Thursday, 15 October 2015

We've had ANOTHER Baby!

Yup we are now FOUR!!!

So as I wrote two years ago in We've had a baby - I don't like to post to the world about being pregnant due to unfortunate past experiences.

However, I have secretly been baking another cookie throughout 2014 and we were thrilled to welcome our new little bear to our family on the 1st of March 2015.

He's beautiful and perfect and we are over the moon - feeling truly blessed and in awe at the miracle of life!!

However, this got me thinking that I'm likely to have even less time to wrestling Monkey #1 and now new baby keeps a person busy with a capital B!!

But, I do enjoy blogging and now more than ever  - working full time as a Head of Operations aka     'A Mum' it's important to have an outlet outside work other than chocolate....but reconciling the two has proven a challenge the last two 2014 I managed 3 posts :-(

You see these last years I've really tried to continue on the original focus of the blog.

When I originally started it was as a young care-free working professional,  just the two of us....enjoying an adult life in Dubai...travelling, sports, night life - the full seasonal events calendar out and about all the was easy to provide restaurant and activity reviews because that was our life.

That has now changed.

It's funny because as you plan the impending birth of your first child you tell yourself that things won't really change that much...Your exciting life will be the same you'll just have a baby in tow!.....

I hear childless and and 1st time expectant friends say the same now "Baby fits in with our life" at which point I spit out whatever I'm drinking (usually mineral water these days) and roll about the floor laughing!!!....because this used to be me.

Then you actually have a baby and BAM!!
Your world is rocked to the core....It's love on a whole new level...and the overwhelming sense of responsibility for another human life....changes you, your relationships and every aspect of your life.

As a woman I felt this huge societal pressure to have a baby, get back in shape and continue with my super busy, traveling, socializing, grown up maybe become a mumentrepreneur in my spare time! (rofl x100!)

There comes a point... somewhere in a sleep deprived haze when you realize it's just not feasible to live that life anymore and actually you'd quite like to be in your Pj's by 8pm rather than quaffing cocktails at the latest hot spot anyway.

Accpecting this has actually been a great relief for with most things involved with having a baby you have to accept that it's a phase in life and won't be forever and one should enjoy where you are at right now....and embrace the change rather than resist it!!

So that means for me to post more often the focus of the blog has to change too..... Sorry, I can't do travel, brunch and dinner reviews anymore as if we get out twice a year we're lucky!

I'm going to have to make the content more relevant to what I'm actually doing these days...and focus on family centric activities.

From now on reviews will be of breakfast places, soft play area's, afternoon tea's and only dinners at restaurants that have a 5pm seating!

That's just were I'm at in this wonderful journey I'm on called parenting...I really hope you'll stick around and still enjoy reading.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Best Steak in Dubai - West 14th Review

Sundowners at West 14th

Many claim that West 14th offers the best steak in Dubai - quite an accolade....

Marketing itself as a 'New York steak house'  hence the name, West 14th is based at Oceana residences on the Palm Jumeirah and actually belongs to the Movenpick hotel group.

The venue is certainly an impressive location to take out of towners, the poolside terrace showcasing panoramic views across the water towards Dubai Mariana.

Everything about this restaurant screams "You are here to eat M.E.A.T and drink W.I.N.E!"

It's interior is designed with this single focus in mind -  dark wood, exposed brickwork with 'feature' wine racks accented by blood red upholstered chairs. Even the subtle lighting has a hue of red to compliment the enormous goblet of Malbec you'll be glugging.

Inside, they have live music which I'm a massive fan of in general and a dance floor flanked by the bar area which can get pretty crammed post their aptly named 'Butcher's Brunch' on Friday evenings.

It's a great steak eating atmosphere....sophisticated yet warm and service is friendly and accommodating.

The hot loaf you will automatically be presented with when seated is scrum-diddlie-umcious. However the chain saw knife you'll get to cut it with, whilst looking cool is actually quite annoying as a bread cutting tool.

Now, if I know I'm due to consume a huge chunk of flesh for my main I always opt for fish or seafood to start to somewhat balance the heaviness of the meat and bread.

Starters of note include the Sticky Calamari with a sweet chili, nutty sauce, Crab & Avocado salad, Seared Scallops and the Hot Smoked Mackerel.

On the menu there are no less than 12 steaks to choose from which come listed by country of origin, cut, weight and what they ate!

I very much like this approach as I've a 'free-range' or 'grass fed' preference, wherever possible and there is 1 'Grass fed' tenderloin cut available.

Of the rest there's 2 Rib Eye, 4 Tenderloin , 2 Striplion, 2 On the Bone, a Flank Steak and a mammoth 550g Tomahawk sexistly listed as 'the mans choice'.

Quality and prices are high ranging from 175 for a lesser cut to 495 Dhs for the Tomahawk.

And here's something controversial - I'm not a fan of the now homogenous 'Wagu' beef either.
Wagu is meat from a cow that's been artificially fed on beer (?!) and is often perceived as the best at trendy eateries. However, I believe that this is just due to it usually being the most expensive rather than based on flavour and quality.

But if Wagu is your poison of choice there are 3 variants to choose from .

In addition to the steaks there are also some other great menu choices - The Drunken Short Ribs are mouth melty amazing, there's half a roast Organic Chicken, 2 Lamb, 2 interesting sounding Vegetarian options and quite a good Fish and Seafood selection.

Although why anyone would order Fish at this blatant bovine temple is quite beyond me.

For main I always go one of two ways Drunken short ribs which I have with a side of creamy mash or the Irish Grass feed Tenderloin with béarnaise sauce and sautéed mushrooms - both are excellent!

Hubsy always threatens he's having the Tomahawk but usually looks twice at the 495 Dhs price tag  and eventually plumbs for the more moderate 300g Black Angus Striplion.

What makes West 14 particularly good is the small touch's.

Steaks are cooked to six tastes ranging from 'Blue' to 'Well done' you get assigned the specific steak knife to match your cut and the huge condiment cart that comes around hosts some real treats, the plum mustard for example was a revelation with my tenderloin.

I have to confess West 14th is a favourite meat haunt - especially when they were still included in the entertainer they now are not!!  I've been many times and always default to the same menu items because they're just so damn good...I don't want to take a risk trying something new and being disappointed!

A little know fact is that they also do breakfast on Friday and Saturday and I'm desperate to go and sample the Braised Beef Short Ribs Benedict - phwarrrrrr!!!

It's certainly not cheap eats but imo you get what you pay for.

West 14th offers a great steak in a glamorous setting - for best results patron during the winter months sit outside enjoy the view with sun downers followed by Steak-Magificanto- Al fresco!

West 14th might just be the best steak in Dubai....the bar is high watch this space!


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Best Steak's in Dubai - Frevo @ Fairmount The Palm

Photos courtesy of Kunal Aurora 

This is the first in a series of reviews which will focus on finding the best steaks in Dubai.
Because everyone loves red meat right!...well apart from veggies and vegan's of course.

Also, this topic of investigation helps me domestically as my hubby can get involved with gusto!....Not wanting to  make him sound like a lumbering, knuckle dragging Neanderthal *but* sports and steak are the two other loves of his life.....and seeing as my sports pain tolerance (yup I feel physical pain when forced to watch sports!) threshold is shamefully low a detailed analysis of Dubai steak restaurants is the only option left for duel enjoyment. 

First up is Frevo at Fairmont the Palm, a relative new comer to the Dubai red meat scene and not technically a traditional 'steakhouse'. Frevo is a Brazilian Churrasco which looses translates as a massive BBQ.


Upon being seated at Frevo you are talked through the concept and menu - which starts with a hearty potato soup and robust warm bread basket featuring mixed fresh breads.

Said basket harbours the delightful small, round, bread balls stuffed with melted cheese called  pão de queijo or chipá - which roughly translates as 'cheese buns'!!

If that hasn't filled you up there is also an excellent salad buffet bar featuring, salmon, squid and cold cuts.

When you're ready for the carne carnage to commence you must signal this by illuminating a green button in the middle of your table...and toot sweet the tsunami of meat will wash over you.

Chicken, lamb, several different beef cuts the best imo being the strip sirloin, I didn't particularly care for the smoked beef or the garlic infused beef being somewhat of a traditionalist.

Photos courtesy of Kunal Aurora 
But the meat won't stop coming until you press the glowing button to red ... spent, like an exhausted game show contestant.

What I particularly like is that you get a large table sharing plate with a selection of sauces and accompaniments such as Argentinian Chimichurri sauce, black beans and rice.

It costs 250AED for the full food only menu, and 150AED for the Veggie option... in cooler weather there's a lovely terrace with a view looking towards Dubai Mariana.

Frevo, isn't the best steak in Dubai - however it's a novel dinning experience with excellent food and being 'all you can eat' makes it decent value for money.

They usually have live music and Brazilian dancers too, making it fun and family friendly...just make such you keep the enormous steak knives out of reach of straying little hands!!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New Year in Sri Lanka

Firstly, Happy New Year all!!

Sunrise 1st January 2014 over the Knuckles mountain range Sri Lanka

Secondly, an apology....I'm sorry I've been rubbish at bloging in 2013.

You see our precious small monkey gobbles up all my time and I'm so knackered when I do get any downtime *rarely* I just want to sit in a quiet, darkened room and rock myself back and fourth like a mental patient...certainly not think or write.

However, as precious small monkey approaches being 1 year old in March *eek! my 2014 resolution (along with a pledge to run a half Marathon...I regret this already!!!) is to blog here goes.


If you live in the UAE it's 4 hours and a curious 1 and a half (?!) hour time difference to Colombo and cheap as chips with Fly Dubai. In just 4 hours you can brush off the dry desert dust and be in the lush green paradise that is Sri Lanka.

We planned to go for New Year when we were craving a 'green fix', in September before we knew Dubai was aiming to stage the world record fire works display in our backyard doh!!...

An hour or so drive from Kandy to the Pinnawalla Elephant Orphanage

Instead of 450,000 fireworks in stark contrast on NYE we looked out at the vast Knuckles mountain range and watched shooting stars - natures own fireworks and imo more speculator!

I'd been told it was better to tour Kandy rather than industrial Colombo, so on day one we stayed at a guest house in Kandy.

There we had the best Sri Lankan food of the trip, with some kind of caramelised aubergine, coconut carrot curry and spicy roast potatoes yum!

Although it's better than dying or being poached in the wild, it still felt 'zoo' like and we witnessed some bad handling of the elephants:-(

We spent the next morning exploring Kandy, which is the Sri Lanka I'd imagined.

A brightly coloured, bustling, colonial town full of Tuk-tuks and terrible pavements.

Full of wonderful sights and smells.

I witnessed a white haired, approx 80 year old lady simultaneously push a goat and a large wheel-barrow up a steep hill, amazing!

Buddhist monks walk around town carrying laptop bags.

Loved Kandy, I wish we could have spent a few more days there.

But we only had half a day there so just time to take in a few main sights - we visited to the Bhuddist Temple of the Tooth which smelt of fragrant jasmine and afterwards we pottered around the outside market munching on fresh mango.

For the rest of our 5 days we were to stay at Madukelle Tea plantation and Eco lodge, over an hour and white knuckle, bumpy mountain drive from Kandy.

Note: in Sri Lanka it takes you ages to get anywhere, not due to distance but due to the precarious roads and awful driving, our driver and guide was a lovely man named Sunny. Contact me if you plan to visit and I'll give you his number.

As we whizzed around the narrow single lane mountain roads a sheer 700 meter drop down, passing small villages and swerving lumber wagons, buses, skinny dogs who for some reason all like to sleep in the middle of the road (!) I wondered if any place would be worth this journey.

Then the asphalt stopped and the road actually got worse, even bumpier and windier...and just as I'm about to scream "let me out!!" there's an opening in the trees and I catch a glimpse of the Madukelle Tea plantation and well, I just stared, silent and wide eyed at the awesomeness and beauty.

 Madukelle is by far the most stunning place I've ever stayed and I've stayed at a fair few amazing places.

A 25 acre working tea plantation supporting the local tea economy plus a dozen eco tents providing a tranquil escape for tourists.

Breakfast 1000 meters above sea level
The main house is inspired by the grand colonial houses of old, offering a sympathetically styled interior with a traditional yet modern edge.

It's a delightful space, with it's open fire and rustic decor, mismatched furniture and garden staircase down to a cliff side infinity pool, all make it simply breathtaking.

The eco tents/lodges adopted from the African game reserves not only disrupt the natural environment as little as possible but also give you stylish and functional accommodation and spectacular views, proper Glamping baby!!

You can come straight out of your lodge and do one of the many picturesque walks, 30 mins down to the water fall and watch villagers doing their washing or trek up the mountain, passing tea pickers with bales of tea piled high on their heads.

Or visit the local Tea factory and learn about the rarefied art of Tea production.......

As we wondered up the misty mountain one afternoon, beautiful pan piped music rolled down the mountain side from the neighbouring Tamil was honestly like a movie scene!

The dusky light creates a dreamscape as the Tamil music fills the valley

Once back at the lodge and just time for a quick dip in the pool, afternoon tea on the veranda and I'm just about ready for a glass of red curled up by the fire, thank you very much..

We sat one evening on our little terrace having tea and our duty free Twix's whilst watching monkey's play in the tree next to us as bats flew overhead. Heaven.

Our own precious small monkey was quite a tourist attraction himself, attracting attention everywhere we went.

At the Tea factory the women downed tools and took it in turns holding him and whilst out walking people from the mountain remote villages would leave their chores and houses to come and stare at our little chubby Buddha.

The Sri Lanka people were all very warm and friendly, and precious small monkey was welcomed and made a fuss of everywhere we went.

What makes Madukelle really special is it's unique character - the small touches,  it's organic gardens with roses and a homemade scarecrow, that are lovingly tended and grow much of the food consumed.

A foundation the lodge has set up to support the local school, a Christmas wish tree on which local children wrote their Christmas present wishes so that guests could donate and buy them, school bags and headphones were the big ticket items for Santa on the Madukelle mountain.

The quirkiness and friendliness of the staff, nothing is too much trouble - that said you don't always get what you've ordered but any mistakes are promptly corrected and it all adds to the charm of the place.

Just some 'cushion porn' for me I loved these handmade cushions!!

Why we loved it so much, and it's not just down to the astounding panoramic views - natural beauty nestled in the melty-emerald green mountains, or the exquisite designed lodge. No, what Madukelle is, is our life dream incarnate.... we'd love to own a place just like this one day.

The best Nativity I saw all Christmas on the side of a remote Sri Lanka mountain who'd have guessed!

We got to meet Madukelle's  flamboyant French owner Philippe and I was a little in awe as he told us how he'd searched the globe for 2 years looking for the perfect spot and then spent a further 4 years in a labour of love to build the estate.

He explained in his husky French accent how he considered a vineyard or other crops at various gorgeous locations in the world. But it was...." Zee beauty of zee tea and zee warmth of zee Sri Lankan people" that had made him plump for Madukelle.

At this point, our first born babe in my arms, I asked Johan not to be offended if I divorced him immediately to run off with Philippe...interestingly Johan said he wouldn't be bothered at all if it meant he'd get free holidays at Madukelle...and in fact he was considering trying to run off with Philippe himself.....that is how gorgeous Madukelle is!!

I had also wanted to write about the trials and tribulations of doing this type of trip with a 9 month old baby...but that is a whole other post.

Needless to say we 'coped' and did have a great time... but the learning was - I think we'll wait a couple more years before we're quite so brave/naive/adventurous as to try it again!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Carrot Cakes of Dubai

A good looking carrot cake 
Whilst pregnant I aquired a 4 O'clock cake habit. I told everyone that this was due to a 'pregnancy craving'.....this was in fact a huge lie!.........I wasn't really 'craving' anything at all, I just like to eat cakes and reckoned that being preggers was the perfect excuse to justify eating cake every day!

A particular favourite is Carrot Cake, I simply adore a whacking great chunk of the not so healthy as it sounds carrot cake, which disappointingly can't be counted as one of your 5 a-day fruit & veg intake either.

However, there can be so much variance between one carrot cake to the next it's always a gamble when ordering carrot cake in new Cafe. So to help you all, I very altruistically tasked myself to find the best carrot cakes of Dubai and report back.......please no medals.

Some carrot cake history

Carrot cake  has interesting origins dating way back to the Middle Ages when refined sugar and imported dried fruit were rare and expensive, so poor folk used carrots as an alternative sweetener. It then became fashionable again during the second world war when war time rationing made sugar and fruits become rare again, however there was a surplus of carrots!

War time poster

All carrot cakes are not created equal and I have a very specific criteria about the correct combination of components that make up a perfect carrot cake, a great article exploring this further and comparing different recipes can be found in here.

My prefect carrot cake criteria:
  • Must include large soft sultanas - not spiteful little raisins
  • Must include walnuts - not pecans, pine nuts or any other type of nuts and not too many either
  • A musky, soft spiced cinnamon crossed with mild ginger flavour
  • A moist, firm texture with rich dark colour - I don't trust a pale carrot cake
  • Fleck's of actual carrot you can see
  • Must have cream cheese frosting - sounds obvious but I have heard tell of Carrot cakes with no frosting?!....the point of which I can not comprehend.
  • Multiple layers of frosting not just on the top
  • Extra points awarded for a little marzipan carrot decoration!

The measure used is my own stars system whereby the maximum is 5 stars *****, which equals a perfect carrot cake!

Rich - MOE  *1 Star

Rich Cafe was a new try for us and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it as I liked the décor and menu a mix.

The cakes were shown off in a beautiful glass fount counter and looked amazing.

However the size of the carrot cake is frankly scary and I'm not one to pass up a generous serving of cake but this slice was gargantuan, too big in fact.

The texture was dry and the flavour bland and often felt like chewing a mouthful of wood chip just to get through it. The frosting to cake ratio was uneven but again that was likely due to the enormousness of the cake.

Wouldn't recommend this carrot cake, which is a shame as really liked the place and everything else we ordered was yum! I have since tried their red velvet cup cakes and they are amaze-a-balls so don't let the disappointing carrot cake put you off.

Hey Sugar -  3.5 stars ***/*

I'm a bit of a traditionalist and wasn't convinced carrot cake could successfully make the transition to cupcake, but my reservations we offset by this little delight.

On balance this is a pretty, generously frosted cupcake underpinned by a lovely moist carrot cake, with lots of real carrot flecks.It also had a little frosting carrot topper, super cute!

The only downside for me was the light cake colour and the frosting was a little on the runny side not as firm as I would have liked, but a decent and enjoyable afternoon tea scooby snack nonetheless.

Costa Coffee - 2.5 Star*** 

A pretty average coffee chain carrot cake which is either improved or made worse depending on the day and the level of freshness.

On a good day the cake is fairly moist another day having sat on the cabinet a wee while to long it was dry and stiff around the edges. The frosting is decent enough and the size of slice was just right, the cake features walnuts and bits of carrot and a nice touch was the nut crust, but unfortunately not to my taste, made it over kill on the nut front for me.

There's just  nothing particularly remarkable about this's just a bit Meh!

Lime Tree Cafe - **** 4 stars

I'd heard tell that Lime Tree offer the best carrot cake in Dubai and with a reputation like that this cake had a lot to live upto.

The slice is on the large side, it's a whole lunch on it's own!  However, as it's moist and not not sweet so it's actually doable.
The cake has good combination of key ingredients apart from sultanas which were absent.

The colour is dark and the flavour is spicy and well balanced with little flecks of carrot throughout.

The frosting is dreamy - perfectly sweet, cream cheesy texture but could have done with another layer or the inner layer being a bit fatter to balance the cake to frosting ratio.

This cake is decorated with a little fruit which bares an unfortunate name that I always confuse with a rather nasty STD  - the fruit being Physalis  the other being Syphilis! I'd much prefer a marzipan carrot.

I do like the detail of a little sprinkle of icing sugar on the cake and plate though when served, class.

There is no denying this is a very good carrot cake, however is it worthy of the title 'The best carrot cake in Dubai' ...erm no, close but no cigar.

The American Hospital, post natal menu - * 1 Star

Ok I included this one for a laugh, but during my post delivery stay in hospital when carrot cake appeared in a tick box for my daily menu I couldn't resist!

And you know what, aside from the awful cling film squashed presentation it wasn't that bad, better in fact than some I've had in restaurants and cafes see below!

Caribou CoffeeIbn Tutta Mall, ***/* 3.5 stars

Surprisingly good! Somewhat tiring of the challenge i'd set myself  I was about to pass up the chance to sample this carrot cake.  I'm so glad I 'forced' myself to give it a try as it's by far the best of the coffee chains.

It was a light, moist flavoursome cake with a scrummy cream cheese frosting that was ideally proportioned. The pièce de résistance was lots of lovely juicy sultanas and a precise scatter of walnuts, all in all a thoroughly good carrot cake!

The only down side was again like Gloria Jean that even though we were sitting in, the cake and coffee got served up in a paper cup and a polystyrene plate and plastic flattens the entire the experience for me I'm afraid so I've had to deduct half a star.

Coffee Bean MOE - * 1 Star

This cake was compact and moist, offering good nuttiness but had no sultanas.

The ratio of cake to frosting was  good, three layers in total of the right thickness. However, it was let down by the frosting being rather flavourless and synthetic.

This was not an exactly an offensive cake, it was a moderate effort but terribly bland and just wasn't interesting enough to warrant the calories!

Starbucks - Big Spinney's, Al Wasal Rd *** 3 stars

My hopes weren't that high but this carrot cake was actually good.

Starbucks seem to have made a big improvement in their food selections over the last year or so. Likely responding to competition by trying to move more towards an artisan feel for food, rather than Mac-starbucks which is where they where heading previously.

Decent enough cake this, firm texture, a tad on the dry side though and not especially generous on the fruit, nut or carrot fleck front.

However, the frosting was yummy and I particularly like that you got 4 layers of frosting nicely distributed throughout the cake which resulted in even fork fulls of cake and frosting. Indeed this was the only cake that gave 4 layers of frosting and I likely!!

The Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi,  0* Zero stars

I'm usually a massive fan of The Ritz cakes they do an awesome afternoon tea with amazing scones. However, after a recent trip to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi we were in need of some refreshments and stopped at the Ritz for their evening buffet, which was great aside from the terrible mini carrot cake on the desert section.

Neither the cake nor frosting tasted of anything at all and the cake was so dry it felt like I was chewing on a bath sponge! The carrot cake I had at the American hospital was much, much better, The Ritz should be ashamed!

Sophie's Cafe - Shoreline #8, The Palm ****/* 4.5 stars

Tucked away in the basement car park as part of the RIVA Beach club is Sophie's. It's a welcome addition for locals as it's convenient serving great healthy salads and fresh juices plus a selection of home-made artisan cakes and cookies.

It is a little on the expensive side though and it's an odd little location for such a nice café, but the food is really good quality and portions are generous.

The carrot is delicious, nearly everything I want from a carrot cake.

Luscious moist texture, lots of lovely walnuts and sultanas I'd even say they might add some other kind of dried fruit, I'm not sure but it works.

It has a delicate, yet confident mix of flavours with each mouthful offering something different from smoky cinnamon |& ginger to a gorgeous subtle whaft of citrus.

The frosting is just sweet enough, just cream cheesy enough and soft yet firm enough and the ratio balanced well to the cake proportions.

Juicy sultanas

I also loved that it feels very home made with wonky edges. Plus it's presented in glass cloche arranged on a table amongst the other cakes on staggered wooden plinths so the customer can get right up to the cake before you choose it, as opposed to having it behind the counter - nice touch I love.

Flecks of carrot

Yes this is my favourite carrot cake in Dubai so far, it even bested the legendary Lime Tree one.

However, my search will continue or I supposed what I should do is make a carrot cake myself, maybe then I could award myself  the crown of "Best carrot cake in Dubai!" this space.