Friday, 18 April 2014

#Travel Review: The Oberoi #Dubai Spa- Part 3 of 3

I hope that this last part of my full review about The Oberoi Dubai will convince you to try this hotel on your next visit...
From the minute I stepped in and was greeted by a beaming receptionist to when my therapist gently whispered in my ear that the treatment was completed, this spa experience topped off my wonderful stay at The Oberoi.
I had booked myself in for one of the Singature Indigenous Rituals, the Spirit of Ayurveda, a 2 1/2 hour indulgence that included three treatments (I substituted a couple from the ones that were in the menu for options that better suited my needs): Abhyanga, an Ayurvedic massage using a combination of soothing and symmetrical long strokes to regulate the circulatory and nervous systems, followed by a back massage, and ending with an Indian head massage. 
I've had long treatments like this before and to be honest I tend to get bored at the 90 minute mark, but it had been a long time since I had really relaxed and thought this would do me good.  I booked a late evening treatment (around 10pm)- the spa is open 24 hours but the Indian therapy treatments are usually till midnight. After I had filled in a form at the reception which was intended to identify my chakra, I was led to my treatment room which had an enjoined bathroom, and a bathtub in the room.  I was first treated to a foot bath in water with flowers, and given a choice of oils for my treatment. 
My masseuse was extremely considerate and courteous; once she started the treatment she was so unbelievably quiet- sometimes they can be noisy clanking oils and bottles and toaster doors, and so I was immediately struck by how quiet she was. 
Her touch was firm and smooth, and when I asked her to lessen the pressure she got the exact level of pressure that I wanted. For the first time in a long time, I went into a deep relaxation state- somewhere on the border of relaxed and sleeping.  I had been informed by the receptionist that hotel guests who had late treatments and fell asleep during the treatment were not disturbed if they slept, so I knew I had that option if I wanted it :)
What I had really been looking forward to was the Indian head massage- I hadn't had one before but had heard that this is very good as a scalp treatment. Very meticulously, she ran her fingers down my scalp between every centimeter or so until she had covered my full head. This only further deepened my relaxed state and by the time she just barely whispered that the treatment was over  I was really wondering if I was going to be able to alert myself enough to get up!

She asked me if I wanted to spend some time to relax before I changed... to which I meekly nodded and she told me she would get me some tea and then wait outside for me whenever I was ready.

Mission accomplished, I had FINALLY managed to relax without getting bored.
I didn't stay too long afterwards as I wanted to get to my room and fall asleep, and I was bid farewell with the same friendliness and cheeriness that I was greeted with when I arrived. 

This was a great way to end my stay at The Oberoi... outstanding service, perfect quiet atmosphere and excellent facilities. 

Highly highly recommended, especially if you're in Dubai for business

Sunday, 13 April 2014

#Travel Review: Dining at The Oberoi #Dubai - Part 2 of 3

My thought everytime I ate something at The Oberoi Dubai was 'where do they train their chefs??' Absolutely delicious food, top quality ingredients, very generous portions, and presentation to match. Whether it's in-room dining or food at the restaurants (I tried two out of 3), there wasn't anything I didn't like except for one dessert which just had combinations which were too radical for me.
With a rather busy schedule, my meal times were sporadic, but I managed to try the Indian restuarant, Ananta and the main restaurant, Nine7One for the breakfast and lunch buffets.  
I had room service 3 times during my stay- once for breakfast, lunch and then dinner.  For breakfast, I ordered the French toast, which came as a very generous portion, with three thick slices lightly dusted with icing sugar. This tasted really good, and was grilled just right to achieve perfect crunchiness.  It was a bit eggier than I like as I'm not an eggs person, but the taste was nice regardless. 
For lunch, I had the fish (cod) and chips which were served with sea salt and vinegar fries, garlic aioli and a green salad.  The fish and chips were interesting, it seemed like the batter had some spices mixed in it so it wasn't just your regular fish and chips.  Again, great crunchiness on the batter. The fries were also fries taken to the next level- and although they were too salty for my taste, I loved that they were not just ordinary fries. The salad-- just a simple salad-- was absolutely delicious with a balsamic vinaigrette dresing.
But nothing could have topped my dessert... if you're a mango fan this is THE dessert for you- mango and pistachio serradura-- layers of vanilla, mascarpone, mango mousse and pistachio. OH MY WORD.This was a phenomonal dessert- presented like a work of art, and again, a really generous portion so I ate half and saved the other half in the mini bar for later :) 
I also tried the vegetable sandwich for dinner, served in a multigrain baguette with roasted tomaotes, mozzarella, braised cabbage and lettuce served with fries and a colelsaw.  
This was light enough and hit the spot. I ordered this with onion rings -- just for the fun of it-- and they turned out to be the star of the meal. DELICIOUS but portion was way too big and went half unfinished.For dessert that night I also ordered the Valrohna chocolate variation, which I was told was their most popular dessert.  This was a Manjari chocolate mousse, served on chocolate 'soil' with avocado and mint creams served with sable chips. Again, presentation was beautiful -- not at all what I would expect from a hotel room service kitchen-- but to be honest I wasn't a fan of any part of this dish. Maybe the chocolate was too strong for me- and I really didn't like the avocado in a dessert so I didn't have much of this. 
But my dining experience was topped by my dinner at Ananta, the hotel's North Indian restaurant.  I cannot describe in words how good the food is here! As a sole diner, I couldn't order half the things I wanted to try, so I settled for the shrimp coconut curry with saffron rice and an order of vegetable samosa.
I was first served with an amuse bouche- a fried lentil pattie with a tamarind sauce which was so yummy I wish it had been an appetiser portion! But I was soon distracted as they brought out poppadoms, chips and something so yummy I actually asked them if they sell it -- lotus stem chips.. I haven't ever tried these and they were unbelievably good! While I was enjoying these, my samosa arrived and I was highly embarassed to see how many of these there were- maybe around 9, albeit smaller than the regular sized Punjabi samosas, but still more than any one person can possibly eat.  Delicious, again, with nicely spiced potato filling.
The waiter came and told me that the chef didn't recommend saffron rice with the coconut shrimp curry as the flavors would clash, and would it be ok if they served me white rice instead? Who was I to argue-- sure, serve me anything you like! And they didn't disappoint...The curry was sensational- I asked for it spicy and it was, and the shrimp was cooked till it was buttery and soft .  The curry was the kind of curry that you just want to dip bread in after the protein is finished.. more runny than I expected, but this actually made it lighter. And I'm not exagerrating but the rice was better than normal Basmati rice- the grains were really thin and delicate, and I don't know how they cooked it but it deserved an award!
Entertainment over dinner was a sitar player who just added a touch of finesse to the whole experience... as a serious Indophile this whole dinner was just right up my alley and I have been raving about it to anyone will listen.
As I was eating my main course, the chef was making rounds at the tables speaking to guests, and asked me how I found my dinner.  I raved to him about it and asked him what the chips were and he proceeded to tell me how to make them!
When I got my bill, I was also given a feedback form which I filled out with glee, and the hostess asked me if I had any feedback that they can use to make the restaurant any better.  If you are familiar with my reviews you will know I'm not the type who won't jump at the chance to critique, but honestly I had nothing negative to say -- I really couldn't identify anything that they could have done better! 
Top notch dining at The Oberoi-- whether you are staying there or not, I highly recommend you book a meal at Ananta.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

#Travel Review: The Oberoi, #Dubai (Part 1 of 3)

It's been a while since I wrote a hotel review and how pleased I am that The Oberoi Dubai is what I waited for!  I was looking for a hotel in a central location for a long weekend getaway- my brief to myself was a place that wouldn't have an overcrowded lobby, was reasonably priced, had a spa and wasn't designed as a family resort so that I wouldn't have to deal with screaming kids all day and night (yes,bad experiences..). I discovered my dates coincided with a Saudi schools holiday so the last requirement in my brief was ever more important.  

My usual hotel of choice is the Address Downtown, but the rooms available were at ridiculous prices so I ruled that out immediately. listed The Oberoi and although the location (Business Bay) didn't sound all that encouraging the price was much more competitive than the alternatives in the area and as the hotel was only a few months old I thought it would be nice and clean and unused. 

When I asked around I was told that distance wise it is quite central, but that the location was a little bit secluded as it is in a new business district. I can't say I was deterred by this as it ticked all of the other boxes, so I booked a standard room and started counting down for my getaway.
The day before my arrival, I got a call from the hotel asking what time I get in and if it was for a special occasion.. 
I reached the hotel on a Thursday at around 5pm, and was taken to my room for check in. The room was spacious with floor to ceiling windows, a good sized seating area and a great walk in wardrobe/ bathroom with a free standing bath.  
As with most new hotels now, the bathroom is all fitted with glass but thankfully cannot be viewed from the room.   The gentlemen who checked me in asked if I would like a coffee or a spa booking which I politely declined as I just needed my privacy. 
First impressions were very good, the cleanliness of the room was excellent, a nice big tv, and a very spacious bathroom. My room overlooked the pool from the 9th floor- I can't really brag about the view because it is a pool surrounded by buildings but I was happy enough.

Amenities include an espresso machine and tea making facilities, ample wardrobe space, remote controlled lights and blinds. The bed mattress is on the hard side, which worked for me because my mattress at home is hard, but for people looking to dive into a cushiony mattress this will disappoint.

In terms of the property, you drive up a ramp which is maybe 2 floors high to reach the entrance of the hotel, as it's in a tower building.  

There isn't much parking space at the entrance so if you're loading or unloading it's a bit of an inconvenience to other cars. Also, because of the space limitation, only the hotel taxi parks right outside the door- local taxis are called up if you require one.  It's not a long wait to get one so this ain't too big an issue. 
The lobby is small as the hotel is in a high rise area, but they have made the best use of the space with a nice open lounge opposite the reception where the smell of Arabic coffee welcomes you home each time :)  
Elevator access is via room key which I tend to find annoying but given that this is Dubai I understand why. 

The hotel's two restaurants, Ananta (Northern Indian- yummiest food- review will be separate) and umai (pan Asian) are located at either side of the lobby, while the main restaurant that serves the buffets is on the lower floor. 
I stayed at The Oberoi for three nights, and throughout my stay the service was outstanding.. I probably haven't seen service like this since my last visit to Asia. 
There is a butler service available to all rooms- you just dial and it records your call and pages the butler who will ring your bell in a few minutes.  I needed help with some packing supplies- they got me what I needed and offered to do the packing for me, which I didn't need done just then.  On my last day, when I needed help with the actual packing, I called them and a male butler came to ask what I needed and then said he will send me the female butler who came in and got the job done - the process was probably all completed in a half hour.  
All of the hotel staff are extremely courteous and do not leave any possible requirement unattended. I wouldn't have thought that an Oberoi property outside India would live up to its name but it exceeded my expectations. 
As for the location... Ok so it kinda sucks. It's five minutes away from the Dubai mall and you won't go through the traffic that you go through if you're staying at the Address properties.. But there isn't really anything nearby within walking distance  (unlike the Ritz at DIFC for example). 
I didn't use the pool (spa review will be separate) but judging from my window it was quite busy during the weekend mornings.  In my case I was looking for a very quiet place where I could be alone and all the places I wanted to go weren't within walking distance of anywhere, so it didn't matter all that much, but it's definitely a business hotel more than anything else. 
I wouldn't stay here if I was travelling with a group or had a young family as other than the pool, there isn't much entertainment for kids. Having said that, the hotel seemed to be quite busy, there were always people in the lobby and waiting for taxis and the restaurants were busy at all times.  
This will definitely be my new hotel of choice when I want to be far from the madding crowd...
One note- the hotel does not encourage tipping- a note is left in all of the rooms that if you would like to leave a tip to do so at the reception upon departure and it then gets distributed amongst all staff.  Any notable mentions for outstanding staff members you can provide at the same time.  I loved this old-fashioned approach...
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 on dining and spa at The Oberoi!
Information: I made my booking on  The hotel can be reached on +9714 444 1300.
Price: I paid AED 3900 for 3 nights for the room.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

#Culture event: Annual Heritage Festival, #Bahrain National Museum- April 2-9 2014

Last night I visited the Bahrain National Museum for what I initially thought was a traditional textile and weaving exhibit being held inside the Museum. Much to my surprise, there was a whole lot more going on, with outdoor stands of local crafters, art installations by young Bahraini artists, authentic food stalls, and a live Bahraini band.

I went before sunset and the weather was really nice so there were lots of families enjoying the outdoor entertainment. Greeting you at the main walkway is a beautiful installation of colorful spools of thread that stretches along the pathway ... this had people enraptured, taking pictures and posing.

There are stalls of traditional crafts, including basket and clothing weavers, instrument producers and handicrafts, covering both old and new generations. You can watch them as they work and buy something to take home- they were all super-friendly and interacting with stall visitors.
Apart from the stalls, there is a beautiful photography installation of very Bahraini photos by Haya Al Khalifa, large pillars painted with traditional 'thobe nashil', or Bahraini dresses, and floor-seating areas which are bright and colorful.

Photo installation by Haya Al Khalifa

And this is all before you even go into the exhibition hall!
Themed on old traditional clothing, the exhibition is small but really delightful. Featuring actual dresses and cloaks worn by historic figures in Bahrain, this exhibition will move you and --if you are Bahraini-- make you even prouder to be so... all the more fitting in the current F1 10-year anniversary weekend.
Thobe of Shaikha Maryam bint Ali bin Abdulla AlKhalifa

Thobe of HH Shaikha Maryam bint Isa bin Salman AlKhalifa
Bisht of Shaikha Shaikha bint Abdullah bin Isa AlKhalifa
Ghutra of His Highness Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, Former Ruler of Bahrain, 1869-1932
Ghutra of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Isa bin Ali AlKhalifa, 1976- 1964, made in Kashmir with the owner's emblem embroidered to one end.
The pictures here don't do the pieces justice... you really have to go and see it for yourself.
Bisht of His Highness Shaikh Isa bin Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Amir of Bahrain 1961-1999
as above
There were two other ongoing exhibitions on the day I went- an Islamic Calligraphy exhibition and Makie, The Beauty of Gold Japanese Lacquer (ends on April 6th).  A separate blogpost about the Calligraphy exhibition will be published shortly.
When we were done seeing the exhibitions, we went outside and the Bahraini band was playing, and the audience was all families whose kids were loving the music and some were dancing along.  It was mostly local families, with some foreigners ... probably most people were at the race at the time I went but I really hope that more out-of-towners are aware of it and can enjoy it.
Overall, the atmosphere was very nice, people were having a good time, the stall owners were well engaged, and there were visitors to the Museum itself... so nice to see Bahrainis in there because it is really a place that is underused. 
Well done to Ministry of Culture for bringing 'Bahraini' back.
Please do go visit and see this for yourselves- the festival is on until this Wednesday from 4-9pm each day.
Admission is free.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

#ArtDubai : The Best of Human Creativity

I was extremely lucky to be in Dubai at the time that Art Dubai (8th edition) was happening.  I'm not an artist and I don't pretend to know the first thing about art, but I knew that an event on this scale was not to be missed and I made sure that I made it down to Madinat Jumeira for the occasion. 

If you are not an artist, like me, this is what may convert you. With 70 galleries representing every corner of the globe (36 countries), and paintings, artwork, installations and so much more using every medium you can think of, this is more than an exhibition. I spent around 90 minutes in total, and during my time here I learned more about art than I ever thought possible. Most of the pieces were contemporary -- there was a new section added this year called Dubai Modern but I didn't make it to that area during my visit. 
Now because I don't know much about art, I'm going to let the images speak for themselves.. my first silent blog post :) P.S. The jewellery photos are from the Cartier section- one of the main sponsors of the show.

Information: Art Dubai 2014 was held March 20-22 at Madinat Jumeira.  Entry ticket for one day cost AED 50.

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