There’s a frivolous excitement about ordering a cocktail. It makes the start of an evening special and really gets the party started. The alchemy of different spirits, mixers, juices and ingredients in a distinctive glass can be akin to turning base metal into gold. But all too often cocktails are meh-tails – a watery, over-iced, over-sweet disappointment. And if you do have a great one then they are nigh on impossible to make at home, requiring botanicals plucked at full moon from the middle of a rain forest and a professional sous vide machine. Visiting the Embassy Club Dubai recently, I was on the hunt for an amazing cocktail that I could make for myself and my friends.
Entering a nightclub in the afternoon is a strange experience. This is intensified when some of the leading bartenders in the world are mixing up drinks and glamorous PR and media people are standing around smoking, with light streaming through the windows, the water of the Dubai Marina glinting in the sunshine many floors below. Feeling fairly conspicuous clomping up the stairs in my Birkenstocks and casual Dubai summer attire, I was a little tongue-tied meeting Jeff Bell from PDT, New York and Charles Joly from Chicago – the latter dapper in waistcoat and a smooth line in patter.
Charles and Jeff were in the Dubai for the UAE Diageo World Class finals, a hotly contested global bartending competition, as a Dubai bartender has been in the top five every year for the past five years and came in second two years ago. Jet lag followed by a succession of late nights was faintly discernible. At moments like these I keep it simple and instead of a stream of questions I just asked them to make me a great gin cocktail that would not be too complicated to replicate at home. And they did.
The gin-gin mule was good. Gin and ginger combine brilliantly. But Jeff normally uses his own homemade ginger beer which would make it less sweet and more intensely gingery (which I’d like to taste solo). I fell in love with the Apposta – although Charles just deemed it ‘passable’. He described it as a more refreshing version of a Negroni – and I agree, the pink grapefruit citrus bitterness offsetting the medicinal orange peel of the Aperol and the botanicals of the gin.
Foodiva had a proper chat with Charles and managed to extract some fascinating commentary on cocktail making. Mix up one of these to sip while you’re reading.
Charles Joly explained that apposta means ‘on purpose’ in Italian. He’s the current Diageo Global World Class Champion (2014), the first American ever to win it. Voted American Bartender of the Year in 2013 he’s renowned for a mad scientist approach toward creating the perfect drink. This is his delicious creation.
- 60ml gin (Charles used Tanqueray 10)
- 30ml Aperol
- 30ml sweet vermouth (he used Punt e mes)
- 15ml fresh lemon juice
- approx 60ml San Pellegrino Pompelmo (grapefruit) Soda
- grapefruit peel and fresh thyme sprig to garnish
Build over 4 cubes of ice into a chilled Collins glass. Add the gin, Aperol, sweet vermouth, lemon juice and stir briefly. Top up with grapefruit soda (you could use bitter lemon or ‘squirt’ as an alternative). Garnish with grapefruit peel expressed (slightly squeezed) and placed in the drink. Add thyme and 2 narrow straws.
Recipe given to me by Jeff Bell of PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in New York (which is a secret reservations only bar which looks exquisitely intimate and mysterious). Jeff was named 2013 StarChefs.com Rising Star Mixologist and was the US representative at Diageo World Class global finals in 2013 coming second overall at the global finals. The Gin-gin mule was invented by Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club, it requires homemade ginger beer which looks pretty simple to make.
- 6 mint leaves (plus more to garnish)
- 20ml fresh lime juice
- 30ml simple syrup
- 45ml gin (Jeff used Tanqueray)
- 30ml homemade ginger beer
- Slice of lime and candied ginger to garnish (optional)
Muddle the mint sprigs with the lime juice and simple syrup. Place the muddled mixture with the gin and ginger beer in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a Tom Collins glass. Garnish with more fresh mint sprigs.
Mehmet Nur Sur from Zuma Abu Dhabi won the the Diageo Reserve World Class UAE Bartender of the Year 2015 and will compete against bartenders from around the world at the seventh annual Global Diageo World Class Competition to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in October.
Cocktails – magical or a let down? Ever make them at home? What’s your favourite?
…and why you should visit the New Wine Festival in Tbilisi.
Grey clouds muffle the Spring sunshine but under the bright awnings no-one seems at all fazed by this. Hundreds of people have gathered together in Deda Ena Park to celebrate one thing – Georgian wine-making.
The family winemaker stalls are cheek by jowl and covered with plates of cheese, bread and the ultimate Georgian combination of the two – khachapuri – cheese cooked into bread. The Georgians have over forty different variations of this rib-sticking, irresistible, carb-laden oozy speciality. Vessels of all kinds from pottery crocks, to bottles scrawled with hand-written labels, are spread across the tables. It’s the norm for Georgian families to make their own wine even if they have to ferment the grapes on the balcony of their city flat or buy grapes from another region.
Along a path, in a clearing among towering trees are the traditional winemakers who follow a method used for centuries in Georgia, which was nearly lost under a hundred years of Soviet rule, of fermenting their wines in qvevri. These are enormous clay vessels, taking a special skill to make, which are buried underground and sealed with beeswax. Both red and white wines are often fermented on the skins, pips and even stalks to give a distinctive style to the wines. Gravity causes natural filtration and the method has been emulated in other countries as the ultimate in natural wine making and it has UNESCO status.
Another area of the park houses stalls and tents belonging to larger producers using conventional wine-making techniques but mainly indigenous Georgian grape varieties which are estimated at about 525 (although a core of about 45 are used commercially at present).
Jolly, relaxed, convivial; music plays as visitors wander about tasting wine, washing down the bread and cheese. More and more families stroll into the park and something dawns on me that is utterly astonishing, but appears totally normal to the Georgians. This wine festival is absolutely free of charge – anyone can come into the park, taste wine from the stalls and enjoy their spread of food.
A group of men in traditional dress break into haunting polyphonic singing which announces the ceremonial opening of a qvevri. Chairman of the National Wine Agency, Giorgi Samanishvili, breaks the beeswax seal and dips a ladle into clear white wine, sharing it into glasses for whoever wants to drink.
For 10 lari you can buy a wine glass and tasting pouch for hanging the glass around your neck if you’d rather not taste out of plastic cups. Juggling a bag, camera, phone and my attention elsewhere I miss the pouch and my glass shatters to the floor. My efforts to move the shards out of the way of passing pedestrians is interrupted by a man who races up with a brush and scoops them away. I haven’t noticed until this moment a small army of cleaners dotted around the park.
All ages are present at the festival, a few families in traditional dress, a small girl looking very important holding tightly to the hand of her toddler brother who looks totally bewildered. A few parents are giving their children tiny sips of wine. I ask one stallholder if the grandson on her lap likes wine, “yes of course” she says proudly. Wine is at the heart of this culture, written into its history and language.
A band playing some excellent jazz draws me to a bit of the park close to the river. Skewers of meat are being grilled over charcoal and they’ve set up a bread oven or tone to make fresh shotis puri, diamond-shaped flat breads with a honey-combed centred. Meanwhile sixty wine companies, winemakers and family cellars continued to pour their late harvest (or new) wines with at least 72 grape varieties, to an appreciative audience.
All this gets me to the crux of…
Why Georgians are the best people to host a wine fair
1. Wine is in Georgian’s blood, so rooted into their culture, it’s part of everyday life. There was no pushing and shoving, no drunkenness, no over-indulgence on an obvious scale. Can you imagine a civilised free wine festival anywhere else in the world? Me neither.
2. Hospitality to visitors is intrinsic. Living in the Middle East, I’ve been the recipient of legendary levels of generosity; with a Dad who was Polish I also know all about force feeding visitors; but Georgians take it to another level entirely. Everyone is welcome.
3. There is a certain way of doing things. Perhaps it was the time under communism but, despite their laid back friendly appearance, there is a way of doing things that Georgians adhere to. I was the guest of an amazing wine tasting at a venue with stunning views of the city the night before which was the official ceremony to open the New Wine Festival. There was attention to detail in organising the event, such as the sweeper-uppers, which meant it felt effortless.
4. They are relaxed about things that matter. A trust that people are adult enough to drink from glass (ahem) in a park without going OTT on health and safety. A family environment meaning that wine is something to be savoured, respected and enjoyed in moderation.
5. Georgia is the longest continuous wine making culture in the world with over 500 unique grape varieties and wine making traditions. Surely the perfect foil to the intensive viticulture, commercialisation and homogenization of the global wine market which focuses on a handful of popular grapes with cookie cutter styles of wine. No more boring wine.
Meet you there next year? In the meantime, here are some of my (shaky iPhone) video highlights:
Central Tbilisi is a very attractive, the Mtkvari river divides it and many bridges cross its brown waters (fed from the mountains) including the famous Peace bridge which looks like a modern, transparent armadillo. At night, particularly when viewed from the cable car or the top of the funicular railway, the lights of many splendid churches and the Narikhala fortress reflect magically from its surface.
With pictures in the news a few weeks ago of escaped wild creatures from Tbilisi zoo, cars being dug out of silt and the reports of fatalities both human and animal caused when the river Mtkvari flooded the city, it’s hard to imagine that, in March, I was enjoying this really special event on its banks. The Georgians have shown their resilience yet again and everyone has pitched in to help disaster-struck victims, roads are clear and I have been assured by Georgians that it’s perfectly safe for visitors, who will receive the usual magnificently warm welcome.
How to visit the next New Wine Festival in Tbilisi: Pre-publicity was a bit thin on the ground. Visit Vinoge for information about Georgian wine including details of the next festival when available. Follow mycustardpie on Facebook and Twitter where I’ll post details as soon as I have them.
More about the New Wine Festival 2015:
- New Wine Festival with the New Venue and New Drive! on Vinoge
- New Wine Festival 2015, Tbilisi: bijzondere wijnen op een bijzonder evenement (Wine Chronicles) – in Dutch
- Rare Georgian Wines at the 2015 New Wine Festival in Tbilisi by Sarah May Grunwald of Taste Georgia
- Georgia: Wine Culture on Muse Radio
- New Wine Festival 2015 in Tbilisi on Georgian Recipes
- The Tbilisi New Wine Festival on Travel Freak
- Georgia celebrates New Wine Festival 2015 on Demotix
I travelled to Georgia as a guest of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, the Georgian Wine Club and the Georgian National Wine Agency.
Please note that no images or content can be reproduced in part or in full without express permission from myself. Ask first.
Read more about my other visits to Georgia here.
Before 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).
Salted caramel filled mocha stout and chocolate muffins with lime and ginger drizzle
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)
- Sift the flour, cacao and baking powder into bowl.
- Beat the eggs with the oil and stout. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Add the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
- Line a 12 cup muffin tray with baking cases and spoon in the mixture (I use an ice cream scoop).
- Bake in a preheated oven to 200C for about 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- 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)
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.
Dig 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).
Have I persuaded you to come over to the dark side?
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.
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)?
About 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.
It 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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)
- Add the water and olive oil to the sourdough starter mix lightly to combine
- 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.
- Give a few turns of the dough to knead very lightly and form into a smooth, round ball by tucking the sides underneath.
- Put into an oiled bowl, cover and leave to develop for about 4 hours.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
As 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.
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.
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
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
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.