Ramusake obsession

I still remember the moment when sushi rolls turned into an obsession, taking over the world, soul by soul, appearing on everyone’s menu including places one would never imagine serving raw fish. Bakeries, bars, supermarkets and food trucks decided to dedicate their specials to green wasabi paste and weird tiny bites which in fairness combined a balanced dietary trio of carbs, protein and fibre. Luckily a few years later the avocado cappuccino went mainstream, killing all competition and letting the sushi craze fade away. Quality eventually overcame hype.

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As a result, a number of incredible contemporary Japanese restaurants kicked in, fighting for a spot in the foodie’s and businessmen’s heart. No one can count the exact number of great deals signed over a delicious serving of smoky eel, resting on a carefully crafted cube of steamed rice, beside a miniature carafe of ice-cold sake (or my favourite, steamy warm).

Sushi, being an obsession for so many folks out there and especially fancy girls, has also proven that Japanese cuisine is so much more than just rolls. In fact the more one discovers the traditional side of infamous Japanese dining the more delicious it gets. Ramusake restaurant at the Double Tree by Hilton in JBR is a perfect example. I was very excited to barge my way into Ramusake on their popular Ladies Nights and that experience led to my personal obsession with the restaurant.

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First of all, Ramusake is in style. It’s the place to be and a place to watch the crowd. Always being over booked on Wednesday nights they are also being stormed by the most beautiful girls from the Dubai and further.  No matter how Insta famous you get (true story) there is no way you can reserve a table unless you call far in advance. My attempts to get a table for four on short notice failed miserably. On a brighter note, there are always a few spots left for the Friday brunch which, in my opinion, is the best way to discover the mystery of Ramusake’s success.

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My usual Friday brunch strategy is to arrive early. The next move is to convince your server you are the most mega super famous person on Instagram to score an extra cocktail and some fantastic bar magic footage. They are easy to convince and it always works for me 🙂 Once your arrival drink is sorted, look through the pre-set menu and agree to everything they offer. The food at Ramusake is so damn good.

The moment the salted edamame beans appear at your table, start ordering and tasting sake. Nothing compliments Japanese cuisine better than this magical beverage, neither jasmine green tea nor Asahi. Sake, based on processed fermented rice, delivers a little kick of happiness with the every sip as well as a balanced taste that works in a harmony with any dish. No matter what you are sampling – a dessert, sashimi or chicken skewers, sake will deliver an accompanying flavour turning a meal into a feast.

While brunching at Ramusake it’s easy to sneak a peek at the chefs putting together rolls, main dishes and cooking their way through the experience. The concept of an open kitchen is indeed my favourite way of dining. I love to watch men cook. There is something truly magical when ingredients imported from all over the world appear in the form of something you never knew existed.

That’s Ramusake 

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OKKU: the legend (closed)

As a young emerging city, Dubai constant evolves in all directions, including the restaurant scene; places open – places close. However the show must go on. Dubaians are so used to the saying that nothing lasts forever, “all we are is dust in the wind”. While the city, a bright example of rapid evolution, cherishes every sign of history left around, the “it” crowd squints ironically at mentions of places over five years old, looking instead for the next great thing before anyone else discovers it. I’m different.

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I love going to the same place where everyone knows me and occasionally sneaks in a treat. I love the feeling of stability in this every changing world. I love the past, especially when it remains in its original glory. OKKU is one of those places, a living legend that survived the recent financial crisis and following chaos. Additionally, the hotel where OKKU is located changed its name and owners, but the transformation had no effect on the restaurant.

OKKU, a contemporary Japanese restaurant since its opening in 2009, reinvented the Dubai party seen by filling the house every night including Sundays (quiet day of the week for restaurants here), and being the place to be seen. The hottest DJs, mega private parties with LA rich and famous, no place left to stand, mind blowing cuisine and insanely beautiful hosts and hostesses, OKKU had it all. People loved it (even when they were turned away).
Today OKKU is more of a restaurant than a party lounge, catering to hotel guests, curious foodies and nostalgists like me. OKKU starts with a greeting counter leading to a narrow path with a curtain of glitter that eventually opens into a bar and a spacious lounge on the left. The slightly insane aquarium with visibly attractive but barely real jellyfish reminds me of the crazy past.
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Skilled bartenders keep pouring, shaking, smoking and mixing, leaving a few gaps in between for a quick verbal exchange. From time to time a giant cube of ice gets imprinted with the famous OKKU stamp and the bar life moves on to the next cocktail. My request for a moderately sweet and sour mocktail raised an eyebrow. They wanted me to party! And I did.
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The famous OKKU food didn’t fade it past glory either. A quick look around convinced me to start with deliciously healthy edamame, followed by an enormous order of sushi and sashimi resting on ice, a celebrity cod dish and everyone’s favourite wagyu steak and green veggies, cooked right at the table on a giant rock of salt. Heaven!
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Meet Miss Tess

It makes me extremely happy to witness Dubai flourishing with unforgettable dining experiences. As the world moves away sitting nicely face-to-face and chewing in silence accompanied by outdated piano tunes, cheeky new entertainment is to the rescue. Miss Tess at Taj Hotel is that kind of place: immerse yourself in street style Asian cuisine at its tastiest, funniest and brightest. Walk-ins are most welcome for example. Booking a table is suggested for bigger groups or for Korean BBQ. Being a girl from the boring generation, I called to reserve a wonderful spot on the terrace facing the Burj.

The appearance of Miss Tess is inspired by the true story of an Asian woman who grew up learning to cook the delicacies of her continent and sharing her skills and knowledge with the loved ones. Under its roof Miss Tess unites the most common and exotic options from Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia and Thailand (thought I spotted a few Malay specialities too).

Strolling through Miss Tess is a pleasure. The open space is visually divided into zones representing different cultures, and my eyes jumped from one fun detail to another. Think delicate Japanese partitions, Chinese lamps, Korean beauty magazines, wisdom posters and so much much more to discover for yourself. I randomly walked into some local warriors who made my night to take a crazier turn.

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Turns out, every Monday Miss Tess challenges the brave and foodies to a one-of-a-kind hot noodle challenge. Every participant is obliged to sign a form and commit to strict rules, which involve limitation in time, strategies, beverages and even napkins. The challenge starts with the arrival of the team, who cheer, chant, observe and judge, and, obviously the noodles. The whole place turns upside down during the next twenty minute and it’s a great pleasure to watch faces of walking guests trying to figure out what’s going on.

The challenge is challenge indeed. A big fan of Ting Irie’s burning hot off-menu wings, I could barely handle a few bites of Miss Tess’s noodles. The secret sauce consists of special chillies, dried chillies and fresh chillies plus something super mega spicy that made me sob. Please do not let the few veggies on the top fool you. This dish is hot hot hot. Compete only if you are physically and spiritually fit. No exception.

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Once done with the challenge (lost by me), do dig into other bits and bites as everything on the menu is longing for attention and review. No matter what you choose or where you sit, I promise you won’t forget Miss Tess until the next visit

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The magic of Ninive

Once upon a time in the ancient city of Niniveh, former capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and oldest urban centre in Mesopotamia, there was a secret terrace. Shielded from curious eyes by the mysterious Hanging Garden and massive stone walls, the place was a legend. A few centuries later, the World Wonder secluded courtyard has been reborn in the open space of Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Niniveh became Ninive

Surrounded by ever-busy Sheikh Zayed highway, glittering downtown lights and the hussle of the financial district, Ninive of Dubai is a brilliant idea. It caters to the growing need of every cosmopolitan city for a little paradise of greenery, privacy and peace. A place that looks good, feels good and contributes to goodness. That’s what Ninive is for me.P2189000.JPGDecorated in the best traditions of One Thousand and One Nights, where gold is everybody’s favourite colour, Ninive communicates Arabian luxury and guest’s comfort as the priority. The interior elements, accented with warm light lanterns, fluffy cushions, low foamy divans and a feeling of privacy, make you immediately forget all your worries. The focus on complete divine relaxation is partly achieved by impressive service, and partly by wafts of shisha travelling with the breeze from table to table. P2188986.JPGDespite all the effort and skill of clearly mega expensive designers, the best part of Ninive is the luxury of the open night sky, shining with stars. While seated in the restaurant, one falls under an illusion of dining in some fancy Indiana Jone’s camp in the middle of a new adventure. Surprisingly the urban look of nearby skyscrapers adds charm to the restaurant’s view. It’s so easy to spend a night away on those snugly cushions without noticing the time. My simple dinner with a friend lasted four hours. Fortunately valet parking is complimentary.

P2188963.JPGNinive, like the neighbouring La Cantine du Fauborg, is run by chef Gilles Bosque, Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man. The menu is created with a deep understanding of present desire for an unforgettable experience, exclusive food magic at the table and pomegranate seeds. The later was elegantly sprinkled on several mouth-watering appis, which didn’t last long. I especially enjoyed the absence of ceviche, a dish that the majority of Dubai restaurants tend to force into their cuisine recently.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no strict definition of Ninive’s cuisine type. It’s noticeably influenced by the Middle East, Persia, South Asia and nearby states, however things aren’t easy. I appreciated the trend of moving away from serving a boring spread of stereotypical dishes towards crafting the new Haute Arabic food couture to impress and startle.

Chef Ibrahim

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I spotted chef Ibrahim right at the entrance. Confidently powerful in the kitchen, he projects charm, charisma and a love of food. Easily mesmerized by super skilled professionals, I couldn’t keep my eyes or iPhone off him. Intrigued by my non-stop flash, chef Ibrahim laughed and visited my table for a quick chat. He was as entertaining in conversation as in the kitchen.

Chef of the bar Marc

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Marc is another personality not to miss at Ninive. Many guests stop by the bar just for an opportunity to observe this awesome guy and share a bunch of jokes. Enigmatic, always on the go, anxious in a fun way and incredibly skilled, Marc is a character that could be plucked from Cirque du Soleil. I knew there was something cheeky in his past watching the way Marc tossed a napkin next to me. That’s for me to know and for you to discover.

Haitham

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Haitham was introduced to my table half way through the dinner and for the first few appearances I kept on referring to him as Olivier. He never corrected me, smiling rather charmingly. He captivates attention with a soft approach to service, sharp attentiveness and enthusiasm. Haitham concurred my heart by performing a master class of Moroccan tea pouring, sharing a few secrets with me.

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Buzzy, fun, diverse and never boring, Soho Garden in Dubai

A few months ago Soho Garden opened in Dubai, channelling the spirit of London’s most extravagant entertainment district. Usually open from 5pm, for a short time every Friday there is a unique opportunity to hang out in Soho’s open air from afternoon to sunset and then evening. Exciting, no? Take a sneak peak at the Sunset Brunch.

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Spread between four bars, two rooftop terraces, several wall art pieces and numerous tables of various shapes, the Sunset Brunch is one of a kind. Buzzy, fun, diverse and never boring there is a lot on offer. With the view on futuristic Maydan hotel a glimpse on Downtown’s skyline, the scenery changes colours and patterns following the movement of the sun.

 

 

Sunshine on arrival slowly fades away leaving you with a cool breeze and blushing sky. At dusk the colourful lights, neons and lamps kick in turning this eclectic venue into a little nightlife town. DJs turn up the music mixing lounge, pop songs and luring crowds to the dance floor. No surprise many stay for the after party past midnight. Well, the next day is Saturday, that’s why!

 

 

Soho Garden’s brunch menu is short, trendy and quite healthy offering a choice of one dish each from a course of four, and it’s lots of fun to share when eating in a bigger group. I particularly enjoyed my creamy burrata as a starter and a deliciously juicy mega burger on a tasty fluffy bun with an aioli to remember. A look around confirmed it was a popular choice but they didn’t run out and everyone got their selection.

 

 

A big fan of tea with my dessert, I looked at my server with the eyes of “Puss in Boots” and a very special cuppa with lots of fresh mint magically appeared in front of me. Supporting my victory with a slice of an extra dessert (Alaska) stolen from a friend, I obviously felt delighted with the life and myself. What a great brunch!

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P.S. Soho Garden is getting an exciting addition; Soho Beach and I can’t wait to discover it!

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Vida la vie de Loca

Do you recall those Friday mornings when you wake up and feel it’s gonna be a beautiful day? So you start with a lazy coffee, scrolling Instagram direct messages or giggling to ridiculous emojis from your favourite WhatsApp people. Then a random pop-up ad on YouTube reminds you of a new amazing dress still with tags longing for attention. For me this was the moment to book my brunch experience at 3in1 at Vida Downtown, the place where weekend lasts forever.

Vida, being a landmark itself, often appears in the news in connection with fashion shows, celebrities and events involving VVVIP+ (something super awesome that only exists in Dubai). The drive through the Downtown of Dubai is a separate treat. Lower speed limits result in extended views of palm trees, a mix of futuristic and stylized architecture and a sneak peak at new restaurants opening here and there. In the winter when Dubaians are spoiled with the best weather in the world, I roll down the windows and wave at folks crossing streets I’ve met some time somewhere. Downtown is a popular neighbourhood!

Friendly security and valet parking teams led my car right through a bit of Friday traffic directly to the entrance. Having complimentary valet over here is as essential as complimentary WiFi and obviously Vida offers both. A few steps down (please do not misunderstand me there is an elevator but I always fancy an appetising walk before a brunch), I was greeted like a star.

P2027113.JPGThe concept of brunch is not new but the Western version of it greatly differs from what we are used to in the UAE. Again spoiled by choice we pick a package that suits today’s budget, mood or driving arrangements (my life). For Urban Picnic brunch at Vida’s 3in1 restaurant I chose unlimited soft beverages over unlimited house beverages (think refreshing Margaritas). I upgraded my choice to a table inside a private cabana and smiled anticipatingly a fantastic afternoon.
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And what an epic brunch it was! Picture yourself sitting around a pool on a lovely sunny afternoon with a soft refreshing breeze playing with the silky curtains of your private cabana. The best of Latin dancing tunes including Lambada and Merengue act as the background, adding an authentic vibe to the event. Smoke from the nearby live cooking station encourages you to make another run for the bbq seafood of the day. Your Margarita never gets warm as an attentive server keeps an eagle eye on your happiness. Meanwhile a game of piñata starts somewhere in the corner and a friend hands you over a fun fail video taken at the spot to amuse you.

Believe me when the time is up no one wants to leave and no one rushes you out. Because there is more than one reason this party is the talk of the town.

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The Blacksmith Smoke House

The Southern part of Dubai Marina was never known for the gastronomy or nightlife. Squeezed between high-rise and a popular neighbours like Jumeirah Beach, it used to be home to families and young office mates. Even tourists barely made it here. The situation changed with the opening of the very affordable, cosy and friendly Wyndham hotel.

P2016861.JPGFocused on bringing together the local community for after hours and weekend entertainment, Wyndham’s team shows strong commitment to organizing exciting events. Just a few nights ago a fantastic new smoke house opened its doors and chimneys to a curios crowd. I was very lucky to witness it.

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Blacksmith is easy to find. Just trust your nose. The air around the restaurant is deliciously smoky with irresistible notes of wood and fire. Irresistible to the point that a ride one floor up in an elevator seemed endless and made me dream of the upcoming dinner. My night started with a sip of rich red at the bar right next to the entrance. The bartender wanted to mix something very special for me but anticipating an intense dinner I decided to stick with the classics.

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Orelle Young chef de cusinine and pitmaster made an appearance looking awesome in very manly apron holding a long pointy hook. One of those chefs who immediately establishes: “You are in for a treat.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything I tried: chicken wings generously coated in black pepper sauce, pulled beef with red chillies, ribs and jerk chicken was absolutely exceptional. Tasty, smoky, well flavoured and well spiced, I could feel how much love and soul got invested into every piece. My only complain it was quite impossible to stop and so I didn’t.

Apart from eating, I danced to all time favourite American songs and music. Wyndham’s food and beverage manager participated in a one man show eating the spiciest chicken wings in the world and the audience didn’t hold back with cheers and applauds. The best night out ever!

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*Find out more about the Blacksmith here

**Stalk Pitmaster Orelle 

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Maison de Juliette in Dubai

The continuously growing La Mer neighbourhood now has its own casual dining French restaurant and bakery, Maison de Juliette. Decorated in a delightful high tea party theme with spacious outdoor terrace, blue hues, colourful furniture, light reflecting tables and bright giant lamps, this place creates a charming morning vibe that slowly transforms into the romanticism of Provence after dark.

Intended to attract foodies craving simple but absolutely delicious Gastronomy Francaise, and families to share big heart-warming dinners, Maison de Juliette focuses on warm and inviting dishes from the South Eastern region of France bordering the Mediterranean, the Provence. P1265432.JPG

Provence is loved for sunshine, warm climate and rich soil, and is considered by many as the garden of the country. No wonder Provencal cuisine is known for bright dishes powered with locally produced vegetables including aubergine, ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, asparagus and my all times favourite artichokes. The menu at the Maison de Juliette in Dubai is not an exception. P1265438.JPG

Interestingly the restaurant is run by the Parisian Chef Aris, who willingly decided to move away from the stereotypes of high dining in the capital towards the deliciousness of a few ingredients focused cuisine. He seems to enjoy delivering rich, colourful and thoughtfully styled dishes, pleasing both the eye and taste buds. His seared tuna rolled in pistachios, accompanied by a generous portion of a green salad, is my all time favourite. Try goat cheese glazed in honey, creamy burrata on toast, and the warm seafood platter with intense sauce and a bit of foam (they are French after all).

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Be surprised by your server suggesting the right beverage to accompany your starter, main or a desert, or offering a mocktail to try based on your current mood. The pastry and desserts are so good, please do not leave without a little taste or two.

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The House of Waka

Waka is not a regular restaurant but a destination to experience the authentic flavours of Latin American cuisine with a fusion of Japanese influence. The place is decorated in warm earthy colours, with splashes of bright expressive patterns bringing in a cosy homey feeling. So does the art on the walls.

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The reception outside the restaurant sorts out calls and reservations, keeping the extra noise away. A short corridor with dimmed lights opens up to a small lounge, beautifully lit bar, and DJ booth. The main dining area, divided in two parts, can easily be transformed in exclusive secret rooms for private events.

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The kitchen is divided from the main dining area by a transparent glass wall. Interestingly, while guests can sneak peak on chef’s movements, the window is blackened on the other side. Just like American detective stories but the other way around.

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Ordering is a pleasure, as the team gets very passionate talking about food and describing dishes. Frequent recommendations are followed by a brief history of a particular ingredient or a dish.

The food is fantastic. Most of what I tried had a distinctive individuality in taste and presentation including many little special effects (dry ice, so hot right now). The finely sliced wagyu steak that resembles salami from a distance gets cooked right at the table with a blowtorch and then quickly dressed with delicious bits and pieces. Chicken skewers served on tiny charcoal grills are deliciously juicy and out of this world. On a personal request a little bowl of fresh chilly sauce was prepared especially for me and was quickly consumed with great appreciation.

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Mighty Masti, with a License to Pour (update: I’m not happy with the new menu)

La Mer, a beautiful “Arabian coastal chic” neighbourhood spread across the beginning of Jumeirah beach is turning into everyone’s favourite hangout. Delightfully diverse in every aspect, it’s a place to witness cultures of the world mixing together and carrying their own identity. Cheerful crowds in colourful swimwear coexist with locals dressed in traditional outfits sipping tea on Persian carpets. With free parking, Wi-Fi, outdoor showers, street art at every corner, plenty of attractions open and a few more on the way, every visit to La Mer is an exciting discovery. For me things got super exciting when I’ve discovered Masti, where sunset cocktails are no longer a dream.

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The first time I heard of Masti was from one of the restaurateurs. “How intriguing,” I thought. It is not common for competitors to speak highly of another business, or insist with a little glimpse of naughtiness that I must check it out immediately (in fairness the conversation took place as I typed my pin code). “Are they open now?” I wondered. The response startled me: “Be there after five”. Obviously overwhelming curiosity won, bringing me there at 5 o’clock sharp, thirsty for a new experience.

Masti translates as “fun and mischief”, a concept that appeals to all sort of cool folks: millennials, hipsters, Instagram stars, desperate housewives, startuppers and “seen it all” DIFC girlz and boyz (these are the categories that popped up first in my head). The restaurant’s approach of blurring limits applies to everything you see, hear, touch or taste. Being the first (and only at the moment) licensed restaurant at La Mer, they are obliged to experiment and amaze.

Extraordinary, but fact: the restaurant with a “license to pour” is not a part of a hotel, but a completely independent establishment at the South side of La Mer. The existence of Masti is a fantastic occurrence on its own, inaugurating a new era in UAE food and beverage business, and paired with some pretty awesome cocktails is an offer one cannot simply miss. The the restaurant consists of two levels, with drinks served after 5pm on the first floor and their fantastic upper terrace overlooking the beach and the Downtown.
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While many may stop to sip the night away, Masti is definitely not just a pretty lounge with epic cocktails. The majority of dishes on the menu represent the change in dining happening all over the globe. Set as Indian Fusion cuisine, the restaurant breaks all obvious stereotypes and expectations by offering food that exists nowhere else. Have you ever tried any of the following: naan pizza with burrata and butter chicken, tuna tartar mixed with crunchy puffed rice, caved in a shell of unsweetened sugar, smoky lamb croquettes with a side of chopped sweet onions, lotus cookie tiramisu in a pool of saffron or a mysterious sounding dessert called “raspberry rose”?

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Ting Irie – Everything is Gonna Be Tasty

The first Jamaican restaurant is serving jerk chicken in Dubai since May and mon, it’s spicy! Everything… from food to decor. The entrance is slightly hidden, as all best kept secrets are, but once you are in – you’re never out. Ting Irie is addictive. I blame it on absolutely beautiful people who charm you right at the door.

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First stop the open bar… You can’t miss it! Watch a coconut opening ceremony in the company of a fancy rooster and a pretty Caribbean girl.

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The key ingredient of every dish and drink I tried is freshness. Mocktails are blended and immediately served, spinach is baby crispy-tender, chicken is juicy and mains are proudly hot. What’s missing – liquor license and rummy cocktails.

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Must try – seasoned Lamp Chops served on deliciously spicy hummus.

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Another favorite – Chips Oman Burgers (mini-B).

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There are restaurants conveniently located a cote de bar. Well, Ting Irie is all about the Bar. It’s the center, it’s where all entertainment and gossip are happening. This side offers a great view on the kitchen where my jerk chicken is being prepped (however, I’m looking in a completely different direction suspiciously happy).

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And… I lost myself to Caribbean vibes, moves and all these beautiful people

Well, what happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica even when it’s the center of Dubai 😉

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