An epicurean weekend escape in the UAE
Epicurean/ˌɛpɪkjʊ(ə)ˈriːən/nouna person devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that is derived from fine food and drink.
Note: Article mentions alcohol
In the city
A luxury weekend getaway across three different locales in the UAE, a promise of an epicurean treat inspired by and curated for each locale – and my suitcase was packed in a jiffy! Do read my experience in this three-part post in FoodeMag with a short video that captures the entire journey. Having lived in Dubai for two decades, I have aligned myself completely to the pulsating rhythm of the city. Every now and then, a small escape from its urban landscape revitalises the mind and body – even if it is an unplanned drive away to another emirate, an impromptu lunch halt at a small roadside cafeteria or buying fruits and vegetables from a vendor tucked away at an exit by the highway. Only this time, it wasn’t that random, or casual. We were invited to be the first ones to experience an itinerary, meticulously planned and curated by Samantha Wood, founder of the restaurant review website www.foodiva.net and co-hosted by The Luxury Collection. Big Z joined me as my plus one on the second night and the entire trip gave me a great chance to exchange notes on two of my greatest passions – namely food and travel with some of my friends from the blogging and media fraternity. Checking into my luxurious room in Grosvenor House on the first night, brought back nostalgic memories of JBR, a neighbourhood which we had moved out from in 2015, after living there for six long glorious years. There can be no denying that the marina and the sea have different vibrations altogether, irrespective of all its new developments. It felt like I had come back home.
The view of the sunset and the cool sea breeze hit me afresh as I walked into the terrace of Siddartha Lounge, our first meeting point for a formal initiation along with bubblies as sundowners and delicious canapés. The beauty of a curated ‘dine around’ such as this one was that one got to mingle with like-minded guests – food connoisseurs, editors and influencers in our case. Not to mention the casual interaction with chefs of stature such as Gary Rhodes or Vineet Bhatia. Both of them soon led us later in the evening as we dined in their respective signature restaurants. At Vineet’s restaurant Indego by Vineet, the celebrity chef shared how he conceptualised Indian street snacks into their fine dining avatars – for example, papdi and dahi bhalla coming together in the disguise of an ice-cream. ‘Unapologetically Indian. Uncompromisingly Indian’ – is how Vineet described himself and that’s exactly what we got to taste that evening. Vineet is a social media star himself, his style exuding an uber cool attitude – be it for his fluorescent green frames or vermillion pants. My first interaction with Vineet was through his Instagram feed many years back and I had landed up at Indego (on his invite, of course) for a hot cuppa of masala chai, much before the restaurant opening hours. Those days, I was quite sceptical to dine at Indego, because I was going through a phase of denying all Indian restaurants – fine dining or otherwise, that served butter chicken on the menu and displayed velvety cushions and brass statues of Indian deities (in Indego, it was the multiple Natarajas). I had been on a two months road trip in the US the previous year and every Indian restaurant that I visited displayed velvety cushions and brass deities as their decor statement. I am definitely not the kind of traveller who looks for Indian food wherever I travel. So can I just mention here that I was forced to visit these restaurants, courtesy friends who waited for me to land up, so that they could show off and dig into some desi restaurants! Coming back to the topic, once I tried Indego’s weekend brunch and sampled a few dishes, I was gobsmacked enough to list Indego as one of the top fine dining Indian restaurants of Dubai in GQ India. Lately, I have also been following Vineet’s journey where he trekked upto the Everest Base Camp with his pots and pantry to cook and raised funds for charity. He is quite an inspiration indeed for many of us.
After Indego, we moved to Rhodes W1, where the menu created by Gary was not only classy but also exuded the charm of homey comfort food. Both the pan-fried salmon – flaky and delicate, served with a creamy spring onion risotto and the slow cooked braised beef vied for my attention along with all the vegetarian dishes served. While this was my first visit to Gary’s restaurant, it wasn’t my first experience of his food. Two years back, I had the fortune of attending a milestone birthday celebration of someone, who happened to be one of Gary’s closest friend. The menu was created specially by Gary where he literally cooked his heart out for his pal. Every course for that gorgeous sit-down dinner was exceptional. What I love about chefs like Vineet or Gary and I have seen the same with many celebrity chefs excepting Gordon Ramsay (but then, Gordon is Gordon is more like a Hollywood celebrity than a chef with bouncers and security hovering around him!), that their celebrity statuses don’t interfere with the very purpose these chefs were celebrated for – their cooking. These chefs were totally hands on, engaged in the nitty-gritties of the preparation of dishes that were being served for the night, checking on the taste, the presentation, signing off the final garnish etc. Evenings like these made the guests feel really special – as if they personally knew the chefs! Our final destination Buddha Bar was a testimony to the frenzy that percolates at popular Dubai nightspots such as these. A session of mixology later, we were sat around a table filled with a crazy line up of desserts – chocolate bowls placed in the centre that one could break, tarts and millefeuille, edible canvases to paint on with edible paints etc. The evening ended on an extreme sugar high, drama and excitement and proved that we all were children at heart eternally. Desserts brought an extreme sense of satisfaction and joy to most of us, along with megatons of guilt!
By the water & sea
You may wonder (like me), how a morning of kayaking fit into our epicurean itinerary? I’m so glad that it did actually, an intermission before the non-stop eating sojourn that awaited us in the next twenty-four hours. As we stood in the tallest mangroves in the UAE – Al Zohra Nature Reserve, an expert team from Quest for Adventure briefed us on the basics of manoeuvring our kayaks. Big Z and I boarded a twin kayak and although we were supposed to be sharing the paddling load, I was the one to do the honour. Talk about mama duty, even on a press trip! It was a memorable morning with blue skies, soft breeze and a lot of learning about the national reserve and the mangroves. An hour of paddling in and out of the lagoon amidst the mangroves made me feel like I had already conquered the world and there is more to the UAE than the glorious sand, beaches and desert. We now truly deserved our awaiting feast!
A feast indeed awaited us at Ajman Saray, a beach property of The Luxury Collection. Dibba Bay Oysters, a local farm engaged in sustainable oyster farming, set up an oyster pop up by the sea. An oyster menu with curated recipes offered a variety that ranged from raw oysters to flavoured ones. This was the first collaboration for the brand with a luxury hotel to host such an unique pop-up and we learnt that there plans to set up similar pop ups over this season at various locales. The oysters that we tasted that afternoon were brilliant, a nostalgic remembrance of a similar oyster session we had long time ago. I vividly remember the hot afternoon at a picturesque fishing town called Sausalito, located off the Golden Gate in San Fransisco. Switching back to present time, later in the afternoon, we moved to the Bab al Bahr rooftop for a barbecue lunch. The entire ambiance had a celebratory vibe – fresh flower arrangements on a long table, freshly made breads and dips, locally sourced seafood… including one of my obsessions – jumbo prawns. The only regret is that we couldn’t savour the specially crafted desserts at leisure; we had to dash off to catch up with our event-filled itinerary.
In the desert
This is one the few resorts in the UAE that may be termed as a complete travel destination. I have been to Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa a couple of times at various times of the day and on various occasions – lunches, sundowners, picnic under the stars etc. I remember my first visit to Al Maha – a tweetup during my earlier days of blogging. The FoodeMag #BringBackBalance event that we held here is also very special to me. The menu was specially curated by Chef Peter Sebby who created a few special recipes exclusive for our event. One such special recipe for a welcome drink made with avocado and mangoes delighted us on our visit this time. This was my first stay at the boutique resort nestled amidst shifting dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The only reason we hadn’t considered staying here yet (personally as a family) was because their guest policy didn’t allow children below ten years in the property which had a lot of wildlife. Understandably so, for Lil Z did create quite a raucous once when she saw an ostrich peep into our vehicle on a safari while staying in this precious island property. Lil Z just completed ten last week and I can now consider booking into Al Maha with the family. The experience of staying here is quite a magical experience, from watching a new dawn breaking out of its slumber in the reflection of your very own private pool to being greeted by desert gazelles walking upto your front door. Our bedouin suite opened into a wooden deck and a pool, ensconced in a bed of lush foliage. This was our haven of an oasis in the midst of a desert reserve where we would soon make memories that would last us a lifetime. We missed out on the sundowner picnic, which I have had the fortune of booking into once, and is quite an experience. This was more than compensated by a barbecue dinner and dining under the stars.
The early morning was reserved for a falconry experience at the desert ground, a few hundred feet away from the main lobby. We sat on wooden seats, arranged in the the manner of a quarter-circle. The falcons and a desert owl performed like total divas, swerving into their flights once the expert guides swung their lures. After breakfast, a wildlife drive in a 4×4 Landcruiser through the magnificent desert reserve revealed the true beauty and the significance of the luxury eco resort. Al Maha is truly special and the way it has been working in conjunction with conservation experts in protecting the surrounding eco-system. The beauty and the calmness of the reserve permeated all my pores and lingered on even after our car hit the main highway after our farewell lunch on the terrace of Al Diwaan restaurant. Alas, we all had to return to our respective busy city lives. One thing that was reassuring amidst all this was… an oasis of tranquility in the desert haven lay very close by – a mere 45 minutes drive away from the hustle-bustle of Dubai!
This epicurean trip was truly special – three contrasting locales with different culinary itineraries. It’s a fact that when Samantha curates something, it’s always very special. I have travelled to Jordan earlier on her curated itinerary that had been so inspiring that I took my family back the very next year following the same itinerary. While occasional weekend escapes are necessary to rejuvenate, escapes like these makes one addicted to escapes. Hey, its kind of good to be an escapist then, do stay tuned for more – there’s so much to explore in the UAE!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: My plus one and I were hosted guests of Samantha Wood (above left), the founder of the restaurant review website www.foodiva.net, and The Luxury Collection, Marriott International’s luxury brand portfolio. All images have been taken by me, unless otherwise stated. There aren’t any affiliated links in this post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Please join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
For more info, visit the following websites: Siddharta Lounge by Buddha Bar, Dubai Indego By Vineet Rhodes W1 Buddha Bar Dubai Grosvenor House, A Luxury Collection Hotel Quest for Adventure Al Zohra Nature Reserve Dibba Bay Osyter Ajman Saray Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve OTHER READS An Epicurean Journey in the UAE with Foodiva and The Luxury Collection - FoodeMag Perfect peace in the dunes: Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa – My Custard Pie An idyllic luxury stay at Al Maha Resort – Dubai Confidential Kayaking within the mangroves of Al Zorah Reserve – Dubai Confidential Is it time for a UAE Michelin Guide? - The National WATCH VIDEO An Epicurean Journey in the UAE with Foodiva and The Luxury Collection – FoodeMag Youtube IG STORIES Instagram stories Highlights – IshitaUnblogged