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Possibly the best loved Canadian invention of all time is a plate of chips and gravy, topped with squeaky cheese curds. Poutine is a national icon — a dish that has withstood a fair amount of controversy and yet remains a firm favourite, etched on menus in Canada and around the world, including Dubai's Maple Leaf Restaurant. Right on the Jumeirah Beach Road, the place offers a taste of Montreal and this includes its signature home-made poutine with a mixture of textures and flavours (Jamie Oliver insists that it's not real poutine if you can't hear the squeak of the cheese). The restaurant also prides itself on the selection of smoked meats. Its smoked meat sandwich with yellow mustard on rye bread is wonderfully fresh, succulent and tasty.
Inside, there is Canadian paraphernalia everywhere, and an enormous poster of Montreal city in the autumn taking up an entire wall. As you walk in you find graffiti on the walls (proudly scribbled upon by customers), Canadian flags, souvenirs and framed pictures of famous hockey players.
The restaurant is the brainchild of UAE-born Moataz Al Ghossein. He moved to Montreal in 1987 with his Palestinian parents, returned to the UAE to complete high school and has since then travelled several times between the two countries. In 2013 he returned to Dubai to open the restaurant, having recruited longtime Armenian friend and chef, Serge Takelian, who has lived in Montreal most of his life. Together with his youngest sibling Ghassan, Moataz carries out the bulk of the day-to-day operations, while his two other brothers Belal and Ahmad are responsible for other divisions of the business.
Besides the smoked meat, Serge also smokes ribs, salmon and chicken wings, and all products are prepared in house. The elaborate meat preparation process takes about 10 to 12 days, with the smoking taking about eight to 10 hours using an electric smoker, a far cry from their first manual device bought from a local hardware shop. Poutine is prepared here too, the gravy made from meat bones as well as a vegetarian option and the all-important cheese curds.
''If you talk to anybody from Montreal, the first question they ask about our poutine is whether it is authentic and if we have real cheese curds, so that was one of the major focus areas. We had to get it right when we first opened as nobody really served cheese curds in the UAE,'' says Al Ghossein.
Other favourites on the Maple Leaf menu include the kronut dessert, which is half a croissant and half a doughnut, and castor tail, a Montreal-style donut that has been stretched into the shape of a beaver's tail. They also serve root beer float. ''When a scoop of ice cream is placed on top it starts foaming. This was one of my favourite drinks when I was a kid, so when we opened the restaurant we just had to serve it,'' he says.
About 40,000 Canadians live and work in the UAE, according to the Consulate General of Canada in Dubai. ''When we were setting up shop the embassy was very supportive,'' he says, ''And during the winter Olympics when we were showing the ice hockey games on our big TV screen the Canadian ambassador came by and sat with us. No one even knew he was the ambassador.'' Al Ghossein often has homesick Canadians wanting to drop by to savour familiar fare, but woe betide anyone who calls poutine cheesy chips and gravy!
Check out another hidden gem - Culinary Boutique at Jumeirah 1
Source: Cheryl Robertson, Special to Property Weekly