Afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, Dubai

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A view of the tea room.

As my daughter and I walked into Fortnum and Mason Dubai, I worried a little that it would be one of those snobby Dubai places where you’d be judged by your clothes and designer togs (or lack thereof). Considering we were walking in carrying a large plastic bag from Daiso’s, I assumed we had every right to be worried. Add in the fact that the original store in London counts the Queen as one of its regular patrons, we clearly had no business there.

Or so I thought, and was proven pleasantly wrong. For one thing, the kindly English hostess patiently explained the whole menu to me, an absolute afternoon tea virgin. I thought I’d be expected to order two afternoon teas, one for each of us, or at the very least place a second order of a little something, but she said it was unnecessary.

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A sunny corner. You can also choose to sit outdoors.

She seated us at our table with a pristine white table cloth in a pretty corner of the sunlit tea room (well duh, this is, after all, Dubai in April!) The interiors reminded me that my daughter and I were at Fortnum as much for the atmosphere as for the food. There was pretty china in their signature green, silverware that was clearly aged but in the nicest way, glass jars and more. The menus were gorgeous and I wish I had taken a picture, but I was far too conscious of the waiter hovering.

As part of the tea, you get served a pot of tea, five finger sandwiches, some mini desserts and cakes, scones and a full-sized wedge of cake.

To begin with, we selected our tea (Assam) and moved to the cake display to choose our full-sized cake slice. There was a Victoria sponge, a Battenburg cake (which I was forced to reject as it contains marzipan, which my daughter hates) and a chocolate cake. There might have been a fourth choice but at this point my eyes glazed over. We went with the Victoria as it seemed to be the safest bet.

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Clotted cream, preserves and my cup of tea. 

Back at our table, our clotted cream and preserves had arrived as a precursor to the main dishes. Our server poured out the Assam tea using a wee strainer, and then placed a three tier cake tray in front of us.

As a vegetarian, I could eat only one of the five finger sandwiches – mint and cucumber. In retrospect, I should have saved it to leaven the sugar overdose that was to follow. My daughter ate the rest; salmon, beef and egg among others.

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The entire service in all its glory with my daughter caught in mid-chomp.

The two scones were plain and raisin respectively; we tried them with the clotted cream, raspberry preserve and strawberry preserve as was recommended.

By now, the rest of the dessert offerings were beginning to look at me with a menacing eye. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but my daughter polished off a mini macaroon, a little red velvet thingy, and an itty-bitty chocolate cake. She also ate half of the massive Victoria sponge while I marveled at her dessert-eating abilities. I picked at a little of the cake, ate the apple crumble, demolished most of both the scones and swore not to eat anything sweet ever again in this lifetime. However, I did absolutely love the fruity pannacotta. It was sweet yet tart and just perfect!

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All the mini-desserts, plus more chomping in the background. 

Now that I’m done with my first afternoon tea experience, I believe that the whole experience is better suited for a long and leisurely afternoon with friends, delicately nibbling on sandwiches, popping down a mini-dessert or two (but not more!), drinking copious cups of tea while debating the state of the world (or botox, as the lovely women at the next table were doing). For the two of us, it was a bit of a struggle (in the nicest way) to finish everything laid out before us, but ah well, first-world problems!

 

These are a few of my favourite things

I wrote a while back about my grandmother’s filigree brooch, which is one of my most treasured pieces. Very few of my other pieces have that pedigree – although I do have some antique gold tucked away in a locker across the seas, and loads and loads of the of-the-moment pieces that Aldo, Claire’s or Accessorise see fit to churn out.

But what of the pieces that have some personal history, carry interesting associations or are linked irrevocably to friends and memories?

I’ve always had a fascination for precious stones – rubies, diamonds and emeralds especially. So the first of my modest collection of what I’ll call interesting jewellery, is this, a small pair of ruby earrings belonging, once again, to my grandmother. It was in the very same glass bottle that I mentioned in the post on the brooch. IMG_9061

I wore these for my wedding, attached to a longer, more traditional pair and I remember asking her what stones they were. She shrugged and said “Good red stones” – by which I understood she thought they were rubies. And so they were, as I confirmed many years later, on one of my rare visits to a jeweller. I love the beautiful deep colour of these stones, and the unmistakably old-fashioned and untrendy setting.

IMG_2508But before we consign my grandmother’s glass bottle to the steel armoire, there’s one more little treasure in there – a black opal. Part of a set of loose stones she got from Australia, this stone was hurriedly set in an old gold ring, to make my wedding trousseau look a little more substantial. The opal itself hasn’t been polished to achieve the iridescence and colour of black opals I’ve seen elsewhere, but I love it all the same. Its liquid beauty and simple oval shape make this a classic as far as I am concerned. Also, I have only her word for it that this is a black opal – it might be a chip of marble for all I know.

IMG_4886I bought myself these emerald earrings after having saved up for them for a long time. I’d joined one of those monthly installment schemes, and shortly after I did my financial situation took a nosedive due to various circumstances. So, when the scheme matured, having struggled all year, it was with a sense of deep satisfaction I went in to buy these. I had a choice between really tiny diamonds or more substantial emeralds and I thought these earrings were just perfect. I don’t wear them as often as I should, but consider them an elegant addition to my closet.

IMG_2457This little scarab pin was gifted to me by my little cousin – not so little actually, considering she’s all grown up enough to go to Germany on an exchange programme, visit the Egyptian museum in Berlin and pick out an interesting piece of jewellery for the constant companion of her childhood.

I wear this quirky little creation on the collar of my shirts to add a touch of interest.

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These oh-so-pretty pink topaz earrings were gifted by a close friend in the early days of our friendship. I’d moved cities not long before that, and begun a new job where I was thrown in with a set of wonderfully intelligent yet intimidating women, whose conversation, laced as it was with wordplay and references regularly went over my head – a feeling I am not generally used to.

By the time I got this on my 36th birthday, however, I had firmly become one of the inner circle. That year is always enshrined in my memory as a priceless one of self-discovery, good food, great wine and the best conversations.

FullSizeRender 12This one is a recent acquisition, bought from Lynda Kirby, a seller who specializes in all things vintage. It was one of my favourite finds at the wonderful Arte Market. Considering my budget, my choices were this pretty lucite leaf and an oval cloisonné brooch in black and gold. Her entire collection is gorgeous. She stocks vintage dresses, hats, rings and more. Lynda sources much of her stuff from England, where she’s from. I’m looking forward to going back and picking up more, when time and my purse permit.

As a bonafide magpie, I have my eye on a ton of other shiny things. More brooches, for instance. Something – anything – with the distinctive interlocking Chanel Cs. A pair of earrings with the pearl drops like this, or this brooch. Some real, creamy pearls or even good looking cultured ones – the list goes on an on.

Fleeting thoughts while listening to Schubert and sipping Rosé

img_0928Halfway through Gergely Boganyi’s piano concert at the One & Only Ballroom this weekend, I was reminded of a scene from a beloved book, EM Forster’s Howards End.

It was probably during one of the exquisite impromptus just before recess; I closed my eyes, and a series of images flitted by. I’m not sure what I saw, it was just a hazy montage of beautiful images, possibly even my favourite impressionist art, but it immediately sparked this memory of Helen Schlegel’s response to Beethoven’s Fifth. 

“The Andante had begun – very beautiful, but bearing a family likeness to all the other beautiful Andantes that Beethoven has written, and, to Helen’s mind, rather disconnecting the heroes and shipwrecks of the first movement from the heroes and goblins of the third. She heard the tune through once, and then her attention wandered … and the Andante came to an end… Helen said to her aunt: `Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing,’ and Tibby implored the company generally to look out for the the transitional passage on the drum…

No; look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back,’ breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right.

Her brother raised his finger : it was the transitional passage on the drum. For, as if things were going too far, Beethoven took hold of the goblins and made them do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push, and they began to walk in a major key instead of in a minor, and then he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! Gusts of splendour, gods and demigods contending with vast swords and fragrance broadcast on the field of battle, magnificent death! […] Any fate was titanic; any contest desirable; conqueror and conquered would alike be applauded by the angels of the utmost stars.

And the goblins – they had not really been there at all? They were only the phantoms of cowardice and unbelief? One healthy human impulse would dispel them. Men like the Wilcoxes, or President Roosevelt, would say yes. Beethoven knew better. The goblins really had been there. They might return – and they did. It was as if the splendour of life might boil over and waste to steam and froth. In its dissolution one heard the terrible, ominous note, and a goblin, with increased malignity, walked quietly over the universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! Even the flaming ramparts of the world might fall.

Beethoven chose to make it all right in the end. He built the ramparts up. He blew with his mouth for the second time, and again the goblins were scattered. He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life and death, and, amid vast roarings of a superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things.”

 

 

Harry Potter and the Evening of Laughter

A parody of Harry Potter? Sacrilege, you say. Umm. Not quite.

Just ten minutes into the hilarious show Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Experience, it became obvious that Dan and Jeff, the two comedians and actors bringing this show to Dubai, ­have a tremendous amount of affection for and knowledge of the series.

The guys were in DUCTAC the weekend of September 15, 16 and 17, performing at the Centrepoint theatre. We went for the 7 PM show on Friday, September 16 with kids in tow, because as the promotional material says, the show is open to everyone from ages 6 to Dumbledore.

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I don’t want to give away too much of the meat of the show, so here’s a rough outline of its basic premise. Jeff, who is a Harry Potter fanatic, and his pal Dan (who doesn’t have quite the same fervour), plan to showcase all 7 books in 70 minutes, on stage. Dan has been tasked with hiring the best actors for the job, and coming up with the best sets to keep the audience spellbound. Dan does not exactly stick to his brief and hilarity ensues. Along the way, there’s an actual Quidditch game – surprisingly fun – plus a boxing match, a musical number, a whole host of stuffed toys, cake-eating and even a Powerpoint presentation!

Like all classic comedic duos, Jeff and Dan feed off each other. If Jeff is the straight man, then Dan is his perfect foil as the funny man. What’s quite interesting is that their brand of humour manages to cut across age groups. It is physical and silly enough to appeal to the little ones and smart enough to work for the grown-ups too. Also, the duo threw in many off-the-cuff jokes and Dubai references which made it feel less rehearsed and that much more interactive.

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The stage before the show began – yes, I do think that is meant to be the Hogwarts Express.

I can’t really comment on whether the series will work for folks who aren’t familiar with HP. As a die-hard Potter fan, I’m not in the best position to be a judge of that. Certainly, I think you’ll get more of the references and jokes if you’ve read the books or watched the movies.  My son, who’s as much a Potter fan as I am, was skeptical about the whole thing at the start, and kept asking me how two guys could pull off something this ambitious by themselves. Well his loud laughter from start to finish made it evident that his question had been answered convincingly! So much so that he has agreed to accompany me to more stage performances and is willing to see it as an exciting alternative to his favourite games and movies.

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Two Harry Potter fans prepare to be entertained, and were not disappointed. 

There are some clips of their act on YouTube, but I personally would suggest not watching anything beforehand if you’re planning to catch the show. DUCTAC also requests you not to take photos or film their programmes, so I have no images from the show to share.

Apparently the team also have a show called Potted Sherlock out. I do hope they’ll bring it to Dubai – I’ll be first in line to watch it, eat your heart out Cumberbatch.

 

 

Graduating from the food court

When four people in a family each enjoy different things, and one is a vegetarian besides, the easiest and cheapest way to enjoy a good meal is to go to a food court. But after a point, the crowds irritate, the choices pall, and the kids grow more adventurous. That’s when it’s time to check out the hundreds of cafés or affordable restaurants around Dubai. You’ll have to shell out a good hundred or so more, but surely, it’s worth it for good food and ambience.

I’m not talking about the Zumas or Nobus or Wheelers but the far more accessible The Paul, Carluccio’s, and PF Chang’s – chain restaurants which still manage to stay away from bland, mass-produced flavours.

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The Paul

The Paul is one of my very favourite places – apart from my room – to be in the UAE. Its ambience is everything I could ever ask for in a café. There aren’t too many choices for veggies on their menu, and I found their goat’s cheese quiche and croissants very eggy. I did love their crepes, and my caffeine consuming philistine friends swear by their coffee.

I haven’t tried their few veg salads, pastas and sandwiches yet, and that’s only because I adore their soups. I can’t resist nipping in each time I pass by and asking them what their soup of the day is, and if it’s vegetarian as it most often is, I treat myself.

I’ve feasted on their potato and leek, red pepper, tomato, cream of broccoli, and lentil soups. Of course, I choose to ignore the fact that they aren’t strictly vegetarian as they contain chicken stock, but the taste is by no means obvious.

Your soup order comes with a basket full of delicious rustic breads, and little pots of yummy tapenade and creamy butter. You can make a meal of it and I certainly do!

Il Forno, Sahara Centre

My friend and I had a sudden craving for Italian food, and Il Forno was chosen as it was halfway between both our homes. My friend ordered a beef lasagna, while I picked the ravioli which had come highly recommended on Zomato. One of the reviewers had suggested that diners ask for the pink sauce, a mix of their arabbiata and alfredo sauces, which was off-menu. I did, but not only did our rather unfriendly waiter deny that they could do any such thing, he also warned me against ordering the red sauce and looked very put out when I said I wasn’t keen on the white. This was mainly because it was a spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli, and I didn’t want more cheese in my sauce.

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However, the arabbiata came with a huge layer of thick mozzarella floating above the sauce. The ravioli was average, the sauce was tasteless and the mozzarella overload was nauseating. Personally, I like Parmesan or other cheeses – even a bland, processed cheddar – anything but mozzarella, with pasta. My friend’s lasagna got much better feedback though.

Bennigan’s, Sahara Centre

At Bennigan’s, which is an Irish American pub, it was the opposite. Service was excellent, and I loved my order, a filling potato and lentil soup, followed by a Meditterranean Salad with a delicious balsamic dressing. bennigans2

However, the non vegetarians were less then enthused with their steak orders. For one thing, they were unaccustomed to getting their sauces out of bottles, instead of drizzled on their plates. bennigans1

Predictably, portions were huge – my soup came in a tub, and the haloumi pieces in my salad were the size of tea coasters. My husband and son could barely finish the steak let alone the sides, and the beef was pronounced to be tough and chewy.

Gazebo, DCC and Mirdiff City Centre

Gazebo is one of the most popular upscale choices for Indian food here in Dubai, and its reputation is well-deserved. My husband swears by its dum-cooked biryani, while my kids love the kebabs. I’ve had yummy stuffed mushrooms and paneer preparations here.

Carluccio’s, Deira City Centre

Carluccio’s is a tad more expensive than the other eateries on this list, and the ambience of the Deira City Centre branch could certainly be a little more luxurious. We keep going back because we have our favourites here. The beef medallions are delicious as are the lamb cutlets. Be warned though, portions are small and each order is good only for one person.combo_Fotor_Collage

The pastas are more plentiful and my daughter and I often split them. The spinach and ricotta ravioli comes in a delightfully light sage and butter sauce, unlike at Il Forno, as does the pumpkin tortelli. I’ve sampled the rosemary potatoes and the penne arabbiata too, and both are good. But my favourite veg dish here actually comes as a side with the lamb cutlets – the eggplant caponata, which is a slightly sweet, pine-nutty preparation with a distinct olive oil taste. I break my rule of not touching anything that’s been on a plate with non-veg dishes, as soon as this lands on our table.

 

PF Chang’s

We’d been meaning to go to PF Chang’s for well over a year before we actually did. It is almost always packed. Luckily, this New Year’s day, we managed to find a spare table for a late lunch.

pf chang1The males in the family are not too fond of Chinese cuisine, or rather, what passes off as Chinese cuisine in most places. I love it; it is extremely kind to vegetarians, for one thing. PF Chang’s is a far cry from the greasy “Manchurian” served at every small eatery in India, however it is mainstream enough to appeal even to less adventurous palates.

We tucked into veg Lo Mein noodles, garlic noodles, Sichuan asparagus (me obviously) and Mongolian Beef, which came with sticky rice. We closed the day with a pot of fragrant mandarin spice tea.

pf chang2Everything was plentiful, delicious and affordable, and I sincerely hope that’s how my year is!