Houston, we have problem: super-sized plates and menus that keep oil barons’ secrets

Saudi Aramco Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser speaks at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas, US. (Reuters)
Updated 10 March 2018
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Houston, we have problem: super-sized plates and menus that keep oil barons’ secrets

HOUSTON: In my desperate search for any sign of a rapprochement between the Arabs and the Texans, I went back to the place where — apparently — it all happened: The Grove restaurant and bar on Lamar Street, right opposite the Hilton Americas venue of the CERAWeek conference by IHS Markit.
It was at The Grove last Tuesday night that a dinner took place between representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and executives from some of the leading US shale oil companies.
That meeting — between the two big adversaries of the oil world — was heralded by such mystery and intrigue that there would surely have been evidence, or witnesses, to the dark deals that had been done there.
If skulduggery had actually taken place, by Thursday all the signs had evaporated, and all that was left at the Grove was a busy, buzzy Bayou City night, and the lovely Ashley, who served me and my friend at the glass-topped bar.
“Is it just the two of y’all,” asked Ashley when we arrived. I assured her that indeed we’all were just two, and sat down to look at the menu.
I could not help wondering: What did the oil peacemakers have to eat? Maybe Mohammed Barkindo, the general secretary of OPEC, who had extended the invitation to the shale men for the second successive year, had gone for the “local catch ceviche (served raw)” with a side of “cauliflower koshary (V GF avail)”?
Perhaps Tim Dove, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources and the leader of the shale men, had selected the “cowboy ribeye 18oz” with a side of “Gulf shrimp and grits? Whichever, I would never know, because Ashley had not been working that night, and anyway all the big power-broking dinners took place in the more discreet banqueting facilities of the first floor.
So we just sat down to a simple Houston supper. Neither I, nor my friend, were especially hungry, so we went for what The Grove calls “small plates”. I ordered “blue crab mac and cheese,” while my friend asked for “Jefferson County fried rice.” And some bread and butter as starters.
This is Texas, of course, so you expect everything to be just a little bigger than anywhere else in the US, and therefore in the whole world, but when the bread arrived I knew we were facing a serious challenge. It was a whole, huge loaf, with a small churn of butter beside it, and it would have fed a deprived family for many days.
Then arrived the “small plates.” Mine was comparatively modest in size but you just knew it held latent filling power. After only the first couple of mouthfuls, I knew I would be defeated, but would enjoy being vanquished.
My friend’s dish was aptly named, because I swear the plate itself was the size of Jefferson County. Marinated beef, fried egg, broccoli, baby bok choy, chile (sic) oil and peanuts all wrestled with each other for space on the enormous dish.
My friend joked that it was like a socio-demographic map of the southwestern part of the US, charted out in food. Being from that part of the world herself, she would know.
I got two-thirds of the way through mine, my friend did rather better with hers. We slumped into a post-prandial glow before we said goodbye to Ashley and headed out into the night, all happy, sated and contented. (I don’t know why the English use the phrase “fed up” as a pejorative.)
I wondered if that’s how Barkindo and Dove felt as they left The Grove a couple of nights before? If so, there must be a big friendly transaction coming any time soon.


World Cup football fakes keep Dubai’s ‘Dolce & Karama’ traders busy

Updated 22 June 2018
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World Cup football fakes keep Dubai’s ‘Dolce & Karama’ traders busy

  • Dubai's “Dolce and Karama” is the emirate's copycat capital
  • Neymar Jr shirts are proving especially popular with local shoppers

DUBAI: Tucked away in an old residential district and far from Dubai’s glitzy air-conditioned malls, the Karama area of the city is doing a roaring trade in selling World Cup football shirts.

But if you’re looking for the genuine article, you may have come to the wrong place.

Karama is Dubai's copycat capital where the knockoff imitations of the world's most famous fashion brands are sold for a fraction of the genuine price.

Known to some locals jokingly by the epithet “Dolce and Karama,” a play on the Dolce & Gabbana Italian fashion house, this is a place where if you have to ask the price, you probably can afford it.

With three weeks to go until football’s new world champions are crowned, the world’s biggest sporting tournament is keeping the tills chiming on the street that has become notorious for selling everything from fake Luis Vuitton bags to knockoff Ray-Ban sunglasses.

However since the tournament kicked off just over a week ago, it’s been football not fashion, that has put a smile on the face of traders.

Retailing for a fraction of their high-street cost, the copycat shirts — especially those bearing the name of Brazilian superstar Neymar — are flying off the stalls less than week into the tournament, as UAE-based fans who want to don the colors of their favorite team or player, look for bargains.

Mohammad Ashraf has been trading in Dubai’s Karama Shopping Complex for 15 years.

At his store, Mina Fashion, Ashraf said the World Cup has brought a booming trade.

When asked how many shirts he would sell prior to the Fifa World Cup, he shrugged.

“Maybe one, two — maximum five a day,” he said.

But the Indian trader has quadrupled his business since last week’s kick-off.

“Now, we have been very busy,” he said. “We sell at least 20 pieces a day — maybe more,” he said.

His football shirts are a fraction of the cost of the genuine article on sale in Dubai malls where retailers are feeling the pressure from the growth of online rivals, the introduction of VAT and the strong dollar to which the UAE dirham is pegged — that is hitting tourist spending hard.

Karama football shirts sell for about 65 dirhams ($18) in adult size and 55 dirhams for children. But the real deal costs three or four times as much a few miles down the road in the Dubai Mall, the city’s biggest tourist draw.

In Karama, the football shirts of the Brazil, Argentina and Germany teams have been among the biggest sellers.

And the most popular player?

Ashraf said shirts bearing the name of Brazilian footballer Neymar da Sila Santos Junior have been flying off the shelves.

Abdulla Javid, runs Nujoom Al Maleb in the Karama shopping district — a shop selling a variety of knock-off sportswear — including World Cup shirts for men, youths and children.

“They are not real, not branded — branded ones are very expensive,” he said.

“We have shirts for Germany, for Argentina, for Portugal, for Sweden, for Brazil and for Belgium,” he said, pointing to racks of multi-colored football shirts.

Mens shirts retail for about 45 dirhams for adult sizes in his shop and 40 dirhams for youths. For young children, he sells shirts and shorts for a combined price of 30 dirhams.

The World Cup has also been a welcome boom for business.

“Before we sell maybe between five to 10 (shirts) a day,” he said. “Now, at least 20 to 30 pieces a day. It has been very busy. This time is a good time for us.”

Also at Karama Shopping Complex is Zico Sports.

Ahmed Jaber, a 53-year-old trader, said there are good deals to be found in at the shop he has worked in since the 1980s.

He sells football shirts that are both “branded” and “non-branded” — in other words the genuine article and cheaper knock-offs.

He said customers have been happy to shell out for the genuine football shirts for the adult sizes — which he sells for 379 dirhams, but for children, shoppers prefer to buy the fake football shirts, which he sells for about 30 dirhams.

The most popular shirts since the start of World Cup have been for Brazil, Argentina and France, he said, but his shops have an abundance of kit for all competing countries.

When he asked how the 2018 World Cup had been for business, he laughed.

“Not bad at all!,” he said.