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Ooh la la…Chocolat…

22 Oct

Dubai, October 22nd, 2010: As I set off on my road trip to Ras Al Khaimah yesterday, I had visions of one of my favourite movies ‘Chocolat’, with Juliette Binoche (flanked by Johnny Depp of course) stirring chilli pods into her chocolate ganache. You’re probably wondering how on earth chocolate relates to Ras Al Khaimah. Well believe it or not, the emirate plays host to the only Swiss chocolatier in the Middle East, Daniel Hutmacher, a seasoned hotelier by trade, and now the owner of L’Atelier de Chocolat, hand producing preservative-free designer chocolates right here in the U.A.E.

 

 

From the small atelier set-up, him and his team including chocolatier Serge Decrauzathand (previously Executive pastry chef for famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten) make chocolates for corporates, hotels, airlines and private clients, as well as selling a limited range through QuickDubai and Mange Tout. Great to see L’Atelier is HACCP (international hygiene standard) compliant, no mean feat here in the U.A.E.

Daniel took me on a guided tour of the boutique premises, and I was astounded by the simplicity of the production process. The chocolate is sourced from the some of the best suppliers of cocoa beans in Switzerland, and once shipped to RAK, production begins. Chocolat’s USP is that all ingredients are natural and completely preservative free, whether that’s the fresh fruit ingredients such as the passion fruit that Serge was blending during my visit, or right through to the numerous spices, and teas used.

Now did you know that chocolate should be stored at an ideal temperature of 18 degrees celsius? – so forget the old wives tale of never storing chocolate in the fridge. For home users, Daniel advises putting chocolate in a sealed tupperware container and into the fridge, remove it an hour or so before serving and you’re good to go. Now no tour would be complete without tasting the product itself…I sampled a host of chocolates from coconut, pina colada (without the rum!), chestnut, rooibos tea, tarte tatin and my favourite raspberry and chilli. Chocolate surely does get those feel-good endorphins going…I was in seventh heaven.

Chocaholics like FooDiva will be pleased to hear that a series of retail stores are planned across the region starting with Dubai – I wonder if Johnny Depp will pop in.

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Now considering I had breakfasted on exquisite chocolate, I am not quite sure why I decided to stop off at Banyan Tree Al Wadi for lunch, but the FooDiva in me was determined to try it…given I was in the vicinity of course. The resort opened earlier this year in Wadi Khadeja, and to be honest the grounds and facilities looked a tad barren and not particularly welcoming.

Anyhow, my objective was a quick lunch at the resort’s all-day dining restaurant Al Waha (oasis). Weather was beautiful enough to sit outside and I ordered a salad of grilled sardines wrapped in prosciutto, on a bed of rocket and pan fried red onions with wholegrain mustard and orange dressing – topped with a parma ham wrapped grisini stick. The combination of sardines with prosciutto really intrigued me, and I must admit the juiciness of the fish and the salty pork did the trick. Service was attentive without being obtrusive. If you’re en route to RAK or returning to Dubai and need a quick bite do pop in – it’s only seven kilometres off Emirates road.

A bientot. FooDiva. x

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FooDiva in the Forbidden City

1 Sep

Wednesday, 1st September, Beijing: FooDiva’s first foodie experience in the Forbidden City got off to a heavenly start last night – just two words really Beijing duck (otherwise known as Peking duck). It’s always been top of my list of Chinese foodie delights, and after last night it shall continue to be. ‘Da Dong’ which has three restaurants in the capital specialises in Beijing duck – we visited the newest and nearest one to our hotel. By the way Hilton Beijing Wangfujing certainly lives up to its excellent boutiquey reputation – the walk-in-wardrobe alone is enough to make any gal book a room! Check out the beautifully presented in-room foodie amenity below – the cherries dipped in dark chocolate are divine. 

Da Dong’s claim to fame is duck that is less fatty than normal if that’s possible, yet still as mouth-watering. Slick monochrome lacquer decor, high ceilings and a central kitchen to view the chefs weave their magic with wood-roasted duck. Accompanied with slither thin, fresh steamed pancakes, and an array of condiments – not just your usual plum sauce, spring onions and cucumbers. The duck was to tender and juicy (all-be-it less fatty)…just divine. We also ordered prawns marinated in mustard, and some deep fried cuttle fish…and chrysanthemum tea. I can’t wait to return, hopefully I can squeeze in another visit before I leave.

  

Weather in Beijing is now late 20’s, just perfect for sightseeing even though it’s a tad grey and smoggy. The Forbidden City (with its never-ending halls and pagodas) and Tiananmen Square are all historical must-see’s, as is the Lama Temple – the largest Buddhist temple outside Tibet complete with a magnificent 18-metre high sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha.

Jingshan Park makes for a beautiful stroll, you can even watch couples learning to tango.

We wandered through the traditional ‘hutong’ alleyways and onto the Houhai district set on a lake surrounded by cafes – a bit tacky to be honest. Best seen at night time I say!

Xeixie for now.

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