Thiptara or “magic on the water”, best Thai cuisine in Dubai

Set in a magical location facing the Dubai Opera, the Fountains and the tallest building in the world Burj Khalifa, Thiptara gets immediately ahead of the most Dubai restaurants offering romantic yet eclectic vibe. By the time you pass through the garden tastefully decorated with candles and lights, the expectation of an exotic night reaches its exciting point right in the front of big authentic wooden gate guarded by the resting Buddha. Behind the gate is another little garden filled with traditional aromas mixes with laughter, the heart of Thiptara the Bangkok style Thai restaurant.P9090147.JPG“Bar to the left and the restaurant is to the right,” the voice of my hostess was lost in the sounds of music sneaking from the open door to the terrace. My eyes piers into the sudden splash of neon, water and sparkles as the famous fountains rise to the sky. Astonished I still chose to seat inside as pairing humidity with the spicy food leads to gulping icy cold water all night long. I fancied sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.P9090008.JPGPrior to softly placing menus on the table I was offered a refreshing wet towel scented with jasmine. Survivor of numerous Dubai summers, I’ve learnt to appreciate this gesture and smiled happily knowing I was in good hands. Lucky for me the chef de cuisine, Chef Nguyen Thanh left her kitchen for a few minutes to greet tonight’s guest providing me with a rare opportunity to order what chef recommends. Additionally, it was a real pleasure to meet yet another female chef working at the Palace Downtown. It appeared that her all time favourites included papaya salad, green chicken curry and dishes infused with lemongrass. Chef Nguyen Thanh warned to be realistic picking the spiciness level (not spicy, European spicy or confidently Thai spicy), so I complied.

The papaya salad turned out to be so fresh, sour and crisp with a tingling sweetness of tamarind sauce that I considered repeating. A platter of mixed dumplings rested only for a few seconds on the table surprising my server with the speed of my consumption. “Sooo good,” I mumbled in satisfaction. Tom Yong Goong soup to share was cooked to absolute perfection and I couldn’t wait for the main. With the curries in progress, I picked my Sauvignon and stepped outside to feel the downtown. Well, it’s fancy and very entertaining to observe.

Among my curries, the green chicken curry completely blew me away with its richness, creaminess and lightness at the same time probably achieved by adding coconut milk instead of the cream. I was tempted to inquire the recipe and was told: “Good news, everyone!” Chef Nguyen Thanh conducts cooking classes from time to time. Guess who is in!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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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The magic of Ninive

Once upon a time in the ancient city of Niniveh, former capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and oldest urban centre in Mesopotamia, there was a secret terrace. Shielded from curious eyes by the mysterious Hanging Garden and massive stone walls, the place was a legend. A few centuries later, the World Wonder secluded courtyard has been reborn in the open space of Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Niniveh became Ninive

Surrounded by ever-busy Sheikh Zayed highway, glittering downtown lights and the hussle of the financial district, Ninive of Dubai is a brilliant idea. It caters to the growing need of every cosmopolitan city for a little paradise of greenery, privacy and peace. A place that looks good, feels good and contributes to goodness. That’s what Ninive is for me.P2189000.JPGDecorated in the best traditions of One Thousand and One Nights, where gold is everybody’s favourite colour, Ninive communicates Arabian luxury and guest’s comfort as the priority. The interior elements, accented with warm light lanterns, fluffy cushions, low foamy divans and a feeling of privacy, make you immediately forget all your worries. The focus on complete divine relaxation is partly achieved by impressive service, and partly by wafts of shisha travelling with the breeze from table to table. P2188986.JPGDespite all the effort and skill of clearly mega expensive designers, the best part of Ninive is the luxury of the open night sky, shining with stars. While seated in the restaurant, one falls under an illusion of dining in some fancy Indiana Jone’s camp in the middle of a new adventure. Surprisingly the urban look of nearby skyscrapers adds charm to the restaurant’s view. It’s so easy to spend a night away on those snugly cushions without noticing the time. My simple dinner with a friend lasted four hours. Fortunately valet parking is complimentary.

P2188963.JPGNinive, like the neighbouring La Cantine du Fauborg, is run by chef Gilles Bosque, Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man. The menu is created with a deep understanding of present desire for an unforgettable experience, exclusive food magic at the table and pomegranate seeds. The later was elegantly sprinkled on several mouth-watering appis, which didn’t last long. I especially enjoyed the absence of ceviche, a dish that the majority of Dubai restaurants tend to force into their cuisine recently.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere 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 the trend of moving away from serving a boring spread of stereotypical dishes towards crafting the new Haute Arabic food couture to impress and startle.

Chef Ibrahim

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I spotted chef Ibrahim right at the entrance. Confidently powerful in the kitchen, he projects charm, charisma and a love of food. Easily mesmerized by super skilled professionals, I couldn’t keep my eyes or iPhone off him. Intrigued by my non-stop flash, chef Ibrahim laughed and visited my table for a quick chat. He was as entertaining in conversation as in the kitchen.

Chef of the bar Marc

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Marc is another personality not to miss at Ninive. Many guests stop by the bar just for an opportunity to observe this awesome guy and share a bunch of jokes. Enigmatic, always on the go, anxious in a fun way and incredibly skilled, Marc is a character that could be plucked from Cirque du Soleil. I knew there was something cheeky in his past watching the way Marc tossed a napkin next to me. That’s for me to know and for you to discover.

Haitham

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Haitham was introduced to my table half way through the dinner and for the first few appearances I kept on referring to him as Olivier. He never corrected me, smiling rather charmingly. He captivates attention with a soft approach to service, sharp attentiveness and enthusiasm. Haitham concurred my heart by performing a master class of Moroccan tea pouring, sharing a few secrets with me.

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Buzzy, fun, diverse and never boring, Soho Garden in Dubai

A few months ago Soho Garden opened in Dubai, channelling the spirit of London’s most extravagant entertainment district. Usually open from 5pm, for a short time every Friday there is a unique opportunity to hang out in Soho’s open air from afternoon to sunset and then evening. Exciting, no? Take a sneak peak at the Sunset Brunch.

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Spread between four bars, two rooftop terraces, several wall art pieces and numerous tables of various shapes, the Sunset Brunch is one of a kind. Buzzy, fun, diverse and never boring there is a lot on offer. With the view on futuristic Maydan hotel a glimpse on Downtown’s skyline, the scenery changes colours and patterns following the movement of the sun.

 

 

Sunshine on arrival slowly fades away leaving you with a cool breeze and blushing sky. At dusk the colourful lights, neons and lamps kick in turning this eclectic venue into a little nightlife town. DJs turn up the music mixing lounge, pop songs and luring crowds to the dance floor. No surprise many stay for the after party past midnight. Well, the next day is Saturday, that’s why!

 

 

Soho Garden’s brunch menu is short, trendy and quite healthy offering a choice of one dish each from a course of four, and it’s lots of fun to share when eating in a bigger group. I particularly enjoyed my creamy burrata as a starter and a deliciously juicy mega burger on a tasty fluffy bun with an aioli to remember. A look around confirmed it was a popular choice but they didn’t run out and everyone got their selection.

 

 

A big fan of tea with my dessert, I looked at my server with the eyes of “Puss in Boots” and a very special cuppa with lots of fresh mint magically appeared in front of me. Supporting my victory with a slice of an extra dessert (Alaska) stolen from a friend, I obviously felt delighted with the life and myself. What a great brunch!

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P.S. Soho Garden is getting an exciting addition; Soho Beach and I can’t wait to discover it!

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The Avant Garde of Japanese cuisine

Weird but true: the exercise of observing art always has an intense appetizing effect on me, stronger than any existing aperitif. Just two hours under the “rain of light” dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi, all I could think of was food. All was lost to the most human feeling ever, hanger. A quick look at Google Maps disappointed with only a few exceptionally bland nearby options. Then, a peculiar name popped-up on the screen and a 10 minute countdown to Sushi 99 at the Four Seasons commenced. Grrrrrr…

The drive to Maryah Island, a fancy financial district overlooking downtown Abu Dhabi, from the cultural district of Saadiyat was pleasant with barely any traffic and complimentary valet on arrival. One floor down from the lobby and we were standing right in front of a bronze waterfall, casually serving as a door frame. “Wow,” I thought. “This will be an entrance to remember!”

Other eye-candy placed at the entrance was a giant fish statue with charismatic looks and an ironic eye: “You guys think you’ve seen it all?” This artwork was repeatedly re-printed on beautifully crafted rectangular plates all around the restaurant.

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Sushi 99 starts with a spacious lounge, a golden bar on one side and a glass window opening on expensive looking bottles thoughtfully arranged behind it. The interior décor includes expressive saturated tones and was highly elusive and slightly deceiving, as in my view it didn’t communicate Japanese. Comfy sofas and dark grey ottomans contrasted with vividly red murals and rugs and balanced the warmth of the light. A similar concept continued across the restaurant, and when my eyes adapted to the dimmed light, I started to realize how carefully the Japanese theme was crafted into the otherwise very chic Mediterranean surroundings. Bonsai trees, for example, did the trick for me.

The table was minimalist, with shiny wine glasses, custom-made cutlery and crockery, a piece of art soya sauce jar and an adorable white cookie that, with water, turned into a hot towel. Greatly impressed and stunned, I mumbled to myself something about sincerity, peacefulness, elegance and passion, however a clear voice interrupted my chaotic sentence: “Japanese with Spanish influence. Not vice versa.” The first Sushi 99 opened in Madrid and quickly turned into five locations including Barcelona. The Abu Dhabi bar and restaurant was the first and only establishment abroad. Alrighty!

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A big fan of chic cocktails involving advanced bartending and mixology, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order off the list. So I walked directly to the golden bar and requested to be impressed. Sergey, who immediately accepted the challenge, served me a tall glass filled with a refreshing, punchy mix with everything Dubai girl dreams of (fresh raspberries for example). My second drink, an exotic Mojito put together by Yuli, featured passion fruit as the main ingredient. Yumm!

The repeated theme of passion (think interiors, art and fruit) came up while ordering. Once the menu was open, our hostess started a conversation describing dishes, ingredients and cooking secrets to us. They source the world’s best and freshest ingredients. Their Spanish tuna was so incredible that some parts resembled a marbled Wagyu steak. Don’t believe me?

I placed myself in the hands of the very competent team to feed us with no regrets. Salted edamame, a complimentary starter, got me into sampling mood and the dinner began. It took the first dish, a juicy crab served in its shell, to announce my verdict: absolutely amazing. The best I’ve had in life, and a little spoon on the side made scooping easy.

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A few other masterpieces tasted that night included: spicy tuna tartar with a secret Japanese sauce, foie gras rolls topped with sweet raspberries, a selection of salmon sushi flambé with slices of browned lime a top, and slices of tuna soaked in a trio of sauces – coriander, passionate fruit and soya. This was the moment the chef stopped by our table to grate fresh wasabi right in front of us, melting my heart completely.

While we were savouring these luxuries to our senses, the breeze occasionally blew through the open panoramic windows adding a touch of wildness to the experience. We selected a pot of green tea with mochi ice-cream as a final touch to the dinner and sipped the night away. I can’t wait to go back!

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P.S. The charismatic looking person casually lounging at the bar is Cris, a fellow blogger and social media influencer. You can find more about him here.

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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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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.

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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.

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