Saturday, 31 March 2012

Shop Review: Celebrations for Personalized Gifts

Scrapbooking and Crafting Haven

Tucked away in the far right corner of one of the many commercial strips on Budaiya Road is the best corner shop for craft and paper junkies.

Hidden behind a rather ghetto façade, Celebrations is a treasure for scrap-booking supplies and craft-making. Adjacent to A Piece of Cake (which makes a legendary carrot cake), this tiny shop stocks a medley of items that are great for making really personal handicrafts. 
Celebrations for scrapbooking and handicrafts supplies

I really believe that scrapbooking is an art and when you enter Celebrations I challenge you not to want to become an artist! I started doing it a few years ago and always buy my supplies from the US, particularly brands called Jolee’s boutique and K & Company, which are usually found in specialty stationery and art supplies stores there. 
Themed stickers for scrapbooks

A hodge podge of scrapbook supplies, beads, paper and novelty items

Celebrations stocks the same brands, with a great selection of stickers for just about any occasion and any interest. They have some really cute decorations that can be used to decorate themed party favors too.
A selection of Jolee's boutique stickers

Easter stock in store now

You can find a pretty decent selection of beads here and so kids can make their own jewelry. 

If you are looking for a personalized gift, especially for a new mother, and if you like to make your own crafts, look no further than Celebrations. 

And while you’re there, step into A Piece of Cake’s small café and treat yourself to a pastry.   Their sweets can only be described as childhood party food—delightful! Shaped vanilla cookies, chocolate dipped oreo cookies on sticks, muffins, and gingerbread men are only some of the items on offer.   They have a savoury menu too and an outside catering menu with finger food.  I highly recommend the carrot cupcakes and the chocolate cornflakes clusters.
Baked goods at A Piece of Cake, adjacent to Celebrations

Small cafe serving savory and sweet treats

Prices: Celebrations’ items are a bit on the pricey side: Jolee’s boutique stickers are BD 2.200 for the small size (around 6-8 stickers per pack) and BD 2.900 for the larger (10-12 stickers per pack) size (compared to $4.95 and $5.95 respectively at stores in New York). Favor items range, with average price 0.400 each.

Contact: Celebrations on 17 595 791; A Piece of Cake on 17 596 055.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Freshest Crispiest Salad at Cafe Italia Bahrain

Addictive Apple and Walnut Salad

Quick and healthy lunch options are a rarity in Bahrain and so when you stumble on one it is hard to let it go. If you are looking for a simple but scrumptious salad, look no further than Cafe Italia (City Center branch). Although they have a range of salads on their menu (including a mixed mushroom and rocket salad and a pear and walnut salad), my absolute favorite is the apple and walnut salad.

Apple and walnut salad at Cafe Italia City Center

With a rocket and lettuce base, this salad comes with green apples, walnuts and feta cheese.  I substitute the feta with parmesan and the combination is out of this world. The dressing is a lemon dressing, which is not too sour, but the salad is drizzled with a balsamic reduction which achieves the perfect balance between sour and sweet.

The Seef branch has most of the same salads, but you can taste a significant difference in  quality of ingredients as Seef is a lower -tier and less expensive branch.  I have tried a couple of the salads at the Adliya branch, and don't find them as tasty as the City Center ones.

The service at Cafe Italia City Center is top-notch. If you so much as look up, a waiter comes to you almost immediately.  Their serving style, manner and efficiency makes the whole experience really pleasant.

Cafe Italia at Bahrain City Center
I dare say that their salads are the freshest with the crispest of ingredients I've had here.  And given the dining options at City Center (and no, I won't mention the parking), Cafe Italia is up there with the best...

Prices are reasonable, slightly higher than  the Seef branch and lower than the Adliya branch.  This salad is BD3 .2 and is also available for takeout.

Contact: Cafe Italia City Center branch: +973 1717 8595

Monday, 26 March 2012

Book signing at Words BookstoreCafe

Author David Szalay will be making a guest appearance at Words BookstoreCafe on Wednesday, 28 March 2012 to sign copies of his book, "Spring".
The book, which was featured in O Magazine, is not your typical romance novel, but instead examines a relationship through more realistic eyes, talking about communication issues and other problems.  The Guardian has also reviewed the book.
This initiative by Words is really fantastic: bringing an author to Bahrain to sign and interact with readers.. I don't even find it relevant if I'm interested in the book itself or not- I am just thrilled that finally we have someone who is promoting reading in Bahrain by holding interactive events.  We don't read enough... and now maybe, just maybe, we will have a place to go that encourages it, and provides us with the tools to do so.  
Event information: Join Words BookstoreCafe for a book signing by David Szalay this Wednesday, March 28 at 7pm.  Call 17 690 790 for more information.    You can read my blogpost about Words to learn more about what the store has to offer, and location information.
Like Words BookstoreCafe on facebook now! 

The Best Foot Cream- Heal your Heels

Tried and Tested: Neutrogena Foot Cream wins each time

As a result of years of being exposed to fancy ads and claims of patented technologies in new products, we tend to believe that the more expensive the product, the more effective it is. This especially applies to makeup and skin-care, where we are always waiting for the next wonder cream, or the longest lasting lipstick.
Neutrogena Foot Cream does what it claims and heals damaged or cracked skin

I can say with authority that in the case of foot cream, drugstore brand Neutrogena is head and shoulders above the rest.  I have tried just about every brand I know of that does foot cream;, including Liz Earle, Origins, this works, Crabtree and Evelyn, etc. Judging by the amount of time it takes to see results from these creams, Neutrogena wins each and every time. Usually after 3 or 4 days of daily application, you will notice a good result, and within a week it is transformed.  Just as important, it doesn't smell bad like some of the other creams I have tried (no need to name them here).  It is greasy so if you are going to apply it do so either as you get into bed for the night or otherwise wear socks to make sure it is absorbed into your feet.

Where to buy: Neutrogena Foot Cream can be found at most supermarkets and pharmacies in Bahrain, although can sometimes be out of stock.

Price: Starts at BD2.450 for 50ml (Nourishing Foot Cream) and BD 3.065 for 40 ml (Intense Repair).

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Limited Edition Amethyst Blend from Al Qurashi

A little goes a long way

I was in Saudi recently and as it has become tradition when I visit GCC countries, I was shopping for Arabic perfume. I find that Kuwait is usually the best place to find great scents, but I thought I would go looking for a unique find while I was there.

Created for Unity, Amethyst Blend has a limited run of 500 bottles for 500 lucky customers

Amethyst Blend comes in a lush magnetic closure box

And there it was: the limited edition Amethyst Blend Perfume from Abdul Samad Al Qurashi. With only 500 bottles produced in the name of Unity, this blend of Taif Rose, Agarwood oil and spice is rich, deep and long-lasting.  If you like light, then this isn't it. The rose in this is deep yet subtle, making it at once masculine and feminine.  The best thing about it is a little goes such a long, long way, which is just as well considering by the time it's finished, it will most likely be nothing but the memory of a scent as the edition runs out. 

The limited edition blends come in 5 different scents: Ruby, Topaz, Quartz and Aquamarine, and each is meant to reflect the secrets of the stone after which it is named. 

Where to buy: I haven't yet seen this in Bahrain, but a few bottles were available at branches of Abdul Samad Al Qurashi in Saudi. 

Price: SAR 1500. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Smythson- Luxury in Leather

If there is one brand that was made exclusively for me, it’s Smythson. Since I first started buying their leather goods in 2008, not a single season has passed that I didn’t lust after that season’s colors. Each time I tell myself I will refrain from buying into the fad, I lie.
Mid year Soho diary and business card holder

Smythson's travel wallets come in two sizes; the larger size shown here
Slim travel wallet in Ruby Viana

I was first introduced to Smythson at a time when I held a job that involved loads of travelling, and I needed a travel wallet that would hold everything and keep me organized. Smythson offered the best on the market, and I haven’t looked back since.

The A4 lippiatt folder- the ultimate in precision 

Ruby Viana folding jotter with slide

Smythson slim bag

From the AW'11 collection

Crafted with exacting precision and the highest quality of European leathers from sustainable sources, the range of goods that Smythson has on offer is from diaries to make-up couches, handbags to stationery, and more recently, iPad and iPhone cases.   The colors come in wide ranges with options for men and women.   Each season, two limited edition collections are introduced, and if you don’t buy your items at the beginning of the season, chances are they will be sold out before you can get your hands on one.

A sample of the different leathers and colors offered by Smythson

My favorite products are the travel wallets and their mid-year Soho diaries. I’m not a huge fan of their larger handbags, although the slim bags introduced recently are really cute.
Rose colelction busienss card case from Smythson
The Rose Collection Soho Mid-year Diary

Their Spring Summer ’12 Rose Collection which was inspired by the iconic Regent's Park rose garden in the heart of London, is on the top of my wishlist this season… I’ll have some English strawberries and cream on the side with that ...
Camera case in turquoise from the SS'12 collection
Smythson offers gold or silver engraving on its leather products

Smythson also offers goods in exotic leathers, as well as a range of men-only products such as cufflink and watch cases and grooming sets.  They have really cute small notebooks with pre-engraved messages like "Make it Happen", "I love New York"and "Yummy Mummy".

Smythson's closest competitor is Aspinal, but I only ever covet Smythson to be honest... Aspinal is a far runner-up!

Where to buy: Smythson has stores in UK, New York and Hong Kong, but you can order their goods online or at Net-a-Porter (limited selection).

Price: Some of the products shown here are priced as follows: A4 lippiatt folder is £390, the folding jotter is £180 and the slim bag £395.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

This Works (it does!) Skincare

Aromatic oils to soothe body and mind

What better than a brand whose name says it all.. This Works actually does what it claims..

I first tried their bath oil out of curiosity and liked it so much that I started trying their other products.  The bath oil comes in three types, deep calm (vetivert, lavender and camomile) in the zone (frankincense and eucalyptus) and energy bank (ylang ylang, patchouli and geranium), and comes in two sizes, 55 ml and 15ml (the latter was sold in a 3-set box but isn’t always available).  These oils are truly aromatherapy in its essence- a capful in your bath or shower and you will feel like you have just left a spa (not exaggerating).

The other blissful bath product I use is the deep sleep bath soak, which are basically dissolving salts that have lavender, vetivert and wild camomile oils and work miraculously to calm you down after a hectic day.  If you smell these in their raw form you may be put off and think they are too strong, but when they dissolve into water they envelop you in tranquillity.
This Works Deep Sleep bath soak- a perfect night-cap

Although they have a large range of skincare including foot balm and hand cream, I find that their therapy-style products are the best.  I have tried their muscle therapy, which has a rollerball head similar to deodorant, and you squeeze it onto tired joints.  Consisting of ginger, black pepper, clove and majoram, although this does have a stronger smell than their other products, it is a much milder smell than similar products from Origins, for example, which are really overpowering.  

The other product I recommend from this range is the skin deep dry leg oil, a really luxurious oil made of a 100% natural blend of 9 exotic and 7 cold pressed plant oils, including rose, tuberose, sandalwood and evening primrose.  This is a lovely smelling oil for days when you want instant and lasting moisture, but since it is an oil don’t apply it if you are going out because it won’t absorb into your skin.

Where to buy: the problem with this range is that it is sold in very limited locations in London, and usually with a limited selection available.  The best place to buy is Boots in Kensington High Street because it has the largest selection I’ve seen.  Fenwicks on Bond Street and John Lewis in Oxford Street also have a selection, though limited.

Prices: these vary depending on product but most of the products mentioned above are in the £30-40 range.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Discover Islam event disturbs neighborhood

My post today may be controversial but I really need to report this.
I was picking my friend up from her house in Adliya (in the Alumni Club area) for dinner at around 8:30 last night and there was this blaring noise coming from somewhere close by.  We were stuck in traffic for the longest time around the Al Fateh junction and realised that the lecture by Dr Zakir Naik was being held in the mosque’s courtyard.
Lecturing about Islam while disturbing numerous residential areas

We had our dinner and at around 11:20 I dropped her home, and we could still hear the noise really loud. I reached home and it was after midnight when she told me that it was still going on (the flyer said the event started at 7:45pm!!) and she had called 999 and the organisers to complain.  999 told her that they were not aware of the event  nor what time it was expected to end. 

She then called the organiser (Discover Islam) and someone by the name of Zuhair answered.  She complained about the noise level and how late it was for this lecture to be going on, and he apologised and informed her that it was about to end (around 12:05am).

He then sent her an sms saying: “We are extremely sorry for the inconveniences caused, hope and pray you will forgive us.”

She replied: “I thank you for the msg and appreciate your response.  I pray next event you bear in mind usage of loud microphones at this late hour at night or using a closed venue. I know it’s for a very good cause and the advancement of Islam inshalla.. but Islam also promotes consideration to neighbours and rest of society.  How can we promote Islam to others if we don’t respect timing and space? I apologise if I’m harsh now but please understand we at this household have had a very long week and now we can’t sleep.  As I’m sure many in the neighbourhood feel the same.  Hope this event is successful and inshalla ends soon as you mentioned. Allah with you all.”

To which she got back: “Sister, I have good news for you.  8 people embraced Islam  tonight.”

Seriously?? Isn't that besides the point?

Al Fateh mosque- surrounded by densely populated residential areas including Juffair and Adliya
Now, I  really don’t care what kind of event it is-- it could have been a sporting event for all I care—but for it to last that long while disturbing all residential areas in its vicinity is ridiculous.  Religious events should not have different regulations than other events- if you are causing noise pollution, then you are disturbing people.  And for the authorities to have no idea what it was nor to place rules on the organisers in terms of timing is really outrageous.

I realise some people may find it sacrilegious of me to say this—after all, 8 people embraced Islam—but the lack of consideration shown by the organisers is unacceptable.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Spa Review- The Chedi Muscat (3/3)

The Spa at The Chedi- Ultimate Bliss

The welcoming area at the Chedi Spa, with featured products displayed in cabinets
The Spa lobby

The Chedi Muscat Spa is, in one word, divine. I went after a long day in the evening, and the drive up (in hotel's buggy) instantly set me in the mood.  The soft lighting, quiet gardens, and then that gorgeously lit pool right outside the spa is the perfect mood- setter for what you are about to experience.  Go by buggy from main hotel, as the way is really dark, which makes the destination even more unexpected.

The Spa is housed in a long building overlooking the beautiful Long Pool, which has very romantic night seating. 

You climb up a storey of stairs and when you walk into the building you automatically feel zenned out.  The lobby is softly lit, with dark tones of brown and a design that reminded me of some of the best spas in Asia, like the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, for example.   

One half of the private spa suites, with bath and footbath.
The shower and hammam room is to the left
The Spa suites are amazing, each one is self-contained and comes fully equipped with hammam, bath shower, two beds and foot baths.  Once you are inside the suite, it is all very discreet and isolated, giving you that perfect escape.

When I booked, I couldn't decide between spa packages so I asked them if they could build a customised package for me, which they agreed to. My 2-hour package consisted of a back massage, the ila head massage and hair masque, The D'Orient facial, and a steam bath. 

The back massage was shorter than I would have liked, due to the customization within the 2 hour package, but it was blissful.  Using the right amount of pressure, with the exact right movements in the exact right places at the exact right time, using argan oil which is known to be vitamin-rich with medicinal benefits.  I didn't ever want to it to end, but like all good things, it did...

The products used in the treatments are available for sale

For the ila hair massage and masque, the therapist used an ila hair masque, combined with Himalayan salt for energizing and detoxifying, which can be used either as a body scrub or for hair.   The masque was left in for 10 minutes or so while the scalp massage was done- which was a lovely firm pressure- point massage.  Head massages always calm me; it's as if all negative thoughts are massaged out of my head and replaced by peace!

The crystals were a brown mixture that hardened in my hair, and after washing it out in the steam bath, my hair felt really smooth.

I LOVED how the steam bath and shower are all confined within the same room.You walk in and go through the steam bath section without realizing that’s what it is, and then while the masque is in your hair, the therapist  prepares the steam bath and leads you to it and you are suddenly sitting in your personal hammam! There is a built- in rain shower in the middle of the hammam, so once you have rested for 15 minutes in steam, you just turn on the shower next to you and rinse off the masque.  This is by far the best designed spa suite I've ever been in.

I then had the D’orient facial which revolves around argan oil products.  They use either rose water or orange blossom water toner, cleansing milk with argan oil, exfoliating gel with argan oil, and argan oil is also used for the face massage. It is topped off by a night balm mask while she does a gentle scalp massage, and then followed by moisturizer with argan oil. 

I recommend that if you are going just for a facial not as part of a package, get a more specialised treatment as the D'Orient facial was kind of standard.  Best of all she regularly used hot towels during the facial which is just heavenly.

At the end of the treatment, orange blossom cream was applied to my body serving as a calming treat to mark the end of a wonderfully relaxing two hours. 

I LOVED THEIR SPA. I highly recommend you come as a couple and enjoy it together..   Needless to say I had the best night's sleep in a really long time that night.. thank you Chedi!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Food Review- The Chedi Muscat (2/3)

Seafood, seafood, seafood!
The Chedi has 9 different places for dining, including The Restaurant, which is the central place that serves breakfast inside the main building, the Beach Restaurant, an award-winning beach-front restaurant specializing in exquisite seafood, and several pool cabanas and lounges that serve lighter fare and overlook some of the most scenic views at the hotel.
Baked on the premises- macarons are light and fluffy
Live cooking stations at The Restaurant

We had breakfast and lunch at The Restaurant. Breakfast was quite busy, but during lunch not as much, with quite a few business patrons.  Chefs cook at open stations during main meal service, including a baker’s station which is always fun to watch.
Breakfast is more about the atmosphere than the food itself.  You wake up feeling like you are at a resort and the weather was lovely so it was very uplifting. A standard breakfast buffet with made-to-order hot items cooked live by the chefs in a first-class setting – what better way to start your day!

Arabian mezze starter

Fried snapper fillet with Thai sauce
For lunch we ordered the hot mezze for appetizer which includes grilled halloumi, prawn, falafel, kibbeh spinach fatayer and cheese roll. This dish wasn’t made for sharing as there was only one piece of each item, but tasted good. We then each had the fried snapper fillet with spicy Thai sauce which comes with jasmine rice and a small salad. This was yummy as it was medium spicy and the sauce was delicious. We ordered our dessert for takeaway - millefeuille and raspberry cheesecake. Total tab for this was  52 OMR.

I ordered room service for dinner (vegetarian pizza, followed by chocolate and cappuccino ice-cream). The pizza wasn't much to write home about and was very greasy, the veggies had been sauteed and a couple of slices crusts looked like they had been doused in oil.  Even if I did like crusts which I don't, this was a total turn off.  Red hot chili flakes made it somewhat better but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Greasy pizza, anyone??!!
The ice-cream on the other hand was lovely - the chocolate was really deep and the cappuccino flavour was just right. The texture was gelato like. If you are going there, make sure you try the ice-cream!
Home-made chocolate and cappucino ice-cream

It took around 40 minutes to get my order delivered, although they had said 25-30. But the waiter was really pleasant and when I called for tray pick up they were very prompt. Tab was around 15 OMR.

If u stay in a suite they can do private bbqs for you at 50 OMR surcharge per person plus the price of food.

We ate lunch at the Serai Pool Cabana, which is only worth it if you get an outdoor table (we waited around 20 minutes or so while seated inside).  We ordered the gnocchi which was too soft and the whole chargrilled snapper which is delightful. It came on the bone with a chili garlic and onion marinade and was soft and fleshy - not fishy at all. The meat literally melted off the bone and I would order this again and again if I could!

The Serai Pool Cabana

Gnocchi with truffles

The star of the show- whole chargrilled snapper with chili

On our last night, it was my friend’s birthday and we managed to get a late booking at the Beach Restaurant, which is the Chedi Muscat’s award- winning restaurant. We had tried to get a booking the night before and they were fully booked, so if you are going, I recommend you book in advance and ask for a table outside. We were only able to get a table indoors but as it was night-time anyway, there wasn’t much of a view to enjoy. 
The Beach Restaurant exterior, overlooking the beach

Inside the Beach Restaurant

Appetizers menu at the Beach Restaurant
Bread basket consists of homemade olive bread and Rosemary sun- dried tomato bread

Dining to the backdrop of the sound of ocean waves, this could have been one of my most memorable meals! The menu is quite fancy with oysters, different types of caviar, and a section of different whole fishes for main courses; we ordered the lobster thermidor and the Omani prawns as main courses, with a side of potato croquettes. The prawns were juicy, buttery and succulent, and came on a bed of greens which was a bit odd for a main course but ended up working well. The lobster was huge and chunky and came with a really spicy sauce on the side but was just a little bit overcooked. The croquettes were a creamy whipped potato in batter and were nice and sweet. Portion size was very generous and the service was outstanding.

Lobster Thermidor with spicy sauce

The MOST delicious Omani prawns

I had informed the restaurant about my friend’s birthday and at the end of our meal, they brought us a slice of chocolate passionfruit cake with a small candle. The cake had several layers which is really complex to make, but the sourness of the passionfruit overpowered the taste. If I were to go again, I would order the chocolate platter from the funky dessert menu which consisted of around 7 different chocolate-based items.

Chocolate passionfruit cake served at The Beach Restaurant

This meal was pricey, at over 60 OMR for two main dishes, but considering the quality of the seafood, I’m not complaining.   If you are visiting this hotel, The Beach Restaurant is an absolute must-stop destination.  Book early to avoid disappointment.
Some of the awards won by The Chedi Muscat for its dining include:

  • Oman Today's Restaurant Award | 2011, 2010  The Beach Restaurant Best Fine Dining
  • Oman Today's Restaurant Award | 2011, 2010, 2009 The Beach Restaurant Best Service
  • Oman Today's Restaurant Award | 2011, 2010 The Beach Restaurant for Best Ambiance
  • Wine Spectator | 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008  Award of Excellence
  • Oman Today's Restaurant Award | 2010  Best Middle Eastern, 2nd Place- The Arabian Courtyard

Stay tuned for our last review of this series, The Chedi Spa!
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