Sunday, December 26, 2010

Al Muntaha (Dubai, UAE) ★★★★☆

Wrapping up our 10-day Egypt trip was a brief 5-hour stopover in Dubai. After visiting the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, next on the agenda was the famed Burj Al Arab Hotel.
We managed to arrive at the Burj Al Arab Hotel just before sunset. Over the years, I have seen hundreds and thousands of photos of this iconic architecture but this was really something else. To be here to witness this colossal "sailing ship" standing solemnly on the man-made island right in front of my eyes, it's really overwhelming. Of course, we did not wait long before getting our cameras rolling from different angles.

The first thing we noticed going through the entrance doors into the hotel, was a gigantic musical water fountain placed in the middle of the lobby. Classical music, water display and special lighting effects combined to provide us with a warm welcome.

After taking the golden-colored elevator up to the 27th floor, we finally arrived at Al Muntaha, which literally means "The Top" or "Ultimate" in Arabic.

The dining room is nicely decorated in white and silver tones. Hundreds of green and blue colored lights on the ceiling provided an atmosphere as glittering and refreshing as the skyline (matching the theme - high on top).

We gave our server a next-to-impossible task of delivering our food in 40 minutes as we were catching our plane back home. Amazingly our server along with the kitchen staff was equal to the task.

The amuse bouche was a lovely spring roll with minced duck meat served with a thick beetroot sauce.

Next up was a seared yellowfin tuna which was very average. That rich tuna flavor was sorely missing. 

Due to the time constraint, we jumped straight to the main courses after just one appetizer starting with a braised oxtail with goose liver terrine that was nicely prepared. The oxtail was quite tender and flavorful (6/10).

Less successful was the seabass with lobster tail. Very light seasoning helped to preserve the natural flavors but we expected a bit more.

It was a unique experience dining on top of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, overlooking the gulf and palm island while enjoying a world-class cuisine. The food itself could use a little improvement here and there but the service and ambiance were definitely second to none. 

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$$$
Address: 27/F, Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE
Tel: +971 4 301 7600

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Filini Restaurant (Cairo, EGYPT) ★★☆☆☆

You know what, I was really looking forward to this meal at Filini tonight. For one, it's probably going to be my first and last time spending Christmas in Egypt and I was curious in how this Italian restaurant fares against some of the Italian restaurants I've been going to in Hong Kong. 

There would be no Christmas menu on this night which was just fine with us as we weren't all that hungry after spending a long day running around the city. 

My first impression of Filini was a good one. The restaurant was spacious with a modern chic design that evokes a sense of comfort, which was rather difficult to find in Cairo. But that good impression didn't last very long. There were about 2-3 tables of customers ahead of us and by the time we finished ordering, 6-8 other tables have been filled so the place was about half full. For whatever reason, the staff suddenly looked overwhelmed (by the number of customers) and the service seemed to have completely stalled as if they've never seen as many customers before. At the end, it took almost an hour for our first dish to arrive.

First up for us were roasted prawns with tomato, garlic, olive oil and rocket leaves. Some of the prawns were just semi-cooked but hell, we didn't care. We were too hungry to wait any longer. But to the defense of the kitchen staff, I thought the seasoning was actually pretty good; just that a few of the prawns were badly under-cooked. That's all!

Seafood risotto with local prawns, white fish and squid was next. This was pretty bland. The risotto wasn't creamy enough and those white fish fillets, well let's not talk about them.  

By the time we saw this salad of seared squid, our dinner has almost hit the 2-hour mark. Everyone including me was kind of napping so we just wanted to get this out of the way and go back to our respective rooms.

This was seriously good though. The squid was nicely marinated with chili, olive oil and garlic and they were some of the biggest squid I've ever seen. Very meaty and full of flavors. Easily the best dish of the evening.

Apart from asking for the bill, some of us started chanting "Merry Christmas". Oh yeah, I almost forgot about that!

Back to this meal for a moment. I thought it has exceeded my expectation coz I had very low (if any) expectation coming in. Service was very slow to start but as soon as they have warmed up, the pace was acceptable. It was a shame we didn't get to sample more dishes.

Food Rating: 4.5/10 
Price: $$$
Address: G/F Radisson Blu Cairo, Abdel Hamid Badawi, St Heliopolis, Cairo Governorate 11787, Egypt
Tel: +20 2 2696-5656

Friday, December 24, 2010

Radisson Blu Hotel Cairo Heliopolis (Cairo, EGYPT)

Cairo was probably not what I had in mind to spend my Christmas' Eve. Paris or Milan tops my list but here we are in the capital city of Egypt. After stops at Aswan, Edfu, Luxor and Hurghada, we are just glad to be back in Cairo and we immediately check into our hotel, Radisson Blu Hotel Cairo before it gets dark.

This chic hotel is located close to the airport and is about 30-45 minutes to most of the attractions. The design is quite modern (in Egyptian standard) and it's likely that you won't even notice you are actually in an ancient city like Cairo if you don't look out the window. The bedroom and small living room are all comfortably designed, though there are minor glitches in the toilet but nothing major to complain about. 

We have arrived with a large group and were already warned by the group leader that despite the above average "hardware", the "software" (service, management etc.) always seem to be lacking. For example, she told us that she stayed at this hotel on numerous occasions and each time, at least 10-20% of the people from her group had problems with the key card. Lo and behold, when I took the elevator up, I needed to rush down immediately to get a new set of key cards that actually worked. Other services such as the reception, breakfast counter etc. were also fairly slow and did not look like the staff cared too much at all. I waited 15-20 minutes for my egg during breakfast (there were only 3-4 people in front of me.) and had to eventually give up in order to catch my bus.

It's worth noting that just around the corner of the hotel (turn left once you head out the hotel entrance), there's an alley on the left with some small restaurants and convenience stores. If you happen to have some free time at night, do check them out and maybe, just maybe you will be rewarded for your effort. We bought some nice local produce like black honey for souvenirs there and found them to be fairly good bargain. The fruits we got there also looked fresh from the local farms and for what they were charging us, the quality was not bad at all.

Rating: ❤❤❤
Price: $$$
Address: Abdel Hamid Badawi, St Heliopolis, Cairo Governorate 11787, Egypt
Tel: +20 2 2696-5656

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Room Service in Iberotel Aswan Hotel (Aswan, EGYPT) ★★☆☆☆

I never imagine I would be flying Egypt Air but here I am in the lounge waiting for my flight to depart from Cairo to Aswan.

After a brief stopover in the capital city of Egypt, we will first fly South to Aswan where the famous Abu Simbel is located. Then, we will be spending a few days on the cruise ship traveling up River Nile back where it all started in Cairo. 

It's almost 8pm and finally, we are Aswan bound.

We are spending a night here at Iberotel Aswan Hotel. Check-in was a pain taking us more than an hour to get our keys. And the worst part? We haven't even eaten dinner yet (it was 10pm!).

I didn't expect room service to be available, let alone at this hour at a 3-star hotel in the rural part of Egypt.

This only took half an hour to arrive and I was still getting my hair dried after my shower. Roasted chicken fillet with vegetables and steamed rice. Yes, that will get the job done with lots of rosemary on it.

Less successful was the hamburger with French fries. The bun was obviously of very poor quality and the beef patty tasted like it's a vegan one made with plant-based ingredients. But I guess I should be grateful that I didn't have to burn one of my cup noodles tonight.

I barely got enough sleep last night and by 4am in the morning, we were already escorted onto our bus. It was a slightly scary sight with our tour guide informing us that an armed Egyptian soldier would be joining us on this bus tour. I was too tired to care though. In fact, I was developing a fever so for the majority of the bus ride, I was trying to keep warm without a jacket (my fault not packing my jacket this morning). The bus ride took nearly 4 hours so we got a bit of extra entertainment by watching sunrise together. 

When I finally regained consciousness, we were already there! I have heard of the Abu Simbel temples for a long time but to be here at the ancient site, it's an incredible feeling.

Abu Simbel is located in a small village in the southernmost region of Egypt, just 25 miles away from Sudan.

The ancient temple complex was originally cut into a solid rock cliff. It was believed to be built around 1279 and early 1300's by the Egyptian king Ramses II. The temples were in danger of destruction from the rising waters of the Nile River caused by erection of the Aswan High Dam.

The two majestic temples overlook Lake Nasser, an artificial reservoir upriver from the Aswan High Dam to prevent destructive flooding.

We couldn't stop taking pictures of the breathtaking temples. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don't think I will be back again.

During the 1960s, UNESCO organized fund-raising campaigns to rescue and preserve these historical sites and monuments, and they have done amazing work with them. Without their work, we won't be able to see these stunning sites and monuments in their original forms.

I am finally getting the high-flying version of me back!

Food Rating: 3/10 
Price: $$$
Address: Nile Corniche, Aswan, Egypt
Tel: +20 97 2328828