Meet Miss Tess

It makes me extremely happy to witness Dubai flourishing with unforgettable dining experiences. As the world moves away sitting nicely face-to-face and chewing in silence accompanied by outdated piano tunes, cheeky new entertainment is to the rescue. Miss Tess at Taj Hotel is that kind of place: immerse yourself in street style Asian cuisine at its tastiest, funniest and brightest. Walk-ins are most welcome for example. Booking a table is suggested for bigger groups or for Korean BBQ. Being a girl from the boring generation, I called to reserve a wonderful spot on the terrace facing the Burj.

The appearance of Miss Tess is inspired by the true story of an Asian woman who grew up learning to cook the delicacies of her continent and sharing her skills and knowledge with the loved ones. Under its roof Miss Tess unites the most common and exotic options from Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia and Thailand (thought I spotted a few Malay specialities too).

Strolling through Miss Tess is a pleasure. The open space is visually divided into zones representing different cultures, and my eyes jumped from one fun detail to another. Think delicate Japanese partitions, Chinese lamps, Korean beauty magazines, wisdom posters and so much much more to discover for yourself. I randomly walked into some local warriors who made my night to take a crazier turn.

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Turns out, every Monday Miss Tess challenges the brave and foodies to a one-of-a-kind hot noodle challenge. Every participant is obliged to sign a form and commit to strict rules, which involve limitation in time, strategies, beverages and even napkins. The challenge starts with the arrival of the team, who cheer, chant, observe and judge, and, obviously the noodles. The whole place turns upside down during the next twenty minute and it’s a great pleasure to watch faces of walking guests trying to figure out what’s going on.

The challenge is challenge indeed. A big fan of Ting Irie’s burning hot off-menu wings, I could barely handle a few bites of Miss Tess’s noodles. The secret sauce consists of special chillies, dried chillies and fresh chillies plus something super mega spicy that made me sob. Please do not let the few veggies on the top fool you. This dish is hot hot hot. Compete only if you are physically and spiritually fit. No exception.

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Once done with the challenge (lost by me), do dig into other bits and bites as everything on the menu is longing for attention and review. No matter what you choose or where you sit, I promise you won’t forget Miss Tess until the next visit

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Toro Toro in Abu Dhabi, it’s kooky

When life throws you an afternoon of sunshine, breeze and bright blue sky, head to Toro Toro’s new Friday brunch in Abu Dhabi. Served on a stunning waterfront terrace, the offer included beach access, a live Cuban band, DJ, exotic food and unlimited beverages (from AED 295).

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As life spoils me with perfect weather every weekend, it was only a matter of time before I ended up sipping refreshing sangria at Toro Toro surrounded by extravagancy and Latin chic. The place itself is a little mystery worth discovering and rediscovering. Leave your car with the complimentary valet service and start a journey through the lobby of Etihad Towers all the way to the beach. Once onshore, spot the peculiar futuristic structure on the right and confidently rush in.

 

A pair of giant fighting yet charming bulls next to the rolled down carpet and an ancient entrance door is the first curiosity object to note. The transformation from exterior to interior is breath-taking. One never guesses the entire spectrum of decorative passion locked inside without spending a couple of hours at this art gallery of a restaurant. Picture a burst of colours, patterns, textures and elements spread in harmony across two floors, creating a Barcelona-like presence. It blew my hard to impress mind that pieces so different in the form and feel were brought together in this kooky collaboration of past and future. It was the call of the giant bell that put me back in my senses.

 

Nesting comfortably in a high backed chair I waited impatiently for the brunch to start. Smoothed by fruity sangria, I was ready to sample and gossip. I smiled very happily when the wide spread of cold and warm appetisers landed on the table. Guests around us seemed to be pleased with a service and very relaxed. I fell in love with the food once the taste of crunchy tortilla dipped in a lightly smoked guacamole overshadowed everything I ever tried before. A simple yet powerful dish of pure passion won me over!

 

The corn bread served steaming hot in a little pan, seafood ceviche with yellow curry and deliciously fresh Toro Toro salad were excellent, with a little unexpected twist of flavours. And it was just the beginning… I’ll say no more as you must visit and share your thoughts 🙂

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Vida la vie de Loca

Do you recall those Friday mornings when you wake up and feel it’s gonna be a beautiful day? So you start with a lazy coffee, scrolling Instagram direct messages or giggling to ridiculous emojis from your favourite WhatsApp people. Then a random pop-up ad on YouTube reminds you of a new amazing dress still with tags longing for attention. For me this was the moment to book my brunch experience at 3in1 at Vida Downtown, the place where weekend lasts forever.

Vida, being a landmark itself, often appears in the news in connection with fashion shows, celebrities and events involving VVVIP+ (something super awesome that only exists in Dubai). The drive through the Downtown of Dubai is a separate treat. Lower speed limits result in extended views of palm trees, a mix of futuristic and stylized architecture and a sneak peak at new restaurants opening here and there. In the winter when Dubaians are spoiled with the best weather in the world, I roll down the windows and wave at folks crossing streets I’ve met some time somewhere. Downtown is a popular neighbourhood!

Friendly security and valet parking teams led my car right through a bit of Friday traffic directly to the entrance. Having complimentary valet over here is as essential as complimentary WiFi and obviously Vida offers both. A few steps down (please do not misunderstand me there is an elevator but I always fancy an appetising walk before a brunch), I was greeted like a star.

P2027113.JPGThe concept of brunch is not new but the Western version of it greatly differs from what we are used to in the UAE. Again spoiled by choice we pick a package that suits today’s budget, mood or driving arrangements (my life). For Urban Picnic brunch at Vida’s 3in1 restaurant I chose unlimited soft beverages over unlimited house beverages (think refreshing Margaritas). I upgraded my choice to a table inside a private cabana and smiled anticipatingly a fantastic afternoon.
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And what an epic brunch it was! Picture yourself sitting around a pool on a lovely sunny afternoon with a soft refreshing breeze playing with the silky curtains of your private cabana. The best of Latin dancing tunes including Lambada and Merengue act as the background, adding an authentic vibe to the event. Smoke from the nearby live cooking station encourages you to make another run for the bbq seafood of the day. Your Margarita never gets warm as an attentive server keeps an eagle eye on your happiness. Meanwhile a game of piñata starts somewhere in the corner and a friend hands you over a fun fail video taken at the spot to amuse you.

Believe me when the time is up no one wants to leave and no one rushes you out. Because there is more than one reason this party is the talk of the town.

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The House of Waka

Waka is not a regular restaurant but a destination to experience the authentic flavours of Latin American cuisine with a fusion of Japanese influence. The place is decorated in warm earthy colours, with splashes of bright expressive patterns bringing in a cosy homey feeling. So does the art on the walls.

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The reception outside the restaurant sorts out calls and reservations, keeping the extra noise away. A short corridor with dimmed lights opens up to a small lounge, beautifully lit bar, and DJ booth. The main dining area, divided in two parts, can easily be transformed in exclusive secret rooms for private events.

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The kitchen is divided from the main dining area by a transparent glass wall. Interestingly, while guests can sneak peak on chef’s movements, the window is blackened on the other side. Just like American detective stories but the other way around.

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Ordering is a pleasure, as the team gets very passionate talking about food and describing dishes. Frequent recommendations are followed by a brief history of a particular ingredient or a dish.

The food is fantastic. Most of what I tried had a distinctive individuality in taste and presentation including many little special effects (dry ice, so hot right now). The finely sliced wagyu steak that resembles salami from a distance gets cooked right at the table with a blowtorch and then quickly dressed with delicious bits and pieces. Chicken skewers served on tiny charcoal grills are deliciously juicy and out of this world. On a personal request a little bowl of fresh chilly sauce was prepared especially for me and was quickly consumed with great appreciation.

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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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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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