Dubai 2015

Nope it’s not a typo – I’m writing a blog post about a holiday I took over a year ago! I love to travel but my blog is so new that I haven’t been abroad since starting to write it and since I’m going back to Dubai in a month’s time, I thought I’d write a post about my favourite places which I visited last time and those which I plan to go back to 🙂

Last Summer we went to Dubai on holiday. I’ll be the first person to admit that I was a bit sceptical about going – it’s definitely a marmite type of holiday destination – some people love it and some people shudder at the thought of going. Personally, I love it there but I can completely understand why some people might not like it.

Every year when I was young, I was lucky enough to be taken on holiday by my parents. My parents have always been keen travellers and they went to so many exotic countries before I was born and I was an extremely well-travelled embryo – I went to Niagara falls and the Grand Canyon whilst in my mum’s tummy 🙂 Now that my sister and I are both grown up my parents have started to rekindle their love for travelling – just in the last couple of years they’ve been to Peru, Vietnam, Rome, China and Thailand and on a road trip along the West Cost of America. As children, my sister and I would be taken to different countries every year –we did a lot of European countries like Greece, Spain, the Canary Islands as well as trips further afield like Florida, Malaysia and Mauritius. We never went back to the same place twice.

When I started going on holiday with Marcus it was no different. We travelled to exotic countries and agreed that we’d never go back to the same place again.. until Dubai. We went for the first time last year and it’s the first holiday destination that we’ve ever decided to go back to. We’ve been on many holidays together before Dubai and we’d always have a two week summer break somewhere, with the only requirements being hot weather and unlimited food and drink! Each holiday would literally be two whole weeks of eating, drinking, relaxing and sunbathing, which for us was the perfect holiday. We both live crazy busy lives and we almost never have time to just relax, do nothing and spend quality time together without distractions of work, social media or even everyday life – we would both be perfectly happy to exist without our phones for the entire holiday, which was surprisingly easy considering that I’m sure like many others, we usually can’t go an hour without checking for new emails or messages! Over the years we’ve both changed though.. we’re clearly both still huge foodies but we’re now more about discovering new places to eat, better quality food and we eat a far larger range of food too. Looking back I can’t believe that I would survive solely on burgers, pizza, chips, ice cream and cake for two weeks.. and the quality of the food was pretty poor too. Don’t get me wrong, of course I still love to eat those foods (and I still regularly do!) but I now try to find better places to eat at, and places which offer a little more variety! Last year due to Marcus’ busy tournament schedule we were only able to go abroad for one week, so we decided to do something totally different and go to a place where we’d stay in a nicer hotel and wouldn’t go all inclusive to give us the chance to wander round and try all of the local restaurants. As always, I put in time to research places to eat and we had an amazing time 🙂 We decided to go for a bed and breakfast package, as the hotel breakfasts over there looked amazing. I’d love to have eaten out for breakfast each day as it’s my favourite meal, but the hotel had a ridiculously good selection, and me being me I always wake up starving and want to eat straight away 😛 We had plenty of opportunities to explore though – we’d eat out for lunch, dinner and several snacks in between. Although it’s far more expensive than an all-inclusive package, it was worth it and I can’t wait to do the same again this year!

We stayed at the Oberoi and I can’t recommend it enough. It was nothing short of total luxury and every single member of staff took so much pride in their service. When we arrived we were immediately given drinks and a chocolate cake and fruit basket were waiting for us in our room! When I told them how amazing the chocolate cake was, there was another one waiting for us the next day! 🙂 Our room was huge – it came with a king size bed, his and hers sinks, a sofa area, a Nespresso machine, a walk in shower and the most incredible view! We could see the Burj Khalifah from our room and this was the view from the bath tub..

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The breakfast in the hotel was incredible!! It was worlds away from the all inclusive places where the buffet area is huge but all of the food is repeated and the only hope of ‘fresh cooked’ food is the omelette person. This breakfast had an entire bakery area with fresh loaves, pastries, donuts, muffins and cakes as well as a platter with all of the meats, cheese and fish I could think of (I think I counted about 12 varieties of cheese from an old photo I found.. and unlimited smoked salmon!? :D)

There were freshly squeezed juices, fruits I’d never seen before (possibly due to my lack of knowledge though!), loose leaf teas, you could order proper lattes and cappuccinos and even iced coffees. The buffet area also included yogurts, dried fruit, cereals, nuts, the usual cooked food and a selection of Arabic mezze. The selection changes slightly each day too.. one day there were smiley faces 🙂 On top of all that there was a menu which you could order almost anything you could think of from – we tried waffles, pancakes, eggs any way you like, French toast.. I even saw people ordering curries and other hot meals!

Unsurprisingly, I’m not one to hold back at breakfast buffets 😛

After breakfast we’d typically relax by the pool before heading out later on for lunch, dinner and snacks.

So onto my favourites…

1. Pinkberry!

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I absolutely love frozen yogurt and was so upset when the Pinkberry in London closed down, as it’s my absolute favourite in terms of quality, branding, toppings.. everything! We went for frozen yogurt every single day while we were in Dubai and I think we chose Pinkberry all but a couple of times.

The other frozen yogurt place we went to was Yogurtland. It’s very different as it’s self-serve. The quality of the frozen yogurt itself isn’t as good but they have a ridiculous number of flavours (of varying appeal!) and a huge number of toppings. The flavours are imaginative but not always as great as they sound.. the excitement of caramelised maple pecan and New York cheesecake wears off a little when they’re either bland or overly sweet and not particularly smooth or creamy. The main problem is that it’s done by weight, so if you’re greedy like me then you’re probably in for a huge shock when you get to the till (I think mine ended up costing over three times the price of a Pinkberry – which are hardly cheap to start with!). But they do have some good flavours, you can pile your tub high with brownies and Oreos and if you go for one reason only, let it be the hot Nutella!! Yes you read that right, they have hot Nutella, in a squeezy bottle.. that you can add as much as you like of 😉

2. Tom & Serg

It’s a little out of the way so we took a cab there. Everyone seems to travel everywhere by cab as the public transport is pretty limited to say the least. It only travels in one direction and to get to somewhere seemingly close you have to travel all the way to the end of the line and down a different branch (think an extended version of the annoyingly split Northern Line). In many cases it’s actually cheaper to just take a cab.. plus it’s door to door service and we are lazy at the best of times, let alone in that heat 🙂 They have a beautiful naturally-lit venue, an awesome range of food, a selection of freshly baked cakes and their coffee is great too. It’s a lovely place to sit with friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere.

3. Leopold’s of London

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Unfortunately we only made it for lunch and cake (their breakfast menu looked amazing!) but we were not disappointed. They have a huge range of sandwiches and paninis and they do frappes and milkshakes as well as normal coffee (which is also great.. definitely a theme in Dubai!). Their pastries and tarts are immaculately decorated but they also have a huge range of cakes and cupcakes – I obviously went for cake, and despite being frosted it came with cream and a hot caramel sauce on the side! They also have huge bowls of salads, and you can get a mix of all of them! I think I got five different salads with four different dressings.. and each one was so good and so different that I couldn’t even come close to picking a favourite. It’s also right on the beach front, so there are many other places to eat at close by and plenty of things to see and do 🙂

4. Friends Avenue

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This is also a little out of the way (in a business district) but it’s in a pretty area and the café itself is decorated perfectly.

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The food was good but the coffee was better in my opinion! Each of their coffees comes with beautiful coffee art.. we got a bear but we saw people with so many other beautiful works of art! I also got an iced coffee which came with caramel syrup and was served in a Kilner jar with a stripy straw.. it’s the small things 🙂

We each got a Panini and I also got a salad which had a huge mix of veggies, creamy avocado and a delicious Asian dressing. There was also a Nutella tart…. Need I say more!?

5. The Mango Tree

I recently found out that this place has shut down, but I thought I’d write a review anyway as it was such a memorable evening 🙂 I always say that I’m not into Asian food but it’s not that I can’t appreciate that there are some good dishes, it’s just that I’d never usually choose it over any other type of cuisine. I sometimes stretch to a poor western take on Asian food such as Wagamamas but generally avoid it and I have to be particularly careful of Thai food due to my peanut allergy. But I found this place online which said it had beautiful views of the fountains and so I booked a table there, requesting a fountain view. We were in the corner on the balcony overlooking the fountains and we literally couldn’t have been closer – I even felt the spray of the fountains a couple of times!

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The view was absolutely incredible and whether or not the food had been good or not it would have been a perfect evening. Since the fountain show is every twenty minutes, we managed to see 4 rounds of the display and it was just breath-taking. Each time was better than the last, and the chatter in the restaurant literally died out completely every time it started.

To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed the food. It was fresh and tasty, not at all like the typical greasy noodles and rice served up at typical Asian restaurants. We shared a selection of dishes including a fresh sea bass cooked in banana leaves, a Thai green curry, rice and an unlimited supply of prawn crackers! Unfortunately it was dark so I didn’t manage to take any decent pictures, but it was lovely 🙂

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6. Burj Khalifah

Beautiful cocktails in the tallest building in the world takes some beating.. but somehow this wasn’t the best thing that happened that night! Undoubtedly the best night of my life to date, as this was the night that the most incredible person in my life proposed to me 🙂

He said that he’d originally planned to propose whilst we were at the bar itself but in the end he decided to wait when we were back in our hotel room, and I’m so glad he did because I hate being the centre of attention. Admittedly that meant that I was having the time of my life, sipping cocktails, snacking on unlimited olives and smoked almonds and being served up plate after plate of delicious hot bar snacks, whilst he told me afterwards that he was worrying and wondering if the hotel staff had decorated our room as he’d requested. He’s a keeper 🙂 I’ll be honest – it’s not cheap and the food and cocktails are good (but not incredible by any means!) but it’s worth it.

I’d definitely recommend booking a table (and requesting a window seat) if you can – you have to pay to go up to the top of the Burj Khalifah anyway, so you may as well enjoy some food and drinks and take in the stunning view. We’re planning to go back this year and hopefully have another incredible evening 🙂

 

7. Burj al Arab

We went for afternoon tea and as you’d expect it is ridiculously expensive.. an extra glass of champagne is £50!! The food is unlimited (and as usual I took full advantage of it!) but it’s nothing spectacular. I feel like no one does cakes and scones like England 😛 Afternoon tea is always overpriced though and if you can look beyond that it’s a lovely experience. I’d recommend going for the views and the service but I probably wouldn’t go back again having done it once. They do have a few unique items on their menu which made it memorable though. We got some incredibly good almond stuffed dates (that’s where my obsession began!) and a small slice of the most tender and succulent beef with some mashed potato as a savoury plate before the main afternoon tea. They offer a huge range of juices, iced drinks and coffees which you can order as well as pages and pages of different teas.

They have homemade jams which included passion fruit and date and they went to the effort of producing an entire plate of ‘peanut-free’ cakes for me when they found out (only when I sat down!) that I had a peanut allergy. They advised me not to eat several of the cakes on the afternoon tea menu, but there weren’t actually any cakes or pastries which explicitly included peanuts, it was more of a precaution. In my usual ‘not-careful-enough-much-to-Marcus’-despair’ attitude I tried them all anyway and I was fine 😀 As is usually the case, the peanut-free items looked less than appealing. I got some strange mousse and a dome shaped cake that didn’t look dissimilar to a stickier, staler version of the rice crispy cakes you bake at school. That said, the service was excellent and I thought it was incredibly thoughtful of them to make an effort to produce something extra to accommodate my peanut allergy at such short notice. The scones and sandwiches were good – I have no complaints but they just weren’t anything special and I’ve definitely had better in England. I know it’s traditional to have finger sandwiches but I do also like something a little out of the ordinary such as mini brioche rolls or different types of bread.. and fillings more exciting than cucumber and cream cheese. Why must everywhere insist on including cucumber sandwiches!? It’s not even that I want something fancy, but does anyone really like a soggy, tasteless cucumber sandwich no matter how traditional it may be!?

The scones were good but the cakes wouldn’t have been my first choice – mousse/jelly/flaky pastry items are things I’d never choose over traditional cakes and tarts. Don’t let my personal preference put you off going though – everyone has different preferences when it comes to desserts and everything else was faultless. The views were stunning, the staff attentive and the general experience was nothing short of total luxury. The décor in the hotel is like another world – there’s gold plating everywhere and aquariums form part of the walls! I rode up the escalator multiple times just to see all the fish – yes I’m that much of an embarassment to be with 🙂 The hotel chauffeur-driven cars are Rolls Royces, every member of staff is immaculately dressed and perfectly spoken.. and whilst it’s not a world I can ever imagine living in it’s definitely worth experiencing at least once!

 

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8. The Miracle Garden

I know.. a non-food related favourite – try not to be too horrified! The Miracle Garden is absolutely beautiful though and an absolute must-see, full of colourful flowers, trees and extravagant sculptures and displays. It’s the world’s biggest flower garden with over 109 million flowers planted and 45 million blooming flowers showcased in so many incredible different ways. There are giant houses, pyramids, hearts, mini villages and so many little walkways all made out of flavours – there were even some Disney characters modelled out of flowers when we went! The Miracle Garden opened on Valentine’s Day in 2013, so it’s only just over 3 years old and they recently opened the Butterfly Garden which is the world’s largest indoor butterfly garden, featuring over 15,000 butterflies from 26 species. It’s such an incredible place, and the amount of work which must go into keeping it beautiful all year round must be phenomenal given that it’s in the middle of a desert..

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It’s only 30AED per person (less than six pounds) and it’s open all day (from 9am until 9pm on weekdays and 9am until 11pm on weekends*).

It’s understandably popular though, be prepared for it to be busy.. and to have any of your photos photo-bombed by a ton of other tourists 😀

9. American classics

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I’ll group these into one as for people who have been to the US a lot, these might not appeal so much. But can anyone really resist the thick buttery pancakes that IHOP serve up!? I haven’t been to the US for ages and I love the typical American places serving up giant portions of soul food. Thick fluffy buttermilk pancakes, giant slices of cheesecake, huge burgers piled high with bacon and cheese served with fries topped with more cheese and more bacon.. the ultimate comfort foods!

Dubai has an amazing array of American food places and while we by no means visited them all, we went to several of our favourites. The IHOP portions were considerably smaller than those in the US but the pancakes were fluffy and delicious none the less. Combine that with refillable coffee and an unlimited supply of maple syrup and what’s not to love!?

I also had my first ever cinnabon, fresh out of the oven.. warm, soft and dripping with a beautifully sticky cinnamon glaze 😉 Avoid coffee chains like the plague though – good coffee is everywhere in Dubai.. I have enough average cups of overpriced Starbucks at work!

Last but not least..

10. The Aquarium at Dubai Mall

I love fish and I’m so fascinated by sea creatures (which is ironic because I’m kind of scared of the sea and it’s infinite depth..). In fact I love all animals and I love visiting the zoo and aquariums because I’d never see or know anything about many of the animals there otherwise – half of the time I’ve never even heard of them! I do feel bad when I see animals in tiny enclosed spaces or tanks that they can swim round in five seconds but I’d like to think that at good zoos or aquariums the animals are well looked after as the staff there have a genuine love and passion for animals. I like that in this aquarium the visitors are the ones in the tunnel and so you’re surrounded by so many species of fish and sharks with the ‘freedom’ to swim around. I’m not saying that it’s not cryel to take them out of their natural habitat but I think it’s amazing that we get the opportunity to see animals that we never otherwise would 🙂

I also love dolphins and I know there are a number of dolphin experiences in Dubai, including one at the Atlantis hotel, but they’re just so expensive! We are planning to go for the infamous bottomless brunch at Saffron Restaurant in the Atlantis this year, so I’m hoping that we’ll at least get to look around the hotel and maybe see some dolphins 🙂

I have quite a lot of new restaurants and cafes on my list of places to visit this year, as well as going back to a few of our favourite places.. if anyone has been and has any recommendations please let me know as I’m always on the look out for new things to try 🙂 I’m a complete wimp though, so no theme parks 😛

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*Their weekend is actually Friday and Saturday so they have a lot of weekend events such as markets, etc. on these days!

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