The New Address Hotel, Boulevard Dubai

Last night, on the way to Iftar dinner with a friend who makes this world a better place, we had an opportunity to explore the new Address Hotel and Residences at the Boulevard Downtown.

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With its central location a few minutes away from major landmarks, and views on the tallest tower Burj Khalifa, the Address Boulevard is already a sought after place to stay in the city. Not to mention New Year’s Eve!

Through the glass door we went with expectations of a hearty dinner, and unexpectedly stood still looking around at the little details. The interiors opened up in a beautiful bright space filled with comfort and lots of fresh air. High white ceilings, elegantly decorated walls, and crystal lamps paired with patterned marble floors created an illusion of a private residence lost in the era of Art Deco.

The dinner was served in a spacious Ballroom at a long communal table surrounded by mouthwatering desserts, chilled refreshments and aromatic Arabic coffee.

The feast began after the sunset, and from the first minute we completely lost count of the endless array of irresistible dishes placed in front of our eyes.

Accompanied by the sounds of Oud, the dessert tasted sweeter than ever.

By the end of the evening I really envied the guests who were so well looked after at this beautiful new hotel and residences.

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Night out at Zahira, H Hotel Dubai (it’s closed)

When the sun is shamelessly, endlessly bright, and temperatures above 40C, Dubai summer life eventually moves towards shady evenings. Fortunately most places stay open until midnight and safety on the streets is impeccable.

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During the month of Ramadan there is always something exciting going on after sunset, opportunities to give back to the community, night swimming experiences with a view on Burj al Arab, photographing the street life in the Old Dubai, watching a thoughtful movie screened as a part of DIFF 365 (Dubai International Film Festival all year round), or catching up with incredible people over a heartwarming meal.

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I love to eat. Here’s a confession: I love food more than photography and red lipstick, completely neglecting the latter when a beautiful steaming bowl of soup appears in front of me. You may not believe it, judging by looks, but it’s an absolute “veritas”. That’s why I couldn’t resist but go for an incredible Iftar offer at Zahira, a very well reviewed recent addition to local “fancy eating out”.

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I entered intense WhatsApp correspondence looking for a fellow skinny foodie available on a short notice. Likely SylviaSylvia was in town and a few texts later, mostly about fashion with a focus on “I have nothing to wear”, we set a date.

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Without prior agreement on dress code, we both showed up wearing black. Sylvia chose a long flowy maxi dress and I styled a new little black dress from Dubai-based online fashion store Trovea. What do they say about great minds? Dress alike 😉 ?

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Zahira caught my attention partly because of its location in H Hotel, famous for futuristic design with elements of Art Deco. H Hotel represents eclectic, vibrant and dynamic hospitality, and we’ve expected “nothing less but more” making our way to Zahira.

It was Dragana’s dazzling smile at the entrance that settled all non-existing doubts and put us in the right mood for a beautiful evening ahead.

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Our table was pre-set with a bottled of chilled mineral water, little plate of dried fruits, nuts, and short, easy to digest menu by chef Greg Malouf.

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Waiting for the beginning of Iftar, we spent time studying the surroundings. Our eyes were fully occupied, wondering around ceiling, walls and unconventional art radiating great taste and humour.

It was like magic when mezzas started appearing. Moroccan style Harissa with labneh, a dash of fresh red chilly, smoky moutabbal served on a stone plate, crunchy soft chicken pies, tempura made of fresh zaatar, halloumi fondue with oregano, freshly baked Arabic bread and a very interesting dish called Fatima’s fingers (I’m saying nothing, you need to discover it for yourself).

What a feast! All starters had 3 qualities in common: light, appetizing and incredibly tasty. It was a combination of Arabic food I’ve never tasted before. Zaatar tempura was served with a side of tiny fried fish with a dipping sauce to zest the flavor. Looking for a much needed break between the courses, I dragged well-mannered Sylvia to hang out at the real bar. While James was performing tricks, Mohammad and Tilak had to work twice as hard to get the taps pouring. Tilak was impressively skilled with his throwing technique and Mohammad managed to stay seriously professional under all the stress we caused.

Being nice to bartenders resulted in laughing out loud and a complimentary cocktail. Meet Tilak:

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When the main course landed on our table, I was the happiest person on Earth. In front of me was a beautiful pink salmon cooked 40 minutes using some secret techniques, and a tender lamb wrapped in Arabic bread with rice and nuts, paired with the soothing tunes of Oud.

Our night at Zahira turned out to be fun, entertaining and very very tasty. My advice, save enough space to try their incredible pavlova with marshmallowy center, fresh cream and slices of peach.

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One of the Chef, Troy posing in a distance

P.S. Zahira no longer exists in Dubai

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Blue Lagoon, Intercontinental Dubai Marina

A few weekends ago I secretly stuffed my shiny LV suitcase, left a lot of extra water for my ever-hungry cat Freddie and ran away from my friends, work and routine. Don’t worry guys, it didn’t affect my Instagram community as they are the real family and impossible to part with, right :)?

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For the purposes of extreme privacy I selected one of the most popular hotels in one the most public-friendly Dubai areas, Intercontinental in Dubai Marina, right when a huge group of Instagrammers from Kuwait stormed the city. Can you spot me?

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The Intercontinental in Dubai Marina is a place with a view. Conveniently located between The Marina and The Beach, the hotel’s design contrasts with the gold skyscrapers on one side and fancy yachts on the other. Right from the entrance the interiors surprise visitors with high ceilings, and minimalistic simple colours that create a magnificent additional space to breathe, walk and enjoy a moment. Stunning!

At check-in I obviously pretended to be new to the city and was dully briefed on all nearby attractions (spoiler: many) and dangers (spoiler: none). Frankly over-shopping is one of the tourist traps I always fall into. However it was a look at my key that made me realize I was in for a treat. What’s your favorite number?

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The 13F didn’t disappoint. I walked into a spacious room with a view on deep blue water where busy boats left wavy trails behind and a party vibe, breaking reflections of skyscrapers and fancy towers.

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Despite high humidity, the balcony’s attraction was irresistible resulting in my room turning into a sauna.

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And what a room it was!

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Equipped with essentials including iron, complimentary mineral water and a Nespresso machine, it also featured fresh fruit, toiletries and Instagram themed macaroons. Spoiler: they didn’t last…

Satisfied with my lodging, I went on a walking tour around the premises looking for cool shots and hot snacks. I discovered’ em all strolling amongst futuristic art objects installed here and there. Don’t miss complimentary cookies and dates served with traditional Arabic coffee offered at the lobby (I wasn’t shy).

The staircase led to me up and down to irresistibly looking bars and restaurants. Ginter with retro furniture, glass displays and gin themed cocktails, Marina Social and popular night out destination Ynot.

With a few hours to spare before dinner I changed into my fanciest swimwear and hurried to the beautiful terrace with a pool overlooking the busy waters of Dubai Marina. I instantly called it the Blue Lagoon for its incredible shades of this warmest colour.

While the sun was setting the blue intensified creating an eye-candy of photography including breathtaking views on Marina.

Inspired by street lights, I adorned myself in sparkles, crystals and other shiny things. Then I headed to Ynot to eat and party, shamelessly taking an advantage of their Thirsty Thursday offer (more here). It was nice to chat with oft sought after chef Ioannis, known for his good taste in food and humor. Apparently he often makes an appearance to check how quickly guest clear their plates and glasses. Spoiler: instantly 🙂

So I turned off my phone, brewed a cuppa and soaked offline…

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Looking for more? Head to the official site of Intercontinental Dubai Marina – here. 

Good night!

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Taste of Arabian Hospitality, Ewaan

The new moon has been sighted and tonight is the start of Ramadan in the UAE. Regarded as a spiritual fasting month of giving and sharing, for many Ramadan is a time to focus on personal development, family life and wellbeing of a community. As an expat, I really enjoy observing the little changes happening in local life: extended shopping hours, the aura of concern around women rushing home with groceries, the excitement everyone shares when offices close two hours earlier, the beauty and the warmth created by colourful lanterns lit at every corner, and the happy sparkles in the eyes of local kids expecting sweet treats at dinner. I love the tradition of gathering for Iftar, a dinner at sunset shared together after a long day without food or drinks. Ewaan at Palace Downtown hotel serves Iftar buffet in the best traditions of Arabian hospitality and creates an unforgettable moment of unity people, flavors, dishes, species and tastes.

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The experience starts with a warm Marhaba (welcome) and a lovely cup of Arabic coffee or a chilled drink made of dried fruits.

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Right at the table there is an extra bottle of water and a serving of figs, prunes, apricots and dates to help conquer immediate thirst and hunger.

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My table was inside the restaurant however another option was to settle on air-conditioned Bedouin tent with a magical view of the  water and and Burj.

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Overwhelmed by a generous selection of dishes and flavors, I walked around talking to staff with  curiosity of a foodie and a journalist. Fortunately no one minded my camera and my plate got heavy in a matter of minutes.

My joy of discovering the dessert section was indescribable. It was the sighting of Moroccan tea brewing at my table that forced me to move away.

Hope you can make it to Ewaan this season and I’m so looking forward to hearing your reviews!

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Feel Like a Soviet in Moscow, Top 10, Part 2

My shady mission that started one dangerously sunny afternoon in Moscow has so far led to KGB interferance and thousands of vivid photos of the Red Square from every possible angle (except space). Those who followed my walking map in the previous post (as ambitious as the USSR’s five-years national economy plans) have developed a strong immune response to discoveries and probably lost 4-10 pounds of precious western body fat. Those, who didn’t – shame on you! The real communist is always on the go and with a little help, you’ll soon become one, willingly or not.

No. 7 – Gorky Park + Garage art center

Entrance to the park is free!

All you Scorpions fans will certainly remember the visionary video and heartbreaking lyrics of Wind of Change : “Follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park, listening to the wind of change… To the magic of this moment… Let your balalaika sing what my guitar has to say…”. Wait no more! I’m taking you to the place “where children of tomorrow share their dreams” 🙂

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Since its opening in 1928, Gorky Park was established by a young Soviet government (fun could be regimented too) as a place to feel the change. While the new state was growing through the ruins of the Empire, the site for the future park was chosen on a deserted area, a former dump 45 minutes away from the Kremlin. Named after a Soviet writer (“Untimely Thoughts”) it was here that in 1935 a two-headed herald eagle striped off the Kremlin towers spent their last hours on display outshined by the symbols of a brand new era, red stars encrusted by semi-precious stones. For the next 75 years propaganda and leisure co-existed here. Extraordinary, from 1929-1937 it was run by female manager, Betty Glan who was only 25yo when appointed.

During WWII it was used to exhibit German war trophies, feeding anticipation for victory, and in post war years, the victory of communism. Following a recent restoration in 2012, Gorky Park was overrun with evil hipsters who enjoyed the 24/7 schedule of free wi-fi, all sorts of “ball” activities, lush lawns to sunbath on, access to Moscow’s river embarkment, never ending supply of kvas (a cold local drink which apparently is super hot) and street food. Beware, it’s easy to loose your sense of time and spend the whole day over here.

Not on my watch! Whatever you will be tricked in doing (local enthusiasm is contagious), find an hour or two for Garage, the museum of contemporary art opened by Darya Zhukova. Apart from a selection of peculiar installations, you’ll be surprised by the modern hybrid of minimalistic soviet architecture and modern urbanism. More here.

N0. 8 – Patriarch Ponds

Free!

Dive into the Moscow metro for a rapid ride from Oktyabrskay to Tverskay station, and for a quick meal at the first McDonald’s to open in the USSR. You may find this idea quite awful at first (especially if you are Vegan or allergic to fast food), however at the end of January 1990, around 30,000 Soviets arrived to queue for the taste of freedom. For many following months, a trip to McDonald’s became a dream stop on a sightseeing tour of Moscow (here is a video proof). Looks convincing, eh?

Our next mission is to explore the Patriarch’s neighborhood, the area loved by former party leaders, expats, spies, poets, ministers, the nouveau riche and readers of Master and Margaret (soviet satire novel by M. Bulgakov if you skipped my previous post). It was here at the Patriarch Ponds (actually there is just one) where the Devil allegedly appeared on May 1st, 1929. It was here that a phrase “don’t talk to strangers” turned into the meme and a dark fate for the two participants. Lounge on one of wooden benches to watch a very well dressed crowd pass by or have a drink at many nearby bars.

No. 9 – VDNKH

Entrance is free!

VDNKH is one of my favorite places in Moscow recognized for its authentic feel and magnificent architectural structures. It’s a Soviet version of Disneyland with rides, candies, glitter, performances and a promise of the Brighter Future for every working comrade. Many call it “Versailles stormed by Bolsheviks”. VDNKH or vystavka (fair) of Soviet realism with pavilions exhibiting new exciting gadgets, machinery and produce (anything from apples to spacecrafts). Here, feel the vibe!

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Glittering with gold, VDNKH isn’t just eye-candy, but it radiates the famous Russian spontaneity when one never knows where the day ends and is ready for all sort of scenarios. I was treated to a random glass of prosecco on board an empty stationery soviet plane.

Take a good look around. Back in 60s you may be walking alongside Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Today you may spot parkour enthusiasts rolling head-breaking tricks, brainy youth on scooters or special forces officers splashing in the fountains. A must-see are the space pavilions and the nominee of Stalin’s prize, sculpture “Worker and a kolkhoz woman (farmer girl)” by Mukhina. Just like Hollywood’s roaring lion it was chosen as the opener to Soviet films.

Once you watch the setting sun in the Communist themed park, it’s time to use the privileges of the capitalist’s world and jump into a comfortable Uber for the long drive through the center of Moscow to a place best described as temptation.

No. 10 – Chinese Grammar or Kitayskay Gramota, the restaurant

Reserve a table a day in advance. Arrive hungry. Be ready to throw cash to settle the bill. Tip: impress staff and audience by making it rain thousand ruble notes “Bad Grandpa”  style. Explore their food, drinks and mind-blowing menu here.

Owned by Mr. Rappoport (remember Dr. Zhivago), a lawyer known in his circle as a foodie and a talented chef with obviously good sense of humor and taste (in art for example), Chinese Grammar wins your interest at the front door. In the best traditions of the communist era, the statue of the greeting comrade is cheerful, green and screwed to the wall (for its own good they say). March in and be stunned by the atmosphere of a post-Imperial selected members only bunker loaded with artifacts. Strikingly good looking staff dressed in Mao’s soldiers uniforms are quite entertaining to watch with their trained posture and detailed knowledge of the menu. Believe me, my reader, it’s not just the decor that this place is loved for, but the Cantonese cuisine delicious in its simplicity and long selection of tempting cocktails. I couldn’t stop looking for a hidden door leading to gambling, opium tastings and happy patrons puffing the magic dragons so well described in Sherlock Holmes, but I failed. Maybe you’ll get luckier…

The end!

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You scream “Ice Cream”!

For me, life is a scoop of ice cream. Or 2. Frigid at first, it softly melts, filling souls with joy, happiness and the tingling sensation of a sugar rush. Some will gulp it, others cherish every tiny bit (or pathetically waste it on a sidewalk…). It’s truly an adventure – you never know how far you will get unless you taste it. Ironically, when bikini season is around the corner, ice-cream stands seem to be always closer and greatly desirable.

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In  Toronto the art of ice cream making is taken rather seriously – a rare brand will offer less than 10 house-made flavors with dairy-free and vegan options. They pride themselves in locally sourced, organically grown ingredients (think Ontario strawberries Gelato at Soma) or alcohol-based flavors (Vegan Pinacolada at Bang Bang). Hunting for the right scoop of the 16th century dessert turns out to be an exciting expedition through witty names, flavors and neighborhoods. On your journey you will learn that “Pint” stands for a small bucket of a frozen treat to take home, which is often not available for sale at artisanal stores from May to October. So, are you ready? Follow me hungry readers!

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  1. Predictably in a search of “Gelato to die for” I headed to Little Italy on College. The scent of rich espresso infused with hazelnuts and happy body language clearly indicated that Dolce Gelato was my sort of a place. Endless selection (60 flavours!) of traditional (pistachio) and traditional with a twist (torrone – almonds and nougat) gelato is overwhelming… Do not repeat my mistake of pointing at the first good looking bucket. The best strategy is to invest some time in tasting and chatting with super friendly staff to select a serving of two flavours or more.

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2. The opposite of traditional, Put a Cone on It is a destination for rebellious and adventurous souls. Serving at only one location in Koreatown on Bloor they rotate a minimal selection of flavours (I counted 12) with maximum taste – Black Cat, Earl Grey, White Miso, Vanilla Malt and deliciously exotic Black Sesame (a must-try). If you decide to indulge in your ice cream on the go, be aware of a high risk of being stopped by fellow pedestrians longing to repeat your experience or steal your crispy vanilla waffle.

3. Ice-Cream Junction on Dundas West is the most kids-centric place I visited – there is a line of cute low-rise chairs at the entrance, tons of paper napkins on the counter, complimentary drinking water and a little step-stool in front of the freezers. They serve Canada-made, rich in flavor and history Kawartha ice cream in cups or house-baked cones. Their bright decor resembles the set up for Alice in Wonderland and visitors, surrounded by candies, toppings and sugar in various forms are encouraged to create their own perfect treat. Try Black Cherries!

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4. Soma Chocolatier on King street impresses with thoughtfully sophisticated design, sleek freezers and fancy ice-cream cups (even to the eye of a Dubai girl). Located downtown, in a crowded touristic area à côté de TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival theater) they nevertheless invest in taste and research. Known for seasonal flavors based on locally sourced ingredients, all their gelato and sorbets are made from scratch. A brisk evaluating look from a guy at the counter led to a suggestion that “blueberries and basil” sorbet was my alter-ego. He was absolutely right.

5. Ed’s real scoop on Roncesvalles Avenue is casual, delicious and widely affordable. They promote peace, taste and happiness. A branded t-shirt on a wall says, “Make ice-cream, not war”. There is something truly magical in the air – even the naughtiest little screamers behave, patiently awaiting their turn. For grown ups in the summer Ed often creates seasonal Mojito and Sangria sorbets infused with rum and real wine. My serving of pistachio gelato was so rich and velvety smooth that I almost forgot to take a photo.

6. Bang Bang ice-cream on Ossington Avenue is the easiest to find, but the hardest to get. Look out for a long queue of intriguingly dressed folks mostly in their 20-30s, busy chatting and Instagramming. Prepare to camp for a half an hour in the evening and do your homework: pick between cookies (7 types), waffle, cone or puff, topped with a scoop or two. Flavors like London Fog, Mud, Totaro are impossible to figure out. Fortunately the staff are trained to work under pressure, quickly answer questions and guide you in the right flavor direction. My choice was a scoop of mud between captain’s p’nut cookie cut in half. It’s unforgettable!

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