Flamenco night at Salero (Tapas and Bodega)

A charming little restaurant and a true gastronomic hidden gem set out of sight in the far most corner of Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates. Right from the entrance prepare to be transported to the fiesta-like ambience of a trendy Spanish wine cellar where delicious aromas of olive oil, roasted garlic and herbs are paired with wisely selected wines, soulful conversations and Flamenco (especially on Wednesday nights).

All tables are nicely positioned around a central bar with an open kitchen where chefs simmer delicacies on a gas stove. Up on the ceiling large wicker baskets replace ordinary lamps adding cosy warm lighting. The pops of red here and there are gingham napkins which add to the Mediterranean allure and an abstract wall mural echoing cubism screams Picasso.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I slowly studied the menu the band walked in, immediately stealing all the attention with the never fading lyrics of “Bamboleo”. We couldn’t help but sang along: “Porque mi vida yo la prefiero vivir así”. Francesco, who looked after our table, suggested we start with a selection of tapas (small savoury dishes) and end the feast with a seafood paella prepared on the stove. I insisted that jamón was a must try as it’s mission impossible to find fine pork in Dubai (spoiler: it was the best jamón I had in a while). Francesco advised that a pitcher of fruity red Sangria would be a perfect pairing to the food we ordered.

Our feast started with a dish of traditional Spanish bread “Pan Basico”, fragrant roasted garlic, “pa amb tomaquet” (soft plum tomatoes), sea salt and olive oil. I rubbed a clove and a tomato all over my toasted slice of bread, sprinkled some salt and olive oil and only paused eating when a board of “Jamón de pata negra” aged 36 months landed on the table (AED 195). The selection of tapas, which arrived next, was extraordinary tasty: “Pimientos de Padron” (small green peppers AED 49), “Croquetas de polo y croquetas de setas” (chicken and mushroom croquets AED 49) and absolutely magical “Gambas al ajillo” (shrimps simmered in olive oil with garlic and chilies AED 69).

While I dipped the remaining pieces of bread in deliciously tangy sauce, Maria the gorgeous Flamenco dancer, walked on the stage. She moved so powerfully and gracefully that all eyes were drawn to her including mine. 

A few minutes later my small seafood paella (AED 215) was served in a rather large pan with lots of simmered shrimps and mussels on the top. Size wise it was enough for four hungry eaters and we ended up packing leftovers for a takeaway. The taste generated by the broth was quite intense at first but would quickly settle into a creamy heaven. I didn’t have any room left for the dessert however churros looked truly irresistible.

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Welcome to the Hotel Cartagena, Darlings ;)

“On a bright desert highway; cool wind in my hair

Zesty smell of mojitos, rising up through the air”…

PB091182.JPGWell, it’s Friday again. Lounging comfortably on the back seat of an Uber, I recklessly hummed along one of the Eagle’s most played song, changing lyrics as it pleased me. I scrolled down my IG feed, stuffing myself with mouth-watering food photography, a habit I developed living in the Middle East. I learned to trust visuals more than reviews, feeling strongly against sloppy looking dishes. Ugly food rarely tastes good, at least here.

The traffic on Sheikh Zayed road made me smile. There were barely any cars and a trip from Dubai Marina to Business Bay took less than 20 minutes. When I finally arrived at JW Marriot Marquis (a typical Dubai high-rise, hard to identify from the distance unless you’ve been in a few times) a smile still froze on my lips in expectation of a great afternoon. I had a table waiting for me at Hotel Cartagena, a Colombian themed restaurant that once delighted me with miniature crunchy and creamy mushroom pies called empanadas. Since then I craved for more.

IMG_1425.JPGI crossed the lobby looking for a ride to the 70thfloor. The elevator featured a clear glass window which kept me glued to the views of the man made islands and the sea. When the doors opened from bright daylight into darkness, I saw her, well them, two gorgeous brunettes dressed for Carnival.

“… There she stood in the doorway; I heard the mission bell…
…Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…”

PB090871.JPG“Soft drinks or cocktails?” said a voice from above my shoulder. Alrighty, that wasn’t the right line but I swear everything else just screamed “such a lovely place”. I smiled: “Obviously! But first things first…” While Vladimir, the guard of the entrance looked for the right wristband I snuggled between two beauties, taking another epic photograph living up to my reputation 🙂

PB090904.JPGHotel Cartagena greeted me with the charm and cheekiness of a confident host. “This is your table darling, enjoy,” the dazzling smile slowly walked away and my server Vazgen walked in with a basket of rainbow crisps, emerald guacamole and black hummus made of beans and a giant menu. “I’ll be looking after you, welcome to Hotel Cartagena!” I dipped the crisps into the guacamole, generously scooping as much as possible and looked around. This eclectic, extravagant and very visual venue seemed to hold back a few secrets.

PB091172.JPGFirst of all, it was owned by Mysterious Madame B.  Everyone’s heard of hear but no one’s met her. Well, no one except for a rather large number of parrots popping their heads here and there and studying me with their piercing sarcastic eyes. In the middle of the room soaking in early afternoon sun, was a round staircase to the lower non-smoking level. It seemed that lush greenery grew directly from the ceiling cascading in waves above the steps. Right behind my table was a panoramic view partly on Business Bay, Al Khail road, neat looking massive stables and a new residential development partly completed.

PB091189.JPGWhen I turned around there was no empty space left on my table full of starters, empanadas, corn chicharones, tapas, salmon ceviche and spicy tuna served with dark green lettuce wraps. Everything looked so fresh and inviting that I couldn’t resist digging in immediately! At the same time, Zuka, the bartender, mixed my cocktails at the long exotic bar where people gathered in small circles.  To keep us warm and cheery a DJ was engaged and two gorgeous Carnival dancers stormed the scene from time to a time.

PB091119.JPGMy mains were as excellent as the starters but a lot more protein and carb oriented. Rum marinated chicken, smoky lamb chops, giant prawns and sides were all eaten within minutes. My brunch experience was complete with a cup of strong black coffee and sweet dreams in a form of desserts.

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My Top 10 licensed restaurants (part 2, 2018)

Read Part 1 here..

  1. Weslodge. Weslodge surprises with a minimalistic yet extravagant approach to design that whispers elegance and luxury. The sign on the door says “saloon” but it’s the only clear indication to categorize Weslodge this way. The polished look is accented by a museum-like art collection arranged with a personable touch to create the illusion of home. The importance of detail is evident in the shining crystal glasses, exhibition of occasional eccentrics (skull wall decor, central spider chandeliers and a giant orchid on a red velour sofa). In the past year Weslodge diversified their otherwise steak-oriented menu by introducing dishes unavailable anywhere else in Dubai (try Hamachi). If not for dinner, stop by for arguably the best cocktails in Dubai created by award winning resident mixologist Emilio (try peanut butter infused whisky). Ask for Riona to help you with the menu. She is a true expert and a fun soul.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Hoi An. The Dubai interpretation of Hoi An is very visual with colourful lanterns, framed snapshots of Vietnam, wooden banisters, domesticated palm trees and statues of Buddha. Vibrant lights reflected in panoramic windows add a rather exotic feel to the place. The food is authentic and spiced on demand. Hoi An serves the best pho soup in town and I keep on coming back for a steaming bowl of delicious broth with herbs and chillies on a side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Thiptara is the best Thai restaurant in Dubai with the magical views on Dubai Fountains, Dubai Opera and the tallest tower. Like Asado it’s located at the Palace Downtown where luxury exceeds any expectation but stays within the expected price range for Dubai. Chef Nguyen Thanh performs miracles in the kitchen every night managing her team and a very intense wok station. Pair her papaya salad, green chicken curry and everything cooked in a wok with Sauvignon Black or very dry Riesling and you’ll thank me later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Waka. Waka has the personality of the amazing chefs who own and run it. Sometimes you can spot them at the bar chatting and mixing Piske Sours, plating a special treat for a guest or showing the Latin moves to the amazed public. The Peruvian theme is noticable all over the place, the food is just incredible and the very relaxed party yet private atmosphere will keep you engaged through the dinner.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Pierre’s Bistro is a new fine dining restaurant with a lovely easy going atmosphere and magical French contemporarily cuisine designed by Chef Pierre Gagner himself. A 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. Despite the appearance the place is not pretentious in any way and neither is the food. It’s light, innovative and delicious in every bite. The dinner usually starts with a freshly baked baguette and French butter. I love to end my experience with the best apple tart I had in my life (ever!). It’s a must try.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Artisan

The random question: “What is your favourite cuisine?” often lands with the most probable answer: “It’s Italian.” A table booked at an Italian restaurant is considered a safe choice, particularly when talking business or meeting people with unknown preferences. Another reason to love cucina Italiana is the variety of amazing desserts paired with intensively fragrant espresso offered at the end of the evening.

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The stereotype of mainstream Italian cuisine being pizzas and pastas in the mind of occasional restaurantgoers is being challenged by Michelin star chefs and savvy foodies who travel the world in a search for exclusivity. Imagine my astonishment when I discovered a fantastic place with authentic and experimental dishes right downtown.

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The Artisan restaurant isn’t easy to find. Hidden away from the beaten track of the DIFC fancy dining, experience it’s located in Daman Tower, ten minutes walk from the stock exchange or a few minutes drive from Dubai Mall. If not for my friend’s recommendation, I would never ever find my way to this place. First pleasant surprise was free valet or self-parking with plenty of spots available.

P3250007.JPG A lift took me to the next level above retail, then a short walk through the door to the open space and there I was. The entrances, surrounded by a lush garden, lead into an open dining area accented with art and vintage looking mirrors. Dimmed lights contributed to a rather intimate atmosphere supported by home-like white tablecloths and wooden feel to the whole design. The greeting on arrival was short but very warm resulting in me being escorted to my table in a matter of seconds. Once seated, a very knowledgeable Evgeni was ready to guide me through the menu and suggest a suitable aperitivo.

“You must try a few of our appetisers and mains inspired by the sun of Tuscany and Florentine living,” he declared with a charming smile. “Our Milan-born chef Luca has spent so much time in Florence that he calls it home.” Evgeni’s voice sounded so convincing and reassuring that we moved away from the initial selection towards the dishes he recommended. “Please do order the main even if you are for the first time here and intend to share,” he added. “Our chef will blow you away.” I nodded in acceptance. P3250041.JPGI think we were lucky. Going out on Sunday nights delivers an unexpected advantage. Being a quiet night for hoteliers and restaurateurs in the Middle East we benefited from extra attention given by the team. Our bartender at the Artisan while chatting to me poured a huge serving of Stolichnaya into my mocktail without realizing it. Needless to say I was very very happy. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat followed was the real food magic. Chef Luca locked away in the kitchen (I didn’t get a chance for a quick chat) served one amazing dish after another. My feast started by crunchy thin toasts of artisanal house baked bread and smoothest pate. Tuna tartar based on rapidly seared an exceptional cut of this tricky fish accompanied by funnel puree and a few secret ingredients was definitely my favourite. Shrimp tartar served with the sweetest creamy burrata and, surprise, deep fried fresh capers, was a combination I never tasted before. I’m not going to describe any of the mains, as you need to book a table and experience this place yourself. My words won’t do justice to chef Luca’s passionate creations.

Check The Artisan menus here. 

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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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Ting Irie – Everything is Gonna Be Tasty

The first Jamaican restaurant is serving jerk chicken in Dubai since May and mon, it’s spicy! Everything… from food to decor. The entrance is slightly hidden, as all best kept secrets are, but once you are in – you’re never out. Ting Irie is addictive. I blame it on absolutely beautiful people who charm you right at the door.

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First stop the open bar… You can’t miss it! Watch a coconut opening ceremony in the company of a fancy rooster and a pretty Caribbean girl.

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The key ingredient of every dish and drink I tried is freshness. Mocktails are blended and immediately served, spinach is baby crispy-tender, chicken is juicy and mains are proudly hot. What’s missing – liquor license and rummy cocktails.

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Must try – seasoned Lamp Chops served on deliciously spicy hummus.

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Another favorite – Chips Oman Burgers (mini-B).

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There are restaurants conveniently located a cote de bar. Well, Ting Irie is all about the Bar. It’s the center, it’s where all entertainment and gossip are happening. This side offers a great view on the kitchen where my jerk chicken is being prepped (however, I’m looking in a completely different direction suspiciously happy).

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And… I lost myself to Caribbean vibes, moves and all these beautiful people

Well, what happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica even when it’s the center of Dubai 😉

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