A short video highlighting our Epicurean journey with the Luxury Collection
Our epicurean journey with Foodiva and the Luxury Collection started with a sunset aperitif session at the Siddharta Lounge, followed by a dine around hosted by chefs Vineet Bhatia and Gary Rhodes at their respective restaurants Indego by Vineet and Rhodes W1 – both located in Grosvenor House in Dubai. The evening ended on a high octane drama with a spectacular dessert extravaganza and lesson on mixology at the popular lounge Buddha Bar Dubai. The next morning saw us kayaking in the tallest mangroves of UAE, Zohra mangroves in Ajman, tasting locally farmed oysters from Dibba Bay Oyster and a beach luncheon at the Bab Al Bahr rooftop in Ajman Saray. A luxurious night halt awaited us at the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa with each of our own Bedouin suites having its own private swimming pool overlooking the desert landscape. Dining in the dunes under a starlit night or a falconry experience at sunrise, dining in the dunes under a starlit night, or a wildlife desert safari – each experience at Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa was very special. All properties visited are part of the The Luxury Collection portfolio.
A four-in-one culinary evening matching the breath-taking marina and surrounding cityscape – all in one evening
A 360-degree view and some nibbles
After checking into my luxurious room on the 21st floor of one of the twin towers of Grosvenor House that overlooked the Palm Islands and the Arabian gulf, our introductory meet up was at Siddharta Lounge. A breath-taking 360-degree sunset view awaited us as we soaked up the beats of a resident DJ along with a specially curated aperitif menu with beverage pairing. A live station prepared the tartare with Angus beef, while there were delicious pass rounds of which my repeated servings were of Crunchy “Kellogs” Prawns with tarragon tartare sauce and the bright Padron Pepper with chimichurri and Maldon flakes.
Travelling through India
Next, we moved to Indego by Vineet, which is one of the signature restaurants from Chef Vineet Bhatia. This was a more formal set up – a sit-down for the entire group at a delicately set up long table. Vineet Bhatia is deemed as one of the finest of modern Indian chefs with a multiple of restaurants under his belt – Rasoi with locations in Switzerland and Bahrain, Amari in Mauritius, Ziya in Mumbai etc and the recently opened Indya by Vineet in the sister property Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa which we had just visited earlier on (here’s our review). While he tended to us personally as he presented the food, we were served some traditional starters, prepared and presented in his signature style – strewing with a few fine dining nuances that doesn’t completely take away the simplicity and taste that each dish is supposed to stand for. Our first initiation was a Chaat Trilogy the popular street food – chaats of potatoes, papdi and dahi bhalla coming together as a tangy ice-cream and its garnish. The Tawa Lobster was a delicate combination of a lobster tossed in garlic butter, with crunchy calamari fries by the side, prepared Keralan style with crushed spiced curry leaves. The sign off on our journey here was a dramatic uncovering of the cloche revealing Smoked Chicken Tikka, with cardamom smoked succulent pieces of chicken served with a black garlic raita.
Tasting European Gastronomy
If Indego by Vineet represented an ethnic ambiance alibi a modern India with floating diyas and jutis (traditional footwear) on shelves gracing the walls, Gary Rhodes’ Rhodes W1 unmistakably took us to an Anglo-French setting which was romantic yet had a contemporary feel. The wooden flooring, the pristine whites in the furniture and fineries, and last but not the least, butterflies forming into chandeliers drops – this had to be the venue for a romantic rendezvous. Our mains for the evening were officially on Rhodes W1. Here too, we were personally tended by the Chef Gary Rhodes himself and he delighted us with a menu that transformed British classic dishes to sheer gastronomic exhibits. Whether it was the pan-fried salmon served with a spring onion risotto or the delectable braised beef, slow-cooked since the previous night and served with smoked eel tortellini, chantenay carrots with a creamy gravy and parsley sauce, every dish was worth savouring. The dishes that took me by surprise, were the globe artichoke with wild mushroom duxelle, and asparagus grilled with Parmesan and orange crumbs. The only complaint (I’m blessed to be complaining this way though) was that there were more dishes gracing the table than I could dig into, hence the poached egg and hollandaise sauce or the comforting macaroni cheese with truffle oil that I didn’t taste that night, demands for a revisit!
Feeling the heartbeat of the city
The final destination for the evening was Buddha Bar where we were in store for an incredible dessert extravaganza. As we walked through the vast Sodo dining room of the popular urban lounge that boasts of magnificent views of Dubai Marina through its expansive two-storey window, the pulsating beats of from the playlist laid down the mood of our next itinerary – it was definitely going to be upbeat and dramatic. An array of sweet treats overwhelmingly lay on the long table laid out for our group. Meringues revealed out of chocolate bowls that one could break with an accompanying fuming nitrogen adding to the drama, this wasn’t an experience that was absolutely new to us, ever since the Chicago based restaurant Alinea has inspired restaurants worldwide. Yet, one has to admit that still it had the power to tickle the child in each one of us. The novelty however came in the manner of edible canvases kept on small wooden easels, with edible paints, where we could actually create some culinary artworks! And of course, when the table is laid with such an irresistible array, like chocolate delice, mango pudding, yuzu tarts, matcha millefeuille, hibiscus tiramisu, icecream mocha – and not to mention, DIY edible artworks, there was something.
Discovering wildlife in the mangroves and locally farmed oysters in Ajman
Kayaking in UAE’s tallest mangroves
A short drive to Ajman and we were in the middle of the mangroves of the Al Zohra Nature Reserve, which occupies 5.4 million square meters of lush coastal land, lagoons and mangrove forests and is home to a rich biodiversity consisting of marine and plant life, resident and migratory birds. An expert team from Quest for Adventure, an adventure company organising outdoor activities, inducted us into an action filled kayaking session in the tidal lagoon of Al Zohra Mangroves. We learnt that these mangroves are protected and are one of the tallest mangroves in the UAE and close to 58 different species of birds inhabit this ecosystem, including pink flamingos, egret, heron, kingfisher and others. It is also recognised as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty signed in city of Ramsar in Iran in 1971 which worked significantly towards the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
Cheer for local champions
Although Middle East is known for its pearl farming for centuries, but who would have thought that we would be shucking oysters off its shell – all farmed locally in the warm water of Dibba, just north off Fujairah coast? Well, here we were, for the first of the Oyster pop-up series from Dibba Bay Oyster, a farm engaged in sustainable and environmentally-friendly oyster farming. A brainchild of Ramie Murray, Dibba Bay Farm was established in 2016 and the first harvest commenced in the early summer of 2017. Although oysters have traditionally been thought to only thrive in colder waters, the initial years of testing showed that with careful care and meticulous management, the nutrient rich and warm waters of Fujairah could produce delicate edible oysters of the highest international standards. Today, Dibba Bay Oysters are making an entry into the domestic F&B industry by supplying to many restaurants who care for the home-grown gourmet oysters.
After the kayaking grill, we headed to Ajman Saray, another Luxury Collection Resort, for the first of the series of Oyster pop-ups from Dibba Bay Oysters. What followed was an afternoon of knowing and learning about these home-grown oysters – tasting then actually, from an oyster menu with curated recipes that offered a variety of flavourings and dressings. From natural oysters – served simply on the rocks or with Mignonette Vinaigrette with lime and tobacco, to oysters flavoured with pomelo salad with ponzu dressing or spiced tomato and cilantro, we tasted a lot of combinations. To say that the oysters that we tasted that afternoon were one of the best that I have come across, is to say the least! The other oyster highlights, for me, were the oyster chowder with veal bacon and fennel, and the avocado halves filled up with lime n cilantro – unusual combinations that really appealed to me.
Bab al Bahr
As if the oysters weren’t enough, we headed to the Bab al Bahr rooftop for a barbecue luncheon with sea view on the sides. Again, a delicious array of meat and seafood – mostly locally sourced, awaited us by the live barbecue station – lobster tail, jumbo prawn, tuna steak, calamari etc. A long table was laid for us, decorated aesthetically with fresh flowers, the menu printed on paper and neatly tied up by thread, home-made breads and dips on the table. A long list of starters came to the table – smoked salmon avocado and orange, scallops and lentil salad, a classic Thai beef salad with crispy noodles, and some grilled potatoes with parsley tabbouleh and quinoa. The side dishes were equally tempting – duck fat roasted potato, macaroni and cheese, grilled vegetables marinated with pesto, and steam rice. A delicious range of desserts marked a perfect signoff to our beautiful luncheon – macarons, classic panna cotta, chocolate mousse and a variety of cakes.
A luxurious getaway in the laps of Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and Arabian wildlife
Settle into your own Bedouin suite amidst palm groves
We checked into Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa with the luxury of each of our Bedouin suites having its own private pool overlooking the serene desert landscape and Hajar Mountain in the horizon. From the moment we stepped into the desert reserve with a 15-minute slow drive on a dirt track before we reached the main lobby, we knew that our stay in this 42 suites only desert resort would be special. From an edible welcome note in the suite signed by the GM himself the binoculars kept on the writing desk and an easel with art materials in the suite tastefully decorated with regional antiques and local artefacts, the ambiance itself highlighted the richness of the region. Shy gazelles walked up to us by the pool deck and as we dipped into the warm water of the pool, we were ensconced in an oasis of tranquillity amidst incessant chirping of birds and clouds floating in the vast expanse of the sky ahead of us.
Dune dining under the stars
A short drive into the darkness of the night and a magical dining experience awaited us in the dunes. A low-lying sit-down was arranged for our group and dancing shadows from flaming torches and a night sky filled with stars above us added to the magic. We dined on regional flavours – freshly baked Arabic breads, traditional dips and salads, barbecued meat and seafood, rice along with vegetables and lentils – prepared in the Arabic style and served from large urns like they would be done in the nomadic times. Traditional desserts lined up the dessert counter – regional gems such as umm ali, the bread pudding or muhalabiya, the milk pudding and others.
Sunrise falconry experience and a wildlife desert safari
The resort is located in the first National Park of United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) and as such the wildlife conservation efforts here are extensive. Every step is taken to minimise human impact on the fragile flora and fauna and to protect the delicate desert ecosystem. There are several wildlife activities that are offered to the guests, like falconry, nature walk, ghaf tree walk, horse riding, desert drive etc. We gathered in the desert at sunrise for a falconry experience with expert guides. Falconry has been a very popular activity in the Arabian region and dates back to the 13th century BC. An hour-long session of the majestic falcons (and an owl too) and the traditional art of falconry regaled us completely. With a pause for a hearty breakfast we embarked on a wildlife desert safari. Our ranger Nathan hailed from South Africa and had worked in a game reserve before. He was knowledgeable, patient and very clearly, attached to the nature of his job. As he drove us around – dune driving and not dune bashing, a term that was popular in most commercial desert safaris in the region, we learnt a lot about the importance of Al Mahas, the Arabian Oryx from which the resort has derived its name. We learnt that “during the period from 1940 until 1960, the Arabian Oryx was hunted to the brink of extinction and was declared endangered by the 1970’s. Dubai’s then Ruler, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, trans-located the last remaining oryx to the USA, where they were bred under secure conditions. In 1997, the then Crown Prince, now Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, funded the first reintroduction of this symbolic animal to the desert at Al Maha (Al Maha is the Arabic for “oryx”). Today, approximately 300 oryx, the largest free-roaming herd in Arabia, are a testament to the knowledge and care shown by the team of conservation specialists.”
A farewell lunch at the Al Diwaan terrace
A three-course sign off lunch at the signature restaurant Al Diwaan, alfresco on the veranda with a breath-taking view of the uninterrupted desert expanse, complimented our epic stay at Al Maha. For starters, I opted for the Omani Prawn salad with sumac and tahini dressing, while a Duo of Lamb – lamb rack and lamb rillettes with cauliflower, camel mill and perl onion jus formed my main course. While a Date Mousse and an Arabic Coffee Panna Cotta vied for my attention, I went with the latter. Saffron jelly, pistachio sable, fig chutney and coffee foam surrounded the delicate panna cotta and the taste lingered on for long – a gentle reminder of the glorious time spent in a very beautiful locale.
Perfect peace in the dunes: Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa – My Custard Pie
An idyllic luxury stay at Al Maha Resort – Dubai Confidential
Kayaking within the mangroves of Al Zorah Reserve – Dubai Confidential
Is it time for a UAE Michelin Guide? – The National
Disclaimer: Ishita and her plus one were hosted guests of Samantha Wood, the founder of the restaurant review website www.foodiva.net, and The Luxury Collection,Marriott International’s luxury brand portfolio. Each property showcased a unique culinary tale inspired by the locale. This compilation has been drawn from her own experiences and all images have been taken by her, excepting the group photos at Grosvenor House.