Sensational, Pierre’s Bistro

I met Pierre Gagnaire at a secret dinner party held just a few days before opening his new Dubai venture. Picture dimmed lights, misarranged partly unwrapped furniture, absence of décor but a collection of rare French wines, a sweet view of the nearby marina and its colourful fountains, melting candles, and an atmosphere of a medieval castle ready for a feast. Mingling between a well-selected group of local celebrities, magazine editors, TV anchor, food critics, PR and social media opinion shapers, I kept a very curious eye out for the much talked about chef. In the best French tradition, he appeared with a chilled bottle of dry champagne ready to pour.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 11.32.36 AM.pngNot a long speech sort of a person, Pierre dressed in a white double-breasted jacket tightened at the waist with a similarly crisp apron, performed a charming smile supported by a hearty greeting and a soft waving gesture indicating that dinner was about to begin. We sipped champagne, giggled and headed to the table. All pointed out to an amazing night out.

P4196137.JPGFeeding a group of highly experienced foodies eager to express what they think is a hard job. Speaking from my personal experience, at some point dining out may turn into a blur: if not for photographs, I would have no idea what was served an hour ago even when it was the best burrata ever. You can imagine my curiosity and anticipation to watch Monsieur Pierre handling us. Spoiled: he did well. Making short but sharp appearances in various intervals during the dinner, he managed to look after everyone by topping up a glass a wine, bringing a dish to the table, swiping crumbs, sharing a joke in both French and English and patiently waiting for follow up questions. The night ended with a cookbook copy signed by the chef. I left completely mesmerized. Needless to say I craved the world’s best frog legs ever since.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 11.31.14 AM.pngI missed the restaurant opening as I was on a trip to India but called to reserve a table a few weeks later, curious to see the turnout. Guess what? It all turned out pretty well! With a separate entrance on the side of the Intercontinental Hotel, dedicated team of three on arrival to ensure guests reach the destination happily and a very elegant interior design worth a fortune, the Pierre’s Bistro is fancier than it sounds. Playing “un petit truc” with the word “bistro” referring to a casual eatery with a simple menu, Pierrre Gagnaire delivers the opposite: fine dining with the most delicious French cuisine.P4196230.JPGA wonderful mix of bright and soft interior colours sets an appropriate mood for various areas: exotic lush green lounge with DJ booth, energetic bar sparkling with reflections, spotless chrome kitchen with one transparent wall shared with a hall, lovely terrace and less dramatic but still eccentric salon with macaroon like chairs, cheeky paintings and soft light. I loved that on top of smoking/non smoking or inside/outside tables there were options for “intimate dining” and “the centre of attention”.  As the weather chose to be kind that night, I sat on a very comfortable sofa outside facing the fountains and a promenade.

My dinner started with a warm baguette baked “en ce moment” and served in a branded paper bag. Crispy on outside, the baguette was so airy and fantastically fragrant; that I couldn’t help but eat it all with the beautiful salted French butter. I ordered my all time favourite frog legs with garlic and parsley cooked to such perfection they melt on a tongue. My other dishes were as exceptional as expected but it was the apple tart that stole my heart that night.

P4196221.JPGOh mon Dieu! It arrived together with caramel ice cream and whipped cream with bits of real vanilla and a dash of brandy. Someone cut it gently in front of me into two halves while I couldn’t take my eyes off its golden glow. I eat very slowly savouring every bite, thinking of beautiful sunsets, apple trees in bloom and fireworks. What a magical end to a magical night!P4196142.JPGStalk me on Instagram and Facebook.

10 years later, the Taj in Mumbai

It’s been 10 years since my last stay at the Taj Mahal in Mumbai (read part 1 here). I left a few days earlier than planned to help my friends deal with a glamorous shopping spree in Dubai.

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Taj Mahal, view from the pool, 2008

At that time Taj ran at full occupancy, hosting party after a party and guests from all over the world. The hecticness, however, wasn’t obvious to anyone’s eye except the staff, and  all my free time was passed at the swimming pool, guarded by statuesque lions and ever hungry crows.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2008

10 years later the lions were still on duty.

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, the pool, 2018

When not in the water, I used to enjoy lazying in vintage like chaise longues, starring at the grey stone majestic facade.

Ten years later the facade was the same. The most drastic transformation was a change in the “open sky” policy for cheeky city birds, limiting their access to all day long “bed and breakfast”. But don’t you worry: birds still sneak in, showing a complete ignorance to etiquette. The garden has greatly expanded to the mezzanine floor, and new palm trees popped up here and there. I noticed chaise longues no longer featured sun shades. Instead, the traditional Rajasthani umbrellas were installed, adding a touch of cultural and heritage to the pool area. Believe it or not, but this used to be the front entrance back in 1903. Do you agree that the pool is a better idea?

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Taj Mahal Mumbai, view from the pool, 2018

Happy to see that the Taj’ exteriors stayed true to their 2008 look, I did noticed a change in interior design. Damaged after the fire and destruction, all ground level restaurants were completely refurbished and highly unrecognizable. The number of open entrances to the hotel was reduced to one, where strict security has been introduced. I could no longer run in and out without passing through a metal detector. On the brighter side, the iconic floating staircases look exactly the same if not a little prettier.

The rooms featured the same white marble in the bathrooms, giving them a rather royal feel. Additionally the new wooden flooring, brighter paint and furniture appeared in the living spaces and all sort of life hacks in the form of buttons, cables and devices were introduced to add technical luxury to the stay. The view stayed the same.

To be continued…

Find out more about the Taj Mahal of Mumbai here.

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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!

Stalk me on Instagram or Facebook, comment or reach me at antrestain.com. I love to hear from you and take you on a new adventure somewhere in this world. For now 🙂

 

 

 

Take me down to the Paradise city

Where the sea so warm and rays are pretty…

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Maldives!

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In the age when traveling is all about reaching a destination – a trip to Maldives is a big bright adventure. Start with careful packing – think ridiculous bikinis, speedos, tuxedos and gowns (for after 6), as every second of the island life is a perfect photo-opportunity. Tip: the sun is killer – invest in serious sunblock (SPF 100) are cover-it-all swimwear for snorkeling. Fly high and keep your eyes open!

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The only downer on arrival is an endless queue at passport control. Business class passengers and families with kids are given a priority – use your time wisely and blend in with the right crowd 🙂

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Banyan Tree resort  is 20 minutes on a boat away from the airport, so after a breezy trip, a very quick and pleasant check in, one is ready to par-ty.

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Maldives is known for unforgettable, aquarium-like snorkeling and diving adventures.  Surrounding coral reefs are inhabited by all sort of creatures – rays, barracudas, exotic fish, turtles, sharks, octopus, girls in tight suits and so many, many more. Banyan Tree diving center provided masks and fins for no extra charge. Tip: ask for a life-jacket to wear on your snorkeling expedition for extra confidence and comfort (saves back from sun-burns too).

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The best part about the Banyan Tree resort – you can swim directly off the beach to discover the treasures of the Indian ocean. The water is slightly lower than a body temperature reflects all shadows of blue creating a fancy aquarium effect. Just jump in and keep your eyes open to be amazed. When the time comes to get onshore, there is so much to do and experience! Here is my selection of things you need to try at Banyan Tree.

1. Wake-up with the sun for a fragrant self-brewed coffee experience in a batik gown:

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2. Indulge in a non-sharable exotic breakfast:

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3. Walk on the softest white sand late in the afternoon and let the disappearing sun bronze your skin a little:

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4. Did not burn all the energy swimming? There is plenty of space on the island for all type of outdoor exercises, including energetic Zumba moves:

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Or questionable skipping:

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5. Spend evenings sipping refreshing cocktails (because you deserve an exotic Margarita). Keep an eye for happy hours:

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6. Sunbath. Literally:

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7. Participate in sting-rays feeding show or visit a real Marine Lab on the island and sponsor your own coral garden:

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8. Watch sunset and re-watch the sunset:

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9. Share your happy moment with the world – Instagram’em:

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10. Learn to cat-walk (a very helpful skill):

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11. Pick a new hobby – full moon, night-time photography for instance:

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The milky-way is just a mile away:

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12. Hide from early afternoon sunshine:

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There is plenty of shade at any time of the day:

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13. Enjoy the “golden-hour” in full glory:

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Never say good-bye. See you soon Maldives!

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