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Armani’s Amal

4 Nov

Dubai; Now you know FooDiva loves any excuse to take in Dubai’s magical fountains, so given I was heading to an event at Armani Prive (the hotel’s nightclub) last night, my guest and I thought we’d first try out their tapas and bubbles at the champagne bar. Well sadly not, the bar was closed for a private event…for Tom Cruise and crew perhaps? Having scaled Burj Khalifa yesterday am sure he deserved a bottle or two.

Now the hotel’s Indian restaurant, Amal, has been on FooDiva’s wish list for a little while, so we bagged ourselves a table on the third floor terrace overlooking the fountains. With less than an hour to spare, we went straight to mains and ordered prawns in a coconut curry sauce and dhal makhani, accompanied by steamed basmati rice and plain naan (and a couple of bellini proseccos). An amuse bouche of potato cake topped with minted yoghurt, together with mini rolled poppadoms dipped in mango chutney and mint sauce arrived almost immediately. You certainly can’t fault their service – prompt and exemplary. The two dishes were delicious…succulent prawns…we asked for mild and they certainly delivered. And the dhal was as buttery as it should be. We refused dessert and were presented with a teeny package of Indian sweets, truly lovely touch even though I really don’t have much of a sweet tooth for all things Indian. With the fountains dancing away to Bocelli, I would certainly return to eat my way further through their menu.

A bientôt. FooDiva. x

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FooDiva tidbits

27 Oct

Dubai; There’s one restaurant in Dubai that consistently delivers; 1. quality food at a reasonable price with a menu that continually evolves, 2. excellent service and no upselling thank goodness! and 3. breathtaking location overlooking the world’s highest fountains. It’s none other than Rivington Grill, my all-time Dubai favourite. It’s been operating for a little while, but I wanted to let FooDiva fans know they have recently added a ‘pie of the day’ dish, and when I dined there it was cottage pie. That’s a first for Dubai I believe, so other than my kitchen you need to head there for your British classic fix. I’ve also been known to pop into Rivington just for dessert and tea, so make sure you leave enough room for scrumptious puddings.

A venue that’s not widely publicised, but deserves a FooDiva mention is The Observatory at the Marriott Harbour Hotel. With a stunning location on the 52nd floor, the restaurant and bar offer panoramic 360 degree views of Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah and Sheikh Zayed. It has one of Dubai’s most inventive bar menus; try the baked camembert with thyme, butter chicken with paratha and trio of mini burgers.

I realise FooDiva only recently e-introduced you to Chef Maurizio, but I just had to share an impromptu Sunday supper in his very own kitchen. Starter was crab on a bed of endive (chicory) accompanied by very finely chopped celery and fennel, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Not only was there plenty of crab meat, but it was ever so juicy.

Maurizio's crab

Maurizio's crab

And the piece de resistance, was no, not French, or Italian, but Spanish…red snapper on a bed of SO thinly sliced potatoes they were almost crisp-like, sun dried tomatoes, capers and black olives all baked in the oven, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of black pepper. DIVINE! So much so I just had to have three servings of potatoes – no portion control diet for me that night.

Maurizio's red snapper with magical potatoes

Maurizio's red snapper with magical potatoes

Maurizio weaves similar magic in his kitchen practically every evening – try and blag yourselves an invite, or else am sure he wouldn’t mind sharing his recipes. (E: mauriziodubai@gmail.com M: +971 50 4282 289)

A bientot.

FooDiva. x

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

Ma saalama from Alexandria

10 Oct

Alexandria, October 10th, 2010: Just a quick posting before I leave Alexandria…I have to pay credit to the Four Seasons San Stefano. Those of you that have stayed with Four Seasons hotels will know why. Apart from the exquisitely luxurious product, the service is outstanding in every possible way…every hotel chain likes to lay claim to anticipating guest needs and surpassing expectations, but apart from certain boutique hotels, I have only ever seen this delivered at Four Seasons. From the team member adjusting your sun lounger just at the right moment (yes it’s a hard life I know) to handing out bottles of water as you head off on your sightseeing journey and greeting you by your name every time you enter the hotel, the team is exceptionally well trained. And I must mention the L’Occitane bathroom amenities, you certainly have me hooked.

On the F&B front, the hotel’s ‘Fish’ restaurant (OK, yes very unimaginative name) has a stunning location on a private beach that you can access by underground passage in Four Seasons style. Feast on freshly caught fish, the deep fried calamari was outstandingly tender and crunchy, or there are plenty of meat and veggie options. In the background, a lady sits baking my now daily consumption of Egyptian baladi bread. And a waiter is on hand with a blanket to shield you from the wind (I think winter has arrived!).

I will leave you with some photos of Four Seasons’ signature flower arrangements.

Until my next adventure. My surprise is very much on its way – please be patient.

A bientot.

FooDiva. x

Alexandria beckons FooDiva

9 Oct

Alexandria, October 9th, 2010; As you know, the purpose of my Egyptian visit was Alexandria, and I am finally here to rediscover my Greek roots, or Cypriot I should say. Perhaps I am feeling a tad homesick…or those that truly know me perhaps not. According to the Four Seasons, where I am now ensconced (in their beautiful bar with a very old England library feel), the famous British author Lawrence Durrell referred to Alexandria as the ‘Capital of Memory’, so I am hoping my brief stay will be memorable. If not, you won’t be reading much.

When I say rediscover my Greek roots, I mean eat my way through as much Greek food as possible. Now that’s one thing I do miss. Thanks to Alexander the Great conquering Alexandria in 330BC (and hence the name), the Greek heritage is evident throughout Egypt’s first capital. Set on the Mediteranean Sea and surrounded by beautiful colonial buildings, you are transported back in time, well I was anyway.

Anyhow moving on, FooDiva’s first stop last night was the White & Blue Santa Lucia restaurant, commonly known as the Greek Club – it came highly recommended so let’s see. Don’t let the name confuse you, it’s far from a dance and music club, but a restaurant serving traditional Greek cuisine. We sat at our al fresco table on the second storey of the Greek nautical club, overlooking the citadel, with fishing boats glimmering in the dark. With an enticing menu of traditional Greek dishes, we opted for deep fried fetta, ‘kolokithokeftedes’ ie. shredded zucchini balls, fetta with tomato dip and traditional ‘choriatiki’ salad – accompanied by freshly baked pitta bread Egyptian style. Our main courses were beef souvlaki (kebab) and grilled chicken. Well apart from the ‘kolokithokeftedes’ which were foodelicious, the other dishes disappointed, mainly because they were way too salty and lacked flavour. The meat was also tough. So all in all, the Greek Club failed the FooDiva test…oh well, so much for my Greek Alexandrian experience.

On the sightseeing front, I would recommend hiring a guide and driver for the day to wizz you round the key sights. Naturally, we had to fit in a couple of beautiful Greek Orthodox churches – otherwise the citadel and lighthouse are worth visiting, and the highlight hands down is the Bibliotheca Alexandria. Wow, what an impressive building, it’s the second largest library in the world (after the US Senate) housing two million books and plenty of shelf space for more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fish Market restaurant is a great lunch venue overlooking the corniche – an array of traditional Egyptian appetisers, followed by freshly grilled fish…squid, prawns and sea bass. I guess the Egyptians mastered the art of cooking better than the Greeks here.

Before I sign off, I completely forgot to mention the Sayadin (Fisherman) restaurant at the Moevenpick Resort & Spa El Gouna. Perched on stilts right on the beach, it’s Greek taverna style feel really captures my attention every time I visit. An extensive menu, my favourites are always the grilled seafood catch of the day, but you can’t go wrong with other specialities – for lunch it’s lovely and casual, and the evening’s are very romantic – take your pick.

Anyway as my friend Elena always says. ‘afta’ , ie. Greek for ‘that’s all’. On that note, a bientot – more later.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva calls on Egypt

7 Oct

El Gouna, Egypt, October 6th 2010; You’re no doubt wondering, why’s FooDiva in Egypt?….well over the years whilst growing up in Cyprus and over a decade working in the Middle East, I have travelled to Egypt umpteen times…but never to Alexandria and hence with my sabbatical in full flow I had to visit. But first things first…

I spent one night in Cairo at my old work haunt, the Conrad (thank you Kevin!), and had to try out their newly transformed F&B venues. OMG, what a change, so much so, I thought I had descended on the wrong floor. Level two now houses three new venues; Kamala for South East Asian, Oak Grill, a Scandinavian treat, and Stage One, an upscale lounge bar with spectacular Nile views. I lunched at Kamala, and whenever I spot my all-time favourite Balinese dish Nasi Goreng on any menu, I always have to try it out to see if it rivals the Dubai version at Ginseng. Well it certainly lives up to FooDiva’s expectations, accompanied by what I am sure is Cairo’s only selection of flower teas. Stage One is perfect for pre or post dinner cocktails. Oak Grill will have to wait for my next visit, as will Solana when it opens later this year. In the meantime, Egyptian socialites please add Conrad Cairo to your dinner wish list.

Leaving bustling Cairo behind, I am now ensconced in El Gouna….for those not in the know it’s an integrated lifestyle community in a lagoon setting housing everything you can imagine…hotels…restaurants…residences…golf courses…schools…hospitals…you name it they’ve got it. Egyptians like to refer to it as the ‘Venice of the Middle East’ – I’ll let you decide if you agree.

I was thrilled to hear that my favourite Egyptian restaurant Abou El Sid had opened an outlet here. If you’ve not tried the Cairo Zamalek branch, then please make sure you do. So off we went for dinner on night one. Located in the so-called ‘Downtown’ area, Abou El Sid overlooks one of the many lagoons. Indoors, it’s not as cosy as it’s Cairo counterpart, but great to have the option to dine outside especially with such beautiful weather. Friends think I am crazy, but I am a huge fan of the Egyptian ‘kosheri’ dish, basically a melange of rice, macaroni, lentil and fried onions topped with a spicy tomato sauce which I always eat it when in town. The Abou El Sid version featured spaghetti instead of macaroni, which does not marry very well with the other ingredients, so no seal of approval from FooDiva. We also selected stuffed sausages, chicken liver Alexandrian style, oriental salad and of course tahini. All accompanied with the traditional straight-from-the-oven Egyptian wholemeal pitta bread. And my dad’s main course was circasian chicken in walnut sauce, according to the menu, a very old Egyptian dish. Apart from the sausages which were not as yummy as Abou El Sid Dubai (yes there’s one at Mirdif City Centre!), the dishes were delicious. Polish it off with fresh sugar cane juice (you can add your favourite spirit too), and triple your calorie intake at the same time!

Ma salaama…FooDiva. x

FooDiva goes tribal…

19 Sep

Dubai, September 19th, 2010: Whilst you eagerly await my surprise (yes it is coming), my plan is to share the odd Dubai foodie experience with you…starting with Tribes, a new African grill steakhouse that opened earlier this month in Mall of the Emirates’ glam new fashion and foodie arena.

Brought to you by the creators of South Africa’s famed Meat Company, Tribes promises an all-out-meat experience. When we rocked up, it was packed…admittedly a Thursday night, but given that all things alcoholic are not available, it’s great to see a new venue pulling in the crowds so early on. And you can see why…the ‘tribe’ staff do a fabulous song and dance literally. Dimly lit, with wonderful African wooden and leather furniture, all that’s missing is the odd tipple and cigar. A huuuge menu, mainly focused on beef, lamb and chicken, given that the other wonderful African animals have not been shipped over…seafood also prevails, and plenty of veggie options too. I would recommend the ever so juicily marinated hanging beef skewer – certainly tender enough but oh it will never compare to my Japanese Kobe or Wagyu – am having withdrawal symptoms as I type. Service is outstanding – the tribe, straight from the African continent, talk you through the menu and are fully versed on every dish. Do try it out when you’re next in MOE – makes a nice change from the usual cafe venues, and they do lovely salads too!

Meanwhile, I am longing for the new Asha’s to open next door – those that are familiar with the Wafi outfit, will be glad to see it open this side of town, even though you’ll have to skip the delicious cocktails.

Just as an aside, and I know it’s not new, but a mention has to go to Traiteur’s (Park Hyatt) champagne-filled Friday brunch, with unlimited Veuve Cliquot Grand Dame. Dishes are laid out beautifully in the open plan kitchen, with many cooked a la minute – highlights are the fois gras creme brulee (yes I died and went to heaven!), and the mini tartare with quail egg. I am not normally a snail fan, but les escargots infused with garlic were divine. Ooh and the eggs benedict with your choice of spinach, smoked salmon or honey roast turkey.

A bientot!

FooDiva. x

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