Hoi An of Dubai

Have you heard of the ancient town of Hoi An? Referred to as the Venice of Vietnam, with its narrow water canals, it was once the crossroads of the spice trade. Hoi An now is loved for oriental architecture influenced by the neighbouring countries Japan, China and Indonesia. Today the city has developed into a popular tourist destination, opening its streets, temples and local businesses to the curious eyes of the world. To experience Hoi An in its brilliant glory, arrive when during a full moon which adds mystery to the local night scene, where hanging lanterns shine to their brightest and the streets are overwhelmed with buzz and flavours… You can imagine my excitement when I discovered a little replica of Hoi An in Dubai, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel.

The drive to Shangri-La on Sheikh Zayed Road is busy in all directions with Thusday partygoers. But! Curiousity is a strange thing, particularly when fed by hunger. I patiently navigated the traffic, craving authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Complimentary valet parking at Shangri-La was a nice reward for an hour of hustle, and in a perfectly fine mood I walked into the warm welcoming lights of Hoi An.

The Dubai interpretation of Hoi An was very visual with colourful lanterns, framed snapshots of Vietnam, wooden banisters, domesticated palm trees and statues of Buddha. Vibrant lights reflected in panoramic windows looked rather exotic. A little candle sparkling through the petals of a textile lotus added an oriental feel to the table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A hot towel scented with invigorating jasmine stole my heart, and a serving of crunchy Asian crackers with a side of sweet chilly sauce, my full attention. Without further hesitation I started my food journey with a cup of green jasmine tea served in an emerald-green kettle, which was poured for me with traditional gentleness. A quick look through the menu reassured I was at the right place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I decided to leave my appetite in the hands of beautiful Vietnamese servers April and Tam, who passionately mixed dish descriptions with anecdotes. I giggled happily, feeling as I was right in the middle of the midnight city chatting over a cup of tea with new friends. My amuse-bouche was a piece of boneless chicken steamed and seared on a pan and then topped with a yellow flower. Spiced mildly for my complicated taste, it signaled a desire to popularize traditional Vietnamese cuisine by introducing it to a wider audience. Not everyone is a crazy chilly monster like I am.

PA123019.JPG

I started dinner with a selection of appetizers placed around a spicy house-made sauce. My main course consisted of baby chicken, giant shrimp and a delicious fish, tender inside and crispy out. All food was prepared using traditional techniques modernized to European taste.

The best part of my evening was a bowl of pho soup with herbs, sauces and fresh chilies on the side. I spiced up my pho to the maximum with as many chillis as possible. What a delight!

PA123033.JPG

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

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.

P9150772.JPG

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

P9150681.JPG

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

P9150685.JPG

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!

P9150687.JPG

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.

P9150689.JPG

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!

P9150690.JPG

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

Wake up in Paris and brunch @La Cantine du Faubourg, Dubai

Run every Saturday from 12pm-4pm, the cost of brunch with soft drinks starts at AED 250, which I found rather irresistible. A big fan of Dubai’s brunch culture, I had extremely high expectations for La Cantine du Faubourg. They managed to surprise right at the entrance, looking casually chic in silk pyjamas and perfect hair.

“It’s wake up in Paris and celebrate”, explained my hostess while walking me to Room 3, a cheeky name for every in the house. A real queen size bed with luxurious cotton sheets and big fluffy pillows was set in the middle of La Cantine looking irresistible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the best traditions of Parisian breakfast, a basket of freshly baked pastry was brought paired with a strong cup of coffee, butter and jams. While I enjoyed sipping coffee and studying the menu, the DJ at the bar started playing tunes. The place filled up steadily and by 1pm was filled with the air with cheers, giggles and happy conversations.

When selecting dishes I focused on slightly complicated creations with ingredients hard to find in Dubai: tuna ceviche, cured meat, grilled octopus and salmon carpaccio. I had no doubt that the greatest culinary experience awaited me. Everything I tried was absolutely delightful with my favourite dish being an aubergine gratin with dark tomato sauce and a generous amount of parmesan.

Around 3pm the music got a little louder, moving crowds closer to the bar and on to the beautiful terrace expected to be officially open soon.

Freely flowing mocktails and cocktails kept the party going. I spotted a server in a kimono and dark sunglasses; I realized that the ambiance resembled the vibe from James Bond’s adventures with a mix of spontaneous adventure in the air. Happy to the tiptoes, I savoured my desserts and tried to memorize every second of that beautiful day.

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

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.

P9140154.JPG

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”.

P9140157.JPG

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).

P9140205.JPG

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.

P9140183.JPG

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

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

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.

P9201403.JPG

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.

P9201391.JPG

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd a little bit more:

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).

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

Mosaico lounge @Palazzo Versace Dubai

Set in a spacious main lobby, the Mosaico lounge is the heart of the Palazzo Versace. With overall tones of gold and red, it’s fashionable in every design detail from textiles to crystal chandeliers.

The first impression is one of being transported to the galleries of the ancient Rome. Panoramic floor to ceiling windows allow for lots of light and an open view of the central pool and Dubai Creek.  Elegance is literally in the air!

I opted to hide at the lounge during the hottest time of the day as Mosaico is a perfect location for a cup of morning coffee or 5 o’clock tea.

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

Spirit of York

Once upon a time in 1860, in the lovely industrial city of York (now Toronto), there was a giant Distillery, the biggest in North America and allegedly the whole world. Founded by Gooderhem and Wort, the distillery’s location was considered ideal. Spread out on the bank of Lake Ontario and at a Canadian National Railway hub, the Distillery benefited from unlimited water supply and the best transportation imaginable at the end of 19th century. Production flourished, marking the Golden-era of the Canadian whiskey.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 1.24.03 PM.png
Painting by Canadian illustrator Arthur Hider

The time passed by. WWI, dry laws, tax disputes and deindustrialization led to a decline in operations and an eventual shutdown. As a result, an enormous collection of Victorian-era industrial machinery and architecture was left unattended to the mercy of the Canadian climate. The extension of the shoreline further south didn’t help either.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 1.16.14 PM.png
Current map, Google

In 2003, after a massive renovations, the Distillery Heritage District reappeared on Toronto’s social map, eager to face the soon to rise generation of millennials, hipsters, Instagrammers and other daring folk.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 1.29.29 PM.png
Photo credit: The Distillery Historic District

While investors were keen on keeping the name and transforming the rusting equipment into museum exhibits, they favoured start-ups (OhYeah!) over established chains like Starbucks, Tim Hortons or Swiss Chalet as tenants. The subsequent transformation of the Distillery District evolved into a collection of various businesses like theatres, limited edition art, dance studios, local designers, craft beers, a sake brewery but surprisingly no distillery. The historic district of distillery featured no distillery except in the name. Right until May 2017.

IMG_4947.JPG

The Spirit of York opened in a former malting facility with the collective effort of 35 shareholders with a similar vision: “Make Canadian Spirits Great Again” (I’m joking, or am I?). The Spirit of York Distillery consists of a production area and spacious lounge for tasting, mixing, shopping and celebrating. The state-of-the-art distillation facility is well hidden from the eyes of general wanderers, but not from the curious visitors to the lounge area.

The realization of how incredibly sharp this place is hits you right at the entrance. The Spirit of York designers accomplished a very rustic urban look with a prevailing vibe of masculinity and Wild West type of adventure. Look at the ceiling for example:

Not a bottle wasted! The same feeling is applied across the space, making it worth spending a sunny afternoon indoors. Take your time walking around staring at the old exposed brick, fortress like windows, infinity, coded into symmetrical symbols, beautifully polished copper and shining glass. Not to mention a peculiar looking bar on the right reserved for events and parties with a large resemblance to the one in “The Shining”.

A cool heritage building feature is floors made of from an old concrete mix that is no longer used, but sadly coated in parts with a rubber-like layer to comply with modern safety standards.

IMG_4979.JPG

The production area is designed as an open concept space seperated from the retail area by just a glass wall. The entire production cycle from mashing to labelling is facilitated in-house. Quality was the first word that popped into my mind.

I was very lucky to spend two hours with Mark Harrop, in the production area, “entertaining” him with questions like: “How many hours at the Distillery does it take to get high on vapors?” or “During tasting do you follow the rule of sommeliers or do you feel sorry wasting a good rye?”.

IMG_4972.JPG

While Mark talked passionately about locally sources ingredients (rye and spring water), added botanicals and a new recipe for aquavit he was working on, I couldn’t resist the urge of tasting. So I headed to the bar to investigate if the Spirits of York were worth the hype.

Oh, yes they were! With the floral hints of lavender, citrus, spicy coriander and a warming taste of rye, the Spirit of York gin was absolutely delightful sipped alone or mixed with a tonic. The aquavit impressed me with a distinguish taste of dill and rye, a combination that many a chilly Northern person appreciates.

IMG_4995.JPG

Looking through the wonders of the little gift shop I realized how complicated the art of beverage making actually is. Next time I will a way more generous tipping my favorite bartenders whoes hard work and hard listening skills are often underestimated.

Stalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

More about Spirit of York or The Historic Distillery District