Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wining and Dining

The fabulous private dining room
Ok, so everyone’s clamouring for my review of Atmosphere.  Here goes.  For those of you who have been living in a cave (or to be fair, just don’t live in Dubai) it’s the new restaurant in the beautiful Burj Khalifa, and the world’s tallest restaurant, on the 122nd floor. 

You might be thinking that this is a gimmick, and it’s a fair assumption to make.  Dubai is full of these swanky places where style triumphs over substance.  That said, I had the highest of high hopes for the place, and we were so giddy that we made our way over a full 45 minutes before we were due to dine (it’s just a few minutes from my front door – additional bonus and pressure for it to be good – this could be our local hostelry!).

I won’t keep you in suspense.  It’s.....AMAZING.  I’m a girl who likes superlatives, but honestly, it’s PHENOMENAL.  Summary of just why I loved it so very much:

First Impressions
It’s in the Armani Hotel, so you can imagine the general feel and style of the place.  Just like the hotel, it’s like stepping into a dream interior magazine spread. Elegant, sophisticated, grown-up glamour.  You’d expect nothing less from Mr Armani, no?  Accessing the restaurant is an experience in itself – we, apparently, were the first people to ever attempt to get to the hotel by foot (!) which threw the security staff completely on the walk up, and also meant that we missed the restaurant entrance (hidden round the back by the corporate suite.)  Of course this wasn’t a problem, as in true Armani style, the beautifully dressed staff escorted us through the hotel and up to the restaurant.  I say ‘up to the restaurant'; bear in mind where it is.  If you’ve been up the Burkj Khalifa, you’ll know about super fast lifts that only have one button.  These are the same – but they travel faster – 250 km’s an hour, to be precise.  It takes just 45 seconds to travel 122 floors. Squeak!

Ambience and Service
From the moment you step out of the lift, it’s an education in perfect service, without being obsequious.  You’re greeted warmly and led through the beautiful restaurant.  Reds, russets, and an open kitchen mean that it feels extremely warm and welcoming and not at all stuffy.  There’s an air of excitement that is infectious.  Everyone is giddy to be there, and in turn, the staff are giddy to have you there.  It’s quite a vibe!

The Food
Three words: TO DIE FOR.  I haven’t had food that good since Le Manoir in the UK, and that was probably 10 years ago.  (To be fair to Dubai, Mezzanine comes a close second.)  It took us about half an hour to peruse the menu fully, what with the intriguing selections and the view to keep you entertained.  I settled on air dried wagu beef with artichokes, followed by the most divine melt-in-the-mouth lamb.  This, coming from a woman who was vegetarian for 17 years up until twelve months ago. Who knew?!  The boy tucked into chestnut and pheasant soup followed by steak.  Both delish. 

Ok, ok, the VIEW
I think it says a lot about the quality of the food that the view is the last thing that I mention.  Of course, it’s stunning, and a focal point of the whole place.  I’m sure it will attract tourists by the bucketload, and if Dubai is your home, it’s also utterly fascinating.  And this is from the girl who’s already been up the Burj Khalifa three times.  But it’s not the only thing or the best thing.

What else? Oh, there’s a divine private dining room that seats 12 (minimum 8) with a set menu at 600 dh.  Considering the fact that braying ex-pats regularly cough up this sort of money for a Friday brunch, I don’t think this is too outrageous.  I know where I’d rather be!  There’s also a beautiful bar – Atmosphere Lounge – with a minimum spend of 200 dh.  Think laid-back luxe-louche (have I just coined a new interiors trend?!) with the same fabulous view and service.  And an impeccably dressed dj playing what sounded like French (?) soul. 

There you have it.  Let’s be clear, it won’t replace Ravi’s on a Saturday evening, but it will complement it nicely.  A fabulous evening and experience and most definitely on my list of favourite places in Dubai.  I’ll add it to my list of 9, 067 reasons why I love this city!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Showing Restraint

There's lots of these in Dubai...
Every year I have a tradition in January.  I never make resolutions - if you know me personally, you'll know that I love objectives and lists and always have plenty on the go, so no need to make any just because it's a new year (hello, control freak did someone shout?!).  This tradition is all about alcohol.  Abstaining from.  I used to do this with religious vigour when I lived in Manchester. No, really!

December was always debauched in the extreme, what with entertaining clients/journalists, enjoying the gifts from clients/journalists, celebrating the actual festive days, all culminating in New Year's Eve.  This usually meant that by January 1st, I'd struggle to imbibe even a glass of Vintage Dom Pom.  Served by the Clooney.  (Ok, I'd have to be dead to resist him.)

Now, call me old-fashioned, call the AA, but this usually meant that I didn't venture out much socially in January.  Whilst I can deal with sitting on the sofa drinking herbal tea, it's not my tipple of choice when on licensed premises with drunken friends.  That was no hardship really - have you been to Manchester in January?  It's dark, dreary and depressing.  The sofa and a slanket is really the best place for you.

Fast-forward three years and I remembered this yearly tradition.  December, whilst not spent in Manchester and instead in a Muslim country, was still pretty heavy-going.  I decided it would be good to give it a go, partly to allow my liver to regenerate and partly just to prove that I could do it.  I'm not going to lie, it hasn't been easy.  And the part which I've struggled with the most hasn't been outside the house, but in it.  Yes, I do regularly storm drunkenly round dancefloors here, but to be honest it's the simple chilled glass on the sofa or balcony at the end of another hellish day dealing with retards that I missed the most.

So how have I done?  Well, I started well.  Then there was THAT weekend in Egypt.  Climbed back on wagon.  Then there was the boy's family to entertain (lovely, but who does that sober - you get me?).  Climbed back on wagon. Then there was a significant date to celebrate.  Climbed back on wagon.  And now there's a weekend away ahead of me.  Followed by dinner at the world's tallest restaurant, and dinner at The Riv.  It's not easy having willpower!

Overall I've managed to refrain for exactly 50% of the month so far.  This is good going in Dubai, let me tell you.  It's the city where people (especially twenty something Brits) spend their Fridays drinking free-flowing wine, having sex on the beach, and projectile vomiting all over tables in very nice restaurants (true story and happened only yesterday. Hideous.)  I think I've proved a point, although which one I'm not exactly sure.  I'm going to continue trying to show restraint, as here are benefits: I sleep better, go down a notch on my belt, and generally have an aura of smugness which comes from feeling, well, grown-up.  It also makes sure I don't fall into the category of "drunken girl" which so many Dubai residents do.  God forbid.

I'll update you at the end of the month.  Tonight I shall be mostly drinking herbal tea...

On My Doorstep

If you can tell me what this intriguing
matchstick thing is, you win a prize!
Things change fast in Dubai, with new roads and buildings springing up all over the place.  And Downtown (where I live) is the King of these changes, with exciting things happening and popping up on a regular basis.  Well, when you have the world's tallest building as a focal point (and the first thing I see when I open my front door in the morning!) it's bound to attract a lot of attention and activity.

I'm most excited about this new development, The Pavilion.  It's the old sales centre built to sell the apartments off plan when the whole area was just a pile of sand.  These were the days when buyers queued round the block to snap up properties here, so the centre was defunct pretty quickly.  Many's the time we've walked past and mused on what a fabulous building it is, in a perfect location (approx 20 steps from my front door!).  We had hoped for a bar or restaurant, but to be fair, this sounds wonderful:

"The Pavilion Downtown Dubai's intriguing concept intends to stimulate on a variety of levels.  Including an art gallery (which is currently showcasing photographs from DIFC's always-amazing The Empty Quarter gallery), design gallery, cafe, library, theatre and bike rental - just to name a few - The Pavilion aims to serve as an inspiring and intellectual cultural location for the residents of Downtown Burj Khalifa and its visitors."

Some do complain about Dubai being devoid of culture (I've never subscribed to this view, we may not have an opera house, but there's so much going on here on the art and culture front, you just need to be plugged into it) so this is a welcome addition to the galleries and spaces here.   And did I mention that it's TWENTY STEPS FROM MY FRONT DOOR?!

I remember moving into Downtown almost three years ago, and driving around the limited accessible space wondering: "what's behind all those hoardings"/"can they please stop changing the roads every five minutes"/will the mall ever open"/"how tall will the Burj Khalifa be"/"will there ever be any decent restaurants nearby (hello Rivington Grill!)".  I'm so very glad I had faith in the area developing.  It's everything they promised it would be, and more.  Dubai, my love affair with you not only continues, but gets more passionate on a daily basis. Love!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Touchy Subject

I’ve always been ticklish.   In all sorts of places.  The absolute worst part is my feet, exacerbated, I’m sure, by regular tickling attacks by my Uncle Adrian (hello!) who used to hold me up by my ankles and tickle me until I thought I was going to pass out. Hated it!  Just to give you an idea of how ticklish I am, I can barely touch my own feet, and if I’m sat in close proximity to anyone (eg curled up on sofa or in cinema seat) I am very anxious if a hand goes near them.  I usually look as if I’m having an attack of some sort.

It’s obviously not the worst affliction one could be saddled with, but it has rather come to the fore since living in  Dubai, where mani/pedis are such a regular part of life.  And before the ‘princess’ comments come out, your feet are on show, most of the time here, ok?!  This means that trips to the spa are actually quite stressful, as I have to endure the tickling (hellish) but also the reactions of  other customers, and now, it seems, the girls who work there.

I changed spa recently which meant a whole new audience for my childlike affliction.  I managed to hold things together whilst the sink filled with water…I even kept quiet as the pedicurist swooshed it around with her hand and added some nice bath salt type things.  But when the usual filing and scrubbing started, I couldn’t contain myself.  I shrieked and squealed, with my legs going round in circles like a cartoon cat stuck on the spot.  The woman in the seat next to me had the good grace to look vaguely sympathetic, and the girl working on my hands smiled shyly.

The pedicurist however, was having none of it.  She looked incredulously at me and said: “Ticklish, ma’am?” with a look of horror most suited to accusing someone of child-snatching.  “Yes” I whimpered.  She retorted loudly: “Really madam, AT YOUR AGE?”.   

Cheeky bint!!! If I hadn’t have been writhing around like a wildebeest caught in a river, I might have had a cutting retort.  Instead I just whimpered.  Sigh.

Dinner in the Sky

Perhaps I can start a  BK fan club?!
We're used to the biggest, the tallest, the best in Dubai, and this week is no exception…the world’s highest restaurant  opens on Sunday, in the resplendent Burj Khalifa.  As I love this building to the point of obsession, it will come as no surprise to you that I am all over it like a rat up a palm tree (rats do live up palm trees, we witnessed one in Creek Park!).

Not only is the location ideal ( a hop skip and a jump from my front door) but there’s obviously the small matter of the spectacular view.  Overall, it promises to be a fabulous experience. As one of my girls squeaked: “Am so excited!  If a boy took me there on a first date I would marry him!”

It’s on the 122nd floor, just two floors below the viewing platform.  This means that it is very likely that the world’s shortest homo, Tom Cruise, probably had his size nines all over the windows when he was filming Mission  Impossible.  I do hope they’ve washed them before I pop in for dinner on Monday night!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Round One

I do not look like this. Yet.

The torture began again last night. Yes, boxing bootcamp is firmly back in my diary.  I’d been putting off the inevitable for a week or so of the new year – mainly due to diary horrors, weddings, and the Cairo cough which I came back from Egypt with.  Yes, it’s procrastinating, but two full nights a week, starting at 7.30 in the evening, are not always achievable when you’re a) working way too hard b) trying to have a social life.

Anyway I quit moaning and cleared some time to get back involved.  There are so many benefits to bootcamp that I can’t believe I stopped for so long (regular readers will know that way back when, A and I hit it hard for about 3 months.  I was even there the week after the car crash, bandaged but boxing!). 

It’s in one of Dubai’s beautiful parks, meaning lush grass, greenery, and lots of people enjoying the cooler evenings.  This does also mean that you are a subject of much interest from the public – 10 crazy people punching the living daylights out of one another is a sight to be seen, to be fair!  It also means I get to have a good catch up with A – gossiping whilst exercising definitely makes the hour fly by! 

Last night we covered topics as diverse as: sex, perfume, work (dull), relationships, clothing, and the compulsory: “what are we having for tea later”.  A treat!

Despite dreading the whole thing I really enjoyed it, and woke up this morning feeling sprightly.  I’d expected to feel like I’d been hit by a truck.  Bootcamp, I never thought I'd say it, but I missed you!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Inner Circle

Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always been lucky to have a close group of friends, and life is no different here in Dubai.  I’ve always thought that if you can’t categorise friends in the ‘I can call them at 3 am in an emergency’ category, then there isn’t any real point.  I see so many people here in Dubai who seem to just ‘skim the surface’, with big groups of friends that they brunch with regularly, but who they’ve failed to make any real emotional connection with. 

This means that my desert family isn’t huge, but it’s tight.  We’ve really been there for one another through some major traumas in the last three years.  We have in the past tried to expand the social circle, but we’ve struggled.  There have been some disastrous ‘singles nights’ where people walked out after less than an hour (extreme rudeness experienced), and we’ve tried bigger events, but always end up talking to one another.  There have been some notable exceptions, including meeting lovely fellow bloggers online and then the arrival of M, of course.

This has had its downsides (we can’t hire a yacht for example, as we simply don’t like enough people!) and most recently, an unusual problem.  One of the group has decided that she wants a husband.  (Note: this is not a euphemism for me!).  Well you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that your odds of this happening are massively diminished when you spend all your time with your lovely friends partying and spank dancing round the city.

So, we’ve signed up to a variety of different social groups, and are attempting to widen our circle.  It’s not just the husband search, to be fair.  To depend on a small group of people for emotional support could be foolhardy in such a transient country.  Watch this space.  And if you know of any eligible bachelors, please do get in touch!

Endings and Beginnings

In case you were wondering, yes I made it back from Egypt! Let's not mention the 8 hours we spent stranded at Cairo airport though, hey? More to follow on the whole Egypt experience later.

It's been a somber couple of weeks, with bereavements aplenty.  First J's dad, then V's grandma, and lastly, E's grandma.  They say these things come in threes...let's hope that's the last.  Apart from the obvious heartbreak that such occurrences trigger in those affected, there's the added pain of being so far away from those you love.  Support can and is offered, but a phone call, email, or card can't really compare to a huge life affirming cuddle and human contact.

Thankfully, this week has started with great news and a new beginning.  My darling friend M has just had a little boy.   After numerous text updates, Facebook monitoring (all necessary when on t he other side of the world) I got the news that he had arrived.  Welcome to the world, Freddie.  I can't wait to meet you.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Going to the Chapel...

I'm off to Egypt for a wedding this weekend.  This will be my second arabic wedding, and to say I'm excited is an understatement.  Aside from the fact that I do love a good wedding (the hope, the joy, the expectation - it's just like a Twilight novel, if only for a day!) arabic weddings (AW) tend to involve much more drama, tension and downright celebration than anything I've encountered in the UK.  In true arabic hospitality style there's about 400 people going, including a large contingent from the office (the groom is a friend and work colleague).  No scrutinising the guest list as at a UK wedding (at 50 quid a head do you REALLY want Auntie Bessie and Uncle Ted to come etc etc).  No, we're all flying in, en masse.

Despite this being categorised as a 'beach wedding' and thus, a low key affair, I've learnt from previous experience that even a low key AW will trump the poshest and most glam of western styles.  So I'm taking the preparations seriously.  Of course the hair has been highlighted, nails polished, body buffed, tanned and waxed: that's a given.  What else do you need to consider?

The Outfit
I wore a cocktail dress to the last AW, and despite it being a body hugging, glam Karen Millen number, it didn't feel quite right.  Ideally, you need a gown.  We're talking floor length glamour here kids.  Oscars, BAFTA's etc.  After subjecting the family to much trawling round Dubai Mall, I finally found the ideal dress.  Black, slinky, one shouldered.  I wouldn't normally wear black but it looks stunning on and suitably elegant.  I couldn't face any of the neon monstrosities I encountered, and more importantly, I didn't really want to rinse the best part of a thousand quid on one.

Just to make it a bit more complicated, the wedding after-party (who knew such things existed) is at Pacha, possibly one of the most glamorous super clubs in the world.  The last time I partied at Pacha it was 1994 and I was in t he Ibiza club. I was a lot thinner then. God knows what to wear on this occasion!

The Accessories
I've blogged before about the requisite accessories one needs here in the UAE - giant oversized shades, handbag, and glitter and glitz on, well, everything.  So I'll be donning a sequinned belt, chandelier (sparkly) earring, and shimmering snakeskin clutch.  Oh and a towering pair of nude peep-toe heels.

The Hair and Make Up
More is more when it comes to this category. I'll be going armed with a giant can of Elnett and will probably start backcombing my hair twelve hours before the ceremony. I am not joking!  It goes without saying that I'll also be wearing more make-up than Ru Paul and this will involve a lot of glitter and liquid eye-liner.  Hey, I hear transvestite chic is all the rage right now!

Somehow, I'm only taking carry-on (as usual) on this trip.  I may need an extra compartment for all the cosmetics!  Full updates and photos to follow, of course.