Feed me, Portuguese

You can end up in a world of pain, trying to be authentic in an ethnic restaurant. Try, for example, lunch yesterday in Madeira restaurant in suburban Melbourne, a Portuguese restaurant, if the name didn’t give it away. Actually, we were there to talk about the former Portuguese colony, Macau, off the coast of mainland China, so ethnicity was the name of the game.

My only true desire was for the pasteis de nata, the egg tarts for which Portugal is famous, so it was with glee I learned of the new delights of the espetada, a vertical skewer hanging from a frame, which is brought to the table, the juices from the marinated meat dripping into the rice or potatoes heaped below. Embroiled in a dinner-party war? A few of these puppies slung on the table and you’d totally win.

In the name of authenticity, we said no to the kangaroo espetada, but went for beef, lamb, chicken and, er barramundi (there was no Portuguese cod). All’s well.

Would you like entrees, perhaps? asked the waitress. Ah, no thanks, we said, patting our waistlines. Not even Portuguese chorizo (grilled, spicy sausage)? said the canny saleswoman. Well, ok then. Since we’re in a going local.

And bread? I think we’re fine. Not the traditional Maderian garlic bread, bolo do caco, which we make inhouse? Oh, we must have that, if it’s Maderian.

And come dessert time, the tarts were on order, except for one non-sweet-eater, who declined any dessert, ordering just an espresso.

Wouldn’t sir like a brandy with that? The table witnessed the mildly sheepish grin of the man who’se already tried the Portuguese beer, the slightly carbonated Portuguese white wine, and is planning to return to the office for the afternoon. No thanks.

Oh, says the waitress. All Portuguese men finish with a short black coffee and a Portuguese brandy.

The table does the hard sell for her. Go on, we all encourage Mr Non-Dessert. He relents and declares the imported brandy ‘actually very good’.

It just proves the old adage learned long ago when I was cutting my teeth in design magazines: say it in French (or in this case, Portuguese) and it always sounds better.

28 Nov 2010: As a coda to this piece, written a few days ago, I notice a euro-bureaucrat saying recently that to haul itself out of its crippling economic blues, “the Portuguese are going to have to find a way to make things that other countries want to buy from them”. 

Enter the espetada.

Aqui e, Europe’s financial woes solved!

Hot to shop: Dubai

33C outside, -4 inside at Ski Dubia, in the Mall of the Emirates

In the US, they’d ask ‘do you want fries with that?’ In Dubai, they ask, ‘do you want the world’s largest aquarium/tower/shopping mall with that?’

You’d think Dubai might have tempered its outlook  after being ravaged by the global financial crisis, but no. It’s still got a one-way ticket to Hubris Central.

Spotted in the malls: Jimmy Choo’s collaboration with the Ugg boot, a Versace cafe (serving Illy coffee) and the world’s longest street of watch stores.

For record-breaking, up-to-the-second shopping, it’s all here. Click to read the full story here

Singapore’s new groove

It’s a country built on shopping malls, where chewing gum is illegal and nerdism is in, so the brief was to find the new, hip, not-necessarily-so-shiny Singapore.

Doing the research, it was tough, people, tough. The travel brochures would advertise traditional Singaporean cuisine “now off the streets and in a shiny, hygienic compound”, which for some says ‘no salmonella’ but for those of us blessed with cast-iron constitutions, says tickets, queues and compulsory fun.

IT’S on the drive from Changi Airport that I see the bumper sticker, catchcheatingspouse.com.sg. Hmmm, perhaps Singapore isn’t as staid as I’ve been led to believe.

To read more, click here

Hot to shop: Seoul

They call it Planet Korea, and the bizarre north Asian capital, Seoul, is regularly written up in the world’s big newspapers of the day for its new design focus and old culture.

I would never have found my way through Seoul’s insane shopping scene without pro-shopper Joey, my Seoul sister Fee and a large dose of sheer luck.

It’s a game of hide and seek, and you shall find, in a labyrinth of old markets and modern malls.

You can shop for fashion till 4am, and grab breakfast in the markets while waiting for them to open all over again. With almost no English signs or language spoken, and street cred achieved only by doing the whole shopathon in 9-inch heels, this is not a scene for novices. We can but try…

To read the latest Hot to Shop, click here

CPI: the cappucino index

According to the most CPI (that’s Cappuccino Price Index to you), Brisbane has the most expensive coffee in the country.

A cuppa will set you back on average $3.31 compared with $3.22 in Melbourne and $3.06 in Sydney. 

This tidbit cropped up while I was shooting an Obama blend (‘yes we can!’) espresso in the new Campos cafe in Melbourne.

Campos originally started in Sydney’s capital of grunge, Newtown, and the Brisbane cafe recently was named Australia’s 2010 best coffee, according to Lifestyle Channel viewers… so if you know and trust a LC watcher, then you’d better make tracks to the Valley in BrisVegas.

The Melbourne staff delighted in showing off The Slayer (“How do you spell that?” “You know, like the American band”) a new-style espresso machine from the US that costs $23,000 and there are only 15 in Australia so far.

Despite the Slayer’s best efforts, I realised I’m not an espresso girl anymore, but I’d go back to 144 Elgin St, in Carlton for another of their creamy piccolo lattes. They’re pitching against some serious heavyweights (think St Ali in South Yarra, Seven Seeds on the other side of Carlton), but you know what they say about Melburnians – three or more standing together and someone’ll wheel an espresso machine by…

Feeling the love (or not) in Dubai’s rarified air

“No kissing or overt displays of affection,” warns a sign on Dubai Mall’s glass doors. “Please wear respectful clothing. For example, shoulders and knees should be covered,” it adds. The world’s largest shopping mall is a rarefied environment, and can afford to be choosy.

The day I visited, the ground level was a mass of screaming, writhing school children from what looked like a very privileged local international school. The food court (Nandos etc all) was packed and tourists – many with their shoulders and knees well and truly uncovered – were queuing impatiently to go up the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, set to one side of Dubai Mall.

Yet go one floor up, and it’s a serene scene of sheiks sipping lattes in the Armani/Dolce café or next door at its rival Fauchon café. The clients here hadn’t been dosing themselves in duty-free perfume. These guys own their own bottles, and the dishdashas (men’s robes) were sparkling white, their wives in chic black abayyas with seriously big, dyed hair making their heads appear disproportionately large beneath beautifully swathed scarves, eyes black with expensive cosmetics.

We popped into the Armani hotel, also linked to the mall, to be harangued by a man hired surely for his cheekbones alone. He stared icily at our non-designer gear, eyebrows almost making his St Tropez tanned brow move when he saw Parisian cigar journalist Philippe’s leather sandals. Quelle horreur!  We had a chat, a perfect coffee and some gold-studded chocolates before being carefully ushered past the anaemic, anorexic Russian girls splayed artfully around the foyer and back outside.

Armani, all was nearly lost, redeemed only by Eli, an Armani lifestyle manager. Some might call him a concierge. Or a butler, even. But no, this is Armani, so he’s a lifestyle manager. He spilled the good oil on the US$800/night hotel, with its American satin walls, Canadian marble, Ivory Coast wood and Spanish stone. “There are no mirrors, no paintings. The walls themselves are pieces of art,” he told us. They surely must have mirrors in the staffroom so our first icy host could practice his little moue of discontent.

Cunning Philippe pulled out his broken pen to make notes, knowing full well Eli would offer him his Armani pen, which turned out to be plastic. Functional, but still plastic. An elegant shrug of his Armani-clad shoulders, all was forgiven, and we trotted off once again into the melee of Dubai shopping.

Tom’s in town and speed’s hit the fan

It’s all go here in Dubai. Time Out Dubai was gossiping about him only last week, then suddenly, the front page of the Khaleej Times is splashed with Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a building, shooting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Tom was back on the front page the next day, learning how to balance a falcon on his arm, his teacher His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai (whew!)

I too went up Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building, today. They wouldn’t let me hang off any ropes. It was all strictly controlled. You know, I’m not a real ‘tallest building’ kinda girl, as demonstrated by my apathy for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur recently. It’s all just so obvious. The buildings are, kinda tall.

Burj Khalifa, which used to be called Burj Dubai until Dubai ran out of cash and had to suck up to its rich but daggy bro, Abu Dhabi, to bail it out with a new name, is 828 meters high. Its closest rival is not even close…Toronto’s CN Tower, at 553m.

At the base of the tower is, of course, the gift shop where you can buy ‘At the Top’ branded t-shirts, clocks and branded scented candles (of course. I wonder what they smelt like. High? Haha.)

The lift took a minute to shoot up to the observation deck, travelling about 36km/hour. My ears popped three times on the way up and I lost count on the way down.

The view from the top was extreme. It shows a city gouged out of the desert, where a forest of metal and glass buildings is coated with a layer of dust, the desert sands threatening to take back what once was theirs.

I’d show you my pix, but I left my download cable at home. Uhhhhhgggggg!

Travelling 14 hours just for you, Bryan Adams

Straight off the plane and into the rooftop pool…

It took four people to get me off the aircraft and to the hotel: the woman to meet me and take my passport and rush me through customs, the baggage man, the hotel rep to say hello and the driver, whose white Lincoln shussssssshed down the near-empty highway on 114km/hour.

“The speed cameras pick you up if you’re above 115, 120,” the driver explained as my brain tried to catch up after the 14-hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai. “Not like the Dubai-Abu Dhabi road, where they don’t catch you till you exceed 180.”

Luckily at this time the smooth roads were quiet, and the early morning light catching the construction cranes, illuminating roadside portraits of stern sheiks and glinting off Burj Khalifa, pointing like a dagger in the distance.

My hotel, the new Pullman, is in the massive Mall of the Emirates. Take a lift to the first floor and walk into shopping hysteria.

The mall’s soundscape ranged between the call to prayer echoing throughout and Bryan Adams, played a few tasteful moments after prayers. FYI, iPads are no cheaper than in Australia, and the shops are stocked with grey and black knits, as Dubai goes into its long, dreary winter (think: Melbourne winter, but shorter, drier and about 20 degrees warmer). Temps today: a pre-set 20.5C in my hotel room, 33C out in the sunshine.

Carpets, gold and pink champagne: Dubai, I’m coming…

Melbourne’s Emirates airline lounge is a sea of caramel leather, with bottles of pink Moet on the buffet, alongside bottles of pink Verve, if you’re a champagne snob. The dates have had their stones removed so you won’t crack your priceless dentures, and it’s all just so… soothing.

The lounge is a nice intro to Dubai, which seems to have shrugged off last year’s GFC (is it just me or does that acronym remind anyone else of KFC?) and is powering ahead, with yet more celebrity chefs looking for a space to hang their shingle, where champagne brunches are all the current rage, and in true Emirates style, if you don’t have a beach, build one.

I’m checking the US dollar rate, the dirham exchange rate and, frighteningly, the current gold rate. Gold and carpets: people, this could prove expensive…