‘We are pleased to accommodate families; however, children under 10 years of age are not permitted in the resort’ – reads Al Maha Resort’s Child Policy. A private sanctuary located in 225 sq kms of the protected Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, the resort almost fits into the environment and is home to many species of animals, birds and flora and fauna. Though the Z-Sisters are used to travelling, respecting wildlife and hearing a few ‘Shhhh’s, we do respect the resort’s child policy – each room is an independent unit and the charm lies in the fact that a Gazelle might be waiting for you by the window, wanting to accompany you while you walk to the main building to dine! We have been following the green philosophy and trying to book ourselves into places (luxury or otherwise, as much as possible) which adhere to responsible tourism and we are proud that the list of the Eco Resorts that we’ve visited, is gradually growing longer.
Until recently, the resort was only for live-in resort guests. Only now they allow day-visitors. So, the tweaked option that I adopted to visit Al Maha was to attend a Twitterati lunch at the resort. If you are wondering what that is, you are in the same boat as me. Did you know that there are Tweetups i.e. Twitter meetups for people who Tweet. And the people who Tweet are called Twitterati. Almost like a glitterati! Am I a Twitterati then? Not yet, but I don’t mind being one if that gives me the chance to travel and eat. To my rescue comes a little birdie, who has at this second has 13,501,302 Followers and is teaching us humans to stop talking and start Tweeting! If the birdie is instrumental in inspiring such desserts (below R), then so be it!
Getting lost in the sand: A 65km drive from Dubai along the Dubai/Al Ain Road, our navigation system brings us to a halt in the middle of now-where. There is a placard with Al Maha written on it but not the well-fabricated logo of the resort that I had got used to seeing earlier as I hopped onto the offcial web page so many times! A frantic search for anyone, someone, whoever – amidst sand dunes and a few date palm trees ultimately leads us to a Bangladeshi man who tells me in Bengali ‘Didi Apni haraya gaschen!/Sister, you are lost!’ Thank you very much for rubbing that in, little Bro! Even hearing Bengali, my own mother tongue when one is lost in the desert doesn’t help.
Ultimately we reach the resort, on time. For all those future Ibn Batutas who are dependent on their smart phones and GPS navigation systems, this is my advice – it is actually a very easy drive. Just keep on driving on Dubai/Al-Ain Road till you see the board (yes, a fabricated logo this time!) of Al Maha Dessert Resort & Spa.
What followed next? An afternoon of 7 course of sense-tickling sit-down lunch (the printed menu said 5 courses) in a private dining room of Al Diwaan Restaurant amidst the tweeting Twitteratis under the supervision of Chef David Miras, an avid Twitterati himself (@ChefDavidMiras)!
The inaugural drink of Mint & Lemon was absolutely phenomenal. The way it was presented – a small blue glass containing the thick drink perched into a gobbler full of crushed ice – oh! What can I say? Normally, I don’t fancy Mint. Okay, to put it strongly, I absolutely hate the strong taste and flavour of Mint. Frankly, I was initially quite skeptical about it. But this drink was heavenly. Heavenly phenomenal. And phenomenally heavenly. Probably I haven’t been introduced to Mint in this way before!
Our Amuse bouche (what’s that?) came in the form of a delicate Caprese Minuto – a Caprese Salad, Buffalo Mozzarella in a cherry tomato cup seasoned with Liguarian Pesto. Muah!
The Amuse bouche was followed by a Cold and a Hot Starter. The Cold Starter was a dish of raw Tuna – Duo of Tuna with Pickles & Melba Toast, Tuna Tataki & Tuna Cream. I simply loved the Tuna wrapped in white and black Sesame seeds.
Before the Hot Starter was served, Crab Cakes came in as a surprise from the Chef. A delicious surprise indeed! It was followed by a delicious Parsnip Soup with Sour Apples and pan-seared Scallops. The Soup was rich and creamy and the Scallops really soft. Again, not too fond of Parsnip, this was another revelation for my taste-buds.
The afternoon seemed to be full of surprises with mini sub-surprises thrown in by Chef David - it left us wondering what would be the next thing thing that we would be served? Next came a Mint Sorbet to cleanse our palettes! Again Mint? I was about to turn myself from the world’s worst critic of Mint into the world’s greatest fan of Mint. Dear Mint farmers of the world – if you turn super-rich overnight, you know where to turn your allegiance to!
The Main Course consisted of Wagyu Beef Fillet with a Beetroot Mousse, sautéed Wild Mushrooms, glazed Parsnips and a Shallot Jus. I like my steak Medium Rare. But my companions who who had asked for Rare were equally impressed with the tenderness of the Wagyu Beef that we were served (more on Wagyu). And please Chef, could I request you to make the Beetroot Mousse as a complete dessert the next time I visit? Actually, the Beetroot Mousse has inspired me to make a Beetroot Soup at home which has been certified a success by my family and friends!
My Aunty who’s visiting from India had accompanied me. She became the universal Aunty to the entire gang of Twitteratis. ‘Aunty, did you enjoy your food?’, ‘Aunty, do you like it here?’, ‘Aunty, is the food very different?’ flooded her. My quintessential traditional Bengali Aunty wearing her traditional red and white bangles – the Shakha-Pola (what are they did you ask?) that a Bengali married woman wears in her wrist, soon became very comfortable amidst the smart phone trotting Twitteratis!
She was very delicately asked if she would like to eat something else instead of Beef and was served Chicken prepared in the same style as our Wagyu Beef. Traditionally, Hindus don’t eat Beef. Kudos to the staff for paying heed to these sensitive issues and being aware of the cultural differences that might exist among diners. Yes, they are trained to know these things. But we’ve faced many situations before when the diner has had to face a lot of drama.
Rounding off with the perfect Dessert is perhaps the most important thing while having a good meal. As usual, there were no disappointments. The White Chocolate & Pistachio Parfait sprinkled with Coconut Almond & Pistachio Sand was just as perfect as the main meals. I could have had just the latter for dessert – the crispy and crumbling sprinklers or the mere add-ons! Here too, the Chef managed to throw in some surprises. The surprises came in the form of Crème brûlée in 3 different flavours – Cinnamon, Saffron and Chilli Chocolate. I have to admit that I have fallen for the Chilli Chocolate Crème brûlée!
The final surprise probably came in the form of the Twitter logo made with Chocolate powder. Really, what will this little celebrity birdie inspire next? Perhaps, some Real estate in Dubai in the shape of the Twitter bird! Why not?
Another sweet surprise came from Debbie who writes CoffeeCakesAndRunning. She made some delicious Banoffees for all of us – including Chef Miras and the kitchen staff of Al Diwaan. Thanks, Debbie for the little take-away for the Z-SISTERS too, they were so thrilled.
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai Desert Reserve
5* Luxury Eco Resort; In the desert
The resort is located in the first National Park of UAE, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) and is geared towards the protection of the delicate desert ecosystem. The food served in the resort focuses on locally grown organic ingredients and the highlight of a culinary experience here lies in the daily changing ‘Chef’s Special‘!
‘The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) is the UAE’s first national park. Carefully planned rehabilitation over the years has resulted in a protected environment for the last of the desert wildernesses. With the rapid development of Dubai as a major business centre in the Gulf, the Dubai Government has long recognised the need to preserve its unique and beautiful desert habitat, and the many threatened flora and fauna species within. This unique reserve was created for the protection of those endangered species and for the conservation of the natural desert habitat and heritage.’
Our lunch was followed by a small educational journey into Arabian heritage – a small peep into Omani tribal jewellery, antique treasure chests and wooden doors – a world which is soon fadng out to electronic doors and swanky urban life. Lynda Shephard, a resident in the UAE for the last 20 years, took us along her nostalgic journey into a world of watercolors and antique furniture and artefacts. As she vacates her Jumeirah home which will be broken down soon to give way to modern row-houses, she’s holding an exhibition to showcase her love for this region. More about her from yesterday’s Gulf News.
The artifacts donning the walls of Al Maha, the framed silver jewellery, the antique wooden furniture – all that attributes to making the decor so luxuriously timeless, has been sourced by Lynda. As she bids adieu to UAE and holds her last exhibition, we probably have to come to terms with the fact that the modern urban pace of life is guzzling up the time-less innocence of a period that will be wiped out by cranes and new constructions.
What does Al Maha mean? Al Maha is the Arabic for ‘Oryx‘. During 1940’s – 1960’s the Arabian Oryx was hunted to the brink of extinction and was declared endangered by the 1970’s. Today, approximately 300 Oryx, the largest free-roaming herd in Arabia can be found in the Reserve. It is also home to numerous species in additional to Oryx, such as Arabian and Sand Gazelles, Foxes and many more animals. The Al Maha has been thought to have existed from the beginning of time itself as has been recounted in the The Legend of Al Maha!
Shy and hesitant, they move away when you come across these beautiful elegant animals. Yes, it would be lovely to wake up and see the sun-rise together. Or to just gaze into the horizon from your private infinity pool as you step out from your chalet. This is probably the first time I have come across an easel and a binocular in a resort room. The empty pages of the sketch-pad and a box of unused crayons probably seeming more alluring than the welcome dates or fruit baskets or even the complementary chocolates for that matter!
Everything has to come to an end. As we drove back to the city of Dubai, the sunset against the horizon bid adieu to the day as well. Against the rolling sand-dunes and against the thorny bushes a herd of Al Maha gazed back at us. Probably asking, ‘What the hell are you guys doing here?’ I felt unnerved! But I could tell that this was one place where they won’t be disturbed for sure. I want to bring back the Z-Sisters to this place. However, they’ll have to wait for a few more years. For obvious reasons. This is a sanctuary of tranquility, not a noisy zoo.
It was going to be a long 7km drive to the main gate of the Reserve and then a few kms more till we hit the Al-Ain/Dubai Road on our return journey. And all this while the statutory speed limit was 40 kms/hr. I was happy that would take us quite a long time to reach the main road. We didn’t want to be leaving Al Maha so soon!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: The Twitterati lunch was organised by Debbie (another Debbie!), who writes The REAL Geordie Armani and costed us Dhs 240/person. All the photographs are from my gallery and I request you not to use them.