Sunday, 23 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Benjarong at the Dusit Thani, Dubai

Last weekend, I stayed a night at the Dusit Thani in Dubai, and had a dinner at their Thai restaurant, Benjarong, which was more adequate than exciting.

The DT's cute lobby has a pretty, open glass ceiling, like a Victorian train station. The twin-legged structure looks really smart from the outside, but I gotta say, having to get the lift down 22 floors from your room on one leg of the building just so you can go up 24 floors again on the other side to get to dinner gets tiresome.

The décor was the most memorable thing about the evening at Benjarong: heavily Eastern themed with dark wooden beams and luxe carpeting, but pretty restrained (by Dubai standards). My favourite feature was the beautiful painted pillars. Unfortch, I didn't get any good pictures, because Dining Companion firmly and explicitly banned me from instagramming anything (buzzkill). You can kinda sorta see in the background of this grainy disaster, though.

There's also a pretty great view of the Burj Khalifa, which by the way is mesmerising, and stunning lit up at night. 

The BK, from the rooftop pool
Pre-dinner, we were unexpectedly witness to a Thai dance performance on a small stage in the middle of the room; since the backing music was turned up loud, I'll confess I found this more disconcerting than enjoyable. Later, the two performers returned to play some traditional Thai music with mysterious long-handled lute-like string instruments. (I didn't catch the name of these, and a Google search isn't turning up any definite answers.) Presumably this is an aspect of the “famed Thai hospitality” that the Dusit Thani pushes as its USP? Like many places in the UAE, this also involves waitstaff who spring to pull out your chair, unfold your napkin and spread it across your lap for you, inevitably making uptight Brits feel slightly uncomfortable.

The multi-floor upwards view from the entrance to Benjarong
Benjarong serves the same moderate drinks selection as the Champagne Lounge and Italian restaurant PAX on the same floor, and dingy hotel bar downstairs, and there isn't a lot to report (though the wine list and menus come in cloth bound hardback volumes so giant you can only open them lying down). Our waitress clarified that I wanted alcohol in my mojito, but brought me an alcohol free version anyway.

Between two people, we ordered Yum Ped Yang, Goong Mungkorn Benjarong, Pu Nim Phad Prig Thai Dum, and Khao Ob Sapparod (we achieved this by pointing at the menu and mumbling).

The Yum Ped Yang – roast duck salad – was heavy on uninteresting lettuce, but the duck was light, fresh and delicious, in a lime chilli dressing.

Goong Mungkorn – battered lobster with peppers – was a major letdown. Its showy presentation just covered up a generic red sauce which wasn't highly flavoured, overly large chunks of pepper, and swimming balls of fried lobster which couldn't stand up to the stronger flavours. It was edible enough, but at 259Dhs (and by far the most expensive thing on the menu), it was underwhelming – I could have been eating any other meaty fish and never known the difference. Apart from the intact lobster shell on the plate, it wasn't more refined than the fusion Thai café I used to go to in the student area of Manchester, where you got your 10th £7.95 meal free.

Sorry buddy
The Pu Nim Phad Prig Thai Dum, on the other hand, was a phenomenal battered soft shell crab with black pepper sauce, and the standout dish of the meal. Rather than harsh and fiery, the black pepper was warm and didn't overpower the excellent crab; we could've eaten twice as much of it.
The Khao Ob Sapparod was a classic and enjoyable fried-rice-n-stuff side, whose main interest came from being served in half a hollowed out pineapple, which was a bit cool.

I ordered the assorted house desserts, but this turned out to be a plate full of those little mysterious Thai sweet things – syrup-dunked doughy balls, garishly coloured sugar shapes, and golden flowers of unidentifiable ingredients – which were all but unpalatable to my Western tastes. They were the pinnacle of Thai dessert excellence for all I know, though. Dining Companion loved his coconut ice cream with roasted peanuts.

After dinner, we went down to the hotel bar, MyBar, which is so dimly lit you can hardly see your hand in front of your face. A friend had warned us that it would be full of “businesswomen, here to…do business”, and this proved to be correct, but the incompetent bartenders were the real problem. I had a Planters Punch which was inoffensive only because it tasted of nothing but fruit juice; Dining Companion’s whiskey sour tasted like lemon juice topped with Sprite and had to be sent back, only to be replaced with the undrinkable house white wine. This was a low point, in an otherwise very delightful stay at the Dusit Thani.

Our food total at Benjarong came to about 600Dhs for two people, or approx £100. Most of the main dishes were between 80 and 140Dhs, so you could easily save 100-150Dhs if you don't take someone who orders the lobster. And you shouldn't, because it sums up how I felt about Benjarong overall: enjoyable, pleasant, a little bit stylish, but ultimately unmemorable. 3/5.

(Full disclosure: this meal and hotel room were free for me, but only by coincidence.)

Bonuses: hotel room view, at night and during the day, and Dining Companion and I expressing our feelings about hotel breakfasts

Monday, 3 November 2014

A new kind of dreaming spire: from Oxford to Abu Dhabi

It's been six weeks since I left Oxford, and unbelievably a month already since I upped and moved to the UAE, and I'm feeling nostalgic and introspective. I had a wonderful year at Oxford, and although it's pretty much the opposite in every way, I've had a wonderful month in Abu Dhabi too, and I'm feeling like I could make a home here. There are things to hate - but there are a lot of things to like here, especially in the "winter" (hahahaha) months while it's "cool" (hahahaha) enough to comfortably be outside (30C). I'm enjoying the blend of surprisingly familiar and new strange experiences. It's hard to imagine what I'll be doing a year from now, but I'm feeling optimistic. I came here ready for change and adventure, and change and adventure is what I'll get.

Here's some photos from my Abu Dhabi adventures so far!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Farmers' Markets, Happiness, Summer Salads and Apple Peach Mojitos

This is the story of how I woke up this morning, went out to buy milk, and accidentally stumbled on a farmers' market, where I bought ALL THE THINGS. And then I turned them into apple juice and peach mojitos, and an elaborate salad, and enjoyed pure bliss on a sunny evening.

Clockwise: I got a giant loaf of sourdough from De Gustibus, a mango and lime cupcake and an apple and blackberry loaf slice from Barefoot Kitchen, the world's largest avocado, a dozen doughnut peaches, a black sesame seed macaron and an orange, chocolate and ginger macaron from SaraO Macarons, and half a clochette of goats cheese from the Oxford Cheese Company. Aka happiness.

To make the peach mojito, you'll need:

  • Peaches (I used three of the doughnut peaches)
  • 1 lime
  • Some fresh mint leaves
  • Sparkling or soda water
  • Apple juice
  • Dark rum
  • A couple of teaspoons of demerara sugar
  • Ice 

I mashed the peaches with a fork, squeezed in the lime, shredded in the mint, sprinkled in the sugar and muddled it all together, then threw in the ice cubes before topping up the jug with equal parts sparkling water and apple juice, and stirring. I used four shots of rum - you could vary this drastically. It was still delicious with no rum, and will get you summer day drunk excellently fast if you put in lots of rum. Adjust the levels of lime, mint, sugar etc to taste. I got four glassfuls from this jug, but I drank them all myself.

I had it with this miraculous avocado, goats cheese, chorizo, peach and rocket salad, alongside a healthy (read: monstrous) hunk of sourdough. 

Peach or chorizo would probably have been sufficient, but I don't regret it. I enjoyed the combination, and I never promised you restraint.

I was ALL ABOUT this black sesame macaron. Beautiful. The nice lady from SaraO let me try a lot of samples.

Barefoot Kitchen makes undoubtedly the best brownies I've ever had. This mango cupcake was also good,  but I won't be choosing it over their salted caramel squishy rectangles of brownie perfection anytime soon. 

I am happy to report that the North Parade Farmers' Market, Oxford, where all of these goodies fell like delicious rainbows from the sky into brown paper bags in my hands before I even knew what was happening, is now going to be on every two weeks! This was the first mid-month market, which was why it was an unexpected delight on my morning milk run. The next one will be on Saturday July 26th.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Soap and Glory Tricks of the Shade - Five Colour Neutral Eyes

Talking about an eyeshadow look! Yeah girl.

This is a five shade neutral eye I did with the Soap and Glory Tricks of the Shade palette. 

Using these five shadows:

On these five areas of my eyelid:

1: A skin tone matching matte cream up onto the brow bone
2: A pale shimmer highlight on the inner corner
3: A warm browny matte neutral on the inner half of the lid. This is my fave shade for everyday.
4: A brownier brown on the outside half of the lid. A little woody? 
5: A metallic, allllmost purpley toned brown, on very outer corner and up through the crease  

Pretty mad about this look.