DIFF 17! Film Will Find You

The 17th edition of DIFF commenced with the expected glam and vigor of an international film festival, topped with the warm generosity of Arabian hospitality. In contrast to my involvement last year, based partly on curiosity and partly on the enthusiasm of a rising social media star, this time the festival promised to be quite a bit more festive for me with invitations to the Opening and Closing, VIP parking a few minutes away from screenings, access to a secret lounge and rocking after parties. Read more about the Opening of DIFF ’16 over here. 

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The festival is undergoing changes but they weren’t particularly obvious to an outsider like me. Apart from usual screening programs, galas, “in conversations” and workshops, DIFF 17 features virtual reality experiences and free movies at The Beach. The Film Will Find You tagline was selected to represent the transformation of the way entertainment reaches our hearts and eyes, noting the impact of Netflix, social media algorithms and ever advancing technologies.

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The hospitality was impressive, with a large number of multilingual volunteers, complimentary coffee for press, two-for-one ticket deals, complimentary public WiFi and even bottles of Evian water left in chairs at all Gala screenings.

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While movie stars and celebrities walked the Red Carpet, I hung out with everyone’s favorite (including me) DIFF team member Brent Lawrence at the special lounge overlooking the action. Brent, in his perfect black tux, managed to participate in several conversations simultaneously, exchanging jokes and insight with a curious crowd and Dubai beauties.

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Team Harper’s Bazaar Arabia was present on the carpet spotting the best dressed. No matter how hard I tried catwalking by them or posing pretentiously, my outfit caught no attention. Regardless, I decided to keep on showing up.

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The venue for the occasion, Madinat Arena, was at its brightest. The legendary place radiates an incredible charm enhanced with search lights, candles, flowers and views on the Venice of the Middle East.

The Opening speech by Chairman Abdulhamid Juma, packed with witty remarks and his shimmering sense of humor, contained a deep idea about the human side of cinematography and the importance of art. His “dreams are future movies” quote is still being analyzed in the corners of my head. Cate Blanchett and Patrick Stewart joined on the stage, and reiterated the thought that Art will Save the World.

In contrast with the party vibe, the gala screening of Hostiles put a rather dark feeling in the audience, with no one wanting to leave their seat when credits rolled. Keep an eye for my upcoming review, but the movie was more about love than once would assume from the title.

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Straight through a dimmed room and to the right, I was stunned by the set-up for the after party. Imagine endless rows of champagne, luminous lights, Haute Couture style, a rocking band and happiness shared in every direction.

I danced, laughed, cheered and interacted with like-minded folks feeling out of the world, and in a way I truly was. Thank you Dubai Film Festival for a magical night!

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Eat, drink and party Argentinian way! Asado, Downtown Palace, Dubai

The Spanish verb “asar”, to grill or to roast, has travelled across the continent and transformed into much more than a way to prepare meat. In Argentina, Asado is an important part of local culture. It’s a party where cooking is considered to be a ritual with secret techniques, century-old recipes and purposeful steps. This tradition dates back to the times when gauchos (cowboys) used to sit down to slow dinners over a wood fire and a cup of tea after a long day herding.

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The Downtown Palace has recreated the atmosphere of the traditional Argentinian roast in the most passionate way at Asado, a restaurant with fantastic views of Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountain and the blue waterfront.

 

The Grape and Harvest lunch at Asado on Fridays and Saturdays is inspired by the rich fertile soils and blooming meadows of the Pampa region. Sweet corn, chicken cooked in banana leaves, various crunchy chips and salads are displayed in a tempting way indoor and outdoors.

 

A live band sets the mood, adding a bright Latin American touch to the party.

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There is a counter with a giant shark-like tuna where the freshest ceviche is made to order.

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The traditional feast consists of sausages, seafood, ribs and deliciously smoky chunks of meat, slow roasted over charcoal and wood for hours. Everything is served with salsa on the side and sauces. Female chef Josefinna Vallve, who recently joined the team, has introduced new exciting dishes to the menu.

 

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Chateau Blanc, Dubai

This landmark villa on Jumeirah Road is a magnificent white castle neighbouring Kite Beach on one side and Jumeirah Public Beach on the other. Complimentary valet parking assures your trip to Chateau Blanc will be a stress-free.

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Started by Chef Lal De Silva in Indonesia, the brand expanded to the Middle East and transformed into Chateau Blanc, a family run business. With a fully operational kitchen, elevator and a fantastic sky view terrace with reclining roof, Chateau Blanc has stepped outside the boundaries of the fanciest French patisseries.

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The ground floor of the villa features panoramic windows, comfy sofas, shelves with house-made goodies and hand painted wall art. Murals resemble the facades of Vienna, Paris, Florence, Venice, St. Petersburg and a few more places around the world known for Baroque architecture. Baroque motives spread across the vast array of pastry, artisanal chocolates, 3D cupcakes and “decorated to serve” cakes.

All desserts are crafted from the finest ingredients and traditions. To preserve the quality, all cakes to order are decorated a few minutes prior to serving or delivering.

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The last floor of the villa is a newly opened terrace to enjoy breakfast, afternoon tea or snacks and fragrant shisha in the evening. There is a bar, non-licensed but nonetheless busy, mixing signature drinks, juice, smoothies and fruit mocktails.

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Cafe Bateel 10 years

Starting of as a producer of gourmet dates and chocolates in 2007, Bateel has rapidly transformed into a well-known brand, loved for traditional Arabic coffee, French pastry, Mediterranean cuisine and luxury gift boxes packed with tempting goodies.

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To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Bateel chefs designed a seasonal menu available at all branches including their flagship store in JBR. That’s where I went for lunch after spending the morning at the beach.

Being right at the beginning of this popular neighborhood, Bateel JBR is quicker to reach than the rest of the development due to less traffic. Customers get two hours free parking at Murjan Tower 1 and there is indoor and outdoor seating with free WiFi.

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The menu introduces several signature dishes designed for the occasion, seasonal variations of all-time favorites and a few call backs from previous editions.

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The 10th anniversary menu consists of locally sourced ingredients with a focus on regional flavors rather than traditional Mediterranean cuisine. This trend is continued, adding mildly spiced curry, saffron and tabbouleh to otherwise conservative dishes.

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Superfood tuna salad pleasantly surprised me with a dash of roasted garlic that wasn’t listed in the description but was hidden among the fresh lettuce, house-cured olives, avocados, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and slices of beautifully pink tuna. Seasoned with light apple vinegar, it was an ideal choice for a starter as it triggered an appetite for more. Apparently it was available on the menu in the past, and if you are looking to try a completely new creation, the Bateel Palm salad is a great alternative.

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Lobster rigatoni made of slowly cooked Canadian lobster in light creamy curry sauce was delightfully fragrant. Fresh coriander leaves added lovely drops of green colour and perfectly balanced the zestiness of the lemon.

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Sea bass served on a bed of saffron risotto was tender and tasty. Large asparagus cooked in a pan added crispness and tartness to the dish.

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My dessert, paired with dark coffee, was made of premium beans and as delightful as the whole lunch. A Tarte Azelia greatly benefited from bits and pieces of roasted hazelnuts and the Emoji Tartelette and Passionfruit Strawberry Tart had a lovely contrast of sweetness and sourness that were just excellent.

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Vanitas @ Palazzo Versace in Dubai

Mesmerized by the name, I couldn’t possibly resist a dinner at Vanitas, literally translated from Latin as “emptiness” in reference to earthy achievements and pleasures. In art circles, this term is closely associated with still life “memento mori” paintings, visualizing the worthlessness human desire – power, money, sweet luxuries – through the symbols of rusting metal, decaying silk and burnt candles. Obviously learning the history behind just one word, I was intrigued to visit Vanitas.

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Hoping to explore the gothic side of Palazzo Versace in Dubai, I chose to wear a rather contrasting romantic gown with open shoulders, floral motives and the most cheerful skirt ever made by Dubai based designers at Si Fashion Galerie. Boy, was I wrong!

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Decorated with the freshest and very fragrant red roses, Vanitas restaurant greeted me with a spacious well-lit hall, a prevalence of beige marble floors, wooden parquet, traditional Italian wall art and crystal chandeliers. So chic. So Palazzo. So Versace!

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As the evenings are still quite warm, I sat indoors where the lighting was slightly dimmed, setting a very charming intimate atmosphere. Candles, red velour on upholstery, bright royal blue dinner plates, roses and my beloved Versace prints celebrated life at her brightest, with a clear focus on the art of dining well.

The minute I got into my seat, the dinner had started with arrival of warm and fluffy focaccia bread and beautifully young olive oil.

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The amuse-bouche placed in front of me clearly indicated chef’s desire to experiment with textures, forms and ingredients, and ultimately with the audience. Vanita’s chef intended to transform the stereotypical perception of traditional Italian cuisine to the taste of millennials, hard to impress Dubaians and savvy travellers aiming to create an unforgettable dining ritual.

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While Lucia helped me to navigate through the Italian menu and must-tries, the place filled up with couples, families with well-behaved, well-groomed kids, joyful friends and even a solo diner. When I finalized my order, tables seemed to be rearranged to accommodate all and staff quickly moved from one corner to another prepping for a busy night. It was the generous serving of burrata surrounded by crunchy veggie rolls, lettuce and sweet tomatoes that turned my attention back to the table. What a creamy burrata it was!

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My next appetizer, a plate of octopus with purple potato puree, greens, chips and black olive powder was as tasty as it looked. Chef’s creativity deserves a special compliment.

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A few minutes later my table started to resemble a state feast with the finest china and cutlery, sparkles of gold and stylish Mediterranean touches at every level of detail.

The foie gras was layered like an opera cake with parmigiano ice-cream, grapes filled with tender goat cheese and crispy lettuce that could easily be mistaken for dessert. A really rich one!

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My mains continued with chef’s tendency to surprise. The seafood risotto featured nicely cooked rice with a lovely touch of black pepper. Interestingly the seafood bits, octopus, shrimps and fish were cooked separately and served on the top to add a crunchy texture to an otherwise creamy dish. I asked for extra Parmesan as I’m addicted.

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When I tasted the linguini it took a while to figure out chef’s trick. There was a very familiar softness in both texture and taste. The truth was revealed: the Pasta’s recipe was based on potatoes with a little help of wheat flavour. No wonder I though of homemade gnocchi at the first bite.

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I’m wearing a tailor-made gown with incredible skirt from Si Fashion Galerie.

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Enigma @PalazzoVersace, Dubai

At the lobby level of Palazzo Versace, with indoor and outdoor seating facing the main pool and magnificent Creek (especially at night), Enigma delivers on its namesake, “delightfully mysterious”. So did my incredible gown from Si Fashion Galerie.Si Fashion Galerie.

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It’s best to call it contemporary Turkish with warm Mediterranean influence, reflected in the ingredients, flavours, colours and distinguishable Versace prints.

The installation of branded wall mirrors result in dramatic reflections of candlelight and exteriors, creating an Ottoman palace effect. The soft fabrics used for seating arrangements including pillows, sofas and chairs create a “divan culture”.

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Signature cocktails, designed around everyone’s favourite beverages and well-known landmarks like Constantinople and Bosporus, show the bartender’s obsession with the history (of the world and drinks).

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One can never underestimate the freshly baked fluffy bread with crispy edges and sesame seeds, paired with a selection of sauces, including my favourite tomato and red peppers, sweet pear puree and sliced marinated to crisp onions.

The real magic starts when the chef appears with a long serving table and house cured meat, pastrami layered with black pepper, fenugreek, anise, bay leaf, white pepper and obviously a secret ingredient. While the chef slowly slices pastrami on white plates carved of stone, he engages in a conversation explaining the magic behind the softest and the most fragrant piece of meat one can dream of.

But the masterpiece of the night was octopus, cooked in a vacuum pot for as long as five hours, then quickly seared on a hot pan.

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I’m wearing a beautiful tight gown from Si Fashion Galerie.

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Break the sky @At.mosphere Dubai

In many ways Dubai is the most eccentric city in the world. Home to driverless subways, the largest malls, warmest sea, safest environment, the most expensive coffee and the tallest building, it always keeps visitors on their toes, overwhelmed with experiences all year (even when thermometer jumps to +50C). The one truly unmissable attraction is the Burj Khalifa, a tower that holds to the world’s record of 828m since 2010. Dubaians believe if you haven’t been to Burj Khalifa you haven’t really seen Dubai. Many opt to book a tour to the top but there is a better and tastier way to experience it, – At.mosphere.

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Located on the 122nd floor, a minute ride on a rapid elevator, Atmosphere is divided into two establishments: a lounge for high-tea, pre- and post-party drinks, and a luxurious restaurant with private dining. Needless to say the view is fantastic from every window.

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Depending on time, weather and position of sun and moon, the view around Atmosphere changes dramatically making it the most exciting destination to explore the ever-expanding Dubai.

Being a frequent guest of Atmosphere’s lounge for high-tea and pre-dinner cocktails, this time I stopped in to experience the newest breakfast menu created by chef Christopher Graham, formerly of Jumeirah Group hotels.

Atmosphere states the dress code as casual, but I prefer to wear a slightly ridiculous outfit because my photo memories are expected to be spectacular!

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The interior resembles the vibe of London decor with polished wooden panels, reflective aluminum columns, shiny glass, panoramic windows and patches of warm red light here and there.

The new breakfast menu consisted of pre-set dishes paired with eggs as well as tasty delights like organic greek yogurt parfait, waffles, crepes, jams and vanilla butter (with real crushed vanilla).

In terms of cost, it’s quite flexible. The minimum spend is AED 200 per person (window tables are subject to availability upon reservation). A special 35% discount is offered on Decadence Menu (yumm) for guests with a valid Emirates ID card.

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Day & Time: Daily, from 7am to 11am (last arrival time is 10am)

Price: Decadence Menu – AED 325 per person (UAE residents can enjoy 35% discount with their Emirates ID), Prestige Menu – AED 525 per person and À la carte – Dishes start from AED 60. Children below 5 years can dine for free (ID required with date of birth). Children aged 6-10 years are entitled to 50% on Decadence Menu only (ID required with date of birth).

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