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.


Amid coronavirus pandemic, a healthy heart is more crucial than ever

Updated 30 September 2020

Amid coronavirus pandemic, a healthy heart is more crucial than ever

  • World Heart Day on Sept. 29 is intended to remind people worldwide to pause and re-evaluate their lifestyle
  • Fearing they will catch COVID-19, many heart-attack and stroke sufferers are wrongly avoiding hospital visits

DUBAI: Observed each year on Sept. 29, World Heart Day was created to make people aware that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the planet’s leading cause of death.

This year, with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) killing more than 91,224 people worldwide so far, the message that people should take responsibility for their heart health has greater meaning than ever before.

According to the World Heart Federation, which launched World Heart Day in 2000, CVD, including heart disease and stroke, is the world’s number-one killer, claiming more than 17.9 million lives each year.

Of these deaths, 80 percent are caused by coronary heart diseases (heart attacks) and cerebrovascular diseases (strokes), mostly affecting people in low and middle-income countries. These diseases also account for nearly half of all deaths by non-communicable diseases (NCD).

Across the Arab region, neglect of heart health is cause for growing concern.

Indian nursing students hold placards on the occasion of World Heart Day during a public awareness event in Amritsar. (AFP)

Poor dietary habits and environmental conditions in fast-growing urban settings mean that even children in the Arab Gulf region are at higher risk of developing CVDs than those in other Arab states.

Take Saudi Arabia, for example. About 5 to 6 percent of the population suffer from CVD, with diabetes and hypertension considered the most common risk factors, according to Dr. Mohammed Balghith, associate professor at King Saud bin Abdul Aziz University for Health Sciences and interventional cardiologist at the National Guard Hospital.

“Many people live a sedentary lifestyle, which means that smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia (high levels of cholesterol) are major contributors for people at high cardiovascular risk,” Balghith told Arab News.

The World Health Organization estimates that 54 percent of deaths from NCDs in the Eastern Mediterranean region are caused by CVDs. It attributes the prevalence of such diseases to diabetes, hypertension and the alarming rise of obesity in the GCC, especially among children.

These numbers are even more worrying when one considers the potential long and short-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart, brain and lungs.

Although many claims about the disease still lack definitive proof, multiple studies have concluded that people with CVDs are more vulnerable to developing severe forms of COVID-19.

“One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 is that people suffering heart attacks and strokes delay seeking medical help in Saudi Arabia,” said Balghith.

Dr. Mohammed Balghith, associate professor at King Saud bin Abdul Aziz University for Health Sciences and interventional cardiologist at the National Guard Hospital.

“We have noticed a decrease in the number of patients with CVDs during the current pandemic as a result of the lockdowns and because so many patients are afraid of visiting the hospital during this time. This is very alarming because delaying medical help can result in even worse outcomes.”

Cardiac death is largely preventable if an individual experiencing a heart attack is taken to hospital in time for treatment, said Balghith.

“It is truly disheartening to see this … especially since the risk of death from an untreated heart attack is 10 times higher than from COVID-19,” he added.

This trend leads to “an unnecessary loss of life,” he said, while urging heart patients in Saudi Arabia to visit their local hospital, where the risk of COVID-19 infection has been minimized for heart attack and stroke patients.

Air pollution and smoking remain major predictors of an increase in early cardiovascular diseases worldwide. (AFP)

However, despite increased efforts to spread awareness about the nature of heart diseases during the pandemic, many people are skipping voluntary visits to the hospital.

To be certain, research on the effects of COVID-19 on the heart is still a work in progress.

“Data is still early but studies have shown that three-fourths of people infected with COVID-19 have residual changes on cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, even though they may have been minimally symptomatic,” Dr. Stephen Kopecky, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, told Arab News.

While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 remain “unknown,” Kopecky said the virus could manifest in the heart by causing myocarditis (injury to muscles tissues of the heart), pericarditis and decreased left ventricular systolic function, with arrhythmia identified as a secondary effect.

“The primary effects of COVID-19 are on the lungs, but due to hypoxia (a lack of oxygen), the heart is stressed, and Type 2 myocardial infarctions can occur,” he said.

The good news is that COVID-19 is not guaranteed to cause heart conditions in all recovering patients.

In fact, with the exception of specific cases where patients are susceptible to heart problems caused by common risk factors or genetics, heart health is largely dependent on lifestyle.

“Lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle,” said Kopecky, emphasizing the importance of diet and exercise in healthy living.

“The first contributor to heart disease is diet. Intake of processed foods has increased over the past two decades,” he said, pointing in particular to processed fats and carbohydrates.

The second main contributor to cardiovascular disease is a lack of physical activity, with many jobs outside the home likely to be sedentary with increased screen time and little or no vigorous activity, he said.

Dr. Stephen Kopecky, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic.

Moreover, air pollution and smoking remain major predictors of an increase in early cardiovascular diseases worldwide, despite a slight reduction in cigarette use reported in economically advanced countries.

“Diet and physical activity, avoidance of smoking, and maintenance of normal weight is key to maintaining a healthy heart. Also, stress reduction, adequate sleep and limited alcohol intake is extremely helpful,” Kopecky said.

His advice on World Heart Day coincides with a wider global campaign called #UseHeart, launched to encourage individuals, families, communities and governments to participate in activities that help them take charge of their heart health and spread awareness.

The campaign also supports the unified pledge made by world leaders in 2012 to reduce global mortality from NCDs by 25 percent before 2025.

Non-communicable diseases that lead to cardiovascular disease include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

The campaign’s message is particularly crucial in developing countries, where the prevalence of CVDs is growing.

Kopecky said that heart attacks often afflict those active in the workforce, mostly those under the age of 65.

“In economically advanced countries such as the US, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease has remained about the same. But in the last five years, the incidence of cardiovascular events has actually increased somewhat, and lifespan has decreased compared with what was happening previously,” he said, referring to the reduction in CVD events over the last 50 years.

Additionally, Kopecky said that CVDs generally manifest 10 years earlier in men than in women, often affecting men in their late 50s to early 60s, and women in their late 60s to early 70s.

Yet, regardless of gender, age and environment, at least 80 percent of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke can be avoided.

All things considered, healthcare experts insist it is down to individuals making the right lifestyle choices when it comes to what they eat, how often they exercise, and whether they smoke.

• Twitter: @jumana_khamis