Diverse Dubai and enjoying action-packed Autumn
The wonderful, energizing, exciting thing about life in Dubai is its diversity. One morning, you could be sitting on the floor of a wooden boat, sharing black tea with a group of sailors, their faces gnarly from their oceans travels, missing teeth due to their habit of sucking sugar cubes with their tea. In the evening your eyes could be dazzled by a beautiful Emirati bride, who arrives completely alone and enters a vast ballroom the size of several football pitches. This did happen to me on one single day in October – and I also fitted in a dinner of miniature canapé of British classics with some lovely friends and a baby shower/book club meeting within the same 12 hours.
When did life get so crazy? It sort of crept up on me as I wondered why, halfway through October, I was a little tired. Our 20th wedding anniversary, a fine wine tasting, an encyclopedic gin masterclass, discovering the best and most challenging yoga ever. I dipped my toe into celebrity culture for a fleeting moment or two, made enjoyable by having a laugh with old friends; and was invited on radio to talk about my visit to Georgia and food festivals in Britain.
I went to India with four farmers from the U.A.E. Back in Dubai, I met Polish apple growers. There were visitors from the UK, Autumn weather cooling for the first barbecue of the season, meeting the man with the most expensive tongue in the world, making my Christmas cake, eating a feast cooked over a fire by a German lady camel breeder in the desert. Honestly, I’m not making this up. Contrary to popular belief, I do not blog for a living, so this was around work and family demands. I am not complaining though….and here are the highlights:
Places to drink
Mint Leaf of London The guys at Mint Leaf really know their stuff and guided our all female group of spirit lovers (contact me if you are interested in joining) through a mind-bogglingly interesting gin tasting with some superb cocktails to match.
Hakkasan Every wine is tasted with a range of dishes by a panel (which I joined for one session) before it makes to to the wine list at Hakkasan. Impressive quality control.*
Cave I got together with wine-loving friends to investigate Grenache – coincidently Rhone wines were the theme in October and I also tasted some beautiful Burgundy at Cave, Conrad Dubai courtesy of Le Clos (if you are a regular customer you’ll make it to their invite list).
Places to eat
La Petite Maison KP and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary dinner at La Petite Maison. The service is impeccable. The really knowledgeable female sommelier guided us from an extensive list of wine available by the glass (rare for Dubai). Every dish was simply cooked, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious. My only regret is that I ordered the rabbit as I subsequently read this. Very pricey but top of my list for special occasions.
La Serre Ex-LPM chef Izu Ani has made waves at La Serre and I was invited to sit at the Chef’s Table for an evening organised by Restronaut and Badoit water. Chef Izu delves into different cultures and tries unexpected ingredients – I’d never had cassava on a fine dining menu – and really gets to understand the defining notes of the cuisine and translates them in his kitchen. The whole turbot in a salt crust was a highlight and the 50 hour braised beef short-ribs. His interaction with his team of chefs (from all corners of the globe) was also fascinating to see and their mutual respect was evident. A real pleasure to witness. Chef and Steward’s interview with Chef Izu is well worth a read. The next Badoit dinner is on 16th December at Traiteur, Park Hyatt.*
Rivington Grill We sat on the terrace with our guests from the UK overlooking the coastline right down to The Palm and beyond …
Baker & Spice, Souk Al Bahar …all visitors love the combination of sitting on the terrace, gazing up at the Burj Khalifa and eating the best shakshouka in town for breakfast…
Ravis …but they had one request we couldn’t refuse. The infamous Ravis in Satwa.
Creekside … the new ‘must do’ spot for visitors and residents. Serving Emirati classics with a twist which you can eat while watching the abras dart by.
Bystro Since its recent makeover, it’s my favourite new place in Umm Suqeim 2 for meeting people. Decent casual food, nice staff, reasonably priced.
The Hamptons Cafe Booking essential for this cafe that looks like it’s been transplanted from a Ralph Lauren interiors catalogue onto Jumeirah Beach Road. Need to consult my personal shopper before I go next time, but I loved it. Don’t judge me.
Sumo Sushi options are abundant in Dubai but when I get a craving for maki I have my favourite places. The newly refurbished Sumo Sushi and Bento in Town Centre Mall is worth a visit for a relaxing sushi lunch (and I made an origami crane at the opening).*
Lafayette Gourmet catering British classics in bite-sized nibbles beautifully executed by Russell Impiazzi and his team from Lafayette Gourmet. The ‘go-to’ place for event catering – Their new event manager has hot-footed it from the Admirable Crichton in London. The occasion was another Food Photography workshop by Meeta; I’ve hung up hat from being involved but it was a pleasure to be toasting another succesful event – with 24 carat gold suffused, sparkling, non-alcoholic white wine!
Asia Asia Pier 7 has to be the perfect venue for Winter dining in Dubai as all the restaurants have huge outdoor terraces with stunning views across the Marina. KP tested Simon Rimmer’s The Scene and enjoyed the traditional comfort food menu, Fume got my thumbs up for its down to earth menu, casual vibe and well-priced wine list. A bit flummoxed about Asia Asia and largely agree with this review (giving it another try tonight).
Bussola It was difficult NOT to eat Italian during two weeks in November as the Italian Cuisine World Summit hit Dubai. A bevy of Michelin starred chefs cooked at a variety of restaurants and events and I was invited to dinner at Bussola. I’d forgotten how just lovely it is to sit on their terrace overlooking the sea; we had 2 star Michelin Chef Lionello Cera to thank for our set menu of various fishy delights – Chef Lionello’s father was a fisherman and he never cooks meat. For more about the summit visit my friend Dima Sharif who did an amazing job as ambassador for the event.*
Sitting with sailors Clambering on board a trading dhow moored on the Dubai Creek and sharing tea with a group of sailors was an experience so removed from my everyday life. And then twelve hours later I was doing this …
Guest at an Emirati wedding Her image is projected in grainy black and white onto huge screens showing her slow deliberate progress along a curved catwalk to a raised platform, her lacy, white train rearranged at intervals by a team of ladies dedicated to her appearance, while the rest of the all-female audience, coated in jewels and the most immaculate make up and gowns, gazes in appreciation. While a romantic, orchestral theme booms around the room, it takes this beautiful bride about 15 minutes to reach a dias where she elegantly seats herself on an ornate banquette. We join the queue to have our photograph taken with her. Her impeccably groomed close friends join her first, taking selfies on their phones although sharing them is forbidden in case men see them unveiled. This was my first experience of an Emirati wedding and invited by one of the first members of our Fooderati Arabia group of UAE food bloggers. I was wide-eyed as I sat at one of well-over a hundred round tables bedecked with magnificent floral decorations. The guests all looked as though they had spent a whole day in the salon with immaculate hair, make-up, eyebrows, nails and stunning gowns. A lavish buffet, some dancing and then veils went on as a male delegation arrived including the bride’s father, the bridegroom and her father-in-law. More photos with the bride who donned a discreet lacy white veil. An evening I will never forget.
A feast over fire I can’t wait to tell you all about sitting under the stars in the desert eating a traditional Emirati feast cooked over an open fire by a German lady camel breeder…
Pushing my boundaries
Moonwater and Terrasol Yoga I’ve tried several yoga classes but they were either too boring or too fast (like yoga aerobics… all those sun salutations!). Cate’s wonderful sessions of Vinyasa flow yoga are challenging but so rewarding. I not only feel fitter, stronger and more flexible but my energy levels and breathing has improved (I’m mildly asthmatic), my concentration and focus is better and it helps with mindfulness – which I’m trying to practice after reading Ruby Wax’s Sane New World. The icing on the cake is that while practising in a candle-lit room you can glimpse the Burj Al Arab’s lit-up antics through the window. Highly recommended – join her at the Surf House – more info here.
Dubai Eye Feeling the fear and doing it anyway – why do you think I’m a blogger hiding behind my screen?! Actually managed to take a deep breath and enjoy being on the Travel Show on Dubai Eye. Thanks to Mark Lloyd and Lucy Taylor for making me feel at ease while reliving the delights of Georgia and British Food Festivals. Listen here…
Cle Probably the most anticipated restaurant opening of the year, headed up by Greg Malouf. Having tasted his food before, I was eager to go. The black interior (more like a nightclub) and celebrity presence (Kloe Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Hrithik Roshan, Irina Shayk, Alessandra Ambrosio and Akon) overshadowed the food which had some glitches (hard to avoid with a brand new operation and for this number of people). High points included an amazing salad, Dom Pérignon all night and lovely Greg who, unlike the crowd, is low-key, gentle and kind. With a terrace overlooking DIFC, and some weeks to iron out the kinks, now is the time to visit.*
Nobu The chance to taste dishes from Nobu chefs around the world all in the Asateer tent at Atlantis was too good an opportunity to miss. Nobu himself obliged with poses to camera – he seems quiet but I think he enjoys the limelight. The yuzu martinis were actually the stand out taste for me – perhaps this sort of subtle, carefully created food needs a calmer environment (like Nobu’s garden). I spoke to Millie Mackintosh at the request of elder teen and she seemed very nice. Thoroughly enjoyable evening with good friends.*
Majlis Gallery When the Majlis Gallery asked me to host one of the forty artists descending on Dubai for their 25th anniversary celebrations I was happy to say yes. June Bartlett was that artist, both talented and charming, and strolling around the beautiful space of the gallery and chatting to so many amazingly creative (and often rather eccentric and humourous) people was completely energizing. I bought a Khaled Al Saai calligraphy which will hang on my wall close to a beautiful drawing of Oman from June. It’s the first place I recommend to visitors but residents often forget about this treasure of a place.
International Writers Centre Further along the creek, all sorts of exciting cultural things are happening. The neglected Shingdaga area is having a restorative shot in the arm and the Dubai International Writers Centre is just one project. A beautiful evening with traditional Emirati cooking, a film, some speeches and poetry readings including one by Ben Okri – all in an open air space amid traditional buildings.
Al Serkal Avenue “Come and see Tony’s chair” was the subject of a friend’s email, inviting me to visit a piece of furniture her husband had designed. I’m so glad she did as the open day at this collection of art galleries and studios within the warehouse district of Al Quoz was enervating and very cool. There was a small collection of street food vendors too. And the good news is it is doubling in size (opening in 2015).
Book club I need to give a shout out to my fantastic book club – a wonderful group of ten ladies of four different decades in age and seven nationalities. Since September we’ve discussed Tanamera by Noel Barber (a vivid account of war-time in Singapore although I had issues with the author’s portrayal of women), The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (a page-turner with not much depth), A girl is a half-formed thing by Eimear McBride (challenging, Joyce-like and harrowingly depressing). We threw a baby shower orchestrated by the American member of our group – believe me, the baby bottle drinking and nappy (diaper) games were an eye opener.
You couldn’t make this up
“Please come and meet the man with the world’s most expensive tongue – at the only 7 star hotel in the world”. So I sat in the ballroom of the Burj Al Arab and met Costa’s Master of Coffee, Gennaro Pelliccia. Gennaro had worked his way up through the ranks of Costa Coffee (which started as a small business run by the Costa family in the same area of London) from a temporary job while at University to chief taster. He talked us through the art of cupping which is used to taste every batch of coffee beans that arrive at Costa for quality control. Gennaro’s tastebuds are honed to detect potential faults and his decision could lead to a batch being rejected. We all had a go at cupping and a few people were guided through the process of making a cup of coffee – much harder than it looks. Gennaro had been a gentle speaker, very modest, gentlemanly and with a slight reserve. I assumed that he’d be a super-taster (a genetic predisposition to having a heightened sense of taste which affects about 15% of men and 35% of women) but he said not. His tasting ability was learned from constant practice. Out of all the journalists and media in the room who was the person to request that he pose with his tongue out? Ahem, some food blogger. There was a media storm as Gennaro transformed into the coffee-tasting equivalent of the lead singer of KISS with a bean on his tongue.
As the ‘Autumn’ comes to a close, wonderful Dubai winter temperatures have finally arrived and with them, the first abundant harvest of local vegetables. The first of the new season of the Farmers’ Market was truly a joy and I returned with my bags full to KP’s eye rolling (which is interpreted as ‘how on earth are we going to eat all that veg?’). Ten farms have stalls this season including one that’s reaping its first crops, called Organic Oasis, and run by the first female farmer owner at the market, Shaikha. It was fantastic to meet her (we had a big chat about parsnips). Astraea produces beautiful olive oil from their family olive grove on a Greek island called Samothrace. Anastasia, the owner of the grove was at the market this week to help Costa her son who lives in the UAE. She brought along some dried wild herbs from the island which had been gathered by a woman’s cooperative. Baker and Spice treated a group of bloggers (including me) to a market breakfast showcasing the menu that comes off the grill. My favourite is the English muffin made with spinach, stuffed with wilted spinach (from the farmers) and a fried egg. This is my kind of food shopping.
Food E Mag I almost forgot to mention this fantastic online food magazine created by some Fooderati Arabia chums. Proud to announce that I’m the ‘food sourcing’ contributor. December issue out soon but in the meantime please browse Autumn…
With beautiful temperatures, a few clouds in the sky and a hint of some rain, and months of outdoor living ahead, Dubai is a marvellous place to be right now. A good time to wish everyone in the United Arab Emirates a very happy 43rd National Day.
*I was an invited guest to events marked with a star – but with no obligation to write anything and all opinions are my own.