In Pictures: Maltby Market & Secret Salon Swing Dancing

Just down from The Shard, off Tanner Street in Bermondsey is The Ropewalk Market on Maltby Street, an alley way bordered by antique shops brimming with vintage delights and, on the weekends, packed to the rafters with food stalls, small scale booze producers and weekend foodies.

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I was meeting a photography group called Click London there to take pictures inside the tiny, cramped inner salon of Lassco, a warehouse overflowing with all things reclaimed, revived and rejuvenated, from tweed flat caps to worn suitcases, gleaming brass door handles and warm wood, glowing golden and maple and chestnut. It’s a treasure trove, it’s mind-boggling and completely immersive and I managed to take near-on 100 pictures of the stock alone.

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Inside a wee inner room, the entrance half-hidden by racks of vintage dresses and coats, you’ll find the Secret Salon, where swing bands and dancers come to play and move to an old-fashioned sort of beat.

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The guitarist was pure cockney, the singer a Londoner through and through who sang with as perfect a French accent as Edith Piaf and, as the band started to play and the music filled the room I was reminded why I love London. I love it for these rare moments of discovery and joy, contained in that moment in a rose-tinted room on a creaking antique stool. Sure the gin cocktails outside were being served at inflated hipster prices and I didn’t have enough money in my purse to buy one of the haggis scotch eggs that were calling to me from a plate of burnished beauties on a stall outside, but in here something wonderful was happening.

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And as they continued to play the dancing began. The professionals, dressed to the nines, moved so fast and so precisely that they became a blur. In the dim, orange light the women looked like they were on fire as they twirled around and around and around. The amateurs who joined in later were easier to photograph and I became transfixed by a young couple swaying slowly, their eyes only ever fixed on each other. It felt like love in motion.

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I took over 200 pictures on Saturday, but here are my favourites. I would love to hear if anyone else has caught a swing dancing session in the Maltby Market and if they enjoyed it as much as I did!

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Song for the Day: Sing Sing Sing

This song is exactly what you need for a Monday morning. It’s almost impossible to listen to this without feeling like foxtrotting your way around the kitchen or swing dancing your way through the crowds on the tube. It’s a running song, a dancing song and a working song all rolled into one. Typing to this makes you feel as though you should have cartoon smoke rising from your fingers as an acme temperature gauge slowly climbs to an explosive boiling point.

It’s also the perfect accompaniment to the swing dancing, retro pictures that I’m publishing last today, please do have it on in the background while you take a peek later on! Happy Monday.

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Weekend Bake: Posh Maxibons – Almond Praline & Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches

The clocks have officially gone back. Spring has started. Apparently someone remembered to tell the sun this year too as it has firmly jammed its hat on these past two days and, after all the sun soaked weather and golden afternoons, I’ve found my mind wandering back to summer holidays with my family in Europe.

If we didn’t go to Dorset to see my grandparents and throw ourselves into the icy, iron-grey sea at West Bay, we would pack up the car and head to Italy, gorging on freshly-made pasta and daily pots of creamy ice cream, where the flavours and varieties blew my ten-year-old socks off. Or we’d drive to France, winding down the undulating coastline and stopping in chalets or Eurocamps along the way, shopping in the hypermarket and slowly turning a golden, nut brown under the relentless French sunshine. There was ice cream in France of course, but there it was a treat that we tore into through a plastic wrapper. It was like the ice cream vans at home, but somehow a million times more exotic – where a Mr Whippy would become a crème glacée and come with a foreign price tag.

It was always Zaps at home and Maxibons abroad. I’m sure you could get them in England too but they became, for me and my brother, the French calling card of ice cream. I still remember eating them on the beach in Brittany with my feet stuck into the sun-warmed sand, feeling the grit between my toes as I bit through the spongy biscuit into the snow-white ice cream beneath; or in the farm house we rented after I had fallen off my bike in the woods of the Dordogne, where the sharp crack of the chocolate layer distracted me from the stinging grazes on my kneecaps.

I haven’t had a Maxibon in years but today’s sunshine made me want to indulge in that most childish of feasts: an ice cream sandwich. This recipe is a slightly more grown up version – although I bet my 10-year-old self would have wolfed it down – using almond butter to add nuttiness to the creamy flavour and praline for a caramel crunch and the easiest recipe for ice cream I know. You could even half dip it in chocolate, for a real Maxibon reminder.

This will only make a smallish tubs worth of ice cream, but it’s so sinfully rich and creamy, especially when combined with fat little rounds of buttery shortbread, that it’s probably a good thing!

Almond Praline & Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Ingredients

For the ice cream
300 ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp almond butter
175 g condensed milk

For the praline
85 g caster sugar
30 g roughly chopped almonds

For the shortbread
125 g salted butter
55 g caster sugar
180 g plain flour

Method

  • Whip the condensed milk, cream, vanilla and almond butter in a large bowl with an electric whisk. The mixture needs to thicken until it forms soft, unctuous peaks. Spoon into a container and pop into the freezer while you make the praline.

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  • Put the sugar into a heavy-based pan and leave it to melt over a medium heat until it has dissolved into liquid gold. Don’t stir it as this will cause crystals to appear in the sugar, making it unworkable. You can gently tip the pan, moving the sugar around if you think it is about to burn.
  • When the sugar is dissolved, carefully (hot sugar burns are the worst!) tip in the chopped almonds and stir, quickly pouring it onto some greases proof paper and leave to set and harden.

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  • When it is completely cool, put your shard of praline into a food bag and whack it with a rolling pin until it has broken into little nuggets of nutty caramel with a bit of sugar dust. Take your ice cream out and mix in the praline with a spoon – swirling it in will give you perfect distribution without disturbing the ice cream mixture. Pop it back into the freezer and leave for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

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  • To make the shortbread rounds, mix the butter with the sugar and flour until it’s formed a paste and leave in the fridge for half and hour before you mould the biscuits  – if the butter gets too hot it will split and you’ll be left with oily biscuits.
  • While it’s cooling, turn the oven up to 180-190 degrees photo 1 (12)Celsius and make little balls of dough from your mixture. Place the balls onto a greased baking tray, making sure there’s enough room around each of them to let them spread and push them down with a fork to make fat rounds.
  • Bake for 12-17 minutes until they are just golden and leave to cool on a wire rack before sealing them in a tin to keep fresh.
  • When the ice cream is ready, take a fat dollop and sandwich it between two of the shortbreads – heaven in a sandwich!

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Just think, if you make this ice cream now it’ll be ready to try tomorrow….

See Sushi, Eat Sushi for Foodepedia

As I wandered under the spaghetti junction near Edgware Road tube station and off the main street in search of See Sushi, I realised that I hadn’t ever eaten in Edgware Road, which should make this meal interesting. Not that this meal was technically a restaurant launch or even a review per say, nope, this was just your standard promotional nine tasting courser on a Thursday evening hosted by one of the head honchos herself: Lucy Mitchell, the Marketing Director at SeeWoo Foods Ltd.

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But, to be fair, there’s nothing standard about See Sushi or its umbrella company, SeeWoo, which has been supplying authentic Asian food to restaurants, wholesalers and private customers for four decades and have Michelin-starred joints like Hakkasan on their buyers books.

Tucked away and overlooking the (empty, when I visited) Paddington Basin, the first job of the evening was finding the place. See Sushi relies heavily on word of mouth and repeat custom as there is limited foot traffic past their gleaming glass frontage post five pm. On the night S and I visited it was actually made that little bit harder to find because someone had hilariously moved the sign so that the arrow to the restaurant was pointing at the local Superdrug instead. Clever. Kids today eh?

Inside the sleek restaurant there’s a surprising amount of space with a long sushi bar up against one of the walls offering diners a whole night of sushi and maki theatre to keep them entertained. Before I could worry too much about where everyone else was and why the place was half empty I was quickly ushered around the side of the main room to a small, private space where I found the rest of the blogging masses and their plus ones.

Chilli ChutneyAs I leaned in to where the majority were congregated, I realised that they were all sipping from glasses of pink fizz and feasting on…could it be…yep, a massive pile of cheese from Neal’s Yard. Call me a traditionalist but, as I recall, Asia isn’t exactly famed for its wedges of nutty, aged cheddar or oozing doorstops of brie. As it turned out, the cheese board was merely set dressing for the star of the evening: a fresh-from-the-kitchen pot of chilli chutney.

So febrile in fact that Lucy’s sister had only perfected the recipe a few days earlier and it was about to make its merry way onto the Way-On production line for the mass market. I only hope the little firecracker keeps its distinctive flavour because it managed to haul itself up to that lofty plain of truly special savoury jams and chutneys, where the overpowering sweetness is firmly beaten down by a firm whack of salty tomato and a feather’s brush of lingering chilli. And yes, it was the perfect accompaniment to that slab of cheddar (and the gyoza that came later incidentally).

Normality re-asserted itself with the arrival of the first of a water banquet of Asian delights and delicacies: platefuls of dressed slivers of butter-soft tuna and chunks of fleshy salmon that I would have happily battled to the death over with the other food writers on my table.

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Luckily for all involved this was my first time dining with S as my plus one so I was on my best behaviour and instead chose to use my potential chopstick weapons to carefully lever morsels of sashimi onto his plate, keeping my inner greedy pig at bay.

The pig remained sated as the salmon was followed by swirls of avocado and soft shell crab maki and a dragon roll stuffed with eel and tempura prawns, which was swiftly replaced by shards of black cod in marmite-coloured miso coats and a delicately-marinated rectangle of pure white tofu sitting next to an expertly splayed and roasted aubergine and a radish that bore a disturbing resemblance to the talking toadstool in the Mario computer games.

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The most unusual thing on the menu was the accompanying Japanese wine – a dangerously drinkable Koshu Soryu that was as clean and soft as a spring meadow and tasted like it had the alcohol content of a light beer.

Koshu wine is like most small-production varieties in the sense that not much makes it out of the source county for non-domestic consumption and the portion that does usually comes with an eye-watering price tag, putting off all but the adventurous owners of fat wallets. If you ever see one on a menu and are feeling flush I urge you to forgo your usual Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot, spend that little bit more and give one of these floral, grassy Koshu numbers a go.

The only downside of the fairy-light meal came in the form of a lukewarm plate of chicken katsu curry. The chicken was as crispy as you could ask for and swimming in a rich pool of brown, spiced sauce, but its rice partner dragged the dish into dangerous double carb territory as it arrived on the plate with a wholly unnecessary cap of mashed potato.

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I forgave the katsu because it was followed by a boat’s worth of ice cream Mochi and tropical fruit, although I still can’t decide if I liked those little, gluttonous rice balls filled with mango, black sesame and bitter chocolate ice cream all the more just because they were served on their very own battleship.

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The indefatigably charming Lucy had been threatening S that she was going to break out a bottle of Baijiu – a potent Chinese white spirit – all evening and, with a bit of egging on by me, an ornate bottle with inlaid paintings and two of the smallest glasses I have ever encountered was produced. The reason for the size of the glasses soon became clear as, after one fiery mouthful, I realised that there was no way you could do a shot of that with every course and stay coherent, let alone sober.

IMG_2018Baijiu burn aside, this little restaurant serves up authentic flavours and dishes packed with carefully-sourced and hand-selected products and produce and I hope that more people meander off the main road to discover it.

See Sushi, 4d Praed Street, Paddington, London, W2 1JX  www.seesushi.com

Originally written and published for and by the excellent www.foodepedia.co.uk and can be found here.

Moti Mahal: A Passage to India along The Grand Trunk Road for Foodepedia

As I walked into Moti Mahal and down to the dark chocolate and burgundy dining room on the lower floor, my stomach was already crunched into a pulsating ball of excitement and anticipation. I was there for the first in a series of four dinners at celebrating the culinary and cultural heritage of The Grand Trunk Road in India and tonight’s experience was with photographer and author Tim Smith.

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Few people get to actually travel this serpentine behemoth of a trade route and transport road that has linked the eastern and western portions of India for 2000-ish years. Even Foodepedia’s head honcho, Nick Harman, has thought longingly of the legendary route that’s peppered with foodie delights. Luckily for the both of us, Moti Mahal has beentransporting diners to this not-so-off-the-beaten track since 2009 (Moti Mahal Hits the Road), with Nick getting his food passport in the restaurant back in 2013: The Grand Trunk Road – Taking a Trip with Moti Mahal. Tim Smith, however, has travelled extensively over, round and along it, from the edge of the Ganges and the seething streets of Calcutta, through Delhi and Amritsar and up to the rugged expanse of the Khyber Pass into Kabul.

Alongside Tim’s photographs of the people who have lived and travelled along the road, there was the promise of a culinary journey along the way from Moti Mahal’s head chef, Anirudh Arora, who has made his way to the Covent Garden restaurant via Kashmir, Ladakh, Lucknow and Calcutta.

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I’ve always felt as though my stomach was connected to India by an invisible thread. Most of my memories of travelling there boil, simmer and reduce down to food memories: the crispy, saffron-gold jalebis, dripping in syrup and blisteringly hot from the fryer outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar; the skewers of charred tandoori chicken, smoking and red like hellfire from a tiny restaurant in Calcutta; the greasy triangle samosas packed with chillies and crunchy vegetables served with thimblefuls of ketchup and chai tea on the train to Delhi. In short, I was ready to take another trip along India’s flavour trail.

IMG_1965In between the trays of Indian canapés, which arrived in the form of miniature samosas with a deep maroon sauce, plump, deep-fried prawn kofta dumplings and fat cubes of marshmallow soft Saufia Paneer – Indian street food after a Michelin-star makeover – Bradford-based Tim showed us a window into the working and social lives of British Asian communities in the 80s.

He has been taking pictures in Bradford and beyond for years and, with every sharply-focused black and white image that swam across the screen, he delved deeper with images of archaic fabric factories and workers in the cold, northern winter. Tim joked that he used to say you could travel the world on the Bradford city bus, passing West Indian weddings, a Ukraine church and ending up at a mosque on the way.

It was Tim’s very own whistle-stop tour of Indians and Pakistanis at home and abroad that we were taken on at Moti Mahal, along an ancient road that is now, mainly, motorised…although you’ll still see the odd camel and elephant on the way apparently. As his eye-searingly bright photographs of elaborately-painted Indian trucks and art work pit stops splashed across the projector screen, Tim managed to achieve that rare multi-sensory experience where you are almost able to smell the truck stop grease and oil, hear the roar of the struggling engines and the rasp of the artist’s paintbrush against the metal work.

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As the buzzer on his phone interrupted his sweeping view of The Grand Trunk Road, the close of his immersive talk heralded the arrival of the feast to come.  Thickly-battered aubergine pakoras from Punjab, Sorshey Macchi (sea bass in vibrant, yellow mustard curry) from Bengal, Squash curry from Ambala, a buttery, delicately-spiced lamb biryani from Lucknow and violently green Saag Paneer from Delhi.

IMG_1978And they were only the dishes that I could reach across the table. By the time sharing platters of peanut brittle Gajak, sticks of Kulfi and tiny cakes of red carrot Halwa came I felt as though I my taste buds has trekked the full chaotic, entracing and confusing length of The Grand Trunk Road and all that was missing was an earthenware cup of masala chai…although, to be honest, the punchy shiraz that kept finding its way into my glass wasn’t a bad substitute.

Future immersive eating events at Moti Mahal will include a Beer and Indian Barbecue evening with London microbreweries, a talk from a renowned filmmaker and an Asian wine pairing event with wine-maker Matt Thompson. For more information and booking for this series of Grand Truck Road nights, see the Moti Mahal website.

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Moti Mahal 45 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AA www.motimahal-uk.com

Originally written and published for and by the excellent www.foodepedia.co.uk and can be found here.

Dubai Part Four: Five Hotel Restaurants to Try in Dubai

I’ve been gorging a lot these past two weeks while ostensibly reviewing restaurants and gastronomic evenings for Foodepedia.co.uk and all that food put me in mind of my favourite restaurants in Dubai.

With all those five-star establishments it’s rare you even have to venture outside of the air-conditioned confines of your hotel to find a fantastic meal (although, of course, you should). Here’re my top five, for every meal of the day…although I wouldn’t recommend doing them all in one day, unless you have a magically expanding stomach, an endless cash flow and one hell of an appetite!

The Brunch: Spectrum On One, Fairmont Dubai

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It’s a small world after all, or at least it is at the Fairmont…just without the weird singing puppets. Come with an empty stomach, preferably growling, and walk past the futuristic lobby with its Star Trek-inspired tube lifts and into the dining room, where you’ll be greeted by a moving diorama of Dubai’s multiculturalism. As the waitress walked me around the open restaurant space, I was catapulted back to my student gap year and felt as though I has just re-travelled through Asia and South America within the space of a few minutes.

In one corner there was a Chinese chef delicately rolling duck pancakes; in another a Thai chef was frying slippery plates of peanut-dusted Pad Thai to order; there was a Japanese station where cooks in pristine aprons sliced sashimi and steamed perfect, cloudlike pork buns. Near our huge, circular table there was a man leaning over a wicker covered tandoori oven, levering out searing naan breads and chapatis glistening with ghee to accompany the racks of glistening butter chicken. Even England, France and Mexico were represented with a carvery (that’ll be the UK covered then!) a room of wall-to-wall cheese and a bench dedicated to vats of guacamole and mounds of shredded, pulled pork. It was mind boggling and everywhere you looked there were wide-eyed, plump-stomached expats wandering around and eyeing up the Willy Wonka dessert section, wondering if they could squeeze in another oreo cheesecake or stick of candyfloss before bursting the seams of their summer dresses and linen suits.

Yes it was gluttony, pure and unapologetically simple. But it was gluttony at its most seductive and I, like all who go to and are defeated or exhausted by the food at Spectrum On One, could only accept my fate, roll up my sleeves and join my companions at the trough…and oh, what a trough.

The Lunch: Salero Tapas & Bodega, Kempinski Mall of the Emirates Hotel

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Salero has tapped into something rarely done in Dubai. Asian food in every Oriental flavour persuasion, sure, but ballsy, earthy, red-wine infused and garlic-smothered Mediterranean tapas has always been that little bit harder to find. Salero neatly side-stepped the authenticity issue by flying in their very own Spanish chef, staying open to a very Mediterranean three in the morning on weekends and employing mostly Spanish staff.

The dining room is relatively small, but what it lacks in square footage it makes up for in pseudo-Spanish atmosphere. The walls are stacked with wine bottles, gleaming jugs of olive oil, Spanish cookbooks and produce while the cushions and benches are a mix of chocolate, tomato red, burnt orange and green. Wicker baskets hang from the high ceilings like hot air balloon remnants and the enticing smells of onions and paprika red, oil-slicked chorizo waft from the open kitchen. The whole place looks (probably because it is) very clean and new and isn’t quite rough enough around the edges to evoke the essence of a real bodega. As Len from Strictly Come Dancing would say: “I wanted to smell the sawdust and blood.”

There were elements of undiluted rustic-ness though, especially in the form of the hunks of crusty bread that were served with fat wedges of beef tomato, a pile of rock salt and an entire bottle of olive oil. By the time the slate platters of Manchego and wafer thin, punchy Iberico ham, the paper twists of crispy squid and lemon wedges with peppery mayonnaise and the sizzling, shallow terracotta bowls of ox’s cheek in blood red sauce had arrived I was starting to forget what my notion of a ‘real’ bodega was anyway. When I had finished shovelling in delicately steamed clams in white wine and mouthfuls of golden paella, I was practically ready to swear I was in Seville. Olé.

The Light Lunch: TOMO, Raffles Dubai

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On the lofty top floor of Raffles, well, almost top – it’s one below the glowing orange beacon that is the Crystal nightclub – and a world away from booze, extravagant lighting and thumping dance beats is the Japanese haven of TOMO. As far removed from the excess and gold-covered décor of the rest of Dubai as you can get, TOMO feels more like the refined surroundings you’d be more likely to find in a Japanese tea house. It’s all dark wood, tatami mats and minimalist Zen. In fact, I almost thought I‘d managed to wander into a tea house scene from Kill Bill I – where Uma Thurman takes on Lucy Liu – and was vaguely waiting for the thunk of the water fountain and snow to start falling.

Luckily for me, no one came at me with a Hattori Hanzo sword and instead all I heard was the soft clink of the bead curtain as waitresses glided in with platters of expertly executed sushi adorned with fronds of pickled ginger that looked almost too pretty to eat. That notion lasted all of about five seconds before I was tearing into fatty slabs of yellow fin tuna, California rolls daubed in pearls of fish roe and butter-soft salmon nigiri. TOMO’s head chef, Takahashi, does more than just sushi though. There’s a whole menu dedicated to hot and cold noodles, ramen, tempura, tofu and hot meat and fish dishes. I would recommend the blackened, miso marinated flakes of cod and ordering the Wagyu beef, which comes out smoking and singed on its own hot griddle.

The Afternoon Tea: Sahn Eddar, The Burj Al Arab

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You can’t get higher high tea than the tea on offer at The Burj Al Arab hotel. Rising like an ivory and metal fin from the impossibly blue sea, The Burj is the only seven star hotel in the world and has remained Dubai’s defining hotel, despite being nearly 14-years-old, which makes it old hat in Emirates hotel terms. There’s nothing old about the Burj though. It’s a place where the gleaming floors are tiled with a smattering of 24 carat gold, where a fountain isn’t just a fountain – it’s an art installation and where, if you’re the Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, you can order that the multi-level white ceilings are boring and can demand they be repainted all the colours of the turquoise rainbow.

Inside the Burj Al Arab

Non-staying guests come to the Burj (by appointment and booking only, naturally) to gawp at the lavish display of opulence on show, to drink in the views of the man-made islands from the top decks and Skyview Bar and to sample a traditional afternoon tea that has been given a distinctly Dubai twist.

While the impressively fake tanned harpist twinkling away in the background, the tea marathon began. A berry-covered shortcake that was a light as air was quickly followed by the sort of sandwiches that put cucumber with the crusts cut off to shame. These little morsels were packed with smoked chicken or tuna and capers wedged in squid ink bread that was mottled like marble but as soft as a marshmallow.  There were baskets of golden-brown scones and dollops of clotted cream, miniscule macaroons flavoured with lychee and raspberry, bite-sized carrot cakes and glazed pastries studded with shards of toasted almond – all baked in the onsite, round the clock bakery. There was even a special brand of sparkling date juice on offer if you didn’t fancy a glass of champagne with your tea, although, to be fair, spoiling the sumptuous food with anything other than top of the range tea would be, frankly, sacrilege.

Dinner: , Fairmont the Palm

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“Can I prepare you some crisp Peking duck parcels Madam?” Asked the bespectacled, white glove-clad waiter in English flavoured with the touch of a soft Chinese accent. Is there any other answer to that than yes? Crossing the vast, marble atrium of Fairmont the Palm’s entrance lobby will give you a couple of options. You could head towards the Brazilian grill restaurant, Frevo, or to the Seagrill on 25° for a shisha and a fish platter. If you walk through the dark confines of Bā’s lounge bar, down the steps and past the pillars made to look like sculpted, florescent bamboo, you’ll find Bā the restaurant. It might feel like a modern art gallery but the food on the extensive menu is pure, ancient tradition. Spanning the length and breadth of China, Bā serves up spicy kung pao chicken from Szechuan, wok-fried prawns from Shandong and a Xian water banquet’s worth of dumplings and dim sum.

As the sultry tones of Alabama slammer Sabrina – the Bā Lounge’s guest singer – spilt down from the upper floor, there was nothing left to do but order at random from the menu and be taken all the way down to Chinatown. With every rotation of the turning centre of our table a new delight swung within chopstick swiping distance: mysterious baskets filled with perfectly made scallop and lobster dim sum; cashew chicken in a rich, deep gravy; paper-thin spiced spring rolls; baked aubergine in a crispy, battered coat and sticky, sweet sauce and, to my delight, oozing pineapple upside down cakes and coconut crème brûlée with sharp, raspberry sorbet. The Peking duck parcels, incidentally, were the best I’ve had outside of Beijing.

Lead Image: TOMO coconut salad. Credit: TOMO at Raffles Dubai

Weekend Bake: Pain Pear-Du

All right, I’ll admit it, this isn’t technically a ‘bake,’ what it is is a decadent, naughty and lip-smackingly good way to start a lazy Sunday morning, especially, if like me, you’re feeling a bit shaky from the night before and need a sugar injection.

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I’ve always had a sweet tooth. I love a bacon sandwich as much as the next person, but if it was a choice between a pile of lacy, buttered crepes with sugar and lemon and a poached egg it wouldn’t be a contest for me. It’s probably the result of having a dentist for a father, but apart from my mother, who has a quite serious Mini Egg addiction, my home wasn’t full of sweet breakfast fanatics growing up.  There were, of course, illicit bowls of breakfast cereal that we used to have as treats at our grandparents. They used to fill us with mugs of sugary tea and sugar puffs and coco pops and then send me and my brother – thrumming on sugar highs – to sprint laps around the block of their Dorset bungalow in a never-ending fitness competition.

The first time I tired Pain Perdu, or posh eggy bread as it was presented to me at the time, I was at a school friend’s house. I loved staying there. I’m never sure if it was just the novelty of new food or the cook not being my mum, but I used to make excuses to be in the kitchen while she prepared food, hovering and making fruitless attempts to help as she wafted about chopping and seasoning and tasting. Looking back she was probably irritated by the little blonde girl getting under her feet in the kitchen, but I used to hope, with all my fervent eleven-year-old heart, that she appreciated the company as her own kids preferred to ignore her until any food was actually on the table and ready to be eaten.

One morning we were sitting around the table in eager anticipation of pancakes or waffles when she plonked down an earthenware bowl full of runny egg. As I watched she proceeded to push slices of bread under the slippery surface and drop them into a pan sizzling with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and then, after a few minutes, there was a golden-brown wedge of steaming bread on my plate, charred in some places and oozing butter in others in one, unctuous, sugary, fluffy mass. Ironically, despite the name, you never forget you’re first piece of Pain Perdu. It was heaven and since then I’ve been on a never-ending quest for the perfect forgotten bread recipe.

Pain Pear-Du

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Ingredients

4/6 slices of old, stale bread, white or brown (depending on how hungry you are!)
100 g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
240 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp nutmeg
20 g unsalted butter

For the pears
3/4 ripe English pears, conference work well. This recipe is also great with oranges or clementines and bananas, use whatever you have in the fruit bowl.
50 g brown sugar, I use a mix of dark, light and fine muscovado for a caramel flavour. A mixture also helps to use up any odd little portions you might have lurking in the back of the cupboard
40g unsalted butter
1 tsp cinnamon

Method

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  • Start by caramelising the pears to go on top of the bread. The start of this is very much like making a tarte tatin. Peel, core and slice the pears into chunky slivers.
  • Pour the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon into a heavy-based saucepan and melt down.
  • When it starts to bubble add the sliced pears and gently move around the pan to cover. Turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer so as not to burn the sugar and cook the pears in the caramel for about 4-5 minutes until tender.

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  • Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a deep bowl and whisk in the milk, caster sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Soak triangles of the bread in the egg mixture for 3-4 minutes until they have absorbed as much as possible of the eggy mix.
  • Remove the pears from the heat and leave to keep warm in the pan.
  • Heat the remaining butter in a griddle pan or shallow frying pan and, when it’s bubbling, add slices of the soggy bread, turning only when the griddle-side down piece is golden and crisp.
  • Pop onto a plate or shallow bowl and top with slivers of sweet, sticky pear and drizzle with the pear juices from the pan.

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Warning, this is a very sweet dish, if it’s too sweet for your palate you can halve the sugar in the egg mix.

Dubai Part Three: Five Snapshots – The Good, the Bad-Ass and the Exquisite

It’s been far too long since my last post. The real world of content writing, subbing shifts and features pitches got on top of me in the last week and I was in writing hibernation, slowly digging myself out of my pit of emails, reviews and scribblings.

Now I’m back and can’t wait to finish writing about my jaunt around Dubai. I’ve already posted some images in Part One: Dubai in Pictures, so, as a condensed-down, easily-digestible whistle-stop tour of the what, when, how and where before I immerse myself in the nitty gritty, here’s my bonkers and beautiful Dubai in five snapshots.

Adrenaline High at Ifly at Magic Planet, Deira
iFly

“Who’s going first?” Asked the IFLY expert who, while wearing a leotard so tight it was verging on indecent, had just been flipping in a perspex tube a moment before. We glanced at each other, each trying and failing to blend into the wall behind us, before pointing out our Dubai guide as a designated lamb to the slaughter.

I watched him being manhandled by both the wind and the instructor who kept making bunny ear signals into his face, which had adopted a fixed grin of rigour mortis proportions. My borrowed suit was suddenly a lot more restrictive. I could smell the nervous flop sweat of a hundred wearers before me as we shuffled one by one towards the death tube and, as I lurched face first, arms across my chest like a sleeping vampire into the deafening roar of a wind turbine, I tried very hard not to cack my borrow pants.As the instructor grinned at me and told me to keep my head up and smile, something happened. I realised that I was floating, and it was bloody amazing. I managed not to scream as he pulled me up to the ceiling and dropped me in a semi-graceful corkscrew, spiralling to the ground. At least I’m maintaining I wasn’t screaming, over all that wind who could tell?For more information on Ifly, check the official website here.

Sun, Sea and…Snow? Ski Chalet at The Kempinski Mall of the Emirates Hotel

Living and Dining Area in Grand Ski ChaletRoaring fire, check. Chestnut polished wooden floorboards and beams, check. Alpine view, check. The faint sound of mall music, fake sky and a sun-flooded pool terrace out the back, check… wait a minute.This is no ordinary ski lodge, it’s a grand ski chalet in the Kempinski Hotel, slap bang in the middle of the Mall of the Emirates in sunny, snow-free Dubai. This three-bed, lavish chalet is an exercise in just how money and imagination can get you anything in Dubai. The two-floor apartment room has everything you’d expect from a luxury establishment with stand alone baths, monstrously big beds, chandeliers and dual aspect windows out onto the ski slope where hotel patrons and visitors alike take turns to shoop shoop down the slope or roll in Zorb balls.

Bedroom in Grand Ski Chalet

Apparently the glass, while obscured, isn’t totally peep proof as Elodie, who was showing me around, recounted. There was the time everyone on the slope got quite the eyeful through the chalet windows and an emergency staff member had to sprint up to the room to warn the occupants that they were on display.

Weird? Embarrassingly opulent? Magnificent or just plain bonkers, its just another amazing suite in the Dubai wonderland.

Bookings, prices and chalet information can be found on The Kempinski Mall of the Emirates Hotel website here.

Sticks at Dawn: Camel Polo at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club

Camel Polo Pros

Hit it! Hit it!” My jockey, Riaz, pleaded with me as I swung my arms backwards, shoulder screaming in protest and biceps like malnourished grapes straining to bring the leaden stick downwards onto the demon of a ball that had eluded me all morning.

The hammer connected with a thunk, shunting the ball all of two spectacular feet across the pitch. The thunk was followed by a crunch as I thwacked my mount, Moussiah, around the ankles. She swivelled her regal head towards me.

“Idiot.” Her liquid brown eyes said. “Bugger.” I said, aloud. Who knew a game of camel polo could be so difficult to master?

Moussiah the Camel

Very, as it turned out. Polo with ponies? Bah! Frankly you haven’t lived until you’ve lurched from side to side while swiping at an inflatable practice ball with a reinforced, six-foot broomstick.

That was from my diary and was written just after a tension-filled, gruelling (read: relaxed, mildly strenuous) couple of rounds of camel polo, Dubai’s ultimate grass roots sport. These beautiful, preened and pampered beasts are available for brave tourists and corporate away days and a morning spent learning how to play this most elite of sports was honestly the most fun I had in Dubai.

one man and his camel

Gulf Ventures can organise city transfers, half day city tours and a camel polo experience like the one I tried. Visit www.desertadventures.com to book or for more information.

Round the World Eating at Spectrum On One, The Fair Mont Dubai
Fairmont-Dubai---Spectrum-o

Eating brunch – what’s known as THE brunch in Dubai, mind you – at The Spectrum On One I had Ariel’s Little Mermaid song about gadgets and gizmos going round and round in my head. Except that I wasn’t singing about whos-its and whats-its galore, I was thinking about food, glorious food because this brunch mecca serves a never-ending buffet of delights from almost every continent and country on the planet.I had pancakes and roast beef a plenty.
I had cheeseboards and shawarmas galore. 
You want steamed buns? I had some. 
But who cares, no big deal. I wanted more.I had duck rolls and tandoori chicken and pulled pork tacos followed by candy floss and cupcakes and Oreo cheesecake, all washed down with an endless supply of mojitos, that seemed to materialise by my elbow like magic every time my straw hit the ice at the bottom of my glass.And then I was gently tipped put of my seat and rolled towards the exit like a swollen Violet Beauregard. Well not really, but it took a few attempts to stand after this feast.

Brunch at Spectrum on One starts from £58 per person, or £76 including unlimited alcohol. See their website for details here.

How the Other Half Live: The Burj Al Arab
Inside the Burj Al Arab

Entering the seven-starred Burj Al Arab is like walking into a modern-day Disney palace. The doormen have IPads, there’s 24 carat gold paved on the mosaic floors and there’re suites so elaborate and discreet that they’re stored on security access only floors.

Through the glass doors, the concept of a ceiling is suddenly ripped away as you find yourself in a vast, echoing space and, as your eyes go up and up and up and UP, you soon realise that this hotel is possibly one of the most staggering and terrifying places that you’ve ever set foot in.

Burj Al Arab - Lobby

I managed to scrape my jaw off the floor and nod weakly as our guide, the impossibly pretty Nazila, explained that the inner atrium could fit two Eiffel Towers inside and the fountain used to spit all the way to the top floor, before it had to be tamed to save guests from death by drenching. I continued to be lost for words during an afternoon tea that started with shortcake as light as air and a waiter with the world’s most flamboyant champagne pouring style and ended with a cappuccino topped with 24 carat gold dust, which I prompted scattered into the air with one excited exhalation.

Burj_Al_Arab_-_Skyview_Bar_

Then Nazila walked us on a never-ending display of the delights of Burj’s inner sanctum. There were glass lifts that moved so fast your ears popped, rooftop restaurants with panoramic views of the man-made world islands, an underwater restaurant with its very own famous resident fish – George – and a Royal Suite with a revolving velvet bed and a shower covered in gold leaf.

Romantic dinner in Al Mahara

There were stomach-churning peeks over the ledge on the 25th floor, there were squeals of disbelief, of wonder, of sheer horror that anyone could afford to travel and live like this and of childish abandon in a place that disarms you with pomp and privilege, shocks you with opulence and ostentatiousness and galls you with riches and ritual. It’s gorgeous and garish, its mental and marvellous, it’s…it’s…It’s the Burj Al Arab, which says it all really.

Traditional afternoon tea at the Burj costs £75. Book on their website, here.

In Pictures: The Olympic Aquatics Centre Opening Day

Not many people get to swim in an Olympic swimming pool where the likes of Michael Phelps, Rebecca Adlington and Ellie Simmonds have won medals, but as part of the London 2012 legacy project, this morning I did just that.

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I was lucky enough to get a paid job in the media room at the Olympics and it was truly one of the best times of my life. My colleague, Ashley, who soon became a close friend, got me into the swimming. She talked about her days at her swimming club and her time trials; babbling about the Olympic and Paralympic swimmers like they were gods; infecting me with her enthusiasm and respect for the sport and the competing athletes. She got tickets for the night at the Paralympics when Ellie Simmonds took gold in the 200m individual medly. The roar of the crowd up in the sweaty, chlorine-hazed rafters at the top of the ray’s tip at the Aquatics centre rang in my ears for days, as did Ashley’s vow to be the first person in that pool when it was open to the general public post games.

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She was true to her word. I got an excited text from her last week saying tickets were going on sale and would I like to go with her. So this morning I dragged myself up at 6.30am to meet her at 8am at the Olympic Park, which didn’t actually open until 9am, but Ashley was determined to be the first in the pool. I almost thought I would have to restrain her as we leaned over the barrier, eager to sprint inside and into that famous pool. As it turns out she was pipped to the post by her own sister, who jumped into the water while Ashley chatted to a poolside journalist about her vow to be the first one in. I shuffled in later to find out just how much harder it is to swim in a 50 metre pool than the 25 metre ones I was more used to. A lot, as it turns out.

As I lay on my back, stroking leisurely up the central lane and avoiding the over-zealous butterflyers with their swinging haymakers, my eyes were drawn to the undulating roof of the centre, pierced with pools of light like great, shining eyes. I looked at the stone curves at the sides, the arched, latticed windows, curved like a bird’s wings and realised just how beautiful this building really is.

Ashley might not have secured that hallowed accolade of first one in, but we all agreed that just swimming in this venue was good enough.

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Incidentally, the interview and photo of Ashley and her podium stealing sister will be in the Independent on Sunday tomorrow, please buy and read it!