Sensational, Pierre’s Bistro

I met Pierre Gagnaire at a secret dinner party held just a few days before opening his new Dubai venture. Picture dimmed lights, misarranged partly unwrapped furniture, absence of décor but a collection of rare French wines, a sweet view of the nearby marina and its colourful fountains, melting candles, and an atmosphere of a medieval castle ready for a feast. Mingling between a well-selected group of local celebrities, magazine editors, TV anchor, food critics, PR and social media opinion shapers, I kept a very curious eye out for the much talked about chef. In the best French tradition, he appeared with a chilled bottle of dry champagne ready to pour.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 11.32.36 AM.pngNot a long speech sort of a person, Pierre dressed in a white double-breasted jacket tightened at the waist with a similarly crisp apron, performed a charming smile supported by a hearty greeting and a soft waving gesture indicating that dinner was about to begin. We sipped champagne, giggled and headed to the table. All pointed out to an amazing night out.

P4196137.JPGFeeding a group of highly experienced foodies eager to express what they think is a hard job. Speaking from my personal experience, at some point dining out may turn into a blur: if not for photographs, I would have no idea what was served an hour ago even when it was the best burrata ever. You can imagine my curiosity and anticipation to watch Monsieur Pierre handling us. Spoiled: he did well. Making short but sharp appearances in various intervals during the dinner, he managed to look after everyone by topping up a glass a wine, bringing a dish to the table, swiping crumbs, sharing a joke in both French and English and patiently waiting for follow up questions. The night ended with a cookbook copy signed by the chef. I left completely mesmerized. Needless to say I craved the world’s best frog legs ever since.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 11.31.14 AM.pngI missed the restaurant opening as I was on a trip to India but called to reserve a table a few weeks later, curious to see the turnout. Guess what? It all turned out pretty well! With a separate entrance on the side of the Intercontinental Hotel, dedicated team of three on arrival to ensure guests reach the destination happily and a very elegant interior design worth a fortune, the Pierre’s Bistro is fancier than it sounds. Playing “un petit truc” with the word “bistro” referring to a casual eatery with a simple menu, Pierrre Gagnaire delivers the opposite: fine dining with the most delicious French cuisine.P4196230.JPGA wonderful mix of bright and soft interior colours sets an appropriate mood for various areas: exotic lush green lounge with DJ booth, energetic bar sparkling with reflections, spotless chrome kitchen with one transparent wall shared with a hall, lovely terrace and less dramatic but still eccentric salon with macaroon like chairs, cheeky paintings and soft light. I loved that on top of smoking/non smoking or inside/outside tables there were options for “intimate dining” and “the centre of attention”.  As the weather chose to be kind that night, I sat on a very comfortable sofa outside facing the fountains and a promenade.

My dinner started with a warm baguette baked “en ce moment” and served in a branded paper bag. Crispy on outside, the baguette was so airy and fantastically fragrant; that I couldn’t help but eat it all with the beautiful salted French butter. I ordered my all time favourite frog legs with garlic and parsley cooked to such perfection they melt on a tongue. My other dishes were as exceptional as expected but it was the apple tart that stole my heart that night.

P4196221.JPGOh mon Dieu! It arrived together with caramel ice cream and whipped cream with bits of real vanilla and a dash of brandy. Someone cut it gently in front of me into two halves while I couldn’t take my eyes off its golden glow. I eat very slowly savouring every bite, thinking of beautiful sunsets, apple trees in bloom and fireworks. What a magical end to a magical night!P4196142.JPGStalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

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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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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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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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.

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Eat.Drink.Gossip in Toronto

What I really love about Toronto is its diversity. A place where everyone is from everywhere, boosted with a splash of flavors, cuisines, tastes, spices, beverages and food experiences accessible nowhere else. From Italian breakfast to dim sum lunch followed by 5 o’clock cocktails, irresistible Spanish tapas and locally produced ice-cream, all unforgettable and within a walking distance from each other. The picture is completed with Canadian service, the friendliest and, let’s be honest, most apologetic in the world. Getting hungry? I’m about to share with you a list of places very dear to my heart and my tummy. Places I love to go back to, again and again.

Forno Cultura

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Hiding in a basement beneath the notorious eating and drinking place Wurst, Forno Coutura on King West is loved for deeply fragrant coffees, crispy bread and mouthwatering pastry. The open kitchen creates an illusion of home cooking and there is something exceptionally magical in sipping a rather sharp macchiato while watching a focaccia rolled out right in front of you.

Try: cannoli made of light dough and filled with deliciously smooth ricotta cream.

609 King Street West, closed on Mondays, more at Forno Cultura

Wurst

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With 30 plus sausages to choose from and a fantastic selection of beers and artisanal cider (say what!), Wurst is a true wonder on King West. At a first peek, it resembles the great beer halls of Munich, but once you are in, you know it’s Toronto. Beside multilingual local vibe, this place features tile walls that evoke memories of subway commutes and rush hour. Recommended only for lunch, Wurst gets so crowded after 6pm that people line up on the staircase intimidated by a giant bouncer in a black suit. Well, I was! 

Try: carefully crafted beer samples.

609 King Street West, more at Wurst 

Enoteca Sociale

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They call it “A real Italian Wine Bar”, but for me it stands for the best Italian food ever (I’ve been to Italy). While the menu is only a page long, the selection of dishes based on seasonal ingredients represent what all Italians swear by: mozzarella di bufula, tiniest tortellini, aromatic formaggi e salumi, dreamy gnocchi and other bits and pieces to die for. Reserving a table is easy, but only if you are super lucky. I usually call a few days in advance. 

Try: Sparkling red wine

1288 Dundas Street West, more at Enoteca Sociale

Momofuko

Located at the corner of Shangri-La hotel on University Avenue, a few minutes away from City Hall, Momofuko’s famous entrance has a giant sparking statue and was featured in “Miss Sloan”. But it’s not the statue that made this place so attractive. Spread between three glass levels are two restaurants, a noodle bar, a milk bar and a cocktail lounge. Momofuko’s food experience upgrades with each floor. The higher you go the more expensive it gets, however a bowl of an exceptionally tasty ramen served on the ground floor doesn’t cost a fortune (14-16 Canadian dollars). 

Try: A jar of kimchi, pork belly buns and obviously, the ramen

190 University Avenue, more at Momofuko

Roof Lounge at Park Hyatt

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As romantic as it sounds, the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt offers an incredible view of downtown and the skyline. Toronto’s food and gossip experience is incomplete without a fancy cocktail sipped away on a sunny summer day, with a view from the top paired with fresh shucked oysters (served after 4p). Just magical!

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4 Avenue Road, walk-in only, no reservations, more at Roof Lounge at Park Hyatt

Drake’s commissary

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Surrounded by brick industrial buildings, Drake’s Commissary embraces the spirit of the local community: urban but warm, dynamic and inviting. It’s a place where one doesn’t need to dress up, can arrive in pajamas and be seated with only one question asked: inside or outside. Provided it’s not raining I would always opt to seat outside in the shade close to the wall. Drake’s menu changes depending on the day (week or weekend), time and season. It’s important to try their both lunch and brunch menu as everything I had was worth re-ordering immediately.

Try: flavored lattes, local craft beers and scones (!!!).

128 Sterling Road, closed on Mondays, more at Drake’s commissary

Carmen

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Oh, Carmen! Carmen’s tapas and paellas are just WOW. Infused with spices, flavors and love, they deliver a dining experience that triggers the mind and senses. Carmen is tasty, visual and truly delightful in every bite, sip, look and noise. The restaurant starts with a long bar right at the entrance, leading to a spacious indoor area and a very cozy terrace open during warmer months. My first encounter with the barmen resulted in a hilarious exchange, where I was called “international” for my desperate attempts to book a table from my Dubai number.

Try: Cauliflower, white fish ceviche and paella of the day (big enough to feed 4-6 people if paired with tapas).

922, Queen Street West, more at Carmen

Rodney’s oysters 

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Another fascinating food experience on King West (I wonder why they call that street a tourist trap). Rodney’s design with dimmed lights, edgy posters and a cave like indoor space resembles a trip to dodgy London dungeons, but that illusion fades once you step onto their terrace. In fairness, the terrace, unlike many in Toronto, is hidden away from the busy street, traffic and curious pedestrians. To light up the magic, start with a dozen of oysters and just indulge in pairing them with their wide selection of sauces and freshly grated horseradish. You’ll be surprised to find pure vodka served in one of the jars as a sauce, but I opted for a dash of spicy chilly.

Try: Smoked fish charcuterie board

469 King Street West, closed on Sundays, more at Rodney’s oysters 

Bang Bang

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Apart from its fantastic name and edgy ads, Bang Bang actually makes an incredible, kicking delicious ice-cream with true Canadian spirit – there is a flavor for everyone. Even a nutty foodie like me finds a scoop that screams hazelnuts. Before placing your order, think carefully how you would like it to be served.  At Bang Bang you are not just choosing a flavor, but rather styling it with freshly baked carbs: a cookie, half a cookie, cone, sugar cone or if you’re lucky, a waffle. In the summer the wait may reach a half an hour, but consider it well spent. More about top ice-creams in Toronto, go here.

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93A Ossington Avenue, closed on Mondays, more at Bang Bang

Patisserie 27

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This little bakery is a hidden gem adored by a local community lining up for an almond croissant as early at 6:45am (well, it only opens at 7am). Their pastry tastes like heaven baked in the best traditions of French patisserie. Always fresh, always crisp and always so perfect that their daily specials sometimes are sold out by 9am. They are able to go an extra mile and create a delightful treat according to special dietary requirements, an egg-free birthday cake for example.

401 Jane Street, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, more at Patisserie 27

Enjoy!

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Taste of Arabian Hospitality, Ewaan

The new moon has been sighted and tonight is the start of Ramadan in the UAE. Regarded as a spiritual fasting month of giving and sharing, for many Ramadan is a time to focus on personal development, family life and wellbeing of a community. As an expat, I really enjoy observing the little changes happening in local life: extended shopping hours, the aura of concern around women rushing home with groceries, the excitement everyone shares when offices close two hours earlier, the beauty and the warmth created by colourful lanterns lit at every corner, and the happy sparkles in the eyes of local kids expecting sweet treats at dinner. I love the tradition of gathering for Iftar, a dinner at sunset shared together after a long day without food or drinks. Ewaan at Palace Downtown hotel serves Iftar buffet in the best traditions of Arabian hospitality and creates an unforgettable moment of unity people, flavors, dishes, species and tastes.

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The experience starts with a warm Marhaba (welcome) and a lovely cup of Arabic coffee or a chilled drink made of dried fruits.

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Right at the table there is an extra bottle of water and a serving of figs, prunes, apricots and dates to help conquer immediate thirst and hunger.

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My table was inside the restaurant however another option was to settle on air-conditioned Bedouin tent with a magical view of the  water and and Burj.

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Overwhelmed by a generous selection of dishes and flavors, I walked around talking to staff with  curiosity of a foodie and a journalist. Fortunately no one minded my camera and my plate got heavy in a matter of minutes.

My joy of discovering the dessert section was indescribable. It was the sighting of Moroccan tea brewing at my table that forced me to move away.

Hope you can make it to Ewaan this season and I’m so looking forward to hearing your reviews!

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