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 Rates Red Door

3 Oct

Dubai, October 3rd, 2010; Well you certainly can’t miss it…Red Door is Galeries Lafayette’s first eaterie (located on the first floor by the escalators) and operated by Fauchard. Needless to say, red abounds and given it’s my favourite colour, I was keen to try out the new venue. Amongst all the red columns, the floor to ceiling windows stare out to the Sheikh Zayed skyscraper landscape. Settle into a banquette table if you can, and digest the extensive menu….salads, pastas, risottos, grills…more dinner than cafe lunch (without the alcohol). We tried the bresaola and avocado salad (plus some naughty hand cut french fries on the side) as well as the vegetable risotto. All passed the FooDiva test. Service was prompt and efficient, admittedly aside from our trio there was only one other table, OK it was Sunday lunch. Clearly Red Door needs to up the PR ante, but with word of mouth it will soon be busy.

Just above is Galeries Lafayette’s new delicatessen that officially opens its doors later this week. I took a sneak peak and wow it certainly does impress – on a par with its Parisian counterpart and Selfridges food hall. Yes Dubai will finally have its own food hall – FooDiva can’t wait!

I’ll be back later this week reporting from Egypt…Cairo, El Gouna and last but not least retracing by Greek roots in Alexandria. A bientot.

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

Come Dance With Me…

12 Sep

Dubai, Sunday, 12th September: I know this update is not foodie but I wanted to share this video with my non-Dubai friends…the dancing fountains continue to mesmerise me every time I visit, especially when it’s to my all-time favourite Andrea Bocelli tune.

For those not in the know, click here to view the world’s largest dancing fountain at Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest tower!) in Dubai. Water jets shoot as high as 150 metres – equivalent to a 50-storey building.  The music is the signature piece of world-renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Con te partiro (With you I will leave), but for the Anglophones the song is otherwise known as Time to say Goodbye. Well in my case, it’s not goodbye but a bientot. Enjoy!

P.s – on a foodie note and with my Far Eastern experience still top of mind, do try out Ping Pong at Dubai Mall (overlooking the fountains of course!) for delicious dim-sum, and one of Dubai’s best tea selections. Bon appétit!

Final Beijing update from FooDiva…

4 Sep

Saturday, 4th September: There’s been so much to do, see, buy and eat here, not much time left to blog…anyhow FooDiva’s back with a final update.

Dear friends that recommended Green T. House, you’ll be delighted to know we dined there on Wednesday night. Wow what a creative concept – decor was flamboyant, glamorous, minimalistic – right up FooDiva’s street. I am not sure my photos or description do it justice so please check out their website. Our ‘table’ was lounge seating a la Arabian majlis style but all white, where we kicked off our strappy sandals. Very romantic for mum et moi…where’s the sexy man when you need him. Dishes are ever so complicated, and I would definitely call it Fusion Chinese…having been down with the flu or haze allergy (they don’t call it smog here) my appetite had disappeared. We ordered ‘curly’ chicken Sichuan style with parmesan, and prawns coated in wasabi sauce. Stunning presentation, but food was disappointing and over-priced. Tea-wise, there’s over 100 different brews to choose from compiled in a wonderful educational menu – I even asked if I could buy the menu…they promptly declined. Great venue for pre or post dinner cocktails, but suggest dining elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And elsewhere we certainly did the following night (Thursday). Thanks to having my aunt (Kate) and uncle (Robert) as Beijing residents, we dined at their house over a fabulous ‘drunken’ chicken. It’s a North Carolina dish (my uncle is American) where an open beer can is popped into a whole chicken before roasting…you don’t taste the beer, but it simply makes the chicken so juicy and tender. Nice to opt out of Chinese for a change!

Just as an aside, their compound houses a fabulous South African restaurant with an excellent and incredibly affordable South African wine list – I doubt you’ll be heading there as it’s a tad out of the centre, but just so you know that’s where I was last night!

A great lunch venue is Sureno at The Opposite House, a very funky boutique hotel in the Sanlitun district – the only district where you see a good handful of expats. An international Mediterranean-inspired menu with plenty of choice.

And last but not least, our final foodie experience of my three week trail, was high tea at The Peninsula Beijing this afternoon. It’s one of the few British foodie traditions that I absolutely love, and for some odd reason, I always try to fit it into a city break. Having said that, I’ve had better high tea experiences elsewhere, so suggest trying out another hotel.

A sightseeing must is the Summer Palace, do spend a few hours uncovering hidden pagodas and the marble boat.

The bizarrely named 798 Dashanzi Art District houses numerous galleries, boutiques and cafes – ‘At Cafe’ is perfect for lunch (try the lovely stone-baked pizzas).

Beijing is a shopper’s paradise – we shopped till we dropped…made so much easier by my aunt’s driver and car. Thank you Kate and Robert! I have enough tea to open my own shop (there are stores round every corner – my recommendation is TenFu’s in Wangfujing). I love their green rose tea.

Pearls (you can have your own designs made up in minutes) and handbags are also great buys – Kate knows the right shops. If you don’t have your own Kate on tap, it’s Shelley for pearls in the building right next to Hongqiao market, and Monica’s for handbags hidden away in the same building – ask for quality S (the best!). Sanlitun Yashou Clothing Market and Silk Market have hundreds of stalls selling clothes and silky knick-knacks of every variety – if you hunt, you’ll discover some unusual pieces. You gotta haggle like mad though. Start at a tenth of a price, and be prepared to walk away – they’ll come running! Antique collectors should head to Panjiayuan weekend market – make sure you know what you’re buying though. What better way to chill those weary legs than with a foot massage (aka reflexology without the explanation).

Dearest friends and family, I think that’s pretty much it for now – our flight is Dubai-bound tomorrow. It’s been an exhilirating three weeks, and I’ve relished every breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner experience. But I am glad to be heading home, gosh Dubai I’ve missed you! Can’t wait to try out my Asian recipes. If you’re planning a trip to Japan or China, I would love to help pull together an itinerary.

And if you’ve enjoyed the blog as much as me, stay tuned for my next surprise experience. Will be in touch!

Big hug.

FooDiva

xxx

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