Aubergine Restaurant

39 Barnet Street

Gardens

Cape Town, South Africa

www.aubergine.co.za

Visited during a recent cruise from Dubai, UAE, to Cape Town, South Africa

During the past few years, it has been my distinct privilege to dine at – and review – several outstanding restaurants in the Cape Town area of South Africa. Stellar establishments such as Tokara, Fyn, La Petite Colombe, Chefs Warehouse, Salsify at the Round House, and Helena’s Restaurant (Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa) are, of course, at the head of this sensual sybaritic safari.

… But I have also encountered a host of decidedly humble eateries – Basic Bistro (Stellenbosch) and Foodbarn Café and Tapas come immediately to mind – that, while serving up more casual cuisine, do so with both proficiency and panache.

And then there’s Aubergine. Of all the restaurants I have visited in South Africa, this was, without doubt, the most anomalous… On the one hand, Fodor and Frommer simply gushed all over it. Cape Town Magazine called it “Fine dining in one of Cape Town’s most iconic eateries.” And the culinary coup de Cape Town - Aubergine 50 Bestgrâce – at least literarily speaking – was delivered by Discovery, which included it as one of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: “Opened in 1996, it’s the magnum opus of chef-owner German chef Harald Bresselschmidt, who cut his teeth at the likes of London’s Savoy. Rooted in classic technique, his menu is a love letter to South Africa’s natural larder. But where things get interesting is how he artfully marries international flavour within such framework. The result is a colourful cuisine – fed by two organic kitchen gardens – running from à la carte and summer small-plate lunches to an ‘East Meets West’ degustation menu.”

On the other hand, the social media changes this glowing picture somewhat, as there are just enough dissenting opinions to give one pause. The real barn burner, however, is a review by Daisy Jones in winemag.co.za: “Despite the plaudits, despite the showcasing of local ingredients our food was generally Cape Tow - Aubergine Exteriorordinary, and in the case of my main course, downright awful…. What was awful? My ‘Cape Sea Harvest’ main, featuring monkfish, was a fright. The dish was described as “line fish set on a ragout of broad beans and artichokes with crayfish bisque spinach and grilled octopus”… Monk is rich and sweet… It’s also impressive on the plate with its tail so similar in colour, texture and girth

to a crayfish tail. I was eager to see what Bresselschmidt would do with local monk tail – and as eager as a little girl at Christmas to see the plating…

“What arrived was light green slop in a bowl with two chunks – not a single tail; two chunks! – of tail dumped on top. Crowning the chunks were some leaves Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Chef Harald Bresselschmidtof wilted spinach like a flat hat caught in the rain. The octopus was like takkie rubber; literally unchewable. The monkfish was watery and tasteless. It didn’t even hold together. It wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t rich. The ragout was gloopy, like a confused pasta sauce.”

And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call the food “awful,” it was, however, significantly less than stellar… as was our entire luncheon experience. As noted above, I have been fortunate enough to dine in several of Cape Town’s most illustrious restaurants; and, based upon my own experiences, Aubergine is simply not in the same league. From the Rabbit’s Finest to the Springbok Pie to the Beef Brisket and Sweetbreads, nothing quite measured up to the hype. No matter what the dish, it was the bland leading the bland – flavor was conspicuous by its absence. And I didn’t find the presentations particularly attractive either. Oh, the pictures on their website look beautiful… but up close and personal they lost a good deal of their photogenic luster.

… But, as well as the food, there were a number of other issues… The service, for instance. It was just okay. Generic at best. Nothing special. And hardly commensurate with the restaurant’s description of itself as a “fine dining” establishment. Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Interior 2Then there’s the ambience – or lack thereof. “Zero,” as one reviewer on social media put it. And while I wouldn’t go quite that far, I must admit that the restaurant’s stark interior, which looked infinitely more attractive in photographs than in person, left me rather cold. And, by way of contrast, since weather on the day of our visit was quite warm, the door to the alfresco courtyard remained open, which let in a slight breeze – as well as a host of flies… At times, it seemed we spent more time swatting than eating.

If the food had been up to snuff, there is no doubt in my mind that these minor faux pas would easily have been overlooked and/or forgiven. And, interestingly enough, the harshest criticisms of the cuisine came from those who were most enchanted by the wine, as Chef Bresselschmidt is not only famous for his wine list, but also for his attitude toward wine in general. Unfortunately, not even my incredibly succulent glass of Pinotage was capable of snatching oenological victory from the jaws of gastronomic defeat.

The bottom line…? As one reviewer put it: “The entire experience was weird.” I couldn’t agree more.

 Bon Appétit & Cheers!

TAD

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Armani Lounge

Armani Hotel Dubai

1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

https://www.armanihotels.com/en/hotels/armani-hotel-dubai/

Visited during a recent cruise from Dubai, UAE, to Cape Town, South Africa

Exclusively occupying eleven floors of the Burj Khalifa, the striking centerpiece of Dubai’s spectacular downtown, the Armani Hotel is very much a world Dubai - Armani Hotel - Entranceunto itself. A distinctive combination of creative Italian design and signature Arabian hospitality, it simply marches to the beat of a uniquely elegant and sophisticated drummer. Not only does it provide its own grand entrance to the world’s tallest structure, it also favors its guests with private & direct access to the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest and most visited shopping & entertainment destination.

As readers would undoubtedly surmise, the Armani Hotel Dubai provides its patrons with a number of Dubai - Armani Lounge 2gastronomic possibilities. The Armani Lounge, however, is particularly recommended. Located on the lobby floor of the hotel, this cozy enclave brings a casual yet decidedly cultivated air to all-day dining. The à la carte menu – international fare with Italian flair – is available from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and includes a classy selection of snacks, appetizers, soups, sandwiches, pizza, main courses, and desserts. Snacks, for example, present such diverse epicurean options as Brie Croquette kissed with balsamic dressing; Lobster Arrancini with lemon zest mayo; Tempura Shrimp; Satay, chicken skewers with a peanut dipping sauce; and Loaded Baked Potato with red capsicum, turkey bacon, and cheddar cheese.

Of special interest are the Hot & Cold Mezze Samplers, offering up a slew of local favorites. To start things off, my dining companion ordered the Cold Mezze (Hummus, Tabbouleh, Babaganoush, etc.), while I chose the Hot Items (Lamb Kebbeh, Shrimp Roll, Chicken Musakkan, etc.) so we could both enjoy a bit of each. We then shared a single entrée – Beef Lasagna with Aged Parmesan Fondue – as our main course. Excellent all around.

Armani Lounge is also well-known for its first-class afternoon tea, which is served from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. You begin by sampling such delicacies as Dubai - Armani Lounge - Afternoon TeaAtlantic Royal Smoked Salmon with lime dill cream fraiche with whole wheat roulade and Venice caviar; Main Lobster Remoulade; Truffle Egg Sandwich on brioche; Mint Cucumber with cream cheese finger on tramezzini bread; and Caprese, mini mozzarella with cherry tomatoes & pesto on English muffin… And then moving on to the likes of Vanilla & Chocolate Marble Cake; Banana Walnut Cake; Traditional English Fruitcake; and a selection of Freshly Baked Scones served with homemade lemon curd, raspberry preserve, and clotted cream… Finally concluding with sweets such as Seasonal Fruit Tartlet with vanilla diplomate (pastry cream); Hazelnut Plaisir with milk chocolate Chantilly; and The Armani: white chocolate cheesecake.

Two additional notes… First of all, I should add that I would certainly be remiss if I failed to mention that liquid libations at Armani Lounge are particularly well-prepared. My companion’s Cosmo was positively up to the Dubai - Fountain Showmark; and my Negroni was – absolutely, bar none, without exception – the finest rendition of this cocktail it has ever been my pleasure to ingest.

Secondly, the views of the Dubai Fountain and downtown Dubai are nothing short of spectacular… especially the nightly Dubai Fountain show (pictured), which is worth the price of admission.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Mother Nature had been extremely kind to us on this trip. Nothing but sunshine and lots of it… Until we reached the Seychelles, that is. The Republic of Seychelles - Mahethe Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands situated in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of east Africa. With a territory of 177 square miles and a population of 92,000 it is the smallest African country. It boasts numerous beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and nature reserves, as well as rare animals. Mahé, is also home to Victoria, the capital (pictured: Mahé Island, sans rain).

We were scheduled to dock at La Digue, but rough seas and high winds prevented this… So, the ship continued on to Praslin, where almost all shore excursions were cancelled because of heavy rain. The following day, the ship moved on to Mahé… and still more rain. In other words, the Seychelles were rained out. Evidently, Mother Nature has her own mysterious ways!

Zanzibar, Tanzania: Zanzibar is an insular, semi-autonomous region, which united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania. It is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 16-31 miles off the coast of the African mainland, consisting of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar); and Pemba Island. The capital is Zanzibar City located on the island of Unguja. Its historic center Stone Town is a World Heritage Site.

Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania: Situated on a promontory that juts out into the Indian Ocean from the western side of Unguja Island, Stone Town Zanzibar - Stone Town Ariel Viewof Zanzibar is supposedly the typical example of a Swahili trading town. Evidently it was the type of community that first developed on the east coast of Africa, expanded under Arab, Indian, and European influences, yet still managed to retain the indigenous elements that were unique to this particular region (pictured: Stone Town aerial view).

The buildings of Stone Town clearly reflect these unique elements, which have brought together and homogenized disparate cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe. The major buildings date from the 18th and 19 centuries and are principally constructed of ragstone and mangrove timber, set in a thick lime mortar and then plastered and lime-washed. These two-story structures with long narrow rooms tend to be arranged around an open courtyard that is reached through a narrow corridor. Externally, houses are distinguished by elaborately carved double “Zanzibar” doors, others by wide verandahs and/or richly decorated interiors. Other buildings include simple ground floor Swahili houses and narrow façade Indian shops along so-called “bazaar” streets constructed around a commercial space.

Our excursion began with Stone Town’s oldest monument, the Old Fort, also known as the Arab Fort. Built by the Omani Arabs after expelling the Zanzibar - Stone Town Old FortPortuguese in 1699, it was subsequently used as a garrison and prison in the 19th century, and as a terminal of the Zanzibar railways from 1905 – 1928. A new guardhouse was built in 1947 and used as the ladies’ club; and an amphitheater was added in the 1990s. It is now the headquarters of the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

The fort is essentially a square of imposing stone walls that protect an inner courtyard, which houses the remains of a Portuguese church, the site upon which the fort was constructed. The fort is located on the main seafront, adjacent to another landmark building, the House of Wonders, the former palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Of infinitely more interest is the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church. This landmark historic church Zanzibal - Stone Town Anglican Cathedral of Christ Churchbelongs to the Anglican Church of Tanzania and is one of the most prominent examples of early Christian architecture in East Africa. Built in seven years, based upon the vision of Edward Steere, third Anglican bishop of Zanzibar, who actively contributed to its design, it opened its doors on Christmas 1879. Occupying a large space in the center of the old town where the largest slave market had been located, the cathedral was actually constructed to celebrate the end of slavery.

The altar was placed in the exact position where the main “whipping post” of the market had been located. And, Zanzibar - Stone Town Slve Market Memorialin the adjoining square, there is a monument to the former slaves – several human figures in chains emerging from a pit – as well as a museum on slavery.

Edward Steere died before the cathedral was completed and was buried behind the altar. Inside the church there is a cross that was made of wood from the tree that grows in the place were David Livingstone’s heart was buried in Chitambo, Zambia, Africa (David Livingstone was a Scottish physician, Christian missionary, and avowed abolitionist; his remains are buried in Westminster Abbey).

For rock fans, Stone Town also has significant meaning, as it is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, the lead vocalist and pianist of the rock band Queen. It is Zanzibar - Freddie Mercury Museum 2also home to the Freddie Mercury Museum, which pays tribute to its native son and is located in the very house where Mercury and his family resided until they moved to England in 1963. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi-Indian parents, he is regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music, known for his flamboyant stage presence and four-octave vocal range. Having studied and written music for years, he formed Queen in 1970 with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. He wrote numerous hits for Queen, including Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions Don’t Stop Me Now, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Mercury continued to record with Queen and was posthumously featured on their final album Made in Heaven in 1995. In 1991 he died from complications of the disease at the age of 45. His career with Queen was dramatized in the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Nosy Be, Madagascar: Nosy Be is an island located off the northwest coast of Madagascar. Because of its unique blend of flora & fauna, fascinating wildlife, and rich cultures, it has become a special destination for tourists from all over the world. Of particular interest are the lemurs. Yes… those adorable arboreal primates with enormous eyes, soft fur, and long curling tails. They are both charismatic and exceedingly friendly. They are also incredibly mischievous, especially if you happen to have to have fruit in your hands… as they have been known to jump out of the trees and snatch it from you.

Our land excursion, however, was scheduled to take us to explore a tiny native village; and, just beyond, an enormous sacred banyan tree planted by the Nosy Be - Sacred Banyan TreeQueen of the Sakalava tribe in 1836 (pictured: the tree we never got to see).

Unfortunately, there were several problems along the way. First of all, the traffic was horrendous. Simply getting through a small town proved to be a nightmare. Stop and go… mostly STOP. And then, we were off onto the backroads on our way to the village; which, still suffering the effects of a recent devastating monsoon, were horrendously muddy. Our minibus did a great deal of slipping & sliding and nearly became stuck on several occasions.

We passed several other minibuses bound for the same location that had turned around because of the condition of the roads… Our driver, however – young & eager – pushed on. Finally, after nearly becoming stuck once again, a representative of Silversea who was accompanying us called a halt. She asked the driver to stop, a vote was taken and, thankfully, an overwhelming majority voted to turn around and return to the ship. The thought of languishing for hours in the wilderness, awaiting the arrival of a rescue vehicle, had not been a pleasant one.

Richards Bay, South Africa: The port areas where cruise ships dock tend to vary greatly. However, as a general rule, Richard Bay SA - Coal Pilebased upon my own personal experience, they are not terribly attractive… and then there’s Richards Bay. I won’t bore you with the gory details. Let me simply say that the port here was significantly less than picturesque, as there were two huge mountains of black coal decorating the landscape, A hefty wind had kicked up, so coal dust was everywhere. So much so that those exiting the ship were required to wear face masks. The scene resembled some eerie apocalyptic wasteland.

Given the poisonous atmosphere, we weren’t particularly anxious to hang around on the dock any longer than necessary… The drive to our shore destination – the Saint Lucia Wetlands Park, a UNESCO World Richards Bay - St. Lucia Wetlands ParkHeritage Site housing hippos and crocodiles – was a little over an hour away and a very pleasant drive through the countryside.

By the way, I’m sure you would enjoy having a look at Travels with V and Steve, a video that is a wonderful introduction to this particular adventure at Hippo Haven –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIziDQvyvRc – and a right-on-the-money synopsis of what we personally experienced and what you can expect should you decide to pay a visit. As the video suggested, several families of hippos were much in evidence… but not a croc in sight.

The ancient Greeks gave the name hippopotamus to this barrel-shaped animal they saw in wilds of Africa. The English language, using the Latin spelling Richards Bay SA - Hippo Havenhippopotamus, has kept the name, which is a combination of the Greek words hippos, meaning “horse” and potamos, meaning “river” or “stream.” And “river” is certainly the right name for an animal that spends most of its time in the water and whose eyes, ears, and nostrils are placed so that the it can see, hear, and breathe even if most of its head is underwater (please note photo above).

Tala Private Game Preserve, Durban, South Africa: After docking in Durban, South Africa, it was an Durban SA - Tala Game Preservehour+ drive through the ruggedly beautiful countryside before reaching the Tala Private Game Reserve.

Once we arrived, we chugged around in a 4 x 4 with an excellent driver/guide who knew precisely where to look for the animals. Hence, we got up-close and personal with a variety of zebras, rhinos, and giraffes, etc. I should add that the rhinos have their horns removed at a very early age to protect them from poachers, who would kill them for their horns… We also spotted a hippo luxuriating in the pond and an ostrich on his merry way.

Durban DA - Tala Game Preserve 2The wonderful thing about this preserve is that there are no lions or leopards here, so the other animals feel perfectly safe and can roam at will. So much so, that they seem to be totally unafraid of humans. In several instances, the animals were so close to our 4 x 4 that we could practically reach out and pet them. An incredible experience.

Cape Town, South Africa: Draped across a magnificently alluring coastline Cape Town - Table Mountainpresided over by the Olympus-like grandeur of Table Mountain, there is absolutely no question that Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. And, although I’ve visited South Africa’s Mother City on several occasions, its spectacular mountain scenery, relaxed ocean charm, and sense of living history never fail to both arouse awareness and stimulate curiosity.

On this particular occasion, prior to catching our evening flight home, we had Samson 2 - Jorumarranged a full day Cape Town tour through the Guiltedge Travel Group, which we had utilized on previous occasions and had always been more than pleased with the results…

… And our current excursion proved to be no exception. After disembarking at 9:15 a.m., we were met by our driver/guide, Samson – an old friend we had specifically requested – who now preferred to be addressed by his given name, Jorum (pictured).

Klein Constantia Wine Estate, Cape Town, South Africa:  Described as one of the world’s most beautiful wine Klein Constantia - Vineyardsestates, Klein Constantia is situated in the midst of ancient trees and lush greenery in picturesque foothills, offering superb views across the Constantia Valley and False Bay.

The history of the estate dates to 1685, when the Dutch East India Company granted a huge tract of land to their commander, Simon van der Stel. By the time of his promotion to governor in 1691, Van der Stel had already planted 10,000 vines, harvesting his first vintage in 1692.

Currently owned by Czech-American investor Zdenêk Bakala, UK businessman Charles Harman, Bordeaux wine personalities Bruno Prats & Hubert Boüard, and vice-chairman Hans Astrom, they are determined to see Klein Constantia live up to its mythical reputation: “We are privileged to be custodians of one of the most historic properties in the Cape and regard the preservation of this heritage as a serious responsibility.”

Interestingly enough, Klein Constantia has had only three winemakers since the farm was revived in the 1980s: Ross Gower, Adam Mason and Matthew Klein Constantia - Entrance 2Day. Matthew grew up in Johannesburg; but, because of his interest in winemaking, he relocated to the Cape to pursue an education in this field. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with a bachelor of science degree in viticulture and oenology, his resume included work at various local and international estates, from Meerlust Estate in Stellenbosch to Chateau Belefont-Belcier in St. Emilion, Elderton Estate in the Barossa Valley, and Dancing Hares Estate in the Napa Valley.

Returning to South Africa in 2008, under the guidance of Adam Mason, he took on the role of assistant winemaker at Klein Constantia. In 2012, he became the estate’s head winemaker, working closely with viticulturist Craig Harris to produce wines that showcase the estate’s unique terroir.

Klein Constantia - Red BlendWe tasted a number of intriguing wines here, all of which were worthy of consideration. There were, however, several standouts. The Sauvignon Blanc, for example, had its own unique charm. It was bright & light as a feather in the glass, the aromas were scintillatingly subtle, and the palate was… well, yes… brisk & lively with a delightfully citrusy touch. This was, indeed, as the estate noted, “an elevated expression of Sauvignon Blanc.” The Chardonnay was equally up to the mark. Full-bodied and elegantly structured, yet with an enticing backbone of acidity. My favorite of the tasting, however, was the Estate Red. A blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot, it was deep ruby red in color, bursting with red fruit aromas, and powerful yet elegant on the palate with a long lingering finish.

All that being said, however, the estate’s claim to fame is its incomparable Vin de Constance, one of the world’s most iconic sweet wines. Just Klein Constantia - Vin de Constancrhow iconic…? Vin de Constance was requested by Napoleon Bonaparte on his deathbed, having shunned all other sustenance. It was imported by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; and Queen Victoria drank it every night before bed to help her sleep. Need I say more?!

Klein Constantia wines are well worth seeking out. Unfortunately, they are neither available through Pennsylvania State Stores nor Total Wine in Claymont, Delaware (they are, however, available in other Total Wine retail outlets). But the good news is that they may be easily purchased through various sources online, including Cape Ardor Boutique Wines. All are quite reasonably priced, with the exception of the Vin de Constance, which hovers in the $100.00 range.

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa: Situated at the foot of Signal Hill, and formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Cape Town - Bo-KaapCape Town’s Bo-Kaap neighborhood is known for its narrow cobblestone streets lined with colorful houses. Its origins date back to the 1760s when numerous huurhuisjes (rental houses) were built and leased to slaves by Dutch colonists. These slaves, who came to be known as Cape Malays, were brought from Malaysia, Indonesia, and various African countries to work in the Cape.

The houses here are a mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture. The choice of color is attributed to the fact that while on lease, all the houses had to be white! When this rule was lifted, and the slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all the houses were painted bright colors by their owners as an expression of their freedom.

Many of the families in the Bo-Kaap have lived here for generations. Today, the community is a significant part of Cape Town’s cultural heritage. And it has Cape Town - Auwal Mosquebeen suggested that the residents here no longer refer to themselves as Cape Malay, but as South African Muslims, as the first established Muslim Mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque (pictured), is also found in Bo-Kaap. And part of the fun of visiting this area of the city is exploring the Islamic kramats (shrines), mosques, food & craft markets, and the fabulous flavors of delectable Cape Malay cookery.

Aubergine Restaurant, Cape Town, South Africa: Following our excursion through Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Interiorneighborhood, we set out for our lunch reservation at the Aubergine Restaurant. Comfortably ensconced in a transformed 1830s house located in Gardens, one of the oldest parts of the city, reviews consistently rate it among the finest of Cape Town’s fine dining establishments.

Indeed, for almost three decades, German-born chef-proprietor Harald Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Chef Harald BresselschmidtBresselschmidt has been turning out a mind-boggling, palate-pleasing array of East-meets-West cuisine infused with local ingredients that has kept his loyal clientele oohing and ahhing and has placed him on numerous Top Tens and Readers’ Favorites lists.

 Fodor’s, for instance, simply gushes all over: “Seafood options are usually excellent, and meat dishes like an ostrich fillet with sweetbread and marrow dumplings richly subline.”

Frommer followed suit with three big stars: “Gourmands form an orderly queue… He’s a chef schooled in the classics (East and West), yet his love of innovation is compulsive; some call him avant-garde (how about springbok medallions with foie gras?), but he also takes great care with the most simple-sounding dishes such as his signature aubergine soufflé or slow-roasted wild boar.”

So as not to be outdone, Cape Town Magazine proceeded to canonize Aubergine as something of a city icon, going absolutely gaga over the restaurant’s homespun elegant décor and contemporary fine art paintings, before even uttering a hint with regard to the quality of the cuisine.

Once you check out the social media, however, the picture changes somewhat… Oh, there are the usual canned upbeat epithets, but… there are also just Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Artwork 2enough dissenting opinions to give one pause. Then couple this with a rather interesting review by Daisy Jones in winemag.co.za: “Despite the plaudits, despite the showcasing of local ingredients, our food was generally ordinary, and in the case of my main course, downright awful.”

And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call the food “awful,” the entire experience here was significantly less than memorable. I have visited (and reviewed) quite a number of restaurants in the Cape Town area; and I can truthfully say that Aubergine rates near the bottom of the barrel… However, I will be posting a complete critique of this restaurant in the very near future.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Upon our arrival in Mumbai, India, we were immediately whisked away to the airport where we began what Silversea referred to as their Mid Voyage Land Adventure, highlights of which included visits to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Agra Fort and the majestic Taj Mahal. This involved an excursion of four days/three nights, an Air India flight to Delhi, overnight stays in the posh Oberoi New Delhi & Oberoi Amarvilas hotels, and return flight to Cochin where we would once again reboard our cruise ship.

Gurdwara Sri Bangla Sahib, Delhi, India: One of the most prominent Sikh gurdwaras, Sikh house of worship, in Delhi. Situated near Delhi - Sikh TempleConnaught Place, it is instantly recognizable by its distinctive golden dome.

The grounds include the Gurdwara, a kitchen, a large holy pond, a school, and an art gallery. As with all Sikh Gurdwaras, the concept of langar is practiced. All people, regardless of race or religion may eat in the Gurdwara kitchen. The food is prepared by gursikhs who work there and also by volunteers.

When entering the temple, visitors are requested to cover their hair and remove their shoes. Head scarves and shoe-minding service can be found inside the compound and are available free of charge.

Agra, India: Agra is a city on the banks of the Yamuna River in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It Agra Cityis located 140 miles south-east of Delhi, the national capital. With a population of roughly 1.6 million, Agra is the fourth-most populous city in Uttar Pradesh and the twenty-third most populous city in India.

Agra’s notable historical period began during the reign of Sikandar Lodi; however, the golden age of the city began with the Mughals. Babur, who reigned from 1526-30. The founder of the Mughal dynasty, he acquired Agra after defeating the Lodhis and the Tomaras of Gwalior in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. Agra remained the capital of the Mughal Empire until 1658, when Aurangzeb shifted the entire court to Delhi.

Under Mughal rule, Agra became a center for learning, arts, commerce, and religion, and saw the construction of the Agra Fort, the Tomb of Agra - Tomb of AkbarAkbar (pictured: The mausoleum of the third and greatest Mughal emperor Akbar; built in 1605-1613 by his son, Jahangir), and the Taj Mahal, constructed between 1632 and 1648 by Shah Jahan in remembrance of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

With the decline of the Mughal empire in the late 18th century, the city fell successively, first to Marathas and later to the East India Company. After independence, Agra developed into a manufacturing center with a booming tourism industry. It is now included on the Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur.

Agra Fort, Agra, India: The massive 16th-century structure is Agra’s second-most important attraction after the Taj Mahal. The fort’s Agra - Red Fortapproximately1.5-mile-long red sandstone walls contained the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. Mughal emperor Humayun was crowned here. It was later renovated by the Mughal emperor Akbar from 1565; and the present-day structure was completed in 1573. It served as the main residence of the rulers of the Mughal dynasty until the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi.

Before being captured by the British, the last Indian rulers to have occupied it were the Marathas. In 1983 the Agra Fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A city within a city, it is comprised of fairy-tale palaces, audience halls, and two beautiful mosques.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India: The Taj Mahal (lit. “Crown of the Palace”) is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the right bank of the Yamuna River. Taj Mahal ComplexIt was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor (r. 1628-1658) to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died on June 17th of that year, giving birth to their 14th child. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself. The tomb is the centerpiece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque, a guest house, and is set in formal gardens enclosed on three sides by a crenellated wall (a wall containing battlements).

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. It is believed that over 1000 elephants were used to transport building materials. Some 22,000 laborers, painters, embroidery Taj Mahalartists and stonecutters were used. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan; the jasper from the Punjab region; jade & crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet, the lapis lazuli (a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone) from Afghanistan, the sapphire from Sri Lanka, and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643, but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. It is believed that the Taj Mahal complex was completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which today would be approximately 70 billion rupees (about 915 million in U.S. dollars).

The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art Taj Mahal - and outlying buildings from across the riverin India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.” It is regarded by many as the pinnacle of Mughal architecture. However, due to the global attention that it has received, and the millions of visitors it attracts, the Taj Mahal has become a prominent image that is associated with India… but even more than this, a symbol of India itself, as well as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (pictured: view of the Taj Mahal and outlying buildings from across the Yamuna River).

All that being said, however… as I quickly discovered, the more one learns about the Taj Mahal, the more one realizes there is so much more one does not know. Scholarly articles and essays abound…ditto myths, legends, deep dark mysterious secrets, and a superfluous sprinkling of crackpot theorists. And sometimes it is difficult – if not downright impossible – to separate fact from fantasy.

For example, the most famous myth – undoubtedly false – describes in rather horrific detail the mutilations and dismemberments that were inflicted upon those associated with the construction of the tomb. In order to ensure that no one could recreate the beauty of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan supposedly severed the hands and gouged out the eyes of the artisans and craftsmen. Despite the prevalence of this rather gruesome tale, historians have found absolutely no evidence to support the story.

Another longstanding myth – and certainly one of the most fascinating – holds that Shah Jahan planned another mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Yamuna River. The story had its roots in the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveler who visited Agra in Taj Mahal - Myth of the Black Taj Mahal1665. He maintained that Shah Jahan had begun the construction of his own tomb on the opposite side of the river, but that Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, overthrew him before the Black Taj Mahal could be built. Local legends also add that Shah Jahan intended to connect the two tombs with a bridge across the Yamuna River, possibly made of silver.

Research has shown that Shah Jahan asked his architects to modify the Mahtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) built by his great-grandfather emperor Babar, to incorporate it within the Taj Mahal complex. It has been suggested that this was to be the site of the second Taj. It has also been pointed out that while the Taj Mahal was built in perfect symmetry, Shah Jahan’s cenotaph (a monument to someone buried elsewhere… more on that below) appears to be the exception. It is irregularly positioned in the burial chamber, while Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph lies at the center. It is also much larger in comparison to Mumtaz Mahal’s and almost appears to be an afterthought. Is it possible that Shah Jahan never intended to be buried along with his wife?

The evidence noted above may seem perfectly plausible… However, historians have dismissed the idea of a second Taj because, except for Tavernier, there is no reference to it in the other contemporary accounts of the time. Archaeological excavations of the area have also not found any trace of the construction of such a building. And while ruins of black marble were found in the Mahtab Bagh, further research led to the conclusion that they were white stones that had discolored over the years.

Whether the story is fact or fiction is, to me at least, a moot point. Having personally visited the Taj Mahal, I can assure you that the mere mental image of two such magnificent structures facing each other on either side of the Yamuna River is enough to set fire to anyone’s imagination.

On the other hand, the fact that the architects and craftsmen of the Taj Mahal were masters of proportion and optical illusion is beyond question. When one first approaches the main gate that frames the Taj, for example, the monument appears incredibly large and close… but as one gets closer, it shrinks in size – exactly the opposite of what one would expect. In addition, although the minarets surrounding the tomb appear to be perfectly straight and upright, in reality, they actually lean outward, serving both form and function. Not only do these pillars provide an aesthetic balance, but they would also crumble away from the main crypt in the case of a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

Taj Mahal - Interior ArchwaysAs awe-inspiring as the exterior may be, the interior ornamentation is equally impressive. As you enter, you observe a large octagonal-shaped structure with a dome at the top. The interiors are stunning, amazingly beautiful, yet beguilingly subtle. The basic elements of the structure are Persian. The floor is vast, echoing the slightest sound, while a series of breath-taking arches are embellished with exquisite calligraphy.

The main chamber, the tomb, is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. The tomb is an octagonal shaped room that was built in such a way that any face can be used as an entry, although only the south garden face is used. The walls are 25 meters high (approximately 82 feet). They contain Taj Mahal - Tombeight arches, four on the lower portion of the walls, four on the upper. The four top arches form balconies – viewing areas – each containing a jali or screening carved from marble in the shape of vines, fruits, and flowers.

Since Muslim tradition does not permit the elaborate decoration of graves, what visitors see, therefore, are cenotaphs. That is, monuments to those buried elsewhere. In this instance, the bodies of Shah Jahan and Mumtaj Mahal were laid to rest in a relatively plain crypt just below the main chamber, which is inaccessible to the public.

One final word… If you plan to visit the Taj Mahal ­– which should definitely be on your bucket list – be sure to leave plenty of time, as the Taj is a creature of many moods. In the morning light, it is white as the driven snow; in the evening, it takes on a golden hue; and in the moonlight, it is irresistibly romantic.

Old Delhi, India: We began with a brief visit to the Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the largest in India. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan Delhi - Jama Masjid Mosque 2between 1650 and 1656, it was constructed by approximately 5,000 workers. The workforce was diverse, consisting of Indians, Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Europeans. The project was supervised by Sadullah Khan, the wazir (prime minister) during Shah Jahan’s reign, and Fazil Khan, the comptroller of Shah Jahan’s household. The cost of the construction at the time was one million rupees. The mosque was inaugurated on July 23, 1656, by Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, who had been invited by Shah Jahan to be the Shahi Imam (Royal Imam) of the mosque. The Jama Masjid was one of the last monuments built under Shah Jahan. After it’s completion, it served as the royal mosque of the emperors until the end of the Mughal period.

Leaving the mosque, we set out, via bicycle rickshaw, to explore the sights and sounds of Old Delhi. Delhi - Chandni Chowk 1This is what is commonly called the Chandni ‘Chowk, historic buildings that were once home to prominent families of days-gone-by. Today, however, this district is one of the country’s best-known wholesale markets for textiles, electronic goods, and watches. Its narrow, winding side streets are also home to shops overflowing with spices, jewelry, books, hardware, brilliantly-dyed fabrics, and vendors hawking a variety of foods prepared on the spot… Awash with tsunamis of bustling humanity, the crowded streets conjured up nightmarish visions described in the oft-quoted opening sentences of American biologist Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (see photograph).

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Following our five-night stay at Raffles the Palm in Dubai, UAE, we checked out of our hotel and were transported to Port Rashid where we boarded Silversea’s Silver Spirit for a 33-day cruise that would take us from Dubai to Cape Town, South Africa.

Because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, I must admit that we were more than a little concerned about traveling in this region. However, Silversea clearly communicated to passengers that there was no cause for worry, as every possible precaution had been taken to insure their safety. And they were absolutely correct, as we felt totally secure throughout our entire voyage.

 Desert Dune Ride, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Since we had already explored a good bit of Abu Dhabi during our pre-cruise excursion – including the world-famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque, as well as a very brief visit to an outpost of the Louvre Museum – we decided to do something totally Abu Dhabi Dune Ride 4different in nature: a hair-raising dune ride through a portion of the Al Sahara Desert.

And hair-raising it was… but great fun. This is, without doubt, as close as you can get to a roller coaster ride on terra-firma (and I love roller coasters). There were times when I was certain that our vehicle would turn over on its side… but, luckily, that never took place, as the drivers were extremely adept at negotiating our rousing passage through the dunes. Fortunately, we were not in an open vehicle, as all concerned would undoubtedly have been completely covered in sand.

World Trade Center, Al Manama, Bahrain: Al Manama, the capital of Bahrain, is as old as it is new. Here you discover remains of a 16th-century trade route port juxtaposed with steel and glass skyscrapers that line the streets of the busy financial district.  The most striking of these, of course, is the Bahrain - World Trade Centerincredible World Trade Center, a 787 ft, 50-floor twin tower complex that houses both a five-star hotel and a luxury shopping mall, among its other intriguing attributes.

Designed by Atkins, a multi-national architectural firm, construction of the towers was completed in 2008. It is the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design, which were developed, built, and installed by the Danish company Norwin A/S.

The two towers are linked via three skybridges, each holding a 225-kW wind turbine. Each turbine is aligned north, the direction from which air blows in from the Persian Gulf. The sail-shaped buildings on either side are designed to funnel wind through the gap to provide accelerated wind passing through the turbines. This significantly increases their potential to generate electricity.

The wind turbines are expected to provide 11% to 15% of the towers’ total power consumption, which is equivalent to providing the lighting for about 300 homes, 258 hospitals, 17 industrial plants, and 33 car engines. On an average day, they are expected to operate 50% of the time.

 Al-Fateh Mosque, Al Manama, Bahrain: At one time, the Al-Fateh Mosque, also known as the Al-Fateh Islamic Center, was one of the Bahrain - Al Fateh Mosquelargest mosques in the world, having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. The mosque was built by the late Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa in1987 and was named after Ahmed Al Fateh. In 2006, Al-Fateh became the site of the National Library of Bahrain.

The mosque is located next to the Al-Fateh Highway in Juffair, a suburb of Manama. The huge dome on top of the mosque was constructed entirely of fiberglass. Weighing over 60 tons, it was originally the world’s largest fiberglass dome. The marble used in the floors is Italian and the chandelier was from Bahrain - Al Fateh Mosque Interior 2Austria. The doors were made of teak wood from India. Throughout the mosque is Kufic calligraphy.

The library of Ahmed Al-Fateh Islamic Center contains approximately 7,000 books, several as old as 100 years or more. These include copies of the books of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, or what is referred to as the books of Hadith, the Global Arabic Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence, Al-Azhar Journals, which have been printed more than a hundred years ago, as well as numerous magazines and periodicals.

I liked Al-Fateh infinitely more than the aforementioned mosque in my first article – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – which gave the impression of being constructed strictly for tourists. Al-Fateh just had a much warmer atmosphere… And as we tiptoed our way through its precincts in our stocking feet, there was an instructional class going on, which only added to the feeling of intimacy. Definitely worth a visit.  

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia: Also known as Ithra, this is, without doubt, modern architecture in Saudi Arabia - Center for World Culture 2extremis. Whether observed from a distance, or up close and personal, the structure is equally mind-boggling. The building covers some 80,000 square meters, its intriguing shape inspired by the internal structural shape of oil-bearing rock formations. The Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta designed the building and Buro Happold, a UK professional services firm, was in charge of the engineering design. It was built and is operated by Saudi Aramco, and was inaugurated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on December 1, 2016. The Center is located where the first commercial Saudi oilfield was discovered in March 1938.

And the building’s interior is equally striking. The interior levels are arranged thematically to suggest a progression through time. Areas dealing with the past are at the lowest levels, while the present is represented on the ground floor. The higher levels are mainly situated in the building’s Knowledge Tower, to indicate that the knowledge communicated in the tower’s teaching rooms will equip citizens for the future.

The Center’s facilities are, indeed, impressive. The Museum is situated on four levels and is arranged thematically into four galleries: contemporary art, Saudi heritage, Islamic civilization, and natural history and human ecology. The contemporary art, heritage, and Islamic civilization galleries have non-permanent displays and change their exhibitions on a regular basis. From 2018 to 2020, for example, the Islamic civilization gallery hosted an exhibition of Islamic art in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Saudi Arabia - Center for World Culture 3The Center’s Great Hall (pictured) is the dedicated area for short-term exhibitions. It has hosted an exhibition of original paintings by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch, as well as an exhibition of manuscripts by Leonardo da Vinci.

Other facilities include the Ithra Cinema, which is one of the first to be operational in Saudi Arabia. It Saudi Arabia - Center for World Culture Librarydisplays a mix of movies, including popular international features, documentaries, and independent productions. The Ithra Library (pictured) is one of the largest and modern in the region. It is designed to host about 500,000 texts, as well as a variety of digital resources, and also hosts workshops, lectures, and book clubs. In addition to  performances, the Ithra Theater also organizes events intended to develop theater in Saudi Arabia, displays local & international plays, and offers theatrical training workshops. The Energy Exhibit offers visitors an ever-popular introduction to the oil industry, including renewables, ecology, and technology.

Time magazine listed the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture as one of the world’s top 100 places to visit; and it attracted one million visitors in 2019. If you are planning a sojourn to the Saudi Arabia, the Center is definitely a must-see.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman: In 1992, or so the story goes, the then Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said, decided that his country should have a grand mosque…. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Oman - Sultan Qaboos Grand MosqueThe grand mosque was inaugurated by the Sultan himself on May 4, 2001, as a gift to the nation to celebrate his third decade in power. His policies found favor with many, as his enlightened leadership spearheaded Oman toward becoming a modern state while still preserving age-old traditions of the Islamic way of life.

An architecture competition took place in 1993 to select the best design for the mosque. Once the winner was determined, the mosque took six years and seven months to build. Featuring a combination of Islamic, Middle Eastern, and Omani architectural styles, it was constructed utilizing 30,000 tons of pink sandstone imported from India, as well as local granite and white marble. Five minarets were built around the periphery. The main minaret, 300-feet in height, and the four flanking minarets, 149-feet, are the mosque’s chief exterior features.

The mosque is Oman’s largest with a capacity for 20,000 worshippers: 6,500 in the main musalla prayer hall, 750 in the women’s musalla, and an additional 8,000 in the outer paved grounds, interior courtyard, and along the passageways.

The enormous Italian-manufactured 24-carat gold-plated chandelier, once the world’s largest, weighs 8.5 tons, is trimmed with 600,000 Swarovski Oman - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Carpetcrystals, contains 1,122 halogen bulbs, and also includes a dimming system and a staircase for maintenance within the chandelier. Thirty-four smaller chandeliers of the same design are hung in other parts of the building.

Equally magnificent is the hand-loomed carpet (pictured) that covers the floor of the prayer hall. Containing 1.7 million knots, 28 natural vegetable dyes, and weighing 21 tons, it brings together the classical Persian Tabriz, Kashan, and Isfahan design traditions, and took four years to produce. The carpet measures 230 by 200 feet and covers the 46,750 square feet area of the prayer hall.

Oman - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque LibraryThe double-story library is a striking cultural representative of Oman’s contemporary renaissance inspired by the late Sultan. It contains more than 23,342 books on the topics of Islamic culture, natural science, fine arts, philosophy, and psychology within its six departments, including a children’s section. The collection of predominantly Arabic and English titles grows larger each year.

Another must-see during your journey to the Middle East.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Although our cruise from Dubai – Cape Town began officially on Saturday, November 25th, we arrived in Dubai late in the evening of November 20th to participate in a Silversea sponsored Pre-Cruise Excursion. This included five nights and four days of sightseeing in and around the Dubai area. And, if memory serves me correctly, there were only a total of fourteen (14) people, plus our guide, which made for an infinitely more personal and intimate experience than the usual busloads.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: To call Dubai a land of extravagance would, of course, be a gross understatement. To think that in just a quarter of a Dubai - Skylinecentury, the city has gone from being a sandy desert to becoming one of the top five cities in the world with the most buildings over 100 meters (328 feet) tall is absolutely awe-inspiring. In 2008 alone, forty-one of these incredible skyscrapers rose from the ground.

Proof of the country’s daunting financial health is the abundance of luxury cars. It is rumored that the local pound is stocked with abandoned luxury vehicles; and even the police drive supercars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis… including an Aston Martin One-77 with a list price of a whopping 1.79 million dollars.

But even more important than the extravagance of the car itself is the license plate… The fewer the numbers, the more important is the driver. Just a few years ago, the number plate “1” was auctioned off for a cool 14.5 million dollars.

Yet another measure of Dubai’s immoderation…? Here you can find ATMs, not for banknotes but for gold. And it is certainly no coincidence that 40% of the world’s gold market passes through the city’s precincts.

Raffles the Palm, Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Located on the West Crescent Palm Jumeirah, Raffles the Palm is a 5-star hotel with beautiful pyramid-shaped architecture, tropical gardens, and one of the most stunning beachfront properties in Dubai. Our home away from home for five nights, it is Dubai - Raffles the Palmdefinitely worth a visit in its own right.

Raffles the Palm, of course, is constructed on one of Dubai’s human-made archipelagos – Palm Jumeirah – with others at various stages of development. These islands are made through a kind of “land reclamation,” a process that involves dredging sand from the Persian and Arabian Gulf’s floors. The sand is then sprayed and “vibro-compacted” into shape using GPS technology for precision and is surrounded by millions of tons of rock for protection.

The process is labor intensive… and expensive, which is why many of Dubai’s artificial islands have yet to be completed. And, as you would undoubtedly surmise, construction of the Palm Islands has had a significant impact on the environment, resulting in changes in area wildlife, coastal erosion, alongshore sediment transport, and wave patterns.

As a result of dredging and redepositing of sand for the construction of the islands, the crystalline waters of the Persian Gulf at Dubai have become severely clouded with silt. Construction has damaged the marine habitat, burying coral reefs, oyster beds, and subterranean fields of seagrass, which threatens local Dubai - Palm Islandsmarine species and other species dependent on them for food.

These environmental disturbances have attracted the attention of environmental groups such as Greenpeace. In 2006 the World Wildlife Fund announced that “(The) UAE’s human pressure on global ecosystems (its ecological footprint) is the highest in the world. The country is supposedly at present five times more unsustainable than any other country.” It also mentioned that the construction from the start-up date had caused many visible ecological and environmental changes that threatened the future.

Palm Jumeirah was built entirely from sand and rocks; no concrete or steel was used to build the island. And one of the risks of such a tremendous undertaking, as well as the above-mentioned environmental issues, is the very real possibility of sinking. Is Raffles the Palm destined one day to disappear beneath the waves…? Only time will tell.

Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club: This is quite a beautiful facility; and our guide at the Club, a woman from New Zealand – who is the CEO and chief Dubai - Polo Equesttrian Clubtrainer – was both charming and informative. She gave us a quick glimpse of horses in general, their different breeds – polo ponies, thoroughbreds, Arabian – and their specialties and needs, as well as the equipment utilized. She guided us through the Club House, polo pitches, equestrian training facilities, and the stable, where we had opportunity to get up close & personal with the horses.

Following our tour of the stables, we enjoyed a first-class lunch at outdoor tables overlooking the exercise track. My chicken breast sandwich was excellent… ditto my traveling companion’s lobster roll. Dessert was a shared rich chocolate cake garnished with vanilla ice cream. And, seemingly like everything else in Dubai, portions were prodigious.

Al Sahara Desert Dining Experience: After a few hours of relaxation at our hotel, our group set out again on what was billed as a Dubai Dinner Safari. To quote the description: “As a perfect end to the day, you’ll be presented with a luxury 5-star banquet dinner. To accompany your dinner, you’ll Dubai - Al Sahara Belly Dancerhave the opportunity to see a live belly-dancing show, a spectacular fire show, and various other entertainment that is traditional in Dubai and the surrounding region. Sit back and relax, watching the sun set softly over the desert horizon, and reflect on a day well spent.”

… Well… yes, and no. The entertainment was outstanding. The belly-dancing was great and the fire show quite spectacular, indeed. But, in my opinion, the food was just so-so. It was an outdoor buffet… and you had to walk a goodly distance from where you were seated to adorn your plate.

In addition, we didn’t exactly “watch the sun set softly over the desert horizon.” The Dubai traffic is, in a word, formidable. And since our travel time was infinitely longer than expected, it was quite dark by the time we eventually arrived at our desert destination.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi: Located in Abu Dhabi, Capital of the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques and a massive architectural work of art that intentionally blends different Islamic architectural schools. It features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat-gold gilded Abu Dhabi - Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosquechandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan built this mosque to convey historic consequence and to embody the Islamic message of peace, tolerance, and diversity. He intended that the Grand Mosque be a living reference of modern Islamic architecture that links the past with the present and creates a place of Islamic science and learning that would reflect genuine Islamic values. Constructed at a cost of 1.4 billion dollars, it is capable of accommodating 141,000 worshippers.

To enter the mosque, you must take an escalator down to an underground mall that is filled with souvenir shops and a plethoric variety of retail stores & restaurants. I doubt that I have ever seen a more commercialized religious enterprise. Having run the gauntlet, you are confronted with a type of staging area, where you are scrutinized with regard to proper attire. Shorts and otherwise bare skin are strictly prohibited… ditto transparent & tight-fitting garments; and women must cover their heads with a scarf or shawl.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai: The Burj Khalifa (originally known as the Burj Dubai prior to its inauguration) is indisputably the world’s tallest structure. With Dubai - Burj Khalifaa total height of 2,722 feet, or just over half a mile, it has been the tallest structure and building in the world since 2009, supplanting Taipei 101, the previous holder of the status.

The construction began in 2004, with the exterior completed five years later on October 1, 2009. It officially opened on January 4, 2010.  The building was designed by a team led by Adrian Smith of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago, a previous record-holder for the world’s tallest building.

 Burj Khalifa was designed to be the centerpiece of a large-scale development to include 30,000 homes, nine Dubai - View from top of Burjhotels, 7.4 acres of parkland, 19 skyscrapers, the Dubai Mall, and the 30-acre artificial Burj Khalifa Lake.

The Burj contains luxury homes, global companies, and the swanky Armani Hotel. Only the 124th, 125th, and 148th floors are open to the public. And as you can well imagine, the view – especially from the 148th floor – is truly spectacular. (pictured).

 Final Evening of the Pre-Cruise Excursion: This, of course, should have been the highlight of our pre-cruise junket. Instead, it turned out to be something of a mixed bag,

The evening started out well enough, as we attended an intriguing rendition of Cirque du Soleil’s Water Stage at the La Perle Theater in the Hilton Hotel. Following the performance, we went upstairs to the Babiole Restaurant for our 8:00 p.m. dinner reservation – and this is where the anomalies Dubai - Babiole Restaurant Viewbegan to pop up.

The food wasn’t bad at all – my Burrata and my traveling companion’s Beef Carpaccio, for example, made excellent starters… ditto her main course of Seafood Risotto… and other members of the party seemed more than satisfied with entrées such as Wild Mushroom Ghocchi and Chicken Milanese – unfortunately, there were a number of other contributing factors. My entrée, for instance, was simply MIA, missing in action. I had ordered the Baked Salmon with quinoa and olive crust. What appeared, however, was the Risotto. I informed the server of the mistake, and he promptly returned it to the kitchen. And I waited… and waited… and waited. By the time the salmon finally materialized, everyone else had completely finished their entrées, so I simply handed it back to the waiter and we all moved on to dessert.

Then, of course, there was the noise issue… Instead of being seated in the restaurant’s cozy dining room, which, at the time of our arrival, was completely devoid of human habitation, our party of fourteen was plopped down at a large table in the bustling bar area. And while the view was spectacular (pictured Dubai - Babiole Restaurantabove), there was a speaker situated almost directly above our heads; and, as the evening wore on, the piped-in music became louder and louder. Carrying on a reasonably intelligent conversation became completely impossible.

Complaints were made. The restaurant manager wasn’t exactly helpful, simply noting that this was “Ladies’ Night” (I mean, there were all of three unescorted ladies seated at the bar), that the music was always loud on such occasions, and that a representative of our group had been informed of this fact at the time our reservation was originally made.

Neither a particularly satisfactory conclusion to a highly-anticipated pre-cruise excursion, nor a very auspicious prelude to what proved to be a very enjoyable and illuminating cruising experience.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED

007’s FAVORITE COCKTAIL

Vesper Martini“A dry martini,” (Bond) said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

 “Oui, monsieur.”

 “Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

 Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

 “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said (Felix) Leiter.

 Bond laughed. “When I’m… er… concentrating, he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.”

 Of course, Bond later named the drink after his love interest, Vesper Lynd.

Vesper Martini 2The above passage is from chapter seven of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, penned in 1953. If you’d care to see Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the dialogue from the film of the same name, please click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuRKTvAs_ns.

Contrary to popular belief, while Fleming’s novel popularized the cocktail, it was not his creation. It was actually devised by his good friend Ivar Bryce. Naming the drink, the Vesper, however, was Fleming’s idea, though it was based on someone else’s pun on “vespers,” a religious observance normally held around sunset.

Lillet BlancThe only item in the above recipe that may be unfamiliar is Kina Lillet. Invented in 1887, this was a liqueur made with white wine mixed with fruit liqueurs and flavored with quinine. The Kina in its name is derived from quinine’s main ingredient: the bark of the kina-kina (or cinchona) tree.

In 1986, however, Lillet Blanc, which has a lower quinine content, replaced Kina and has since become exceedingly popular in bars and restaurants. Lillet is actually a family of French aromatized wines; that is, wines fortified with brandy and then infused with herbs, spices, fruit, or other botanicals.  Lillet Blanc is crisp and light, with subtle floral, herbal, and citrus notes. It tastes like a semi-sweet white vermouth with distinctive herbal notes on the finish.

In addition to Kina Lillet being discontinued, in 1992 Gordon’s cut the proof of their gin; so, unfortunately, we cannot duplicate the exact recipe as it was stated. We can, however, with substitutes, come pretty close…

Cocchi AmericanoLillet Blanc is available, but Kina Lillet included quinine. Cocchi Americano can be used as a substitute, as it possesses a more bitter finish than Lillet Blanc…. For a more traditional flavor, 100 proof vodka should be used to bring the alcohol content of the cocktail back to 1953 levels… Because Gordon’s Gin has been cut to 75 proof, possible substitutes are Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, or Broker’s (I prefer Bombay Sapphire), which provide the traditional flavor of 94 proof gin.

The Vesper Martini:

Ingredients:

3 ounces gin

1 ounce vodka

½ ounce Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc

ice cubes

lemon for lemon twist

Instructions:

  1. Pour gin, vodka, and Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds, until ice cold.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Rub the lemon twist along the rim of the glass and drop it into the cocktail.

The Vesper Martini is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it contains 4 ounces of liquor, plus a splash of Cocchi Americano. It’s, well… yes, delightfully boozy… But it’s as uniquely alluring as it is powerful.

Cheers!

TAD

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Favorite Wines of 2023

by artfuldiner on January 29, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

Wine 3Once again, 2023 was a great year for wine tasting. Of the slew of wines sampled, from a variety of different countries, the 8 listed below – 4 white; 4 red – are particularly recommended.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

 

FAVORITE WHITE WINES OF 2023:

 2021 Cadre Band of Stones Grüner Veltliner (California): While Austria is known as the home of the finest Grüner Veltliner, I freely confess that Cadre Band of Stones Gruner 2021I much prefer this version from California’s Edna Valley. Not only does it possess infinitely more body than many of its Austrian cousins, but it also hits you with less acidity. This wine is also highly rated – 92 points from Wine Enthusiast; 91 points from Wilfred Wong of Wine.com – and readily available from Pennsylvania State Stores. So, when you begin to tire of those over-oaked California chards, but still want a wine with plenty of body and texture, the 2021 Cadre Band of Stones may be just your ticket. And, priced at $15.99, its also less expensive than it Austrian siblings.

 2022 Forrester, Ken Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (South Africa): In March 2023, I visited Ken Ken ForresterForrester Wines, considered by locals and wine loves alike, the home of Chenin Blanc. The man himself, affectionally known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” is reputed to be just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. I tasted four wines during my visit… and the standout (and most reasonably priced & readily available) continues to be the Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc. While I sampled the 2022, the 2021 and 2020 are also excellent vintages. So, feel free to snatch up whatever may be available from various sources online. Priced in the $18.00 – $20.00 range.

 2020 Trimbach Riesling Reserve (Alsace, France): Structured, bone dry, and delightfully fruity, the 2020 Trimbach- WineryReserve is finesse personified. Wine writer James Suckling bestowed 94 points, referring to the “super-ripe lemon, fresh pineapple and herb aromas… of this medium-bodied, concentrated and sophisticated dry Riesling… and the excellent balance at the long, very clean finish.” Priced at $33.99 at your local State Store. The lowest price I have seen online is from the Saratoga Wine Exchange: $27.94 (plus shipping). If you’d prefer a slightly lower priced wine, I would suggest the 2020 Trimbach Riesling, $23.89 at State Stores; lowest price online: $19.99 (plus shipping) at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in New Jersey.

2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko (Greece): Among the little-known grape varieties of Greece, Assyrtiko has been by far the most popular among Greek whites. Zacharias Assyrtiko 2020Although originating on the Island of Santorini, it is now planted across mainland Greece, becoming one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak. The 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko is characterized by light yellow color and aromas of yellow fruits and lemon flowers. It is bone-dry with distinctive character, excellent structure, and crisp acidity. It is pleasant to drink young; however, it also ages well – from five to ten years, sometimes significantly longer – developing aromas and flavors of ripe fruits, honey, and intense minerality. This is not, unfortunately, available through Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I have discovered online is $10.95 (plus shipping) from Shoppers Vineyard in Clifton, New Jersey.

 

FAVORITE RED WINES OF 2023:

 2021 Barista Pinotage (South Africa): Produced by legendary South African winemaker Bertus Fourie, the 2021 Barista Pinotage is its own unique Barista Pinotage 2021oenological treasure. It is a deliberately & distinctly modern interpretation of South Africa’s signature grape; and will undoubtedly remind most wine lovers of a top-notch Pinot Noir. Nuances of vanilla and mocha and silky-smooth tannins make this a completely accessible wine that is ready to be enjoyed. Readily available from a variety of sources, it is currently priced at $15.59 at Pennsylvania State Stores.

2019 Château Brun Despagne Querre Bordeaux Supérieur (France): The Bordeaux Supérieur I have Bordeaux Superieur - Imageenjoyed on a regular basis is the 2019 Château Brun Despagne Querre, an enticing blend of 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Garnering 91 points from James Suckling, this medium-bodied every-day quaffer is lusciously textured, alive with sweet dark fruit, and pure pleasure in the glass. But the best part of the 2019 Bordeaux Supérieur wines, as one writer put is, is that “every one of them sells for a song.” The 2019 Château Brun Despagne Querre, for example, is currently on sale at Pennsylvania State Stores at $8.99 per bottle (a dollar or two more at Total Wines).

 2018 Manzanos 111 Reserva Red Rioja (Spain): Hailing from Bodegas Manzanos, one of Spain’s largest producers, the 2018 111 Reserva, like all Manzanos Wines - Reserva Rioja 2018red Riojas, is a blended wine of predominately Tempranillo supplemented by smaller percentages of Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano. As a Reserva, it has also been aged for three years (one of which was in barrel) before release. And although it received 93 points from Mike DeSimone of Wine Enthusiast, I think that score could have been even a few notches higher, as this wine is incredibly opulent, delightfully complex, and as smooth as silk on the palate. In addition, although the suggested retail price is $45.00, it is currently on sale from various sources online and also available in Pennsylvania at a paltry $12.99.

2020 Vinha da Coutada Velha (Portugal): This wine hails from Portugal and is an intriguing blend of Aragonez – a Vinha Da Coutada Velha 2020Portuguese name for Tempranillo, Tincadeira, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, combining native grapes with international varieties. The pleasing result is a marvelously spicy mix of red and dark fruit flavors backed by an intriguing earthiness. The Wine Enthusiast bestowed 92 points, noting its smooth & powerful finish and potential longevity, while the Washington Post called it a “great value.” Priced at a mere $9.99 at your local State Store, it is a bargain, indeed.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Poseidon Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar

128 Paoli Pike

Paoli, Pennsylvania

(610) 812-3333

https://www.poseidonpa.com/

Tucked away in a building that has been home to several restaurants – including the long-running Luigi’s, the short-lived Big Easy, and an excellent Poseidon - Exterior2gastropub dubbed the Redhound GrillePoseidon Asian Cuisine, hopefully, will enjoy a longer and more prosperous tenure than its various predecessors. And, based upon several recent visits, as well as the comments posted on social media, as of this writing, the gastronomic gods – especially the Greek god of the sea – seem to be smiling favorably.

The menu, of course, rounds up the usual suspects… sushi, sashimi & teriyaki; fried rice, noodles, Szechuan stir Poseidon - Outdoor Tablesfry & poke bowls. Familiar the culinary constituents may be, but… the ingredients are of impeccable quality, the preparation & presentation first-rate, and the atmosphere – including a beautiful patio for al fresco dining in warmer weather (pictured) – relaxed and inviting. Add personable & knowledgeable service, reasonable prices, and the fact that you may BYOB, and a very pleasant dining experience awaits.

There are, as you may very well suspect, numerous ways to start things off here. My dining partner, for example, is a lover of crab, and she went immediately for the Crab Cheese Wontons, which she highly praised. I, on the other hand, since I consider myself something of a veggie-saurus at heart, felt very much in the mood to give the Tempura Vegetable a try.

Tempura is a dish that consists of vegetables – in this case, carrot, sweet potato, broccoli & mushroom cap – (or Poseidon - Veggie Tempuraseafoods) that are battered and deep fried. However, it is the distinctive batter that makes tempura remarkably different from other fried foods. Tempura batter utilizes no breadcrumbs; it is basically made from beaten egg, flour, and cold water. Occasionally, a touch of oil or spices may be added… And here it was as light as a feather.

Tempura is one of the most common Japanese dishes served outside of Japan. And, in the minds of many, along with sushi, it has become synonymous with Japanese cuisine. Interestingly enough, however, tempura’s origins are not Japanese. This method of frying food was introduced in the 1600s by Portuguese missionaries. The original dish is no longer extant, but it was a meal designed for Lent, when many Christian denominations are forbidden to eat meat. In point of fact, the name tempura comes from the Latin ad tempora cuaresme – meaning, “in the time of Lent” – which, evidently the Japanese mistook as the dish’s name and called it tempura. Speculation has it that the original Portuguese dish may have originated in Goa, India, where a similar dish known as pakora is served.

Please pardon the momentary digression… Back to the entrées… My choice for the evening was a rather simple dish, the Eggplant with Chicken. That being said, however, the brown sauce was quite excellent… It was also slightly on the spicy side, which was very much to my liking, as there was just enough heat to invigorate rather than incinerate the palate. The slender slices of chicken were moist and tender, and the eggplant just the proper texture and consistency.

My dining partner went straight for the Sexy Lobster (pictured), a dish she had thoroughly enjoyed during a previous visit. The lobster is steamed, formed Poseidon - Lobster Rollinto a roll and stuffed with lobster salad. It is then topped with steamed shrimp, avocado, red tobiko (flying fish roe), and companioned by spicy mayo and mango sauce. An absolutely fabulous dish that is highly recommended on all counts… And as you can tell from the photograph, it was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate.

Asian restaurants aren’t particularly known for their desserts. However, the cheesecake we shared certainly Poseidon - Cheesecakedeserves mention. Although not made in-house, it was moist, flavorful, and the perfect sweet ending for our evening at table.

I do apologize, however, for the poor quality of the photograph… We visited the restaurant during the latter part of August and were seated outdoors on the patio. As you can tell, darkness had begun to descend.

As noted above, the service here is quite good. In this regard, however, I do have one significant complaint; and I take a moment to dwell upon it here, not because it is endemic to Poseidon, but because it seems to be occurring with the nauseating inevitability of an unloved season (mostly, it is true, in more casual eateries; but occasionally in fine-dining establishments as well – a prominent Michelin-starred restaurant in London, which shall remain nameless, comes immediately to mind).

The scenario goes something like this… You and your dining partner have stepped out for a leisurely dinner. In absolutely no hurry, you’re enjoying your appetizers and some very pleasant conversation. You’re not quite halfway through the starters when… you guessed it… up pops a runner bearing entrées. This is a positive no-no. There is absolutely no way that entrées should be presented at table before appetizers have been cleared.

Unfortunately, this Speedy Gonzales approach to restaurant service has become more and more commonplace of late. And this questionable state-of-affairs Poseidon - Interioris certainly not the fault of the kitchen; rather, it occurs because of the inexperience of servers and, ultimately, as a result of poor management. Some restaurateurs seem to be under the mistaken impression that anyone with the appropriate number of appendages is qualified to wait tables… and that, quite simply, is not the case. Occasionally, a bit of instruction is very much in order.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Ivy, The - Interior 1For your dining pleasure, listed below are synopses of the restaurants reviewed during the year 2023. The month appearing in parentheses indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on my blog.

As you will note, I have also included restaurants from my recent travels to London and South Africa, which are well worth visiting and, hopefully, may be of interest to those who enjoy an occasional gastronomically-inspired sojourn (pictured: The Ivy in London).

United States

 BUNHA FAUN (July), 152 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 651-2836, https://bunhafaun.net: The unassuming exterior notwithstanding (it formerly housed a Dairy Queen), the restaurant’s inner sanctum is attractively and Bunha Faun - Interior 2tastefully appointed… And the cuisine – French fare with a distinctive Asian flair – is lovingly prepared and beautifully presented. Recommended starters include an eye-catching Snow Pea Salad and Oriental Noodles tossed with sesame dressing topped with slivers of chicken and crushed peanuts surrounded by alternating snippets of carrots and broccoli. Entrée-wise, the Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon is excellent; but the Escalope of Veal in an addictive white wine sauce aided & abetted by wild mushrooms & prosciutto is even better. Desserts (mostly trucked in from off campus) are, unfortunately, a low point. And just be prepared. Depending upon the night of your visit, service can be as slow as a herd of turtles. BYOB.

THE CHOICE (March), 845 Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (484) 383-3230, https://thechoice-restaurant.com: Given the fact that the menu is awash with a host of French and Asian fusion innuendos, you would probably never Choice, The - Scallops in Shredded Filo Doughsuspect that the restaurant is owned by two Ukrainian families. But since well-traveled co-proprietor “Vlad” Hyvel served as sous-chef in London’s Nobu and also put in time at Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges, his curious culinary predilections make perfect sense. Matters piscatorial – both preludes and main courses – play a significant role in Mr. Hyvel’s repertoire. Scallops in Shredded Filo (pictured) accompanied by a zippy wasabi cream sauce, for example, were simply irresistible. Ditto the Wild Caught Striped Bass. Wrapped in a crispy potato crust, the filet was served on a seabed of creamy leeks and splashed with a delicate red wine sauce. If the restaurant has a weakness, it is their desserts, which are exceedingly limited and completely lacking in creativity. While dining at The Choice is not an inexpensive proposition, the fact that you may BYOB helps to soften the blow somewhat.

 DI BRUNO BROS. (September), 385 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (484) 581-7888, https://dibruno.com/locations/wayne: Located smack dab in the middle of the hustle & bustle of this well-known Philadelphia-based gourmet Di Bruno Interior 1specialty store, the charming little Alimentari Bar/Café is a great place to enjoy a luncheon rendezvous or afternoon snack bolstered by one of the establishment’s creative cocktails. Italian comfort food is the name of the game here, with items such as House of Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Pizza alla Romana, and Spicy Sausage Rigatoni taking center stage. Dolci, “sweets” are somewhat limited, but be sure to try the traditional Affogato al Caffe, vanilla gelato “drowned” in a shot of potent espresso. On the other hand, the pastry department is just a few steps away… Why not make a quick stop and savor your dessert at home.

 LE BERNARDIN (October), 155 West 51st Street, New York, New York, (212) 554-1515, www.le-bernardin.com/: The recipient of three Michelin stars and more culinary honors than you can shake a fork at, if Le Bernardin - Eric Ripertyou appreciate the unmitigated joys of fine dining, Le Bernardin should most assuredly be at the very top your bucket list. Chef de Cuisine/co-owner Eric Ripert’s (pictured) French-inspired piscatorial fare is absolutely incomparable – there is simply no other word for it. And nothing quite measures up to his superlative pan-roasted Dover Sole. Adorned with crisp green olive rings & toasted almonds, the delicate filet is finished with a subtly seductive sherry wine emulsion that gently caresses the object of its affection. The award-winning wine list, curated by wine director Aldo Sohm in collaboration with Chef Ripert, is a thing of beauty; and desserts, under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Orlando Soto, are equally pleasing to both eye and palate. An extraordinary experience that is, indeed, worthy of a journey.

 POMOD’ORO PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (May), 200 Chestnut Street, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-0405, www.pomodorodowningtown.com:  Pomod’oro is the younger sibling of Anthony’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Malvern. And, like its elder Pomodoro - Cannoli Cake2brother, Pomod’oro is a BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food that sports princely portions at downright paltry prices.  The interior is somewhat utilitarian – unadorned wooden tables, silverware wrapped in paper napkins, hardwood floors, bare windows – but don’t be misled. The dining rooms have a warmth all their own, especially when filled by the restaurant’s loyal and ever-growing clientele, which is most of the time. The menu runs the gamut, from appetizers, soups and salads, pizza, sandwiches, stromboli and calzones, through entrees and signature dishes: chicken or veal prepared Marsala, Piccata, Parmigiana or Cacciatora… But save room for dessert. All are homemade from the bakery located on the premises. My favorite? The incredible Cannoli Cake (pictured). Part creamy cannoli filling, part moist yellow cake, it is both irresistibly decadent and utterly delicious. BYOB.

 SCHAEFER’S CANAL HOUSE (August), 208 Bank Street, Chesapeake City, Maryland, (410) 885-7200, https://www.schaeferscanalhouse.com: Tucked away on the north side of the C&D Canal in the historic town of Chesapeake City, Maryland, Schaefer's Canal House - ExteriorSchaefer’s isn’t exactly a “destination” restaurant. However, should you find yourself traveling along the I-95 corridor between Philly & DC – especially in warmer weather – its considerable charms will surely beckon. And no matter where you happen to be seated, outdoor veranda or dining room, the view of the canal is truly spectacular. Given the restaurant’s strategic waterside location, it’s no surprise that seafood is the name of the game. Start with the incomparably tender Traditional Calamari, for example, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. From there, you can move on to entrées such as Jambalaya, Grilled Salmon, Parmesan-Crusted Mahi Mahi, or lighter fare like Fish Tacos or Crab Melt. An especially pleasant spot for lunch during the summer months.

 

London

 THE AMERICAN BAR (February), Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London, https://www.thesavoylondon.com/restaurant/american-bar: American Bar - Cheese BoardWhen in London, nothing beats a visit to the Savoy’s world-famous American Bar – one of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world. It has been named “World’s Best Bar at Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2018 and World’s 50 Best Bars in 2017. Most recently, it was named one of “The World’s 44 Best Hotel Bars” by the Forbes Travel Guide. Luncheon offerings – such as Grilled Dry-Aged USDA Beef Burger, Texas Fried Chicken Strips, and Vegan Reuben Sandwich – feature uniquely British flourishes on All-American Favorites. The American is also a great spot for a late-night snack following an evening at the theater. Gastronomic possibilities include Oysters, Caviar, Coffee & Cupcake, and a New York Deli Platter. We finally settled on the Artisan Cheese Board (pictured), which proved to be an excellent choice.

THE CINNAMON CLUB (February), 30-32 Great Smith Street, London, https://cinnamonclub.com: Sequestered in the former home of the old Westminster Library, just around Cinnamon Club - Interior 2the corner from Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the Cinnamon Club isn’t all that easy to find (there is no exterior sign)… but if you enjoy fine Indian cuisine, it is definitely worth the effort. And, as you may observe from the photo, evidences of the previous occupant are very much in evidence – which only adds to the enjoyment – but it’s the outstanding quality and presentation of the cuisine that clearly places this restaurant in a class by itself. Items such as Chicken Seekh Tawa Masala (minced chicken in a spicy sauce), Masala Corn Kebabs, Corn & Ginger Soup, and Cauliflower & Berkswell Cheese Parcel with Tomato Fenugreek Sauce succeeded in making this a most memorable lunch. And even though desserts are usually not given a second thought in most Indian restaurants, we found the Royal Malai Kulfi (Indian ice cream) with caramelized quinoa & raspberry crip and the Mango Meringue Tart with spiced puffed rice and smoked berry sorbet every bit as extraordinary as their illustrious predecessors.

GALVIN LA CHAPELLE (February), 35 Spital Square, London, https://galvinrestaurants.com/restaurant/galvin-la-chapelle: Located in Galvin La Chapelle - InteriorSt. Boltolph’s Hall, a 19th century former school chapel, the setting – vaulted ceilings, massive pillars, grand buttresses, dark woods & leather furnishings – was, indeed, awe-inspiring (pictured). Unfortunately, the cuisine and service, a Michelin star notwithstanding, were significantly less so. The Foie Gras Terrine, an appetizer garnished with black garlic, caramel vinegar, and fermented cherry, while beautifully presented, was the bland-leading-the-bland. Ditto my dining partner’s entrée of Herdwick Lamb; another triumph of form over substance. Flavor was conspicuous by its absence. On the other hand, my Barbecued Monkfish kissed by an ethereal clam velouté was positively sublime in its simplicity. Desserts – Provence Peach Soufflé and Raspberry & Manjari Chocolate Delicacy – were also quite good. However, apart from the Monkfish – with an “honorable mention” to the desserts – the food, in my opinion, simply wasn’t up to Michelin star standards. And the same was true of the service. Nothing seriously amiss… just out of sync. Our Speedy Gonzales server was in entirely too much of a hurry – to take our orders… to bring wine… to serve the entrées – when there was absolutely no need to be. Especially since we told him we wished to linger over cocktails. An interesting experience. However, as my dining companion so aptly put it: “I don’t think I’d hurry back.”

 THE IVY (February), 1-5 West Street, London, https://the-ivy.co.uk/: Located directly across the street from St. Martin’s Theatre, The Ivy has Ivy, The - Cheese Soufflebeen a West End institution for over a century. The attractive bohemian-style eatery comes replete with a sumptuous flatiron bar, iconic wood paneling, harlequin mullioned windows, and a kitchen that is quite adept at turning out an impressive array of traditional British fare with decidedly innovative touches. Entrées run the gamut… from roasted & grilled items such as Slow Cooked Rabbit Leg & Spring Lamb Cutlets to miso-marinated Black Cod and a rather pricey Dover Sole. My dining partner and I enjoyed two of the house favorites, Deep-Fried Haddock & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie, respectively; and both were excellent. The absolute show-stopper, however, was our shared appetizer, the Twice-Baked Cheese Soufflé (pictured), which was nothing short of extraordinary.

TURNIPS (February), 43, Borough Market, London, https://restaurant.turnipsboroughmarket.com/: Tucked under the historic arches of London’s iconic TurnipsBorough Market, Turnips is a greengrocer selling high quality fruit and vegetables from independent producers across Britain, Europe and beyond… But it is also an haute cuisine restaurant offering patrons seasonally-inspired creative modern dishes featuring world-class vegetables. The restaurant’s small plate selection and tasting menu both showcase a beautifully presented cooking style that follows the micro-seasonality of the ingredients. Definitely high end, but totally accessible, as Chef Lidakevicius’ cuisine remains in perfect harmony with the charmingly casual ambience of the market stall. While sipping glasses of white wine and taking in the seemingly ceaseless flow of human flora & fauna, my dining companion and I were treated to such remarkable luncheon creations as Wild Mushroom Croquette with mozzarella, Sicilian & Provence Outdoor Tomato garnished with walnut & gorgonzola, and Britany Cauliflower crowned with Australian black truffle. Haute cuisine… smack dab in the middle of the bustling Borough Market… Who would have guessed?

 South Africa

CHEFS WAREHOUSE (June), Beau Constantia Wine Farm, Constantia Neck, Cape Town, South Africa, https://www.chefswarehouse.co.za/beau-constantia: Located twenty minutes from Cape Town proper, this modern eatery opened its doors in 2016. Chef's Warehouse - Thai Roast ChickenFrom the outside, the building with its eye-catching cubed glass appears suspended in space. The recently revamped interior boasts an expanded open kitchen and spacious outdoor terrace that affords diners exceptional views of the valley below. Chef Ivor Jones offers a celebration of global flavors with a unique set menu that changes seasonally. Main courses include such intriguing possibilities as Char-Grilled Tuna with Perilla leaves (mint), Nam Phrik (spicy Thai chili sauce) & Szechuan-style cashews; Hakurei Turnip Mille-Feuille garnished with preserved spring flowers, and vadouvan (Indian curry blend of spices) & buttermilk dressing; and Thai Roast Chicken with BBQ cashew nut purée and tamarind dressing (pictured). Fabulous!

DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE (June), Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, https://www.delaire.co.za: Following our morning tasting at Stark-Condé Wines, we departed for lunch at Delaire Delaire Graff Estate - TerraceGraff. We wanted to dine alfresco and, once again, Samson, our knowledgeable guide, was right on the money with his suggestion. Shaded by ancient oak trees, the restaurant’s broad wooden terrace provided breathtaking views of vineyards and olive groves from Simonsberg Peak across the Banghoek Valley (pictured)… And the food was every bit as pleasing as the view. Entrées included innovative presentations such as Sweet Potato Gnocchi with wild mushrooms, broccoli, and parmesan velouté; Seafood & Black Risotto awash with langoustine, mussels, prawns, squid, seaweed, tomato, sesame, and roasted red peppers; and Duck Breast accompanied by turnips, fennel prune, and marsala jus. However, since we were scheduled for another wine tasting that afternoon, followed by an upscale dinner, which would include cocktails and wine, we decided that a light luncheon, sans the fruit of the vine, was definitely called for. And an excellent Salad Niçoise, followed by an ethereal but exceedingly flavorful Caramel Tart, filled the bill quite nicely.

 ERNIE ELS WINERY RESTAURANT (June), Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, https://ernieelswines.com/restaurant: Ernie Els Winery Restaurant - TerraceFollowing a morning wine tasting, it was but a short drive to South African golfer Ernie Els Winery Restaurant for lunch. This was another eatery highly recommended by our guide, and we certainly were not disappointed.

The building itself was quite impressive: a charming open-plan space that extended out onto a spacious terrace, offering incredible views of Stellenbosch and the Helderberg Mountains (pictured). The cuisine, made with a host of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, was quite hearty. My Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Feta Salad, for example, came replete with an intriguing cashew nut praline, baby leaf greens, pickled onions, and was finished with a first-rate citrus dressing. My traveling companion was perfectly satisfied with her Roasted Local Vegetable & Pecorino Tagliatelle, and Samson, our guide, had nothing but praise for his Beef Filet. An excellent glass of the winery’s Chenin Blanc proved the perfect complement to my salad.

FOODBARN CAFÉ & TAPAS (June), Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Cape Town, South Africa, https://www.thefoodbarn.co.za: After a morning of sightseeing, we paused for lunch at the Foodbarn Café & Foodbarn & Tapas - ExteriorTapas. Aptly named, this super-casual eatery is set in a renovated barn with high-thatched ceiling, bare wooden tables, and modern lighting fixtures. But don’t be fooled by the laid-back ambience, as the subtle French-influenced cuisine is beautifully prepared and generously portioned. So much so that Fodor’s referred to the Foodbarn as “probably the best restaurant on the Cape Peninsula.” We dined alfresco and enjoyed the Calamari and Mushroom Ravioli, respectively, then shard a luscious Rhubarb Crème Brûlée for dessert. I should also add that first-rate, reasonably-priced wine pairings and stellar service completed the picture. Definitely a gastronomic high point.

FYN RESTAURANT (June), 5th Floor, Speakers Corner, Parliament Street, Cape Town, South Africa, http://fynrestaurant.com: Fyn Restaurant – pronounced “Fain” – made its debut in 2018 and Fyn Restaurant 1has been making waves on the global gastronomic scene ever since. In 2022, it broke into the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at number 37… picking up the Best Restaurant in Africa award at the same time. At its core, the menu is completely Japanese, utilizing fresh fish, poultry, and meat from the best of Cape Town’s farms and fisheries. The menu included intriguing starters like Guinea Fowl Wonton and Ostrich Egg Chawanmushi (savory egg custard) before moving on to such delicacies as Cape Malay King Trout with smoked barley and curry vinaigrette, Rooibos (a South African red herbal tea) Smoked Sashimi, and Roast Duck Breast with lacquered onion & hijiki, sancho pepper & lacto blueberries. Dessert…? Ethiopian Ice Cream with yuzu (citrus fruit sauce). By the way, if you arrive before sunset, the views of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain from the triple-height windows are truly spectacular.

LA PETITE COLOMBE (June), Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, South Africa, https://lapetitecolombe.restaurant: Part of the Leeu Collection stable of fine restaurants, La Petite La Petite Colombe - Karoo LambColombe is nestled in the midst of vineyards and manicured landscapes, offering diners extraordinarily beautiful views of the Franschhoek Valley and Franschhoek Pass… And the delicious cuisine, I can assure you, is every bit as photogenic as the scenery. The adventure begins with cocktails and “snacks” in the lounge before being called to table. Innovation is definitely the name of the game here, including a host of ingredients – many indigenous to South Africa – that will send you scrambling for an epicurean dictionary. The high point was clearly the Karoo Lamb (pictured), which is considered by many the best lamb in South Africa. Raised in a semi-desert area, the sheep feed mainly on the indigenous flora, which is extremely nutritious and responsible for the lamb’s unique favor. Dessert, a luscious Vanilla Panna Cotta, was garnished with gooseberry and tonka (a bean with a nutty vanilla flavor that is illegal in the US). An array of chocolates from the Sweets Trolley provided an ever-so-decadent finishing touch.

PROTÉGÉ (June), 18 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, South Africa, https://protege.restaurant/: Tucked away in Le Quartier Francais, a Protegecharmingly rustic little hostelry in the heart of the wine country, Protégé describes itself as “an informal eatery featuring stylish casual fare.” The setting is quite informal, as patrons may dine alfresco or watch the chefs at work in the central open kitchen. The food, however, is anything but. Calling it “stylish casual fare” is, indeed, an understatement… And that is not meant to be a knock, as the Asian, French, and Italian nuanced cuisine dished out in trendy small plates is perfectly prepared, beautifully presented, and more than just a touch innovative. Gastronomic esoterica such as BBQ Pork Roti, Gochujang and Salmon Miso Aubergine, Ssamjang isn’t likely to appeal to the meat & potatoes crowd… and just as likely to send even the most knowledgeable of diners in desperate search of semantic succor. The menu is also prix fixe – X number of courses for X number of Rand (the national currency of South Africa) – so copping out à la carte simply is not an option. Still, not such a bad deal as four courses will set you back a total of R795, which translates to $43.50 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity).

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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