Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives

Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives
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Tom Kitchin worked closely with chefs at the resort.
Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives
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Kitchin is a Scottish celebrity chef known around the world.
Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives
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Kitchin's culinary creations are a feast for the eyes.
Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives
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The resort is as breathtaking as the food.
Updated 28 November 2017

Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives

Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives

BODU HITHI, The Maldives: A gentle breeze blew past as we huddled around our communal dining table while the waters gently lapped against the support pillars of the boardwalk restaurant we were in under a starlit sky. The conversation flowed easily, even if it was among strangers, as is wont to happen in such an idyllic setting, especially when accompanied by good food.
And the food we were indulging in was very good, to say the least. That was not surprising considering it was created by Tom Kitchin, the acclaimed chef running successful Michelin-starred restaurants in Scotland, who was responsible for this pop-up dinner experience at five-star luxury resort Coco Bodu Hithi.
You would not have guessed he had just landed a day prior, and apparently headed straight into the kitchen from the welcome pier after the long flight and speedboat transfer. “I always like to drop myself into different cultures and places and see how things work. It’s nice to take yourself out of your own comfort zone as a chef,” he said, explaining the genesis of the pop-up during a chat the next day.
Living up to his reputation for serving “honest food,” each dish in the four-course set menu was packed solid flavors, even if it looked like Michelin star-worthy art on a plate. A light starter of heritage tomato salad topped with poached langoustine and served with a delicate but delightful tomato consommé proved a worthy start to a meal in which Kitchin’s signature approach of letting the ingredients do all the talking was obvious.
When asked about how he translates his culinary style from Scotland to a Maldivian island, he explained: “It’s about keeping it lighter and fresher. I’m using a lot more olive oil, for example, and just cooking to the climate. I’m bringing the techniques that I normally use and combining it with the produce from here.”
This was evident in the second course, a fillet of John Dory served with courgette flowers and stuffed aubergine, and drizzled over with a light curry sauce, which added a local twist. “When I came here, I literally just went into the walk-in fridge, looked at what was available and tweaked the menu accordingly,” he revealed.
Even the main course of rack of lamb was given a Mediterranean inflection with its accompaniments of artichoke, tomatoes, olives and garlic. But the dessert course is where island ingredients really shone, in a nostalgia-tinged coconut ice cream sandwich perfectly complemented by tropical fruits served in the style of retro melon balls, with a garnish of sliced fresh coconut and candied pineapple adding that gourmet touch.
While curly-haired Kitchin may not be around on the island to cook these delicacies himself beyond the two-day pop-up, the good news is these signature dishes remain on the menu at fine dining restaurant Aqua, with the local kitchen team stepping up to cook the dishes.
In fact, being able to participate in this knowledge-sharing was one of the highlights for Kitchin. “For me, it was really rewarding to see the guys in the kitchen embrace what I was trying to do… They were so enthusiastic, taking notes, taking pictures, looking things up online,” he said. “In your professional life, when you’re able to start inspiring people, that’s one of the most beautiful things.”
Lucky for guests that the kitchen team lapped up the opportunity to cook with an award-winning chef as going forward, the resort will continue to offer more gourmet experiences. Whether it is celebrity chef pop-ups — Kitchin may be returning to source a richer variety of local produce — or culinary master classes, it is all part of the luxury all-villa property’s ongoing mission to bring Michelin-star chefs and next-level fine dining to the island.
According to Antony Paton, group general manager of Coco Collection Resorts, of which Coco Bodu Hithi is a part, “it’s all about experiences now. Of course people love to do things like seeing local islands, going fishing and so on, but they get excited about something different (such as) seeing a celebrity. So to get someone like (Kitchin) to come here and come up with these unusual dishes is great, as food is so important in a place like this.”
Kitchin agrees, saying: “Customers who come to a destination like the Maldives usually pay a lot of money for a luxury experience, and hotels are realizing they have to offer different things to add to the experience. I definitely think this is becoming more of a trend these days.”
The Maldives, with its cerulean seas and powder white beaches, needs little to sell itself further, especially when its natural beauty is perfectly complemented by resorts such as these, featuring luxurious accommodation in contemporary pool villas that maximize those unbeatable views, a plethora of activities that make the most of the setting, and personalized service.
With gastronomy as an essential part of the mix in a luxury destination such as this, Coco Bodu Hithi ensures that no gourmand is disappointed, even when no celeb chefs are at hand, with its offerings of modern Mediterranean haute cuisine at over-water restaurant Stars, fresh sushi and sashimi at Tsuki, and elegant seafood at Aqua.
So yes, you might come to the Maldives for the incomparably idyllic setting, but in the case of Coco Bodu Hithi at least, you may well end up staying for the epicurean experiences.
Prices for villas at Coco Bodu Hithi range from about US$950 to US$2,400, depending on size and season. The resort is located in the Male Atoll, a 40-minute speedboat ride from the airport. Visit www.cococollection.com for more information.

 


Eid treat: Moroccan chef Nargisse Benkabbou’s chocolate chip krachel

Eid treat: Moroccan chef Nargisse Benkabbou’s chocolate chip krachel
Chocolate chip krachel. Supplied
Updated 12 May 2021

Eid treat: Moroccan chef Nargisse Benkabbou’s chocolate chip krachel

Eid treat: Moroccan chef Nargisse Benkabbou’s chocolate chip krachel

DUBAI: Moroccan chef Nargisse Benkabbou is on a mission to demystify her country’s cuisine for international foodies, especially those in the UK where she lives.

Here, she shares her recipe for chocolate chip krachel to sweeten up your Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.

Ingredients:

60g unsalted butter

2 ½ tbsp sesame seeds

2 tsp dried active yeast

50g caster sugar

1 tbsp warm water

300g plain flour, plus extra if needed and for dusting

1 tsp aniseed

½ tsp salt

1 egg

80–120ml warm full-fat milk

1 ½ tbsp orange blossom water

100g dark chocolate chips or chunks

Vegetable oil

1 egg yolk, beaten

 

Instructions:

1.      Melt the butter, then leave it to cool. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over a medium-high heat for about 6 minutes.

2.      In a small bowl, mix the dried yeast with 1⁄4 teaspoon of the sugar and the measured warm water using a fork. Leave the yeast to activate for about 5 minutes.

3.      Mix 2 tablespoons of the toasted sesame seeds, the remaining sugar, the flour, aniseed and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the melted butter, yeast mixture, egg, 80ml warm milk and the orange blossom water together until smooth. Combine both bowls and mix to form a soft dough.

4.      Lightly dust a work surface with flour and knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic and add the chocolate chips. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 45 minutes or until it almost doubles in size.

5.      Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized pieces and shape each into a ball. Place them on a baking sheet, leaving about 5cm between each ball. Cover with cling film and leave the buns to rise for about 30 minutes.

6.      Preheat the oven to 190°C. Brush the buns with the beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with the remaining toasted sesame seeds. Bake for about 17–20 minutes.


Burj Al-Arab’s SAL: Come for the views, stay for the food at this Dubai hotspot

Burj Al-Arab’s SAL: Come for the views, stay for the food at this Dubai hotspot
The restaurant overlooks the main star of the venue, the 100-meter infinity pool. Supplied
Updated 10 May 2021

Burj Al-Arab’s SAL: Come for the views, stay for the food at this Dubai hotspot

Burj Al-Arab’s SAL: Come for the views, stay for the food at this Dubai hotspot

DUBAI: First things first: If you’re familiar with the Instagram account @influencersinthewild, then chances are you’ll spot similar examples of the content it posts at Burj Al-Arab’s SAL. Because for every few individuals who are at the venue for the resplendent views and excellent hospitality, there’s that one “influencer” at work, taking part in an impromptu photo shoot. It would be extreme to claim that they’re ruining the experience for everyone else, but you’ll probably pause and have a chuckle or two at the confidence of it all.

That being said, to reduce SAL to a social media “hotspot of the moment” would be doing it a disservice because judging by our own experience, there’s so much more to it than a backdrop for Insta-models. Jumeirah Group describes SAL, which opened in the second half of last year, as a “chic lifestyle experience at Burj Al Arab where barefoot luxury at an iconic pool and beach destination meets culinary excellence in a striking new dining venue.” With hues of blue forming the picture-perfect landscape, the restaurant overlooks the main star of the venue, the 100-meter infinity pool.

Jumeirah Group opened SAL in the second half of last year. Supplied

However, we’re here to dine, not dip (into the pool), and our entire meal was a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Headed by Culinary Director Marco Garfagnini, SAL’s menu “pays homage to the sea,” with the majority of the dishes made for sharing.

Greeted by a very welcoming and friendly team of hosts, we were guided to our seats before being offered a detailed run-through of the menu.

The heirloom tomato carpaccio, feta cheese and black olives was laid out on a platter in a pretty pattern. Supplied

To start, my dining partner and I opted for the heirloom tomato carpaccio, feta cheese and black olives, and the tuna tartare with caviar. As we waited, we were served water from freshly cut coconuts.

Once our appetizers arrived, it became clear that our phone photography would be reserved for the dishes and not only for the view. The carpaccio was delicately laid out on a platter in a pretty pattern, while the tartare was served in a perfect circle with a dash of gold dusting on top.

Tartare is served in a perfect circle with a dash of gold dusting on top. Supplied

The tartare was divine. Its citrus-based Ponzu sauce marinade offered the perfect balance, “cooking” the fish to eliminate any offending aftertaste sometimes experienced with tartare. In fact, it was one of the best tartare dishes I have ever sampled.

The main course certainly had a lot to live up to, bringing us to the first — the recommended Portuguese dourada, a gilt-head sea bream fish common in the Mediterranean. At SAL, it’s served baked with tomatoes and potatoes. Again, absolutely flawless. Its cod-like meatiness paired with a spinach-infused sauce made for a moreish main that was delightful on the palette.

The Portuguese dourada made for a moreish main that was delightful on the palette. Supplied

Another fish dish we were recommended was the sea-salt-crusted seabass for two, but since my guest isn’t the biggest fan of seafood, we opted to try the third recommendation — the stone-oven-baked lemon chicken empanada, with French fries and baby spinach salad. Now, SAL likes to entertain guests, so similarly to the seabass, this one is carved and served right in front of you. Given the show, we were expecting something big, but if there was one dish that was more “meh” than “marvelous,” it was this one. It was underwhelming after it was cut open and presented, looking more like some lemon chicken in pita bread rather than a baked turnover. It still tasted delightful, but we both agreed that if we could, we would advise the restaurant to serve it as is, as it looked much more appealing at the start.

The stone-oven-baked lemon chicken empanada is carved and served right in front of you. Supplied

It was nearly time to wrap up, and as much as we wanted to go for something sweet, we were simply running on full. One lovely staff member did try to tempt us with the dessert trolley offering a selection from the restaurant’s master pastry chefs, but we stayed strong. In the end, we were presented with a cute little meringue-based dessert topped with fresh berries — just the right amount of sugar to conclude our visit with.

Needless to say, this Burj Al-Arab beach restaurant is definitely one to add to your must-visits. As someone who has been based in this region for many years, this was easily one of the best meals I have had in a long time. 

I don’t make that claim lightly.

A little meringue-based dessert topped with fresh berries. Supplied

Info:

SAL @ Burj Al Arab

jumeirah.com/SAL

 


Maamoul: Why the storied sweet is so important during Eid in Palestine

Maamoul: Why the storied sweet is so important during Eid in Palestine
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians. (Shutterstock)
Updated 10 May 2021

Maamoul: Why the storied sweet is so important during Eid in Palestine

Maamoul: Why the storied sweet is so important during Eid in Palestine
  • Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar

GAZA CITY: In the last week of Ramadan, the smell of maamoul and cakes wafts from Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Maamoul, also popular in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, is a traditional shortbread cookie popular in the region, and one of the main sweet items prepared for Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.
Samira Al-Burai, 54, is enjoys preparing maamoul with her sons and daughters.
“We bring basic ingredients a few days before making maamoul. All the family members, including my sons, will participate in making it.
“I learned (how to) make cakes and maamoul from my mother, then I taught it to my daughters so that this tradition may continue during the last days of Ramadan. My children are accustomed to the smell of cakes at this time of every year.”
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians.
Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar.
Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.
Salwa Kabariti, 57, used to make them for her family. With the passage of time and after they fell on hard times, she began to produce larger quantities and started selling to neighbors, friends and even to some shops.

SPEEDREAD

Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians. Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.

“Due to our poor economic condition, I began searching for a source of income. This work offered a good source. It helped me and my family to overcome our economic crises,” Kabariti said.
“There is no Eid without maamoul. I love (it) and will continue making it every Ramadan as long as I have the ability to do so,” she added.
Despite the large number of bakeries that sell maamoul in the Gaza Strip, many women prefer making theirs at home to preserve the festive atmosphere in their households.
Lubna Al-Sumairi, 40, said: “I like preparing it in my house with my husband and other family members. Making maamoul is one of the most important customs that we enjoy during the
last days of Ramadan; its preparation, delicious taste, and the pleasant atmosphere gives us a happy feeling.”


Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul
(Supplied)
Updated 09 May 2021

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

DUBAI: Jordanian Chef Hassan Al-Naami shares his delectable recipe for fragrant freekeh-stuffed chicken, a dish that is wildly popular at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, where he brings his culinary vision to life at the hotel’s Middle Eastern restaurant, Amaseena.

As Ramadan draws to a close, give this dish a go for a special iftar this week.

Chicken ingredients:  

Whole baby chicken

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp paprika

1/3 tbsp 7 spice

½ tbsp coriander powder

2 ½ tbsp lemon juice

1 handful of almonds

1 handful of pine nuts

Freekeh ingredients:

5 cups freekeh 

3 tbsp olive oil

¼ cup onion (chopped)

1 tsp cinnamon powder

½ tsp cardamom powder

1 tbsp 7-spice

1 ½ tbsp cumin powder

6 cups chicken stock

Salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions:

1.       Wash and drain freekeh until clean. In a hot pan combine olive oil and spices, toss for a few minutes till fragrant. Add the freekeh then sauté for another 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes on a low heat. The freekeh should be cooked but still have a chewy texture.

2.       Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a small bowl, mix all the spices and rub chicken with spices all over and inside, including under the skin. Take the cooked freekeh and stuff the chicken with it, cross the legs and tie with twine. Place the chicken in a roasting tray, cover with foil and roast for 60-80 minutes. Allow the chicken rest before serving (keeping it covered).

3.       Serve stuffed chicken on over leftover cooked freekeh. Decorate with roasted nuts and serve with minted yogurt on the side.


Where We Are Going Today: BoBoKo

Where We Are Going Today: BoBoKo
Photo/Supplied
Updated 08 May 2021

Where We Are Going Today: BoBoKo

Where We Are Going Today: BoBoKo
  • All menu items are served with rice, homemade peanut sauce and sambal on the side

BoBoKo is an authentic Indonesian restaurant located in Jeddah’s North Obhur area and serves traditional items such as rice noodles, curry, satay, spicy sambal and more. Recipes are spiced up with Asian flavors and ingredients including ginger, lemongrass, coconut milk, and chili pepper.
Boboko is a rice basket made from bamboo and the restaurant’s dishes are presented on a freshly cut banana leaf, complementing the restaurant’s Indonesian vibes.
The dishes are inspired by names of Indonesian cities and what each of them is known for, such as Jakarta (chicken and meat), Puncak (meat only), Bandung (chicken only), Bali (not spicy), and BoBoKo Surabaya (vegetarian).
All menu items are served with rice, homemade peanut sauce and sambal on the side.
For vegetarians, the menu offers vegan options using plant-based foods such as silky soft tofu and bean sprouts.
One of the most popular appetizers is crispy krupuk, or shrimp crackers, a snack close to the hearts of older Saudis.
BoBoKo is open from Thursday to Saturday. For more information visit the Instagram account @bobokoindo.