Friday, 27 October 2017

Dubai: Brunch at Muchachas by Tom & Serg

I had a friend in town last week - my first time playing hostess in my new city! I always love visiting friends who live abroad, it always seems like a much more authentic way of experiencing a place. I was keen to avoid the tourist trail and instead take my friend to my favourite spots - preferably ones where we could have an extensive de-brief of life lately, and possibly with a drink in hand.

muchachas brunch

For Friday brunch, I booked a table at Muchachas Mexican Cantina - a Tom and Serg offering in the Holiday Inn Express near Safa Park. The venue is a little out of the way and very low key but I guess it circumvents Dubai's alcohol licensing laws and avoids the Dubai brunch cliches, y'know, ladies in ballgowns, chocolate fountains, all you can eat I've heard, having not actually made it to one of these affairs yet (/ever).

muchachas brunch

The decor here is definitely millennial interior goals, a pleasant surprise after milling around the hotel reception impatiently waiting for a midday margarita. There's a choice of drinks and a set brunch menu - the food is brought to the table so there's no jostling at a buffet or the risk of making a Bad Decision. The "with booze" option is AED295 which is pretty good for a "Dubai brunch" offering.

muchachas brunch

I very much enjoyed the classic margatita, starting with a glass (to check I liked it) and then moving on to a jug because it had been One Of Those Weeks. My friend tried a frozen watermelon margarita before switching to the sangria, mixing drinks at lunchtime is totally fine. The food was plentiful but not guilt-inducing excessive - I loved the guacamole the most and would have happily eaten just this for three hours but the fish tacos were amazing, too, and the corn salad might have been the first vegetable I had seen all week. We finished off with churros dipped in warm chocolate sauce.

muchachas brunch

As the afternoon wore on, the music got louder, the drinks continued to flow and we deprived the wall of two sombreros. All before 4pm when we forced ourselves to leave the party-getting-started atmosphere before it got dark.

muchachas brunch

muchachas brunch

muchachas brunch

Muchachas Mexican Cantina
Holiday Inn Express, Al Safa
Details here

Muchachas - Holiday Inn Express Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 23 October 2017

Food: Jolie Floral Cafe, City Walk, Dubai

Today's cafe offering may just be the cutest yet. As Elodie said when I messaged her a picture "it's so cute it looks like it could be in Korea!"- high praise indeed (and confirmation that solo brunch is much improved by a friend in a timezone a few hours ahead to chat with).

Tucked away in Dubai's City Walk development, it looks a little unassuming from the outside - I must have walked past it a few times (possibly en route to Sarabeth's) before my first visit, prompted by a "best avocado dishes in Dubai" article in Time Out.

I, obviously, only had eyes for the avocado on toast but there are salads, sandwiches, burgers and a very pretty afternoon tea offering. The "his and hers' burger duo that the next table were tucking into did, even as a vegetarian, look very delicious (although maybe that's just a sign that I should start taking iron supplements again).

Some Insta-worthy cafes are a let-down in reality (mentioning no names but we all know the places where we took "that" picture only never to return) but Jolie, I think, would be just as enjoyable for those who don't meticulously document every morsel that passes their lips. It's a little on the girlie side but the few "Instagram husbands" I saw on my visit seemed convinced once their food turned up that this place is not just style over substance.

The avocado on toast might just be the prettiest plate I have ever laid eyes on. It's also a very generous portion - no scrimping on the green stuff here. I might have already had my (supposed) one coffee of the day but I ordered the mocha la flora (they do it with soy milk, praise be) because it sounded...intriguing. I usually regret sweet coffees after a couple of sips but this was really delicious and the rose flavour wasn't overpowering. Top marks for presentation with the rose and mini-cupcake, too.

Jolie Floral Cafe
City Walk Jumeriah - details here 
And they're on Deliveroo here 

Jolie Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 20 October 2017

Crafting: Halloween Flower Arrangement in a Pumpkin

I love Halloween - quite a strong statement from a girl who is an active avoider of anything with a whiff of Organised Fun about it. I'm slightly sad that I left all my potential dressing-up clothes in London... why a Japanese schoolgirl outfit didn't make the cut of things to pack for Dubai is something I will forever wonder.

As a committed pumpkin carver, I thought this year I'd share something a little different - a flower arrangement in a pumpkin. Not only more Pinterest-worthy, it's also a lot less risky as you only need to make one cut with a knife rather than play a risky game of finger roulette...

I took a class at Dubai Garden Centre but this would be so easy to do at home, too. You will need: a pumpkin, a block of oasis, cellophane, a sharp knife, scissors and a range of autumnal-coloured flowers...

Start with the dangerous / gross part. Cut the top off the pumpkin and scrape out its innards. I picked a long, tall pumpkin to make the best "vase" but any will work. It's less dignified but more fun to use your hands to scrape out the insides.

Coffee on the side is mandatory to all crafting endeavors. Feel free to substitute with gin if at home, maybe after the sharp knife step is done?

Messy work done. Now cut a block of oasis to fit inside your pumpkin and wrap it with cellophane. Trim the cellophane as close to the pumpkin as possible.

Start with some greenery around the base, to cover the bottom of the oasis block. Then take your chosen flowers and arrange from the outside in. Use a smaller flower as "filler" to make sure all the oasis is covered. Pro-tips - use more flowers than you think you'll need to make the arrangement look really lush and full blooming, cut the stems of the flowers on the diagonal to create a sharp tip to stick into the oasis and, once complete, give the flowers a good spray with water to perk them up after the traumatic arranging process.

Done! Give your flowers a top up of water every day and the arrangement should last a good five days.

PS. Dress is from Oliver Bonas similar here (minus the print).


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Life: Ten Things I've Learned Since Moving to Dubai

Has it really been... 8 months since I jumped (ok, more tentatively stepped) onto a one-way flight at Heathrow? There's really nothing like quitting your job, packing up your flat, moving to a new country, starting a new job and picking a country which doesn't really have a concept of "seasons" to throw you into a timewarp.

Eight months on, Dubai feels almost like home. I maybe didn't appreciate how hard moving halfway across the world could be and there were (past tense) days when I felt very small and lost and far from home and familiarity. Even seeing Instagram pictures of the notice boards at tube stations had me running to the nearest bathroom trying not to smudge my mascara.  

Today, as I type this, life is very different from the one I had last October in London and the one that I imagined for myself as an ex-pat. It's different in the day-to-day, in the things that for me are normal but that I appal friends at home with, and, it's different in ways that I never dreamed of for myself, or maybe I dreamed them but never let myself believe them, as I looked out at October skies from the balcony of my tiny flat last year. 

This is what I've learned (so far):

Firstly, the days of the week (let's start with a simple one). Friday is Sunday, Saturday is...Saturday and Sunday is a working day.

Secondly, the seasons. Summer is winter (air-con appropriate clothing, movie nights, copious amounts of Netflix, walking 10,000 steps inside the mall) and winter is summer (summer dresses, beach days, the prospect of a G&T on the balcony).

Thirdly, getting around. Taking four taxis in one day is not an indulgence or a luxury but the non-optional only way to get to work, to a yoga class and to a bar which is technically on the same street you live on.

Fourthly, selective amnesia. You will have no memory of the last time you did the following: walked down a street, took public transport, wore socks or tights, used a hairdryer, applied lipstick without immediately wiping it off again.

Fifthly, lifestyle creep. You will no longer gawp in shock when someone your own age tells you about their boat, their balcony swimming pool (yes that's a thing), their maid or their dog's personal trainer.

Sixthly, personal safety. You will leave your front door unlocked and your MacBook, wallet and phone on a cafe table while you pop to the bathroom. 

Seventhly, personal nudity. Introducing a friend to your boss while wearing a bikini (me, that is, not the boss) at a pool party is in no way as horrifying as it sounds once you've done it. 

Eighthly, road safety. Your taxi driver or other road users making three lane changes in one swoop, reversing back down a motorway sliproad or watching TV while driving becomes normal, if never any less terrifying. 

Ninthly, food shopping. You will stop feeling bad about getting groceries home delivered via an app. Even when your "groceries" are a six-pack of Diet Coke because you still don't know how to turn on your oven. 

Tenthly, saving the best until last. You will every day marvel at yourself for actually picking yourself up and doing the "move abroad" thing. It was worth it. 


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dubai: Brunch at the Burj Al Arab

It wasn't hard to pick a venue for celebrating my first birthday in Dubai - having never been past the security gates of the Burj Al Arab on past visits, the Friday brunch offering seemed like an obvious choice. I've only been to a handful of Dubai brunches in the past - it's not the cheapest pastime and not really money well spent for a fussy vegetarian. That said, I don't quite roll my eyes at the sight of a chocolate fountain and if you can't do something a little extra for your thirtieth then when can you?

The interior of the Burj Al Arab is like stepping back in time to a late 80s / early 90s decadence. I have to say, I liked the jazzy carpets, the bright colours and the unashamedly OTT feel of it all. We are, after all, in Dubai and "understated" hasn't quite entered the lexicon.

My mother and I had a booking at midday (the brunching widow is 10am - 2pm) as she had arrived that morning on an overnight flight from rainy London. This felt very much like a "special occasion" type brunch - mine was not the only birthday being celebrated - so be sure to book well in advance as the restaurant isn't enormous. Payment is required a couple of weeks beforehand - not unusual here and it does make it easier on the day.

After marvelling at the view from the lift, we were greeted, shown to our table and I might have not been able to resist mentioning that it was my birthday. The Burj Al Arab's brunch offering is a buffet-type set up, it's not as huge as other brunches so you don't spend a large amount of time away from the table choosing food and the selection isn't too overwhelming (which always results in me making bad choices and then being too full to enjoy the good stuff).

There's a range of seafood and salads to start, sushi, dim sum and hot mains, a dessert table, a cheese table and, of course, the obligatory chocolate fountain. The setting and the views are really the main course here - we sat at the window with a view over the Palm and straight out to sea. I sometimes forget how, in it's own way, Dubai is beautiful and being up on the 27th floor of a 7-star hotel was a nice reminder.

Views and food aside, the best part of my brunch (the day before I was to turn 30) was getting offered a glass of champagne and then being ID-ed - I don't know who out of my mother and I were more delighted by this. Oh, and I got a birthday cake with a candle brought to our table which the restaurant kindly let us take away (so, breakfast for the rest of the week sorted...).

Friday Brunch at Al Muntaha, Burj Al Arab
Prices and booking info here


Saturday, 7 October 2017

Food: Even More Plates of Avocado On Toast

I know, I know. Eating dinner out is a distant memory. If somewhere doesn't have avocado on toast on the menu, I probably don't want to go. Here's the current round up of the avocado on toast offerings in Dubai...

The Sum of Us

the sum of us dubai

Ticking off another cafe in the Tom and Serg group, this unique plate of avocado on toast featured half a sesame seed sprinkled avocado and lots of fresh salad. I think The Sum of Us is my favourite Tom and Serg offering. It has its own bakery and coffee roastery and, avocado aside, I would struggle to chose from the menu if I went back.

Tom & Serg (the original)

tom and serg dubai

This is cheating a little as my mum ordered this but Tom and Serg have changed their avocado on toast recipe (former version here) and it now features a perfectly hard-boiled egg. The avocado is hiding under all the greenery. 

parkhouse kite beach dubai

Parkhouse cafe is so adorable - it has quite a British-seaside feel to it, minus the 40 degree heat outside. The avocado on toast here is topped with a perfectly poached egg and a sprinkle of cress. Had a great time watching the sea out of the window while waiting for it to be cool enough to venture outside.

baker and spice dubai

Another favourite Dubai spot and their bread is the absolute best. Probably my favourite avocado on toast in Dubai, here topped with two poached eggs for a change. Yes that is a side of more bread in the background...  

the daily rove hotel brunch

The Daily does a bargain AED100 brunch which includes - you've guessed - avocado on toast (and a coffee, unlimited juices, fresh fruit and baked goods). Topped with two poached eggs, roasted peppers and a sprinkle of cheese. Top marks for crockery and lovely service, too.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

Life: September Round-Up

I think the month just gone might have been my least prolific, blog-wise... Life wise, September was very lovely. I turned thirty and spent my birthday-eve drinking gin and Chartreuse cocktails and my birthday day eating avocado on toast. I wouldn't have had it any other way. Online life has taken a slight backseat - it turns out the best moments are not capable of being reduced to pixels and hashtags and 140 characters and don't need to be recorded for "later" because there's only really the present moment... That said, there is an avocado-on-toast-post in my drafts for when I, once again, feel like tapping words into this box.

Anyway, this was September:

Dubai expat life

1. I had some thoughts about eating meat again this month and then felt bad about thinking about it. Funny how what we don't eat ends up defining us... Anyway, I try not to think about things too much these days and this meat-free burger from Supernatural Kitchen was delicious (really!) regardless.

2. Playing with more of my Paperself tattoos. I'm too indecisive for a new tattoo and too irresponsible for a pet cat. So impressed with the staying power of these - it's that time of year where its still a little too hot to be outside but we're all got cabin fever so three showers a day it is...

3. Not my cat on the beach at Le Royal Meridian. She jumped onto my sun lounger and stretched out for an afternoon cat nap while I failed to read any more of my book. I finished reading The Blind Assassin this month (which swiftly finds itself in my list of favourite books ever - Margaret Atwood is a goddess) and can't really get in to anything else.

4. I'm slowly starting to enjoy the more "extra" aspects of Dubai life. The Candy Land pedicure at Kozma and Kozma was so much fun and my feet looked and felt very nice afterwards. Having sugar sprinkles dusted onto my feet didn't really feel that weird in the context of life lately.

5. If we're talking about "extra"... I finally went inside the Burj Al Arab for their Friday brunch on the day before my birthday. I got offered complimentary champagne and then ID-ed. The best 30th birthday present I could wish for.

6. Lunch at Zuma in DIFC - the black cod was amazing, as was the pink grapefruit vodka cocktail at lunchtime for this girl who is still disappointed that working life isn't a mix of Mad Men and The Wolf of Wall Street.

7. Showing off, getting my mother to be an "Instagram Husband" on the beach at Le Royal Meridian. I wouldn't really recommend doing yoga in a bikini in 40 degree heat but sometimes you need to get the 'gram and that's okay.

8. Birthday flowers from my friend, M. Grateful for all birthday wishes from near and far and for friends who co-opted my mother's limited suitcase space to get gifts to me. This birthday was genuinely one of the happiest I have ever had.  

9. Taking my phone into the sea for a snap of the Dubai skyline during the Golden Hour. I felt like "one of those people" until I looked around and everyone else in the sea had their phones in hand, too. Maybe I fit in here better than I thought I did.

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