in Satwa? It does Japanese and Thai food too in case the Filipino stuff doesn't hit the spot.

  3. a great start to a great idea James I just can't wait to read the rest! Well done!

  4. Now that you've tried Magnolia get yourself over to Sugar Daddy's Bakery - they are way better and I'm sure a classy man like yourself will recognize it right off the bat. Chef Aaron Brown is an awesome man of a man himself. You should ask for him and talk to him.

  5. Well, I'm still on a sugar-buzz that could power a Chinese megacity for a fortnight. I might leave it a while before I check out Sugar Daddy's - I did once interview Dana Jallad of the Dubai franchise:


  6. lucky fatima...try Asian Flavours Restaurant, mezzanine floor of Dream Palace Hotel (Muraqqabat Road, adjacent to Aroos Damascus)...

    Or, Salt and Pepper (3 branches in Dubai, one each in Satwa, Karama, and Deira). The one that I go to is in Deira in Warba Centre.

    In any of those places, you should try Tapsilog (it's dried then sauteed beef with garlic rice and fried egg). At Asian Flavours, you can try the Bulalo (beef broth)...There are many other good dishes, but I'd leave that for you to explore.

    Have fun and enjoy our cuisine...


  7. Thanks, Anthon, for the restaurant suggestions. I'd love to hear recommendations for great dishes from the Philippines, too. I may have to try these myself. Do you know anywhere that does the legendary 'balut' eggs with duck embryos intect?

  8. Thanks Anthony, I will definately check out your recs!

  9. i'm visiting dubai in a few days and am enjoying your humorous take on the food scene.

  10. Many thanks, traderjanki, hope you have a good time eating your way through Dubai. Fill your boots, as they say round these parts (well, I do).