Skip to content

Seriously adult mocha stout muffins with salted caramel and lime

June 21, 2015

Mocha stout muffins on mycustardpie.comBefore we go any further, I must warn you that if you are a milk chocolate lover who shudders at the thought of ingesting a morsel of 70% of the super dark stuff, these may not float your boat. There again if you like salted caramel…

A bottle of mocha stout appeared in our fridge, was opened by Houseguest, who took one sip, wrinkled his nose and switched to a beer (Cornish pale ale as it happens). An idea wormed its way into my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about how it would work in cake even though a) it’s too hot for cake-making or cake-eating  in Dubai right now b) my muffin top doesn’t need any more muffins c) veggie teen is vegan this month plus it’s Ramadan so cake eaters are thin on the ground, especially for baking which includes alcohol. However….

…the next morning I braved my steamy kitchen, tinkered with some muffin recipes and produced some crumbly, knobbly, damp, slightly bitter, darkly chocolate, definitely not-for-children muffins. They needed a sweet foil to their goth-like tendencies. Thanks to everyone who pitched in on Instagram and Facebook to suggest flavours; salted caramel came out top. I was tempted by Karin‘s mint cream cheese and butter idea, but Jennifer‘s ginger suggestion got me thinking too.  As a citrus addict, my light bulb moment was to add lime.

These are not difficult to make but involve a few stages. I’m imagining them strewn, nay thrown on a large tray for dessert when you have friends round. Filled with salted caramel and daubed and drizzled with both toppings in a way which would make Jackson Pollack proud. Mini-muffins would be good too (shorten the baking time).

Mocha stout muffins on mycustardpie.com

Salted caramel filled mocha stout and chocolate muffins with lime and ginger drizzle

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients for the muffins

  • 300g plain flour
  • 100g raw cacao (or cocoa)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 free range eggs (medium)
  • 125ml vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 250ml mocha stout
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate chips (or cut up chocolate)

Method

  1. Sift the flour, cacao and baking powder into bowl.
  2. Beat the eggs with the oil and stout. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
  3. Add the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  4. Line a 12 cup muffin tray with baking cases and spoon in the mixture (I use an ice cream scoop).
  5. Bake in a preheated oven to 200C for about 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  6. Place on a wire rack and when cool remove a cylinder from the centre of each muffin with an apple corer. Fill with salted caramel (great recipe here). Drizzle with ginger lime icing.

Ingredients for ginger lime icing

  • 75g stem ginger
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • Zest of 1 lime, grated
  • 3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon of syrup from the ginger jar (optional)

Method

Whizz the ginger in a food processor (or chop finely by hand). Add the lime zest and icing sugar and whizz again to combine. Slowly pour in 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and the stem ginger syrup and process briefly. Leave for 1 minute. Lift a spoon out sideways and it should drizzle off in thick ribbons. You can add a tiny bit more lime juice to loosen if it doesn’t.

Mocha stout muffins on mycustardpie.com

Mocha stout muffins on mycustardpie.comDig in. Eat with your hands. Cram the crumbling cakes into mounds of caramel and lick the icing off your fingers. Don’t worry about your table manner – I’ll forgive you. Serve with coffee or a vin santo such as Domaine Sigalas Vinsanto made in Santorini (in Dubai, ask in MMI and they will get it for you).

Beer in cake tickle your fancy? Try this chocolate and porter cake from Kavey Eats or double chocolate stout brownies on Fuss Free Flavours.

Have I persuaded you to come over to the dark side?

Best places for a massage in Dubai

June 14, 2015
Best massage in Dubai - mycustardpie.com

SensAsia spa (before recent refurb)

Take some constant worrier genes, add a large amount of desk bound computer work, fold in a soupcon of stressful driving, mix together with bad posture from childhood asthma and, voila, you have cast-iron knotty shoulders. I’ve had this achey, clicky tension framing my neck as long as I can remember – and have passed them onto younger teen (benevolent Mum). My remedy is to sneak off for a massage every so often. Over the years I’ve tried many, many places; in the UK, overseas and here in Dubai. This city is chocabloc with spas and beauty salons, there must be hundreds if not thousands, so the choice is incredible. These are the places at the top of my list, depending on how I feel, how flush my budget is and the time available.

And yes, there is food…..

Best for consistent pampering

SensAsia Urban Spa:  When hoping for a spa voucher in my Christmas stocking, I cross my fingers that it’ll be for SensAsia.

What makes it special?

You can smell their seductive signature blend as soon as you step out of the lift. Even though the branches are small and in shopping malls and other urban establishments, you fall under their calming aura the minute you enter. The decoration is high-end Far Eastern. The spa is constantly innovating with new treatments on the menu. Their real strength is the consistency of treatment – you know that whoever you book they will deliver the same massage. The attention to detail and comfort is exceptional, from heated beds, to foot washing before your massage, a flower below your eye gaze under the head hole, to seamless, unjarring music. They train each new therapist for at least six weeks to ensure this happens and the group spa manager visits each branch every day.  After your treatment you are led to a recliner, covered in a blanket and a neck warmer. I could spend hours in the calm surroundings and find it hard to prise myself away.

Food and drink: Fresh, hot ginger tea – not too sweet – and crisp, cold, slightly salty cucumber and carrot sticks are brought to the recliner.

Recommended massage: The SensAsia hot stone massage is the ultimate 90 minutes of bliss.

More details: SensAsia Urban Spas – located at The Village Mall, The Palm Jumeirah, Al Manzil Souk Downtown and Emirates Golf Club (with discount for members). Packages available and an in-house loyalty scheme. No wet room facilities (sauna, steam etc).

Best for luxury

Amara Spa, Park Hyatt Dubai: Feel like you are living a celebrity lifestyle in the beautiful surroundings of this spa. A great place to take visitors or having a very special treat.

What makes it special?

The Park Hyatt is a very pretty hotel and the Arabic influenced decoration extends to the spa. On arrival you are asked for your preferences including the scents you like and the music. You can use the steam room or sauna beforehand (there’s no jacuzzi) before donning a huge, fluffy white robe and being led to your treatment room. This is where the luxury really starts as each room opens onto an outside courtyard and tiny garden. You can shower there or just sit and have a glass of water while the therapist washes your feet. You lie on and are covered with crisp white cotton sheets instead of towels which makes it feels as though you are at home in bed (albeit a luxurious version). After your treatment you can recline on loungers in a long outside courtyard lit with flaming torches. The reception phones for your valet-parked car to be brought when you’ve finished so you don’t have to hang around and ripple the calm waves of total bliss which are now washing over you.

Food and drink: Tea and small snacks including dates are brought to you as you recline. You can also exit the spa directly into the pool area and have lunch at the pool bar.

Recommended massage: Botanical Arabic massage – a perfect, aromatic blend of Eastern and Western techniques.

More details: Amara Spa, Park Hyatt Dubai  Couple and group bookings available (e.g. ‘Hen half day’). You can use the hotel pool and the fitness centre when you book a treatment.

Best for serenity

Spa Zen, Radisson Royal Hotel, Dubai: Really does live up to its name.

What makes it special? It’s hard to believe that somewhere this tranquil is situated in the middle of a busy area on the Sheikh Zayed Road. The first thing you are struck by is the silence when you enter this spa on one of the upper floors of the hotel. The interior lines are clean and decor minimal, it’s as though the smooth concrete walls are muffling everything outside. The wet areas of jacuzzi and steam room are similarly unadorned – no embellishments or ornaments interrupt the energy flow – but it doesn’t feel at all spartan, just incredibly relaxing, especially with great views over the city. A place to truly switch off your mind as well as your body. The minimalism doesn’t affect the quality of the treatment either – heated beds keep you warm while the room is comfortably cool, for instance – and the massage is high quality and service personal and attentive.

Food and drink: Tea is brought at the end of the treatment where you can relax on loungers. You can have lunch at the pool bar (use of the pool is included).

Recommended massage: Zen Royal Massage

More details: Spa Zen, Radisson Royal Hotel, Dubai Spa Zen runs different promotions and often give vouchers off your next treatment when you’ve booked a massage.

Best affordable de-stress

De La Mer Spa: Not just convenient for Umm Suqeim 2 dwellers like me, this spa keeps my knotty shoulders at bay as I can afford to visit regularly.

What makes it special? This lovely spa in a villa on the Jumeirah Beach Road boasts many of the features of more expensive places but keeps its prices lower. The decoration is Asian inspired and while not as high end as the more luxurious spas it is relaxing and comfortable. The changing area doesn’t have cubicles but once you are inside the treatment rooms the pampering from Thai or Filipino staff begins. Foot washing and good quality oils are used, and ginger tea and crudites are given to you on the sofa areas at the end of the treatment. The spa has an outdoor pool and many of the treatments use homemade scrubs and products made with botanicals grown in the garden. Booking service is friendly and efficient – you receive an email to confirm your appointment.

Food and drink:  Ginger tea and crudites are given to you on the sofa areas at the end of the treatment.

Recommended massage: Balinese

More details: De La Mer Day Spa There are vouchers in the Explorer Body (and HSBC Explorer) plus you can use Snappcard loyalty app and get one free massage for every five. There are regular promotions and discount packages. Parking is easy if you drive to the street behind and walk through the alleyway.

Reviews based on my own paid-for experiences. I received a complimentary head massage from SensAsia and a treatment from Zen Spa but after I’d written this review.

P.S. If you happen to be on Cebu in the Philippines, Chi at Shangri-La Mactan is absolute bliss. Also while I didn’t test it out, the Aum spa at Crimson Resort looks amazing too.

What’s the best massage you’ve ever had (or do you dislike them – it’s true KP does)? Have you anywhere to recommend in Dubai or elsewhere? Is it even possible to get a good massage in the UK (I’m always disappointed)?

Sourdough pizza recipe and a Delonghi Multifry giveaway

May 29, 2015

Delonghi Multifry review and pizza recipe - mycustardpie.comAbout once a month, KP has a desperate longing for egg and chips. I know, I know – we seem to fit our nation’s food clichés to a tee (cue Shirley Valentine), but it has to be using the best free range eggs and with really excellent chips.

Once upon a time I had a deep fat fryer for this purpose. It was perfect as you could raise the basket while keeping the lid closed enabling an initial fry at a lower heat, then a second high heat crisping up. After it broke we tried a few other models but they all seem expressly designed NOT to make good chips.

I’d been tempted by the various ‘air-fryer’ style machines which have come on the market but they had mixed reviews about the chips and they are rather large and expensive. So I was really pleased to put one to the test when De’longhi sent me their Multifry.

Delonghi Multifry review and recipe - mycustardpie.comIt is a large machine, but surprisingly light, and while I had been focused on the chip making, when I started reading the manual I was intrigued to see that you could make all sorts of other things in it too. There are recipes for pizza, stews, risotto and even cake, plus you can download an app with many more ideas.

I tried a variety of things out in the De’longhi Multifry FH1394 and this is my verdict:

Chips

Double or triple cooked crispy fried perfect chips (aka French fries) they are not. However, it’s super easy to make a batch using a minute amount of oil. I would advise soaking the cut chips to remove the starch as long as you can in advance and then patting them dry thoroughly (as I would do with conventionally fried chips). You put them in the non-stick bowl with the oil, set to the time and heat specified in the booklet and the paddle slowly turns them around for about 30 minutes (depending on the amount of chips) until done. I added 5 minutes extra time to achieve a deeper golden brown. Adding herbs like chopped rosemary or spices such as paprika would be a good option.

Sweet potato fries

These were not very crisp at all but sweet potato fries never are. They cooked a little unevenly but for a stress free side dish it was pretty good.

Roast baby potatoes

I did a batch of little baby potatoes from the Farmers’ Market with some olive oil. Like the chips, they are not very crisp but it’s an easy and economical way of cooking them, rather than heating the whole oven. My next project is to try normal sized roast potatoes this way.

Keema

There are a variety of meat-based stew and sauce recipes in the book. I used my normal keema recipe and wasn’t as pleased with the end result compared to when I do it on the hob. I think the onions didn’t get hot enough at the start to produce the nice caramelised taste and the meat gave off more water. The paddle didn’t really keep the mince separated either so I had to stir it occasionally, somewhat negating the whole point. I need to experiment more with this kind of dish.

Pizza

I adapted the De’longhi recipe to use my sourdough. The measurements in the book were a bit odd including 13 ml of olive oil – Germanic exactness.  After some swapping and changing I came up with the recipe below. There is only enough cooking space for one pizza at a time (and it takes 30 minutes so impractical to cook for many) and the texture is quite crisp. Not as good as oven baked but pretty simple to make and veggie teen gave it a thumbs up.

Chicken drumsticks

Again, I faltered when going to switch the oven on to cook these and was really glad I did. I chucked a pack of chicken drumsticks (after patting dry with kitchen towel) into the bowl after removing the paddle. I sprinkled with salt, pepper and a bit of smoked paprika, set the timer for 40 minutes and ran around the house doing other things. I only stirred them twice and they were cooked really well, with brown, fairly crisp skin all done with no oil at all. I dabbed some barbecue sauce and chopped coriander on before serving but they were tasty unadorned.

Delonghi Multifry review and recipe - mycustardpie.com

My verdict

I like the multi-purpose functions of this machine as it would be difficult to justify something of this size solely to make the occasional batch of chips. It doesn’t make perfect chips but they are good enough especially without the extra fat content. The recipes in the book and on the app have suffered a bit in translation and would need a bit of experimentation, however there is lots of scope to use this instead of switching on the oven. It would actually be great for a student or someone with a small kitchen due to its versatility.

A Giveaway

Want to try one yourself? I’m delighted that one of you can, as De’longhi will give one away to one of my readers – if you live in the United Arab Emirates. Just tell me in the comments why you’d like a De’longhi Multifry and we’ll select a winner on Friday 12th June 2015 (after midnight UAE time GMT+4).

Sourdough Margharita pizza in the De'longhi Multifry

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 35g sourdough starter
  • 60ml water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 130g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 150g tomato sauce (I used passata)
  • 100g mozzarella
  • oregano (to taste)

Method

  1. Add the water and olive oil to the sourdough starter mix lightly to combine
  2. Put the flour and salt into a mixing bowl, made a well in middle and pour in the liquid. Draw in the flour from the sides to add gradually to make a dough.
  3. Give a few turns of the dough to knead very lightly and form into a smooth, round ball by tucking the sides underneath.
  4. Put into an oiled bowl, cover and leave to develop for about 4 hours.
  5. Roll out the dough into a circle. Remove the paddle from the bowl. Oil the bowl and place the pizza inside using your fingers to push out to the edges.
  6. Spread with the tomato sauce and the oregano. Close the lid, select the ‘pizza’ programme, set to power level 2 and the cooking time for 30 minutes. Press the start button.
  7. After 15 minutes, open the lid and lay sliced mozzarella over the top. Close the lid and resume cooking.

Want to know more?

My friend Sarah (in the UK) did a great video review of the De’longhi Multifry. It’s a slightly different model and mine is definitely much quieter but it gives a good idea of the look and functions.

You can find the De’Longhi MultiFry in the UAE, in all good home appliance and
electronics retailers, and in all Jashanmal stores. Prices start from RRP of 899 aed. Special Ramadan season offers start from 599 aed.

Competition to win one is now closed. Winner notified by email (will get their permission to reveal their name – and maybe a pic too. Thanks to everyone who let me know why they would like a De’longhi Multifry in their kitchen.

A Thai market in Dubai

May 23, 2015

Thai market in Dubai - mycustardpie.comAs I’m having severe Farmers’ Market withdrawal symptoms I jumped at the chance to join a friend who was on a mission to see if the rumour of a Thai market was fact or just a mirage. With temperatures already at 40C we pulled up outside the Royal Thai Consulate at 10 am. All looked quiet, and when we went through the gate there was only one stallholder with some intriguing looking drinks including a black gleaming one called grass jelly. She was very friendly and told us to come back after 10.30 which we did.

By then there were a few more stalls under the car parking awning and we were drawn immediately to one with stacks of Thai food in meal sized portions. In answer to our questions, and while she was busily arranging these filled plates in bags and matching them with sauces, she told us that one was “chicken rice”, one “meat* noodles” and one “meat*, all inside”, the latter accompanied by gestures to her tummy. Sadly we soon realised that there was no way to get our hands on this delicious looking stuff as it was all made to pre-order “by the internet”. Thai ladies kept arriving beside us and carting off carrier bags full of food; one affirmed my guess that it was her meals for the week.  We kept gazing longingly into cool bags and ice boxes discovering all sorts of goodies, so managed through her friend who had better English, to order our own delivery for next week.

We weren’t to leave hungry, not at all. Another stall had plastic packets of Thai vegetables and herbs all along one side. This lady was also busy unpacking things and serving people, but when she paused for a moment we found that she grew all of it herself in her garden. I spotted Thai basil, something I think was pak nork, something that could have been kanah or broccoli leaves, and some beautiful pak choy. She also had dragon fruit, a long green fruit which looked pumpkin like (which she said was also grown by her) and a large insulated container. Inside the latter was a hot and sour-smelling soup dotted with mushrooms. I bought some little meatballs and fish balls on sticks (which had already been road-tested by my friend’s toddler with great success).

I added fried plantain and sweet potato to my growing collection of plastic bags. The batter was studded with black seeds and slightly sweet, there were some deep-fried green leaves among them which could have been Bi Tua Reeds.

My friend gave me some of the grass jelly to taste. It was probably one of the sweetest things I’ve ever had to drink and not to my taste, although deliciously cool in the unrelenting temperatures. The stall holder also had some Thai desserts, one of mung beans and one with tapioca in a bright green sauce (pandang?) studded with chunks of mango, both topped with whipped coconut cream.

Seeing more tempting things coming from the catering ladies bags we asked about some meat* on thin bamboo skewers – which were for sale – hooray. The lady packed up some rich, sweet, sour sauce in a little plastic bag to go with them and I took away a warm parcel of sticky rice for my lunch too.

Stopping to admire some vibrant homemade jelly ducks on the way out (clever but totally unappealing), I took my booty home feeling as though I’d stepped through the back of the wardrobe into a little bit of Thailand. I’ve been looking through my Thai cookery books to inspire next week’s purchases. Oh yes, I’ll be back.

Thai market in Dubai - mycustardpie.com

The market at the Royal Thai Consulate (near Raffles school in Umm Suqeim 3, Dubai) is – to the best of my knowledge – open every Saturday from 10.30am (I was told until 3pm but by 12.30 a lot of things have already sold out. The last market for this season is June 13th 2015).

*meat = “special meat” taps nose with finger and winks.

Tasting Tasmanian and a coincidence

May 19, 2015

Veggie teen plotted my astrological ‘natal chart’ the other day. I am the most sceptical, unbelieving, non-Zodiac reading person on the planet. I wish in some way I could hold some vestige of faith in seeing into the future and play along – but my inner cynic rears its head every time there’s even a sniff of pulling out the Tarot cards.  So I was laughing out loud when the character traits she attributed to me were spot on, especially this one: ‘you dislike the dull, the routine and crave the unexpected, the new, as you have a very original way of thinking.’ (Source: Zodiac signs blog)

So the events of last Wednesday night were a delight for me (and appalled Mr Routine Planner KP when I told him what I’d done afterwards). I bumped into a friend at the launch of Jumeirah Restaurant Week and jumped into a cab across town on the spur of the moment to meet Martin Shaw of Shaw and Smith and to taste some of his excellent wines from the Adelaide Hills wine region, Australia.

We met at Qbara, joining a table halfway through their dinner and tasting (whoops). The name is Arabic backwards symbolising a modern Arabic fusion menu – which is a splendid round restaurant with a dramatic ‘moving’ wall, a huge bar, flaming torches and lots of candles. Very swanky. In contrast Martin appeared to be a down-to-earth and thoughtful man, but quietly related how the Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc is now so revered that he receives emails from people who check whether it’s on a restaurant wine list before making a reservation. If it isn’t, they go somewhere else.

I can still recall the first time I tasted this wine, I think it was the 2010 vintage. I remember a bone-dry wine, all gooseberries and fennel, but lean and intriguing, a super-crisp palate (without the searing acidity with a side order of cat’s pee that I am so over), and an elegance that made me want to return to it again and again.

We tasted the 2014 at Qbara. This vintage was different from the one I remember. Even more restrained, elusive and alluring on the nose, with a mineral finish leaning to salty. Elegant, balanced and fresh; a YSL white trouser suit after a Zandra Rhodes show.

Why has this wine done so well amid a sea of New World SB’s vying for attention? Martin compared Sauvignon Blancs to handbags, the very top (more expensive and exclusive) and very bottom (volume with low margins) have done OK, it’s the ones in the middle that are suffering. This makes sense. He hastened to add (being genuinely modest) that he wasn’t comparing his own Sauvignon Blanc to luxury brands. So I’ll do it for him – this is the Louis Vuitton of New World Sauvignon Blanc – or maybe the Chanel… it’s subtle not showy.

The Shaw and Smith 2013 Chardonnay was buttery but also in an elusive way, like a very meagre scraping of the best French unsalted on the thinnest bread. Ten months in French oak with only 30% new barrels gave such poise and balance. This was crème frâiche in a glass; citrus and cream – another Shaw and Smith wine with strength in its restraint.

My favourite wine of the night was a 2012 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir – a single vineyard Pinot from 25-year-old vines in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley – the harvest used to go into some of the premium ranges of other well-known names until Shaw and Smith bought it.

You know that feeling when you smell a slightly strange smell that’s a bit horrid but addictive at the same time? The first time I tasted a Burgundy of note, it had that character on the nose, herbs and cabbages – and when you sink your nose into a glass of Burgundy there is always a sense of not knowing quite what will be in there. The aromas of the grapes and the fields, the barrels and the damp part of cellar, the leather brogues of the wine maker, his wax jacket.  The stainless steel modern wine making of many New World Pinots seem to offer purity and cleanliness at the expense of the quirkiness. The Tolpuddle Pinot Noir was restrained and elegant, a unifying factor with all the wines I tasted that evening, but this one opened up beautifully in the glass with spice and fine tannins and possessed the savoury notes and seductive herbaceousness that make Old World Pinots so alluring.

The final wine we tasted was the Shaw and Smith 2012  Shiraz; beautifully balanced with soft mulberries and bayleaves but over-shadowed by the others for my tastes, although a fellow diner nominated it his favourite.

A happy accident

A photo posted by Sally Prosser (@mycustardpie) on

Then a strange thing happened. This is a bit round-the-houses so bear with me. I’d arrived back from Georgia just the day before, having traveled there for a wine fair.  At the fair I was chatting to Enek from Vino Underground (a wine bar run by natural wine makers) about how I thought there was potential for Georgian wine in Dubai. She mentioned that a Dubai-based sommelier had bought some natural wines from them to take back to his restaurant. Desperate to know which restaurant I gave her my card but had not yet received a reply.  In talking to the Head Sommelier Juan, my Georgian trip comes up in conversation and, lo and behold, the natural wine buyer was his Assistant Somm. Aziz. Bearing in mind that there must be at least a couple of thousand licensed restaurants in Dubai what are the chances? So I now have an enthusiastic tasting companion for the wines I brought back in my suitcase. And you never know, there may be qvevri wines from Georgia on a Dubai wine list sooner than you think. As a side note, Aziz  is also keen on Greek wines and they list the Sigalas Assyrtiko from the island of Santorina which is a real gem of a crisp, dry, mineral white.

There are so many pictures to download, memories to record and wines to document from my time in Georgia that I’m excited to share with you. But in the meantime I can’t stop thinking about these elegant wines from Shaw and Smith and will have a few bottles nestling next to the Georgian ones in the wine fridge as soon as I can.

En Primeur 2014

Wine tasting

Wines from previous vintages of Bordeaux

The Bordeaux campaign is well underway and while the prices are still preventing buyers from committing in droves as of old, there seems to be quiet optimism about this vintage. We will probably tuck away a case or two via Le Clos’ En Primeur service here in Dubai or through Lay and Wheeler in the UK. KP’s looking for any investment potential whereas I’m hoovering up tasting notes – hopefully we’ll find something that meets in the middle. I’ll let you know.

I loved this account on the Lay and Wheeler blog where they took two complete wine novice bloggers along for a week of tasting en primeur which is usually reserved solely for the trade. Very sensible move I say – not dropping any subtle or non-subtle hints of course.  I explain what buying en primeur is all about here if you want to know more.

This is the first of a series where I share what I’ve been tasting at home and elsewhere weekly, monthly, randomly.

Visiting the Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi

May 15, 2015

Tbilisi Sulphur Baths Georgia -mycustardpie.comOn my recent trip to Tbilisi I finally figured out how to arrange a visit to the legendary sulphur baths and what happens when you get there. This post probably contains tmi (too much – personal – information), you have been warned.

The Sulphur Baths in Abanotubani, in the midst of the old town in Tbilisi are famed to be the source of the city’s existence. When the city was contained within walls, visiting merchants along the spice route were ordered to use one of the 64 baths before they were allowed to enter. The name Tbilisi comes from the Georgian word for warm ‘თბილი—tbili’ so the site of the city was probably dictated by the location of the hot, sulphurous springs. Legend has it that in the 5th century, King Vakhtang Gorgasali’s hunting falcon brought back a pheasant which had been poached in the warm water and ordered his capital moved there. There is evidence that the Romans, legendary bathers, settled here too. The number of baths have dwindled to a handful but are still a fascinating sight from outside with their brick domes rising up out of the ground. The water, full of natural therapeutic minerals, springs from the ground at about 40 C. Poets and writers have bathed away their days (and hangovers) there including Pushkin and Dumas.

Drawn and repelled in equal measure by going to the baths, as someone who goes weak at the knees at the thought of hot water and a massage but completely lily-livered about contemplating embarrassing nakedness.  This poetic post by my friend propelled me on, but fear of the unknown, including unacceptable levels of hygiene, filled me with trepidation; I’m not overly picky but wary after reading the accounts of hammams in Istanbul on Trip Advisor and this account

However I took the plunge. A Georgian friend made an appointment for me and I asked which bath it was. “Oh you just go to the very back of the baths, there’s no sign, everyone knows Gulo’s.” I was now stressed on many levels, fear of getting lost, being naked, being ripped off, or immersed in filth. Luckily our guide briefed the taxi driver to take me to the door (it was pouring with rain too), even he had to ask directions twice, but it was actually quite easy to find.

Forget the Zen-like atmosphere of spas and their plinky plonky music. A couple of young men lurked outside the heavy wooden door and inside the large octagonal entrance children chattered on a sofa, ladies milled in and out of a kitchen, and the whole place had the feel of a rather odd living room. However, the lady on the desk was friendly and when I muttered indecisively in reply to her questions about sizes of rooms she just led me to one. OK? Yes I replied and also agreed to “washing” and a towel.

She instructed me to put my belongings on a battered vinyl sofa in an ante-room. Toilet? In the baths and it turned out to be a squat loo, basic but clean.

I believe that none of the baths have original tiling (probably a good thing for hygiene), even the most ornate Iranian-style baths at the top of the square, which is currently under renovation, had utilitarian Soviet-style interior. The walls of this one were covered with a modern irregular mosaic with brown tiles on the floor. It wouldn’t win prizes for beauty but there was an exotic feeling of being under an ancient brick dome with light streaming in from a round skylight. There was a tiled slab, two ropey looking basic showers and a big rectangular tub at the end which I slid into. A sulphurous cloud of vapour surrounded me and I displaced a big wave of water onto the floor. The heat of the water and a bird-brain mentality of not being able to do nothing for very long meant that the 15 minutes in the tub was just the right about of time to soak.

My therapist arrived. Topless. I gingerly hopped out of the bath and onto the slab – face down thank goodness. She scrubbed me back and front with a loofah mitt. The pressure was perfect for my hot-water-lobster-tinged skin; if you are used to the severe excoriations of Moroccan baths you might find it too tame but I’m sure you could ask for harder pressure. Soaping with a flannel, including a light massage, and sloshing with hot water followed. All stresses had evaporated by the end, although I still couldn’t make eye contact when asked to ‘sit’ and buckets of hot water were poured over my head. My masseuse asked “good?”. On my affirmative answer she proceeded to whip off her pants and shower thoroughly in front of me. I was too relaxed to care at this point and spent a little longer soaking before floating out to change in the ante-room. My towel was a very old, but clean, bit of cotton sheeting which actually did the job very well.

After I paid, a mixed party of Russian girls and boys were being shown round the larger room so I joined them to look. This was of more elegant proportions with a cold water bath too. When I started to take pictures the ladies were keen to show me everything including a bare portion of brickwork “antique”.

Tbilisi Sulphur Baths Georgia -mycustardpie.com

Gulo’s is behind these domes next to the hotel

I felt my lungs had been cleared of the passive smoking from dinner the night before (Georgians chain smoke at the table in restaurants) although my friendly taxi driver also lit up on the way home. Argh! I was completely wiped out for the rest of the evening and enjoyed the complete sense of lethargy and relaxation this imposed for a night in. My skin stayed soft for days and days after. A big tick on my ‘to-do in Georgia’ bucket-list and overall spa-type experiences (including a hammam in Istanbul).

These pictures are by my friends who booked a larger room.

Where to find it

The Abanotubani area is not far from Gulo’s – walking towards the baths with the river behind you and the baths on your left, turn left into a small street between the domes, going up hill take the first right into a large car park style courtyard. In front of you are two doors. Gulo’s is the central door, dark wood with black iron fixings (there is no sign).

Or try one of the other baths in Abanotubani.

How much to pay

At Gulo’s I was charged 40 GEL for the room and 10 GEL for washing – and there for just over half and hour (some people spend hours there). Larger private rooms are at higher prices. I gave a tip too.

Other baths charge similar rates plus there is a much lower rate for communal bathing (not my cup of tea). Initially I asked the guide how much it would be and was quoted some silly prices so better to go direct in my opinion.

Other things to know

Taking your own towel is a good idea and going with a friend and booking the larger room is a more luxurious experience. Samira is our favourite masseuse. This bath didn’t appear to have lockers and I had a lot of expensive kit with me (cameras etc.). There is no hair drying facility to my knowledge so either take your own or take something to wrap around your head and go straight home.

Bakhmaro run by Gulo (Tel: 599 58 81 22)
There are 7 rooms for 20 – 50 GEL, 2 rooms for 60 GEL and VIP for 100 GEL (for 20 persons).

Open 07:30am – 01:00am.
Address: Grishashvili 5

Food and Drink: If you are in need of sustenance after your bath, head towards the river and turn right along the main road. The large restaurant set back off the road is called Breadhouse (but only has signs in Georgian). I’ve eaten in both sides and the food is good, particularly the khinhali (dumplings).

This was part of a trip to Georgia courtesy of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, National Georgian Wine Agency, the Georgian Wine Club and Taste Georgia. My visit to the baths was paid for and arranged by me independently.

All images and text copyright mycustardpie.com and not to be reproduced or duplicated anywhere without express permission. email sally@mycustardpie.com

In my kitchen – Market treasures from near and far

May 2, 2015

Here’s what’s in my kitchen at the beginning of May (take a closer look and read the captions by clicking on an individual image, use the arrows to navigate).

Are you enjoying new buds on the trees, rays of warm sunshine, the first signs of Spring and warmer days ahead? Here in Dubai I’m praying that our warmer days hold off just a little bit longer. It’s still cool enough to sit outside in the evenings; we saw Kasabian this weekend and sat on picnic blankets on the grass when we arrived (before dancing down at the front). This week Food E Mag celebrated its first anniversary and arranged a party at Shades by the pool at The Address, Dubai Marina. There were so many faces from Fooderati Arabia I hadn’t seen for ages. It’s lovely to meet up with old friends isn’t it.

My own taste of Spring  came with a quick trip to Georgia last weekend, with a couple of friends. As Europeans now living in the desert, our hearts lifted at the sight of catkins on the trees and small purple flowers peeping through the snow.

We managed to visit the market in Tbilisi a few hours before we flew, so many things in my kitchen were bought there. I love the way Georgians recycle old glass jars and bottles. Sadly, was the last Farmers’ Market on the Terrace for this season so I stocked up with things I’m going to preserve, including tomatoes, peppers and chillies. Friday mornings won’t be the same.

If you are wondering what’s in other kitchens around the globe, visit Celia’s page and follow the links in her side bar for this monthly event.

What’s in your kitchen this May? What’s the weather like where you are (as a Brit, talking about the weather is in my DNA)?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,427 other followers