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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Peruvian magic, Lima Dubai

For two years City Walk has been the hottest neighbourhood in Dubai, immensely popular among locals and especially charming at night. It’s unsurprisingly the result hard work and smart marketing. Free, spacious underground and outdoor parking, edgy design, futuristic lightening, street art and a rare opportunity to explore places on foot contributes to City Walk’s fame. However, only a few had enough time and patience to discover the hidden gems of this district. One of them is incredible Turkish restaurant that serves freshly baked bread and out of the world Bakhlava (Babaji). Only a few days ago I discovered that a glass of red is not taboo at City Walk either.

PB135911.JPGTo be honest, Lima, a new Peruvian restaurant is slightly off he beaten path. That’s why I produly call it “a hidden gem of City Walk”. Reach the square and the head towards Al Wasl street checking places on your left. Once you spot a few steps leading up, you are probably on the right path. Google maps are extremely helpful.

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The first thing you’ll notice is lush greenery. Lima’s cosy outdoor terrace is covered in plants and bushes, creating the feeling of a little oasis in the center of urban Dubai. Step in and be surprised once again by the warmth and authenticity. Expect smiles reaching out to you from every corner.

I started my night at Lima on the first floor, right at the bar where Max and Luis were creating the best traditional Pisco Sour I’ve had in my life. Mixing bartending and story telling, Luis conveyed me of fables of past and present, and in a few minutes I was very aware of Peruvian dining rituals. Equipped with a drink I lost myself to the Latin tunes, nestling in a cosy hanging chair made of wood. The DJ’s booth at the opposite corner was barely noticeable but his work pushed my soul to dance.

An hour later, all set with aperitifs, I made my way to the cevicheria, placed in a way that all cooking magic would be visible from anywhere at Lima. While I watched salmon being gently sliced, chef Diego Sanchez has appeared at the counter and I couldn’t resist but speak to him. Quick and very very charming, he talked me through the variety of ceviche dishes served at Lima and his passion to tweak traditional recipes introducing new flavours and tastes. A challenging task in Dubai, he thought. A big fan of a change I quietly disagreed, because only a silly girl would argue with a great chef while he is cooking for her.

Chef Diego Sanchez started when he was just 17, a fact recognized by me as a huge achievement. With a little candid smile and eyes sparkling with passion, he immediately wins over his guests, capturing respect and attention. His charm continue with the taste of his dishes, perfected to the ultimate beauty in taste and presentation. I couldn’t stop applauding every time he appeared from the kitchen, adding a fantastic touch to the whole dining experience.

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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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BodyTree Studio

Live, love, eat, have fun and feel good. BodyTree Studio, it’s for everyone!

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After twelve years living in the UAE, I’ve developed a special connection to the capital. Abu Dhabi attracts me with its soft warmth reflected in local architecture, focus on arts and cultural events, close communal living and an atmosphere where people you randomly meet become good friends. Dubai, in contrast, is a louder, busier, shinier and a lot more extravagant neighbour. Dubaians set impressive records; Abu Dhabites love to enjoy living.

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When I heard about a hidden gem of a wellness studio with unique classes, inspirational workshops and ten years of history, it was immediately worth a morning drive to the capital for me. Even for a Dubai girl, BodyTree studio was easy to find. Once I set my destination, Google showed minimal traffic warnings and confirmed I was in for a pleasant trip.

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Upon arrival, I sighted several model-fit girls rushing with little concern to the gate of a spacious villa. I parked right in the front and jumped out. The whole place was surrounded by tall palm trees, lush greenery and blue sky, giving it a Miami feel, though the first thing I noticed was a thoughtful sign on the wall saying (and Bradshaw is never wrong):

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The front desk greeted me with smiles and cheerful comments. I was advised to disclose any physical injuries or concerns to instructors prior to the workout. I was also encouraged to go with a flow, not worry about the choreography and to challenge myself while having a lot of fun. I’m always in for fun!

 

That morning I was about to try BTB – a Bodytree body class designed by women for women. Led by two very experienced fitness instructors trained in dancing, Pilates and other advanced “stay awesome” techniques, the class promised to be a blast. All equipment for the class was provided, including cuff and ankle weights, dumbbells, resistance bands, a mat, and towel and of course, motivation.
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The hour started with a musical warm-up; musical because Anissa, a professional ballerina, included a few pretty cool moves one can use in audition for any upcoming Broadway show. My legs were a little lost for the first few minutes, but not my heart. It was pumping blood, oxygen and good vibes. When I was about to quit, I heard that wonderful world “break” and Nadia took over with arms and upper body exercises. The next segment was high impact and a little intense, balanced with Anissa’s cosmic personality and persistent energy. I jumped, squatted, bounced and laughed my soul out. Girl, it was great!

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However, it was Nadia’s leg workout that practically killed me. Usually I favour mat exercises. You know for a lazy girl like me everything lying down is the best fitness routine. Nadia didn’t let it happen. Raising the same leg up and to the side and flexed and straight with ankle weights and a resistance band repeatedly was a challenge. When we finally surrendered to the baby pose, I was the happiest person ever. Anissa closed BTB class with stretches and dancing, making it an unforgettable experience for my muscles. The difference between first timers and a regulars was noticeable. While my breathing fluctuated from bad to very bad, other girls in the class encouraged me with smiles and non-stop positive attitudes.

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Wrapped in a towel, I decided to drown my sores and fails in a cup of coffee (my personal solution to stress). Conveniently, BodyTree studio has a brilliant Nectar juice bar on the ground level, a few steps away from the reception.

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When it was my time to order I decided to treat myself to something super exciting, but was slightly overwhelmed with choices: turmeric latte, smoothies, fresh juices, signature drinks, etc. The girl at the counter sounded very understanding and just asked me to describe what I felt like. As I felt a little sorry for myself and dehydrated, Nectar bar mixed me a powerful smoothie with coconut water, dates, almonds, protein and probably a bunch of other secret ingredients that boosted my thirst, energy and self-esteem. Impressed with the service and taste, I opted for a few healthy snacks to take home: warm from the oven banana muffins, crunchy granola, soft protein snacks and spicy vegetable toasties.

 

 

 

Refreshed and very happy, I asked if a tour around the house was a possibility. And it was! Accompanied by charming PR and Marketing Manager Grainne, we covered all three floors looking at the state-of-the-art training facilities, equipment, and changing rooms with huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors and showers. I spent half an hour at the wellness and fitness boutique looking through stylish activewear, essential oils and even waiting for the right “gong moment” (super tempting to just do it).

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During the tour I noticed what a fantastic gathering place it was! I spotted moms-to-be waiting for a pre-natal class, an Emirati father waiting for his little ballerina, a Zumba girl in a sparkling outfit, a girl in a sharp suit, a group of moms enjoying “kids at school time” at Nectar juice bar, and a cool mix of personalities everywhere.

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With more than 130 classes on offer, ladies-only workouts, private training, classes for teens and kids, including ballet, mixed group training, fancy Pilates, outdoor meditations, full-moon nights, Zumba (yeee!), free workshops and conversations and so so so much more, I wonder what will bring me to BodyTree studio next?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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