REVIEW: Villamoré — Break your fast away from the crowds

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Villamoré at Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai (Supplied)
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Iftar at Villamoré. (Supplied)
Updated 05 June 2019

REVIEW: Villamoré — Break your fast away from the crowds

  • Villamoré at Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai shuns the ‘all you can eat’ buffet for a less-wasteful set menu in Ramadan
  • This cute little Mediterranean hideaway is all about serving freshly-made dishes to your table

DUBAI: Every year, around a month before Ramadan, begins the amazing email race — restaurants near and far rush to send out their dining promotions to media and to food bloggers. Needless to say, we receive a lot of these emails — hundreds, in fact — and that’s just for iftar, never mind the list of suhoors and Ramadan tents.

While sifting through the information this year, a couple of things stood out. First of all, ‘per person’ prices are becoming much more reasonable — gone are the ridiculous $100-150 deals. And secondly, an increasing number of establishments are steering away from the traditional “all-you-can-eat” setting, instead opting for a different kind of set up.

And we’re all for it, because it’s healthier, not to mention less wasteful.

One such restaurant skipping ‘buffet style’ is Villamoré at Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai. This cute little Mediterranean hideaway is all about serving freshly-made dishes to your table, as we experienced at a recent iftar preview.

The only downside to this wonderful season happening in the warmer months is the fact that dining outdoors becomes a big no-no, and we suspect Villamoré truly shines in the winter, when the beachfront terrace area is fully operational. But there’s plenty of seating indoors too, which we opt for.

Offered dates and dried fruit at our table, our iftar experience begins with a choice of drinks, including the Villamoré lemonade (bascially a little fancier than regular lemonade), Qamar Al-Deen (a traditional type of apricot juice made from concentrated apricots soaked in water), and banana laban. As we break fast, the starters arrive — a nice selection of mezze, the highlights being fresh focaccia served with hummus, and the most flavour-packed muhammara we’ve sampled in a while.

Thankfully, the main courses arrive in time before we get carried away with the bread and dips; a selection of dishes designed to share amongst the group. I have to admit, I was perplexed by one of the restaurant’s choices. It’s rare that you find fish on an iftar menu, but Villamoré has a seafood stew as part of its three-main offering. Part soup, part paella, it isn’t really for me — salt and iftar don’t go well together, and it’s somewhat mismatched with the rest of the dishes. The other two, however, are more suitable offerings. The whole corn-fed grilled chicken is succulent and juicy, while the highlight is the tender, meaty lamb chops. Quite frankly, the lamb would have sufficed.

Of course, no restaurant iftar would be complete without a dessert or two. Or three in this case. Although it’s a platter with three types of dessert to share, and not three whole ones for each person (we appreciate Villamoré’s efforts to not get diners too hyped up on sugar). Choosing our favourite between the ricotta cannoli, orange almond cake, and vanilla panna cotta and strawberries is tough, and so one point for each.

Villamoré is not a restaurant that you’ll just happen upon; you have to know about it in order to find it. Once there, though, you’ll be transported away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland to enjoy a nice, quiet, relaxing iftar in a dimly lit setting. As the saying goes, less is more, and we’re big fans of this minimalist style of breaking fast.

Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

Updated 14 June 2019

Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

  • World Blood Donor Day observed on June 14 to raise awareness of the life-saving importance of blood donation
  • Regular, voluntary donors are vital worldwide for adequate supply of safe blood and blood products

DUBAI: Blood donations in the Middle East have been described as “the gift of life” as the region struggles to cope with the demands posed by conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and the medical needs of a growing population.

International health experts have called on regular donors to step forward to mark World Blood Donor Day on June 14.

This year’s campaign focuses on blood donation and universal access to safe blood transfusion, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more donors are needed “to step forward to give the gift of life.”

Those who benefit most from blood donations include people suffering from thalassaemia, a blood disorder that affects hemoglobin and the red blood cell count, as well as victims of road accidents, cancer patients and sickle-cell disease patients.

Experts say while the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have launched numerous initiatives to raise awareness of the lifesaving importance of blood donation, there is an increasing need across a wider region for regular donors.

“Many countries in the region face challenges in making sufficient blood available while also ensuring its quality and safety, especially during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts,” Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, told Arab News.

The GCC countries say they collect in total more than 10 whole blood donations per 1,000 population per year, or about 1 percent, Al-Mandhari said.

According to WHO, blood donations by 1 to 3 percent of the population are sufficient to meet a country’s needs. Even so, achieving self-sufficiency is a daunting challenge for many countries.

Al-Mandhari said that more than 90 percent of the blood is collected from voluntary, unpaid donors, aged from 18 to 44, with an increasing proportion of repeat donors. What is more, blood demand is unpredictable and even differs with each blood type. “For example O- blood can be given to patients with all blood types. But AB+ can only be given to patients with AB+,” he said.

Then there is the issue of short shelf life.

“To be ready to help patients in all hospitals, countries aim to stock usually six days’ worth of each blood type at all times,” Al-Mandhari said. “Since blood has a short shelf life — a 42-day window — and cannot be stockpiled, blood banks are forced to depend on donors to help maintain stocks.”

WHO’s most recent report on blood safety and availability points to “gaps in the key elements of national blood systems” in the Middle East.

A Saudi donor flashes the v-sign for victory as he gives blood in Jeddah. The Kingdom has one of the highest rates of repeat donors in the region. (AFP )

While GCC countries have taken steps to keep stocks at optimum levels, other countries in the Middle East are lagging behind international standards. The WHO report shows wide variations in annual blood-donation rates among countries, ranging from 0.7 per 1,000 population in Yemen to 29 per 1,000 population in Lebanon.

Al-Mandhari laid out the solution in a few easy steps: “Governments need to provide adequate resources, and put in place systems and infrastructure to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, regular unpaid blood donors, provide quality donor care, promote and implement appropriate clinical use of blood; and set up systems for oversight and surveillance across the blood-transfusion supply chain.”

On the positive side, Saudi Arabia recorded a rate of 13.8 per 1,000 population, with a healthy spread across all age groups. The country also has one of the highest rates of repeat donors (91 percent) in the region. According to the WHO report, the proportion of repeat, voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation in the Kingdom is 65.3 percent, which “will keep the prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections among blood donors at much lower levels than in the general population.”

In recent years, Saudi health officials have introduced a number of measures to ensure adequate stocks in blood banks, including those run by the Ministry of Health and dedicated centers. These include a large facility at King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) and the country’s Central Blood Bank.

In the Kingdom, to be eligible for blood donation, donors must be aged over 17, weigh more than 50 kg, and have passed a brief medical examination. The health ministry recently launched Wateen, an app designed to ease blood-donation procedures and help ensure facilities across the Kingdom have adequate quantities of blood by 2020.

KFMC officials say that every day at least 2,000 units of blood components are needed to sustain a minimum supply for patients at the facility and other governmental and non-governmental hospitals in Riyadh. Donated blood components are essential for the management of cases involving cancer, sickle-cell disease, organ transplant, surgery, childbirth and trauma, to name just a few.

The situation is not very different in the other GCC countries, which also need more donors.

In the UAE, Dubai Blood Donation Center, which accounts for roughly half of the total blood collected in the emirates, frequently highlights the urgent need for donors. In 2018 alone, it ran 635 blood-donation campaigns, which resulted in 63,735 donors and a collection of 50,456 blood units.

While all blood types are needed, negative blood types are in greater demand due to their rarity. “There is a continuous demand for all blood types as blood lasts for only 42 days. So donors are always needed to come forward to replenish these stocks,” Dr. Mai Raouf, director of Dubai Blood Donation Center, said.

“People can donate blood every eight weeks, with each donation potentially saving up to three lives,” she told Arab News. 

Given that transfusion of blood and blood products save millions of lives every year, and the fact that “regular donors are the safest group of donors,” the importance of encouraging people to return to donate blood, rather than be one-time donors, can hardly be overemphasized, experts say.

“Without a system based on voluntary, unpaid blood donation, particularly regular voluntary donation, no country can provide sufficient blood for all patients who require transfusion,” Al-Mandhari said.

“WHO is calling on all countries in the region to celebrate and thank individuals who donate blood — and to encourage those who have not yet donated blood to start donating,” he said.