My Top 10 licensed restaurants (part 2, 2018)

Read Part 1 here..

  1. Weslodge. Weslodge surprises with a minimalistic yet extravagant approach to design that whispers elegance and luxury. The sign on the door says “saloon” but it’s the only clear indication to categorize Weslodge this way. The polished look is accented by a museum-like art collection arranged with a personable touch to create the illusion of home. The importance of detail is evident in the shining crystal glasses, exhibition of occasional eccentrics (skull wall decor, central spider chandeliers and a giant orchid on a red velour sofa). In the past year Weslodge diversified their otherwise steak-oriented menu by introducing dishes unavailable anywhere else in Dubai (try Hamachi). If not for dinner, stop by for arguably the best cocktails in Dubai created by award winning resident mixologist Emilio (try peanut butter infused whisky). Ask for Riona to help you with the menu. She is a true expert and a fun soul.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Hoi An. The Dubai interpretation of Hoi An is very visual with colourful lanterns, framed snapshots of Vietnam, wooden banisters, domesticated palm trees and statues of Buddha. Vibrant lights reflected in panoramic windows add a rather exotic feel to the place. The food is authentic and spiced on demand. Hoi An serves the best pho soup in town and I keep on coming back for a steaming bowl of delicious broth with herbs and chillies on a side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Thiptara is the best Thai restaurant in Dubai with the magical views on Dubai Fountains, Dubai Opera and the tallest tower. Like Asado it’s located at the Palace Downtown where luxury exceeds any expectation but stays within the expected price range for Dubai. Chef Nguyen Thanh performs miracles in the kitchen every night managing her team and a very intense wok station. Pair her papaya salad, green chicken curry and everything cooked in a wok with Sauvignon Black or very dry Riesling and you’ll thank me later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Waka. Waka has the personality of the amazing chefs who own and run it. Sometimes you can spot them at the bar chatting and mixing Piske Sours, plating a special treat for a guest or showing the Latin moves to the amazed public. The Peruvian theme is noticable all over the place, the food is just incredible and the very relaxed party yet private atmosphere will keep you engaged through the dinner.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Pierre’s Bistro is a new fine dining restaurant with a lovely easy going atmosphere and magical French contemporarily cuisine designed by Chef Pierre Gagner himself. A wonderful mix of bright and soft interior colours sets an appropriate mood for various areas: exotic lush green lounge with DJ booth, energetic bar sparkling with reflections, spotless chrome kitchen with one transparent wall shared with a hall, lovely terrace and less dramatic but still eccentric salon with macaroon like chairs, cheeky paintings and soft light. Despite the appearance the place is not pretentious in any way and neither is the food. It’s light, innovative and delicious in every bite. The dinner usually starts with a freshly baked baguette and French butter. I love to end my experience with the best apple tart I had in my life (ever!). It’s a must try.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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MY TOP 10 LICENSED RESTAURANTS (PART 1, 2018)

The year 2018 was quite challenging for the Dubai food and beverage market. The reasons seem to be obvious considering tough competition, nonstop openings of mega exciting projects, recession, expats outflow, etc. however the struggle is real. The best we could do to support a very unique dining-out culture in the Emirate is letting someone awesome serve us love and happiness in the form of cuisine. Here is a list of the licensed restaurants I love with my full heart and beyond.

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  1. The first is Ting Irie, a vibrant Jamaican restaurant with a personality so many call their go to when blue (including me). A true survivor, Ting Irie has seen its worst and its best since the opening but the amazing team is pushing through harder than ever. The creator of Ting incidentally initiated a Jamaican food craze in Dubai, when jerk chicken all of the sudden turned into a trend appearing on otherwise very settled in terms of spices and flavours menus. The Caribbean cuisine became so hot and sought after because of Ting Irie’s eccentric buzz. Come in for a plate of jerk hummus, chips o’mon burger or some seriously spicy chicken wings (you may need to convince your server you can handle the heat). Did I mention their rum infused cocktails would make you feel like you’re in paradise (here is my review).

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  1. Next is Asado, an Argentinian grill restaurant at the Palace Downtown with strong South American influence. My obsession with Asado started when I met Chef Josefinna, who is a young passionate perfectionist with a warm emotional side shown in her recipes. Chef Josefinna delivers dishes with a selected number of ingredients contributing to a rich taste you will crave after the visit. I certainly do! Asado is one of the most romantic restaurants in Dubai, featuring warm chalet-like interiors and an outdoor terrace with breath taking views of Dubai fountains and the tallest tower (here is my review)

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  1. Ninive is hiding away on a secluded terrace of Emirates Towers drawing allusions to the mysterious hanging gardens of Mesopotamia. Decorated in the best traditions of One Thousand and One Nights, where gold is everybody’s favourite colour, Ninive communicates Arabian luxury and the guest’s comfort as a priority. The menu is created with a deep understanding of the present desire for an unforgettable experience, exclusive food magic at the table and pomegranate seeds. There is no strict definition of Ninive’s cuisine type. It’s noticeably influenced by the Middle East, Persia, South Asia and nearby states, however things aren’t easy. I appreciated their intentional shift from serving a boring spread of stereotypical dishes towards crafting trendy Arabic cuisine to impress and startle (here is my review)

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  1. Vanitas is a beautiful Italian restaurant at Palazzo Versace. At Vanitas the haute couture design is combined with the tastiest ingredients, timeless Italian delicacies and naughty shots of crispy cold limoncello made in-house. Every Tuesday the restaurant turns into Serata di Sapori, a themed night featuring the Italian way of living: great food, great music, great wine and great ambience. I love sipping the night away on their open terrace facing the Creek to the lyrics of “Besame Mucho” by Andrea Bocelli.

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  1. Blacksmith is a true hidden gem of a restaurant I keep on coming back to. Located in the deepest corner of Dubai Marina, originally it intended to be a neighbourhood joint, a get together American smoke house, but the reputation of Blacksmith’s addictive smoky chicken wings spread way beyond. Apart from the wings (sooo good), their short rib is another highlight-delight. Served on a large plate with crunchy coleslaw and rich in texture cooked black beans, this dish is enough for three or four (I usually take away left overs for a heavenly sandwich the next day). The selection of music is focused around American rock’n’roll, soul and country, which is an ideal combination with food and beverages at Blacksmith (here is my review).

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Weslodge Dubai, behind the famous yellow doors

Born in Toronto in the summer of 2012, a tavern with an impressive, old fashion bar and a concept of elevated casual cuisine featuring responsibly sourced meat, it was only a matter of time before Weslodge went international. Two years ago the model moved across the ocean, landing on the 68thfloor of one of the tallest hotels in the world. As it often happens, apart from the name, values and careful approach to sourcing people and ingredients, Weslodge in Dubai seems to surpass its predecessor, opening its door to savvy crowds with great effect.IMG_6479.JPGLet’s be frank. This place is fancy. Fancier than most restaurants in DIFC (a financial district known for high-end establishments), Weslodge surprises with a minimalistic yet extravagant approach to design that whispers elegance and luxury. The sign on the door says “saloon” but it’s the only clear indication to categorize Weslodge this way. My first impression of royal hunting cabin quickly disappeared after a closer look at the soft sofas neatly arranged for the comfort of guests.PB242258.JPGWarm spotlight works perfectly with rather classy walls presenting a combination of two solid paints: beige and dark green. The polished look is accented by a museum-like art collection arranged with a personable touch to create the illusion of home. The importance of detail is evident in the shining crystal glasses, exhibition of occasional eccentrics (skull wall decor, central spider chandeliers and a giant orchid on a red velour sofa).IMG_6478.JPGWhat you see from the entrance is a long wooden bar with a reflective surface and many tempting tall bar stools. The simple décor is augmented with liqueurs, spirits and incredible bartender, Emilio. Emilio is not so simple either. With a proven record of success in mixology, an award wining cocktail menu and expressive jewellery, he is a real character and an attention magnet. Guests seat at the bar just for a chance to interact. Attracted to charismatic personalities, I couldn’t pass by without a chat and needless to say, I ended up with a cocktail in each hand and a secret recipe for homemade jalapeno jam.PB242247.JPGMoving from the bar into the dimmed dining zone, I was stunned by the view. The whole of downtown Dubai was right in front of me sparkling in night beauty. The full moon rose over Burj Khalifa, softly reflecting in its mirrored panels. The traffic looked rather fun and easy going, pouring slowly from one street to another and changing colours from white to red as it turned. I was able to see all the way to the horizon and a bit beyond into the darkness of the never-ending sky. It was difficult to overt my gaze from this majestic scene. It was finally Riona who got my attention.

PB242307.JPGBorn and raised in South Africa, Riona moved to Dubai a few years ago and is a Weslodge veteran. Apart from detailed knowledge of the dishes, Riona is a confident public speaker and keeps an eagle eye on her guests, ready to cheer with a joke or help with a recommendation. I was lucky to get both. While we studied the sharing menu, Riona suggested the following must-tries: Mediterranean sea bass ceviche with pickled watermelon, deep fried calamari with slices of crispy lemon and spicy chilly, roasted cauliflower with curry leaves resting on a bed of almond paste, and obviously the steak.

The food created by head chef Abdi was absolutely exceptional and was accented by fresh and often surprising ingredients. The watermelon in the ceviche was a simple touch that turned the originally Peruvian dish into an unknown delicious mystery. Sliced and deep fried lemon in the calamari made me wonder why it wasn’t an independent plate on its own. The steak, served with zesty green salsa and truffle butter, was all crunchy top and juicy middle. I was so blown away by the taste and the presentation that I insisted on meeting the chef. Luckily he made one of his usual rounds and I barely stopped myself from hugging him.PB242415.JPGMy evening ended up with Death by Chocolate (dessert), paired with a very unique cocktail based on peanut butter infused whiskey. I left full, happy and unsurprisingly craving more.PB242435.JPG

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Sensational, Pierre’s Bistro

I met Pierre Gagnaire at a secret dinner party held just a few days before opening his new Dubai venture. Picture dimmed lights, misarranged partly unwrapped furniture, absence of décor but a collection of rare French wines, a sweet view of the nearby marina and its colourful fountains, melting candles, and an atmosphere of a medieval castle ready for a feast. Mingling between a well-selected group of local celebrities, magazine editors, TV anchor, food critics, PR and social media opinion shapers, I kept a very curious eye out for the much talked about chef. In the best French tradition, he appeared with a chilled bottle of dry champagne ready to pour.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 11.32.36 AM.pngNot a long speech sort of a person, Pierre dressed in a white double-breasted jacket tightened at the waist with a similarly crisp apron, performed a charming smile supported by a hearty greeting and a soft waving gesture indicating that dinner was about to begin. We sipped champagne, giggled and headed to the table. All pointed out to an amazing night out.

P4196137.JPGFeeding a group of highly experienced foodies eager to express what they think is a hard job. Speaking from my personal experience, at some point dining out may turn into a blur: if not for photographs, I would have no idea what was served an hour ago even when it was the best burrata ever. You can imagine my curiosity and anticipation to watch Monsieur Pierre handling us. Spoiled: he did well. Making short but sharp appearances in various intervals during the dinner, he managed to look after everyone by topping up a glass a wine, bringing a dish to the table, swiping crumbs, sharing a joke in both French and English and patiently waiting for follow up questions. The night ended with a cookbook copy signed by the chef. I left completely mesmerized. Needless to say I craved the world’s best frog legs ever since.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 11.31.14 AM.pngI missed the restaurant opening as I was on a trip to India but called to reserve a table a few weeks later, curious to see the turnout. Guess what? It all turned out pretty well! With a separate entrance on the side of the Intercontinental Hotel, dedicated team of three on arrival to ensure guests reach the destination happily and a very elegant interior design worth a fortune, the Pierre’s Bistro is fancier than it sounds. Playing “un petit truc” with the word “bistro” referring to a casual eatery with a simple menu, Pierrre Gagnaire delivers the opposite: fine dining with the most delicious French cuisine.P4196230.JPGA wonderful mix of bright and soft interior colours sets an appropriate mood for various areas: exotic lush green lounge with DJ booth, energetic bar sparkling with reflections, spotless chrome kitchen with one transparent wall shared with a hall, lovely terrace and less dramatic but still eccentric salon with macaroon like chairs, cheeky paintings and soft light. I loved that on top of smoking/non smoking or inside/outside tables there were options for “intimate dining” and “the centre of attention”.  As the weather chose to be kind that night, I sat on a very comfortable sofa outside facing the fountains and a promenade.

My dinner started with a warm baguette baked “en ce moment” and served in a branded paper bag. Crispy on outside, the baguette was so airy and fantastically fragrant; that I couldn’t help but eat it all with the beautiful salted French butter. I ordered my all time favourite frog legs with garlic and parsley cooked to such perfection they melt on a tongue. My other dishes were as exceptional as expected but it was the apple tart that stole my heart that night.

P4196221.JPGOh mon Dieu! It arrived together with caramel ice cream and whipped cream with bits of real vanilla and a dash of brandy. Someone cut it gently in front of me into two halves while I couldn’t take my eyes off its golden glow. I eat very slowly savouring every bite, thinking of beautiful sunsets, apple trees in bloom and fireworks. What a magical end to a magical night!P4196142.JPGStalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

A perfect catch

They say life is like a sea of fish, you never know what your going to catch. Well, whenever needed certainty I go to the The Fish House at Dubai Festival City’s Intercontinental Hotel.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis cosy restaurant with charming pastel coloured furniture, copper lamps, a school of metallic fishies on the wall, themed décor with an Emirati touch, partly open kitchen with giant counters filled with the catch of the day and a colourful bar in the corner, is a bit idyllic. I loved it!
P4180136.JPGOn arrival the coolest looking crew with top model hair greeted me with dazzling smiles. I smiled in return, boosting my karma with a year’s worth of positivity and followed my host to my table (I always reserve a table even during the week to assure I get the best one in the house). First thing I noticed was the display of today’s catch arranged nicely on giant ice cubes, resembling one at the market (but not fishy). Nothing revealed its speciality except a few ornaments. I loved that!
P4180378.JPGA weather glitch for the last couple of days delayed the arrival of humid nights and I was so pleased to stretch the springtime by sitting on a beautiful terrace outside. A cool breeze gently rushed out every time sliding doors opened or closed adding an extra pleasant feeling to the experience, and when I thought it was time to order a show had started. The show was a mix of visual and vocal extravaganza, which created the atmosphere of a Wonderland on the waterfront.  It was also a perfect background for all related Instagram photography and stories. I loved that! P4180199.JPGAfter a quick consultation with Daria, who immediately impressed me with soft communication skills but very sharp service, I knew what I wanted. “Grilled octopus, shrimp cocktail, sea bass cooked in a coat of salt and arguably a dessert,” I announced my selection in less than 30 seconds and slouched in the chair in anticipation of a deliciously relaxing evening. A few minutes later when starters arrived following a complimentary dish of incredible fried sardines, I loved what I saw!P4180221.JPGThe sardines were rich and crunchy. A very generous serving of a grilled smoky octopus paired with delicately sweet pumpkin puree could easily pass for a main course, as could the shrimp cocktail. Shrimps ranging from tiny to giant were served soaked in a horseradish sauce and sprinkled with crunchy bits and a few extras on the side.

Done with appetisers, I anxiously awaited my sea bass. Daria rolled it in on a big open cart and the next couple of minutes were well spent watching my fish being striped off its coat and bones. What a great delicacy it was; tender and fragrant. Feeling pleasantly full, I still craved something sweet and what followed had greatly surprised my taste buds and me. Intrigued? Ask Daria 🙂P4180399.JPG

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10 years later, the Taj in Mumbai

It’s been 10 years since my last stay at the Taj Mahal in Mumbai (read part 1 here). I left a few days earlier than planned to help my friends deal with a glamorous shopping spree in Dubai.

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Taj Mahal, view from the pool, 2008

At that time Taj ran at full occupancy, hosting party after a party and guests from all over the world. The hecticness, however, wasn’t obvious to anyone’s eye except the staff, and  all my free time was passed at the swimming pool, guarded by statuesque lions and ever hungry crows.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2008

10 years later the lions were still on duty.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2018

When not in the water, I used to enjoy lazying in vintage like chaise longues, starring at the grey stone majestic facade.

Ten years later the facade was the same. The most drastic transformation was a change in the “open sky” policy for cheeky city birds, limiting their access to all day long “bed and breakfast”. But don’t you worry: birds still sneak in, showing a complete ignorance to etiquette. The garden has greatly expanded to the mezzanine floor, and new palm trees popped up here and there. I noticed chaise longues no longer featured sun shades. Instead, the traditional Rajasthani umbrellas were installed, adding a touch of cultural and heritage to the pool area. Believe it or not, but this used to be the front entrance back in 1903. Do you agree that the pool is a better idea?

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, view from the pool, 2018

Happy to see that the Taj’ exteriors stayed true to their 2008 look, I did noticed a change in interior design. Damaged after the fire and destruction, all ground level restaurants were completely refurbished and highly unrecognizable. The number of open entrances to the hotel was reduced to one, where strict security has been introduced. I could no longer run in and out without passing through a metal detector. On the brighter side, the iconic floating staircases look exactly the same if not a little prettier.

The rooms featured the same white marble in the bathrooms, giving them a rather royal feel. Additionally the new wooden flooring, brighter paint and furniture appeared in the living spaces and all sort of life hacks in the form of buttons, cables and devices were introduced to add technical luxury to the stay. The view stayed the same.

To be continued…

Find out more about the Taj Mahal of Mumbai here.

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Déjà vu, Taj Mahal Mumbai

I arrived in Mumbai late in the evening. My flight with Jet Airways was short, pleasant and a little bit boozy as I had no shame taking advantage of the unlimited champagne offered in Premium class. Next to me, the only other passenger in the two seats arrangement, sat a charismatic older gentlemen in a really good suede shoes brushed to perfection.

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He took zero interest in my presence until I engaged the Jet Airways crew in every Instagram star’s favourite routine: stories, selfies and the endless production of photographs from a particular angle no one else seems to recognize beside you. As a result the crew delivered even more champagne and very personalized service, which other travellers confused with being mega famous and invited me for dinners with their wives. Luckily we landed and with no time left to respond I rushed out.

image3Mumbai International Airport greeted me with the shine and sparkle of a fully completed renovation to its interiors and services. For the first fifteen minutes I was absolutely alone in a giant endless corridor with panoramic windows to the runway on the right and cheerful wall art with a puppet theatre feel to them on the left. A very friendly passport control officer stamped my passport in less than two minutes and wished me a pleasant stay. Bless him!

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My destination tonight was Taj Mahal. Yep, that’s right. Mumbai, or Bombay as the older generation proudly calls it, is a home to a palace of a hotel. Taj Mahal was built in 1903 in response to demand for a luxury hotel open for everyone who can afford it without prejudice. Originally the main entrance was not the one facing the Gateway of India and the sea, but the residential district from where horse drawn carriages brought in the wealthy and famous. The Taj at that time was only two floors tall and had no Tower. Later the entrance was relocated to the opposite side and a very charming pool surrounded by a lush garden built instead.  P3270387.JPG

Right from it’s opening, Taj represented the symbol of Indian wealth and prosperity by becoming a landmark and pushing ahead of its time by setting quite a few records: complete electrification, first elevators imported from Germany, first Turkish baths, English butlers, first licensed bar, a discotheque (ou est la discotheque!) and a restaurant open through the day. Taj Mahal was converted into hospital during the First World War. The Tower was added in 70s and the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces was born. So you can imagine my excitement smooshing my nose on the Taj limo’s windows, peering curiously into the darkness on the way to the palace. The Taj limo was equipped with cold towels, Himalayan mineral water, mints and complimentary WiFi immediately won my heart. The feeling of serene “Tajness” surrounded me like a fluffy cloud bringing in security, comfort and peace.

To be frank there was a separate significant reason behind my impatience. Back in 2008 I left Taj Mahal just a few nights before the terrorist attack, responding to my friend’s request to help her shop for diamonds, Chanel and gold in Dubai. I felt terrified watching my beloved home in Mumbai on the fire thinking of all the friends I made over there during the years and visualising its majestic interiors with closed eyes. The relief when it was all over turned into an obsession to revisit Taj in its full glory followed a major renovation in 2009. Half an hour drive from the International Airport and there we were about to enter through the new gate and pass luggage screening.

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The first glance put a huge smile in my face. Taj looked majestically beautiful in the dazzling streetlights as if the fall of 2008 had never happened. I witnessed a very familiar scene, tall men in turbans efficiently guiding guests and traffic, happy kids carelessly running between parents, local dollies shining with diamonds and lip-gloss and wrapped in glamorous saris rushing to a party and so on and so forth. I missed you Taj Mahal!

To be continued…

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