Dubai Part Two: The Best Massage in the World at Raffles Dubai

“Breathe out Miss Emma, please. Three big breaths.”

I do as I am told, slowly and self-consciously.

“Is she looking at my spine alignment?”

“Is she monitoring my lung capacity?”

“Can she see my thighs wobbling under the crisp, white sheet?”

Shhh! I hiss at my subconscious as I breathe so deeply and thoroughly – scraping the depths of my woefully unexercised lungs – that I make myself light-headed. I open my eyes on the third breath like a naughty child to sneak a peek at what this ninja-footed, softly spoken therapist is up to only to realise that all she’s doing is letting my own breath warm her hands in preparation for my spa treatment. Oh.

I’ve always had this problem with spas. I have never reached that nirvana moment of happy gormlessness where your body and mind melt away leaving only the basest of instincts functioning: touch and sensation.

I’m always firmly in the room, listening to the plinky plonky music, worrying about the tension in my neck and anticipating the next painful jab as the masseuse digs their thumbs into my shoulder blades in a vain attempt to undo years of slouching in front of computers. I always leave scolding myself, berating myself with mantras: “I will sit up straight. I will go to yoga. I will stretch five times a day.” All forgotten, of course, the next time I’m on a deadline and hunched like a skeksis from the Dark Crystal, my face glowing a sickly ivory from the low light of my old laptop screen.

But then I have clearly never been to the right spa.

Raffles Spa Garden RetreatThe Raffles Dubai Spa was different. The setting was familiar, dimly lit, five-star reserved luxury, the air filled with the smell of mysterious unguents and the halls filled with clients, padding around in pristine dressing gowns like contented ghosts.

Sari, my tiny masseuse, had hands that felt like the inside of a lily. When she poured various oils into my palms to help me tailor-make my massage and later held and kneaded my fingers and wrists, it was like holding hands with an exquisite, finely-made doll.

I was about to have a hot stone massage with an oil that I had hand-picked and that smelled vaguely of oranges, frangipani and almond blossom. Sari told me I had chosen a relaxing oil and it was a good choice. Phew, good. First intimidating spa job done.

I had never had a hot stone massage before and had always thought that it looks and sounds silly – all those women in the pictures, blissfully face down with a line of rocks on their backs,  it never looked like my idea of a decent massage. What I stupidly didn’t realise is that they don’t actually sit lines of stones along your spine. It’s actually a far more physical and tactile experience where stones are heated and rubbed into your prepped and oiled skin and kneaded deep into the muscles like pushing flint into dough.

Sari started to move along my neck, which was rigid with a familiar tension, the tendons stretched like strings across a banjo, ready to snap at any moment. But Sari had fingers of granite and, despite saying she was going for light to medium pressure, pushed her hands into my screaming muscles, taking me to that embarrassing point when you’re about to release an inadvertent squeak of pain before easing off. If this was her light to medium pressure her hard must be like Medieval torture.

So far so expected. As she moved down my body, performing that strange but chaste massage striptease, revealing one limb at a time from the full body shroud, that irritating voice piped back up again.

“When did I last shave my legs?”

“I bet her last client was that supermodel with legs like Gisele Bünchen that’s sunbathing by the pool.”

“I hope she isn’t offended by my wonky big toes.”

Then I heard the clink of the stones and the first burst of contact heat spread across my neck like wildfire, blossoming into a rose-tinted glow as the warmth slowly faded and the stone continued its arc down the curled wing of my shoulder blade.

It was like touching a match to paper, singeing it and watching the heat eat away at the surface and slowly fade away. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. It was a sort of controlled pain that took me to the edge of wincing every time a new stone was applied and left me exhaling deeply as the fire dimmed. I had to remind myself that Sari was holding the stones, so they couldn’t possibly be as hot as I thought they were. But with my eyes closed, face down and blinded, I felt everything more.

All this might sound like I was straying into 50 Shades territory, but somewhere in the mixture of those hot stones and oil and Sari’s steely fingers, something remarkable happened. I stopped thinking about the slight bend in my spine. I stopped wondering if she could see any cellulite on my thighs. I almost forgot to breathe as I slipped into mindlessness.

Raffles Spa - Treatment Room

My brain went dark. Not blank, exactly, but as though someone had turned down the dimmer switch and all I could concentrate on was the slow swish of those stones, wait for the first pulse of heat and the feel of the heavy air on the rapidly cooling skin after the stone had carved its path on my flesh. For the next twenty minutes my whole world was the clink of changing stones and the soft padding of Sari’s feet across the tiled floor.

She cradled my head, supporting what must have been, by that point, a cannonball of dead weight as she pushed the remaining stones against and under my shoulder blades and draped a dark cloth across my eyes. Then, too soon, or it could have been hours later, she coughed delicately.

“Miss Emma, the massage is finished. I will leave the room while you get dressed and take you to the relaxation room.”

“Hmmm waaa? Yaaaa.” Was my articulate response.

And for the first time that I can remember I had to concentrate on reminding myself how to move my legs. It was like being half awake, in that space of sleep purgatory when your mind is active but your limbs haven’t quite caught up. Except this time there was no panic, no jolt, there was just liquid bones and a mind that was moving at the rate of a two-legged tortoise. Or Joey Essex on a good day.

Raffles Spa - Relaxation RoomAs I levered myself off the bed, I honestly thought that I might melt into a pool on the floor the moment I touched the ground, like a scene from Alex Mack. I didn’t, rather disappointedly, and was perfectly able to struggle into my clothes, even managing to remember how bra hooks worked, before floating and across the hall into a curtained room with nothing but tea, loungers and dried fruit.

I was given a about ten minutes to scoop my thoughts together before the absurdly handsome spa manager came to tell me that my friends were out and the chef was sending something to my room for afternoon tea. All I could manage was a wide, moronic smile and a heavy-headed nod, which probably made me look like a narcoleptic.

Raffles Spa - TherapistsNo words. I didn’t want to speak yet because I was scared that words would break the only spa spell I have ever been under and I wanted to hold onto it, just that little bit longer, before the world came rushing back in.

Raffles Spa focuses on rejuvenating treatments that are inspired by Asian, Middle Eastern and European traditions and is set within the Raffles Dubai Hotel in the Raffles Botanical Garden. The seven soothing treatment rooms, including a couple’s suite with private whirlpool and an outside retreat are open to guests of the hotel, members and non-members by appointment. See a list of the treatments on offer on their website here.

I had a 60 minute Traditional Hot Stone Massage, which costs £78.

For more information call the spa on +971 4314 9870 or Email spa.dubai@raffles.com.

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Dubai Part One: A City in Pictures

This morning something was different. I stretched my toes down to the cold end of the duvet and, instead of sliding through Egyptian cotton sheets, my toes encountered polyester and the weight of a half-unpacked suitcase. Instead of the muted sound of the beach or a faint call to prayer, all I could hear was someone stomping around in heels and the slamming of the latch door downstairs.

Opening my eyes I realised that instead of a cavernous, marble-lined space between me and the edge of the room, I was practically kissing my enthusiastically but unskillfully painted wall; I would have to walk upstairs to get to my small bathroom instead of rolling into a bottomless jacuzzi tub by the bed; there was no one about to ring the bell and present me with champagne or a slate of perfectly executed pre-breakfast nibbles and said suitcase had spilled its fabric guts across what was left of my tiny floor space. I was not in Dubai any more and the only person unpacking, ironing and laundering those clothes would be me.

The moment I levered myself reluctantly out of the business class plane seat and wandered out and into Heathrow immigration, the Dubai bubble was irretrievably burst. After five days of being ferried, ushered, welcomed, waited on, doted upon, pampered, preened, fed and luxur-ied to within an inch of our lives I was very much back to looking after myself. Dragging a suitcase across south London on the tube will always be a guaranteed bump back down to earth.

Dubai was an experience. It was a revelation, one I was not entirely looking forward to and not in the least expecting. I certainly didn’t expect to be charmed by it, to be wooed by it, to even be seduced by it and I certainly didn’t expect to like it. But I was almost handed Dubai on a platter, its gilded, impossibly international, impossibly polite, impossibly lavish, impossibly impressive heart bared and surrendered and I was, against my best judgement and my own reasoning, utterly smitten.

While I am trying to organise the last few heady and highly hedonistic days in my addled mind and sort out the endless (and occasionally mindless) procession of food, wealth, cocktails and world-record toting wonder into coherent posts and features that don’t just say “oooooooo,” here’s a snapshot into my time in this behemoth of an Emirate city.

It’s a tale of camel polo elbow, glimpses into the old city and, in contrast, how the other half lives with ridiculous fountains, revolving mirrored beds, miniature food, monstrous architecture, dream scape hotel rooms and a childlike sense of anything’s possible that looks like this.

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Boats along the creek

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Art in the Bastakiya, Old Town, Dubai

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Anyone for Polo?

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A very Dubai sort of camel train

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A thoroughly modern skyline

Inside the Burj Al Arab from emma sleight on Vimeo.

The entrance to The Burj Al Arab Hotel

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Al Mahara aquarium restaurant at the Burj Al Arab

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The revolving bed in the Royal Suit, Burj Al Arab

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The view to the top floor at the Burj Al Arab

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View from the Presidential Suite at the Burj Al Arab

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The metropolis view from the balcony at Fairmont The Palm

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Afternoon tea, Raffles Dubai style

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What is, for now, the world’s tallest building – The Buj Khalifa

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A room with a ski slope view at The Kempinski

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Reaching sushi nirvana at TOMO, Raffles Dubai

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Dubai makes beds so big people have to text each other across them. The Air Suite, Raffles Dubai

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A moment of calm crossing the creek in the old town

IFLY Dubai from emma sleight on Vimeo.

In Dubai, you can even Ifly

Dubai in Pictures

I never particularly been madly keen on huge cities. I love a city break as much as the next person and, to be fair, I’ve fallen in love with many a seething metropolis before – Bangkok, Tokyo, Kathmandu, Hanoi, New York and, of course, London to name a few – but the thought of those big neon splattered high rise concrete jungles fills me with a touch of dread. I’m in awe of those modern behemoths like Shanghai, Singapore and Dubai, all shining and irrefutably new.

I’m flying to Dubai today to experience this pristine urban playground first hand, and, in spite of my trepidation, I’m so, so excited.

Here’s a little taster of what this big city has to offer:

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Ziggurat Leap of Faith
Image: Flickr/neekoh.fi

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Dubai Marina
Image: Flickr/BBM Explorer

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Spice Souks
Image: Flickr/travelourplanet.com

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Dubai Mall
Image: Flickr/ADTeasdale

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Image: Flickr/Leandro’s World Tour

Weekend Bake: Ridiculously Lemony (and gluten free) Almond & Polenta Cake

There’s that old, rather trite saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’ve never made lemonade, but I am never without lemons in my fridge or in my fruit bowl.

I’ve always loved citrus fruits. That sharp, fizzing, teeth sucking  tang that mellows and rounds out as it washes over your palate. I love the way a wedge of lemon in a roasted chicken; a few slices stuffed into the sliced belly of a pink trout or a squeeze over ripe, fleshy avocados or fluffy pancakes dripping with butter can be transformed into something heavenly with citrus.

Top lemon tip from one of the two fat ladies: “Never throw away squeezed lemon, but keep them for the day by the sink. Then you can use them to remove fish, onion or garlic smells from your fingers. Or you can stick them on your elbows while you are reading a book, to soften and whiten your skin.” – Jennifer Paterson

photo (7)My love affair started young and rocky with a sip of Granny in Bridport’s black tea with its slice of yellow lemon, floating transparently in the hot water by her bedside. I stole a sip while she was in the bathroom and promptly spat it out again…probably straight back into her cup. I never did like Granny in Bridport very much. I think I found the acrid, bitter flavour too much of a shock to my milky, chocolate-loving four-year-old tastebuds.

Lemons got better with Granny in Trowbridge. She had coat pockets full of sugary, tart lemon drops that were filled with sherbet that set my mouth on fire and screwed up my lips in sour, grinning glee.

Then there came baking with my mother and lemon Madeira and sponge puddings – complete with my furtive swipes into the mixing bowl with sticky mits – that always ended in chunks of still-warm cake being eaten in front of Sunday TV with cups of warm, milky tea. Even now neither of us can wait until a cake is properly cooled before we start carving wedges from it.

photo 3 (4)I’ve never found a better base recipe for Madeira cake than the one she used from her 1981 Good Housekeeping Complete Book of Cakes and Pastries. It was the first recipe I made on my own and continued to mess around with over the years – as you can see from the mucky pages stained with batter and orange peel.

photo 2 (6)To make this Madeira a lemon Madeira, add the rind of two lemons and a tsp of lemon extract – I love the Taste the Difference Sicilian Lemon Extract from Sainsburys – and drizzle over lemon syrup when the piping hot cake comes out of the oven.

I still can’t resist a lemon cake. There’s nothing like a gooey, sodden slice of cake soaked in lemon syrup to go with a cup of coffee. I had my first slice of lemon polenta cake on holiday in Italy under a burning Tuscan sun and have been smitten ever since. The golden, textured polenta adds substance to the nutty, warm flavour of ground almonds and lemon zest which are combined with soft butter, sugar and eggs in this gluten-free cake.

$(KGrHqF,!lsE2FV86FLwBNs7dgYkSQ~~_32 - CopyI’ve recently been experimenting by cooking with almond butter and have substituted some of the butter in the following recipe. I adore the soft, dense, almost creamy flavour it adds to the batter as well as the nut-brown colour it gives the finished cake. This recipe is easy-peasy to make and perfect for a dinner party pudding with shots of iced Limoncello, or for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a cup of steaming black coffee and a good book. In keeping with the citrus theme, I recommend you curl up with the brilliant Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart, an ex-Genesis drummer, sheep shearer and travel writer and who bought a remote farm in the olive, almond and lemon groves of Andalucia.

Ridiculously Lemony Almond & Polenta Cake
photo 1 (4)Ingredients

3 lemons, scrubbed and unwaxed
200g ground almonds
100g fine polenta
200g caster sugar
150 g soft butter
50g almond butter
3 eggs
1 tsp gluten free baking powder

Lemon Syrup
1 tbsp lemon curd (from a jar or make your own. I love Delia’s recipe here)
100g caster sugar
juice from two lemons

Method

  • I love putting whole citrus fruits in cakes as they give an intense depth of flavour to the finished bake – Gizzi Erskine does a great orange and chocolate cake using this method here. Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop in one of the lemons. Simmer for about half an hour to 45 minutes until the lemon is tender then remove the stalk and seeds and blitz the whole thing, skin and all, to a paste in a food processor.
  • Grease and line a tin with baking paper and heat the oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Beat the soft butter, almond butter and sugar in a bowl until creamy and pale and add the lemon paste and zest from the remaining two lemons, setting them aside for juicing later.
  • Beat the eggs in a cup and combine the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder in a seperate bowl. Add a spoon of the dry mix followed by a glug of egg and stir gently with a spatula. Alternate adding the egg and almond mixture until the batter is fully combined.

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  • Spoon into your greased baking tin and cook for around 30-40 minutes. You can put a tin foil hat on the cake if you think it’s going brown too quickly.
  • While it’s cooking, put the juice from your remaining lemons and a tbsp of lemon curd in a saucepan with 100g of caster sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • When you’ve removed the hot cake from the oven, prong it all over with a fork and pour over the syrup, letting it soak in before cutting and enjoying this oozing, sticky lemon cake.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Tinder Photo Fails

Valentine’s Day. Bah Humbug. No, not really, I don’t actually mind Valentine’s Day. Not being able to get into a bar as they’ve all been converted in ‘bijoux’ dining venues with tables so close together that you’re practically whispering sweet nothings into a total stranger’s ear and the forced gift giving and once-a-year flower requirements I’m not so keen on, but the overall sentiment of the day is lovely.

It’s also a time of year (along with New Year’s Day) that singles flood dating sites, full of firm convictions that they absolutely, adamantly WILL NOT be alone at this time next year.

2014-01-12 00.46.38I’ve been on a few dating sites in the last couple of years and have found the whole experience vaguely depressing. There’s the hopeful email from the man old enough to be your father, the barely literate ones full of winking emoticons and ‘mega lolz’. There’s the lovely chap who in person turns out to be a bit full on and calls you three times the following day asking if you want to meet his mum. There are also the downright offensive propositions, usually sent by people who think a photo taken in a toilet of a washboard stomach is an appropriate substitute for their face or that a pic of their car is better at describing them than a head shot could ever be…to be fair those men are probably right on the money.

My strangest email was from a guy who opened with this: “I read a survey that says 95% of women sing in the shower. The other 5% masturbate, which one are you.” Oh stop it you Casanova you.

At the start of the year I started using Tinder. Tinder is fun, it’s like a game, albeit a game that sends you a bit mad and will often leave you drunk with power, swiping the screen and sending hapless suitors mercilessly towards the ‘Nope’ side while giggling maniacally.

Tinder is simple. It loads Facebook pictures for you and sets a search area and age range and leaves you to swipe away happily. Tinder is also popular, with thousands of people on it and countless articles written about it, like this gentlemen’s guide in The Independent, or this man’s perspective in The Telegraph. But as soon as you start using Tinder is becomes patently obvious that not everyone has read the gentlemen’s guide.

It’s a rare session that you manage to use Tinder without having at least one shot of a random man’s penis. He’s clearly proud of it, good for him, I’m sure it’s a very nice, fully functioning piece of genitalia. But as a profile picture? A profile picture that has clearly come from their Facebook account? Perhaps they think they are being risqué and provocative. Perhaps it’s a comment on the aesthetic emphasis of our society and they are taking us back to the primal, animal instinct of mating. Perhaps it’s a work of avant-garde theatre, inviting the watcher to view their most private moments through a voyeuristic window. Or perhaps they’re just hoping to get laid.

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Is that a gun in your sad baggy boxers or are you just pleased to see me/a bit desperate and crap at taking pictures?

It’s not just the cock shots either, Tinder is awash with bizarre, unsettling and frankly what the fuck images. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here’s a collection of my favourite screenshots, all of which are potential dates that have popped up on my or my friend Kathrin’s mobile. Enjoy and please feel free to share your own monstrosities, or check out this web page, which does it for you on Tindercreeps.com.

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This is creepy. So if I don’t smile you’ll stand behind and force me to with some sort of cartoon Chelsea smile?

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How could any woman refuse those come to bed eyes?

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A real woodsman. Although three things bother me. Did he use his penis as fish bait, who took this picture and how much DO penguins weigh?

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I can’t help but feel sorry for the driver of the car in this image who is about to get an (admittedly cold-shrivelled) eyeful.

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Are you seriously using a picture of your wedding day to your beautiful bride on Tinder? What a catch.

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There’s nothing sexier than some kinky self-asphyxiation eh?

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What every girl looks for: a man who main skill is shooting.

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He’s that guy who takes his top off in a club. NO.

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He’s too sexy for his shirt, too sexy for his body…He isn’t.

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He wants you, and he’s going to…punch you in the face?

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Is that your newborn baby? Are you looking for a new baby mama?

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What…How…There are no words for this.

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Nothing says pick me to the ladies more than the puppet from Saw or an evil clown.

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Is there anything more attractive than an adult nappy?

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The person who took this photo would have spent their time by better calling mountain rescue.

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STOP

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TAKING

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BATHROOM SELFIES

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Yes I know you’re in Kanchanaburi stroking a de-clawed, possibly sedated ‘rescued’ big cat. No I am not impressed.

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This is, actually, to be fair this is quite funny. To the yes pile you go McCracken.

If you feel your Tinder needs some cosmetic help, The Huffington Post wrote a 10-step guide on pimping your profile, which you can read here.

*Names have been removed for modesty’s sake..although these pictures are available on Tinder and Facebook.

Nude: Models and Life Drawing

There’s nothing better than drawing people with no clothes on.

The best practise – and practice – for an amateur artist (and probably for a professional as well) is life drawing. It’s a rare opportunity to draw something that’s alive and right in front of you, and yet conveniently still.

ImageReclining Nude, 2007

Drawing nudes from photographs or even other works of art is also fun, but less satisfying and probably less productive. Participating in life drawing itself takes a bit of practise. Anybody who claims not to revert to a sniggering teenager (on the inside, at least) the first time they attempt to draw a naked life model is fibbing. It takes a little getting used to.

They are only human after all, and as such susceptible to boob-jiggling sneezes or willy-wobbling coughs. It’s only natural to find these jiggles and wobbles amusing, but getting beyond this and eventually perceiving the body in front of you as an object to be studied, appreciated, and somehow represented on paper is much more rewarding overall.

I am, frankly, in absolute awe of anybody who has the confidence to bare all in front of a group of strangers – and, not fleetingly, but for an entire hour. Thank you to all those brave (and probably slightly insane) life models – in particular those below, who kindly modelled for me.

ImageSitting, 2007

ImageLeaning, 2008

ImageStudies, 2010

ImagePropped Up, 2010

ImageLooking Back

Song for the Day: Solange Knowles and the Sapeurs

There’s a great photo piece in The Guardian today about the well dressed Sapeurs of Congo, Africa – members of the Society for the Advancement of Elegant People.

3234732201_ebc45428f4Image: AfricaFeed — The Sapeurs of Congo: Open Gutters and Gucci Loafers

It put Solange Knowles’ video for Losing You straight into my mind as she filmed it with some of these smartly-dressed sartorial butterflys. Enjoy the spectacle and fingers crossed it brightens your rainy day.

 

Restaurateurs Behind the Restaurants: David Moore on Pop-Ups, Pied and His New Smokehouse

As a massive food-lover (translation, piggie) I always find it incredibly exiting to meet the people behind successful restaurants, so when I was offered the chance to meet Mr Pied à Terre himself, David Moore, I jumped at the chance.

We talked salted butter (conclusion use it, always, and spread it as thick as cheese), making pasta and restaurant scams, which were far too blue (and potentially libellous) to print – although the articles about David’s run in with a dine-and-dasher are still online here.

Here’s the original article, published on The Huffington Post, which can be found here. For potentially libellous stories you’ll have to meet David at the last month of pop-up Pied Nus before it closes and ask him yourself…

IMG_1473My white chocolate tart with macerated blackberries, the only kind of blackberries I will hitherto deign to eat.

“David Moore, the phenomenally successful restaurateur behind the Michelin-starred Pied à Terre and L’Autre Pied, is about to launch his next food venture. I caught up with him at his Charlotte Street venue to chat about his upcoming restaurant; a potential re-pop-up of Pied Nus, food bloggers and the new celebrity chefs.

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When I arrive in the dimly-lit confines of Pied à Terre, David is already there, grinning at me and guiding me towards ‘the power table,’ – a tiny two-seater facing the bustle of the restaurant. By the time we’re tucking into the bread basket, I realise that he isn’t on a charm offensive, he’s just naturally as gregarious, colourful and bright as the loud paisley shirt he’s sporting.

David, a father to two young girls who sometimes critique his food with helpful comments like “urgh Daddy, that’s disgusting,” might be about as unpretentious as an owner of a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants can get, but there’s no mistaking who’s king of the castle at Pied. Even the charming sommelier, Mathieu Germond, admits that he has nicknamed him ‘Daddy’.

All this is unsurprising when you consider that in an article by The Telegraph last year it was reported that “turnover at the business hit £4m last year and Mr Moore is expecting “double digit” growth in 2014.” All pretty impressive for someone who started at catering college in Blackpool and whose first job was, in his words, cooking for geriatrics, well, at least until the fateful day his renegade head chef made the audacious decision to cook the beef medium rare. Out of the 120 plates send out, 118 came back and David left in protest.

David landed his first big job at front of house by catching Monsieur Desenclos on the back foot at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He started as a chef de rang and, fast forward a few years, was a head waiter and then assistant manager before starting his own ventures in 1991.

David might have looked coy when I asked if those 2014 predictions had become financial reality, but there was no disguising his pride when his hugely popular pop-upPied Nus popped up in conversation. Diners and critics alike were heralding the death of the pop-up a few years ago and they still have their dissenters with Michael Hogan at The Telegraph bemoaning what he described as “the hipsterfication of the dining scene.”

2014-02-11-PiedsNusinterior.jpgPied Nus

But David and head chef Ed Dutton managed to make a good impression, and it’s isn’t hard to see why. There’s no need to, as Hogan dreads: “queue in the rain or loiter on the pavement, self-consciously scoffing out of a disintegrating cardboard box.” There’s just stripped back, seasonal food, informal surrounds and, to the pop-up lover’s delight, real tables, chairs and, gasp, napkins. After a busy five months it’s safe to say that the venture has been a success, so much so that David floated the potential to re-open Pied Nus at a different location after it closes in March this year. Re-popping the pop-up? Now that’s innovative.

David hit the issue with trend restaurants on the head when he told The Telegraph that: “People only care about the new kid on the block.” According to David, food editors focus journalists on the latest discoveries because they think the only thing people want to read about is what’s new. “I was sitting having dinner with a pal and he said ‘I need to go out for dinner on Saturday night. Where’s new?’ … I asked him when was the last time you went to Club Gascon? … It’s the guys that have been around 10 years that need the support.”

So how do you keep up with the fast-moving food scene and be innovative without gimmicky? David thinks the emphasis has to be on substance and authenticity, with chefs and managers hand sourcing produce from farms and breweries. His next restaurant, a US smokehouse-style concept, 160 Degrees Fahrenheit, with Sean Martin and Andrei Lesment is set to open in early Spring in West Hampstead and once again, he’s bang on trend. Smoking features across the board in food this year from butter to veg (alongside adult milkshakes, vinegar and healthy junk food…think kale lollies).

2014-02-11-133665600.jpgA man hanging eels in a smokehouse in England, UK/VisitBritain/Britain on View/Getty Images

American concept restaurants might have had some mixed reviews lately – with Jay Rayner being underwhelmed by Jamie Oliver’s grill joint Barbecoa, and Mariana O’Loughlin failing to fall for New York-alike Jackson + Rye – but David is confident that his new place will serve smoked eggs, hunks of meat, ribs, fish and vegetables that’ll be right on the money.

But it’s all to play for until the reviews start trickling out, which leads me to ask David how he feels about food bloggers and the effect they have on new restaurants, a somewhat thorny subject for most industry people.

He shifts and exhales, eyes on the pristine tablecloth before carefully replying: “I think the critics have become less important … Neither of them are more important than the other, but you have to embrace the bloggers, it’s not going away, it can only grow.”

“The way that a restaurant markets itself now has definitely changed. You’ll find that new openings now will not just have hard hat events and canapé evenings for all the mainstreams, they’ll have a blogger’s evening or a blogger’s event. You have to get them onside, they have a very large reach.”

“I’ve even got my blog now” he says incredulously, genuinely surprised that anyone would want to read about what he gets up to in day-to-day life. The thing is, with chefs toting millions of twitter followers (Jamie Oliver is currently on 3.74 million, six times more than David Cameron) and a string of high-profile TV appearances, they’ve become the new rock stars and the reach is only going to get wider with industry insiders, suppliers and restaurateurs taking their turn in the spotlight.

David reckons it is because the standard of good food is now so high that it’s become ubiquitous and people are interested in every facet of dining now. Fellow restaurateur Russell Norman, the force behind Polpo and Spuntino, is currently starring in BBC2’s new series, The Restaurant Man and David has a new TV project in the pipeline.

Yet it’s still hard to prise David away from the front of house, despite the long hours and the stress. So why does he still do it? He smiles, “I love the conviviality of it all and I’m never happier than when I’m bouncing around at Pied Nus with a corkscrew and a pen.” On saying that, like a coiled spring, he’s up from the table, chatting to a couple of regulars and hugging me before heading out and off to try and catch a cat nap before the start of the school run and a shift at Pied Nus, at the front of house, naturally.

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Beef Tartare, with Smoked Eel, Celeriac and Watercress at Pied Nus

David Moore’s London Food Picks:
Butcher: McKanna Meats, 21 Theobalds Rd London WC1X 8SL‎
Fishmonger: Steve Hatt 88-90 Essex Rd London N1 8LU‎
Greasy Spoon: Andrews Restaurant, 160 Grays Inn Road, WC1
Favourite Restaurants: Club Gascon, 57 W Smithfield, London EC1A 9DS, Texture Restaurant, 34 Portman St, London W1H 7BY & Haozhan, 8 Gerrard St, London W1D 5PJ

Follow Emma Sleight on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EmmaCSleight

The Art of Erik Johansson: “I don’t capture moments, I capture ideas”

Last month I featured the work of surreal photographer and artist Jee Young Lee (whose exhibition, coincidently, opened Friday 7 February at the OPIOM Gallery in Opio, France) and her immersive, dream scape images and now I’ve been bowled over by the strange and subversive world of Swedish photographer Erik Johansson.

Like Lee, Berlin-based Johansson plunges his fists deep into his own imagination and mixes it fluidly with a kind of distorted reality to produce these unsettling, thought-provoking and always beautiful works of art.

On his website, Johansson says that: “I use photography as a way of collecting material to realize the ideas in my mind.” If his mind is full of fish islands, mutated roads, midnight ski slopes and portraits of the human industrialisation of nature then, in my opinion, it’s definitely a place that’s worth a sneak peek.

I’ve collected my favourite compositions below but, if you like what you see, you should  explore the rest of his photographs on his website, erikjohanssonphoto.com.

Go on, walk through that wardrobe and fall down that rabbit hole, or at least take a walk through his wonderland on your way to work this morning.

driftingawayDrifting Away. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

“A safe place, drifting away.”

fiskFishy Island.  © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

long-road (1)Go Your Own Road. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

tvattBig Laundry Day. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

snowcover1Snow Cover.  © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

cutandfoldCut and Fold. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

“Cut along the dotted line”

breakingupBreaking Up. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

“Breaking up, drifting apart”

expectingwinterExpecting Winter. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

“Where seasons meet”

vasenArms Break, Vases Don’t. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

groundbreaking - CopyGroundbreaking. © Erik Johansson erikjohanssonphoto.com

“Let’s go on a field trip”

Click on any of the images to expand to their original size.

Cover image: Set Them Free. © Erik Johansson  erikjohanssonphoto.com

“Do the right thing, set them free!”

Travel Diary: Into the Eye of the Sun in Ko Tao, Thailand

I was recently asked if I would take a trip to Dubai and the first thing that popped into my head (besides bloody hell, aren’t I lucky) was ‘yes!’ An escape from the relentless grey skies and thundering, sopping, drenching British rain.

Dubai has never been too far up on my travel wishlist but, at this time of year, it means red deserts and golden sunshine. It means a legitimate excuse to wear sunglasses in February, a chance to break out summer clothes early and to just sit, face up in the white light, letting the warmth coat my skin, saturating it in a glowing halo. It also means suncream, and lots of it for me. Being fair-skinned I only ever manage a light dusting of gold when I try to sunbathe and, after spending too much time in the sun travelling and watching my freckles breed and multiply at an alarming rate, I doubt I’ll ever be a sun worshipper.

I did try to be once though, years ago on a bleached-white beach in Ko Tao, Thailand…although it didn’t go quite as planned.

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“The sea, the sand, the air. It is all so slow, so soft. Like a drug. It makes you slow and soft as well. Damp sponges soaked in salt water and salty sweat.

I feel serene here. Completely and perfectly lazy like a coddled child. Your daily routine is all picked and chartered for you: wake, up, eat, dress, walk and lie down and pass the day in a haze, revelling in your lack of an agenda.

Your flesh is slick with heat here, you feel every tiny breeze like a gift. A whisper over your gleaming skin and you are grateful. The water is warm. Green by the sandbanks and turquoise where the sun touches it.”

4520481259_638e863841_bImage: Flickr/Dave_B_

“Your day boils down to sensations. The sting of salt water, the scratch of sand in the suncream, the cool wind on your arched back and the burn of the sun, white-hot and blinding.

I think I looked like a skinned rabbit. Laid out flat, pink and raw and exposed. The hairs on my arms shine white. Albino…”

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“The water tricked us. So cool, so green, so inviting. So we swam in its crocodile jaws, shedding our white armour in the waves. It was as if I had flown into the sun itself. I am roasted, boiled, as if I had been slapped by a giant burning hand. I feel damaged, tender, like a snake about to shed, revealing baby pink flesh underneath.”

I seem to remember I then had mild sunstroke followed by a cold…always follow the golden rule: don’t be that burnt Brit abroad, re-apply suncream after swimming!

2762477936_2526b03971_bImage: Flickr/gumuz