FYS Guest Post: The things I love and miss most about London

Sunday, 31 May 2015

London; it's kind of a big deal.

This week I'm honoured to be guest posting for the second time over on Big World Small Me, and this time it's all about the stunning city of London. Head over here to find out why I've been missing the Big Smoke so much since becoming an expat.


I am also linking up with The Lifestyle Diaries' #LondonLiving linky while I'm at it - click over to Lauren's lovely blog to find out what lots of other bloggers have been saying about the wonderful English capital.

Just over a month until I'm home again now and I can not wait!

Weekly Ponderings 20

Saturday, 30 May 2015

This week I was excited about...


One of my best friends coming to stay with us in the desert. Lottie arrived on Thursday for a long weekend and Doha suddenly feels more like home with her here (the Percy Pigs and Cadbury's Milk chocolate that are now filling my cupboards are helping of course...).



This week I was reminded...


How much I love my little blog as so many exciting new opportunities came my way. I know that all you bloggers understand how exciting it is when something which is essentially a hobby starts to really take off!




This week I appreciated...


Another hen do, this time for fabulous fellow Essex girl Hayley who is getting married two days after me in New York. We took a Dhow boat out into the Persian Gulf, complete with DJ and several bottles of bubbly, and enjoyed a day of swimming, dancing and chatting until the sun set and it was time to return home.



A 'white and gold' party on the beach at The Hilton to celebrate a colleague's thirtieth birthday.

A photo posted by Follow Your Sunshine (@polbag) on


A special afternoon tea to mark the start of my fine dining in Doha series.





Quote of the week...



How was your week? For those of you in the UK and America, did you enjoy your long weekend? I hope the sun is shining wherever you are!

Top 6 fine dining restaurants in Doha: #6 La Mer

Sunday, 24 May 2015

When it comes to fine dining, us Doha dwellers are spoilt for choice. Five star hotels are springing up in abundance, bringing with them some of the world's best-known restaurant brands serving world class cuisine. While the Michelin Guide is yet to open its doors to Qatar, several restaurants run by Michelin-starred chefs have located here, including Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay and Opal at the St Regis), Alain Ducasse (IDAM at the Museum of Islamic Art) and Vineet Bhatia (Saffron Lounge at Katara).

With Ramadan, and the associated annual restaurant shut-down rapidly approaching, I'm on a mission to uncover the best fine dining restaurants that Doha has to offer - and over the next 3 weeks, I'll be sharing my discoveries with you along the way.

We start with an absolute stunner of a restaurant at number six: the very lovely La Mer on the 23rd floor of the Ritz Carlton, Doha.


It didn't surprise me to hear that La Mer recently won Doha's best afternoon tea for the second year running in the Time Out Doha Restaurant Awards 2015, because if you are looking for a relaxing few hours of cake and tea, then this place has the whole package.


The spacious restaurant is characterised by elegant and traditionally French decor with mahogany in abundance. However, despite the ornate surroundings, once you are seated at your table, the only place you will be casting your eyes is out of the floor to ceiling windows in front of you. The views over The Pearl and across the Persian Gulf to the city beyond are breathtaking.

La Mer by name, La Mer by nature.



Rich and I have returned to this restaurant time and time again, and all of the staff now know us by name. I have never had such a friendly and warm welcome from a restaurant I have eaten at anywhere else in the world, and to us, this is one of La Mer's major selling points.

Oh yeah, and you won't be disappointed by the food either.

An extensive tea menu accompanies the afternoon tea selection, with the traditional English Breakfast 'St James' sitting alongside some more interesting blends such as a Saffron Chai and 'Oriental Princess' which is a heady blend of blue tea, liquorice and vanilla.



The gorgeous silver afternoon tea stands are rather petit, but the whole ensemble is quite filling enough for one. You might be asking for a top-up of the beautifully buttery mini scones however, as they are more-ish to the extreme.



We opted for the Royal Afternoon Tea, which for 50QAR more than the Vintage, includes a glass of sparkling rosΓ©.





I was really taken with how a French restaurant in Qatar has managed to produce a very British afternoon tea which is up there with London staples Claridges and Brown's in terms of quality and attention to detail...but then, isn't this what The Ritz is globally renowned for?!

My only sticking point? I am a huge clotted cream fiend and like to smother it aaaall over my scones, so we could have done with a little more than this teeny scoop of cream alongside our miniature pot of Tiptree jam and equally tiny spoonful of lemon curd. However, once we'd scraped our dishes, more was promptly fetched, and we continued to gorge...


After we'd had our fill of scones and cake, there was nothing for it but to have a brisk but contented stroll through the hotel grounds to walk it all off.


 


Now, believe it or not, afternoon tea isn't the best thing that La Mer offers. It's actually got a whole lot more going for it which is far more enticing to the Doha foodie. And it's all because of this man:


Chef William Khala came over to La Mer from Canada about a year ago, and has since made it his mission to revolutionise the evening menu, to great accolade. He specialises in using well-known ingredients in surprising ways, and it is obvious that he rather enjoys a little shock and awe amongst his diners when the real make-up of the dish in front of them is revealed.

I was recently invited, alongside some other Doha-based bloggers to sample a blind tasting menu at La Mer (a.k.a. a Chef Khala special treat). 

We started with a traditional Qatari welcome - a date...with a not-so-traditional foie gras filling.


Gerald (Boulangerry) was quite taken with it.


So far, so Khala.

Next up was Foie Gras Torchon, accompanied by cocoa, apricot and pistachio granola, which I failed to get a photo of because I accidentally licked my plate clean before I got a chance. 

And then came the Scallops.


Surrounded by a ring of raw cauliflower couscous, Dukkah, roasted almonds and hibiscus, the combination of textures and flavours was divine.

The next course was Black Halibut.


I loved the mixture of ingredients that came with this perfectly cooked fish. The celeriac puree, morel mushrooms, celery leaves and truffle air gave the dish an earthy and wholesome flavour.

The star of the show however, was the Duck Breast.


Sitting on a bed of seeds, with a smear of sweet potato puree and a crispy outer skin, this piece of duck was one of the tastiest and most succulent pieces of meat I have ever eaten.

I was very excited when for dessert, Chef Khala brought out his famous Chocolate Around The World.


Hot, molten chocolate is poured over a chocolate lid holding a scoop of chocolate mousse, until it all falls in on itself, into the glass bowl below which is housing yet more chocolate in various different forms. Heaven in a fish bowl.

We finished the evening in the same way that I finish every evening at La Mer - with huge smiles on our faces, still chattering away about the uniqueness of the meal we'd just had.



I was a guest of Ahlan! Magazine for this event.

Last but most certainly not least, La Mer offers a series of very exciting food and wine pairing evenings which everyone from the casual foodie right up to the most discerning diner will enjoy. You can read all about what these nights entail here and here.
 
These are just a handful of the reasons why I think La Mer is an unmissable fine dining hotspot in Doha. Head over there to experience it for yourself and sample some extraordinary Khala-cuisine (and be sure to have a good old natter with the lovely staff while you're at it).

Have you been to La Mer since Chef Khala took over? What did you think of the food?
 

The details:

23rd Floor, The Ritz Carlton Hotel
West Bay Lagoon,
Doha,
Qatar
 
+974 4484 8000

Weekly Ponderings 19

Friday, 22 May 2015

This week I was excited about...


My Doha hen do! Take one very good blogger friend who is also getting married in July, one amazing hotel that very kindly offered to host our bash in their Presidential Suite and fifteen scrummy expat buddies, and you have a recipe for an incredibly fun night. I'm suffering a little bit today, but waking up next to Rosalyn in our big bed overlooking the sea this morning is a memory I'll never forget - a real 'pinch me' moment. Just 7 weeks until the wedding now!

A photo posted by Follow Your Sunshine (@polbag) on


A photo posted by Follow Your Sunshine (@polbag) on




This week I was reminded...


About the life of a wonderful woman. My gran passed away this week after a drawn-out battle with cancer and I've spent some time today reflecting on her incredible personality and fierce independence. When I was 15, she took me on the trip of a lifetime to India, and the whole experience changed me in so many ways - not least because I got to know her on a deeper level. She was an inquisitive explorer who was always seeking to learn more about the world around her. Through her long career as a social worker, she became an influential member of her local community and she had strong ideas about life and what is important. If I live half the life that she did, then I know that I will be incredibly happy and fulfilled. I am sad but relieved at the same time and just hope that wherever she is now, she is in peace.




This week I appreciated...


Ticking off some very big work milestones, including the delivery of a very successful event.

A photo posted by Follow Your Sunshine (@polbag) on


A photo posted by Follow Your Sunshine (@polbag) on


Enjoying a balmy evening on the balcony with neighbours.



Spending some time mooching in and around my lovely flat. Could it be that I'm finally starting to view Doha as home?!

A photo posted by Follow Your Sunshine (@polbag) on






Quote of the week...



This has been one of the fullest, most rollercoaster-like weeks that I can remember, and I am now more than exhausted. I think I will be spending most of tomorrow in a horizontal position! I hope that wherever you are, you have a fantastically sunny and relaxing weekend. Until Sunday! x

Romantic Muscat: Putting the 'Oman' in Romance

Sunday, 17 May 2015

You might remember that not so long ago, I surprised Mr Sunshine-to-be with a special 30th birthday trip to Oman where we stayed in the Shangri-La, Muscat. As we were only there for the weekend, I thought it was important that we eke out as much as we could from our short stay, and went about creating a rather packed itinerary for us to enjoy.

I don't know whether it was the dramatic landscape, the tranquil nature of the city or the exquisite service and attention to detail that came along with everything we saw, but all of the activities that I organised ended up being incredibly romantic. Here are the things we got up to, and why I think they are unmissable experiences if you're visiting Muscat with your other half.

A day at The Chedi



The five star Chedi hotel sits in a quiet part of the city, not far from the airport. The battered looking streets and uninspiring drive up to the entrance do nothing to prepare you for what's beyond that big front door.

For as soon as you walk through the bright and breezy corridors of the hotel, and out into the grounds, you are confronted with an oasis of calm in the desert.



The outside space is cleverly divided into discreet areas by serene pools which are fringed by neat flower beds and set against architecture which screams traditional minimalism.



There are not one, not two, but three outdoor heated swimming pools, each with their own unique character.




But the three pools share one important affinity: they all carry an air of complete serenity. As we sat back to wile away the hours, I felt the stress that had parked itself firmly on my shoulders after weeks of work-related worry and wedding planning woe slowly begin to seep away. I tried to think of a time I had felt more relaxed, and failed.

We both agreed that if we hadn't already booked our honeymoon in Italy, then this would be the place to have it.

After a while, we wandered back through the pretty manicured lawns and past the picture perfect beach...



Through the shady indoor-outdoor corridors...



And back into the vaulted space of the hotel's lobby.


It was time for lunch in the hotel's signature restaurant.

A meal at The Restaurant


'The Restaurant' is appropriately named, because if you are only in Muscat for 48 hours, this is THE restaurant you must head to. Its beautifully romantic space follows the architectural style of the rest of the hotel, with high ceilings, pillars and archways.


The lunch menu is eclectic (if slightly confused) with everything from pasta to sushi, burgers and chips to Arabic and Lebanese fare.

Being the indecisive greedy people that we are, we went for a bit of everything.


The tuna avocado maki was fresh and clean tasting, with a little wasabi kick.



The burgers were tantalisingly large and juicy, housed in the softest brioche roll with crisp salad and oodles of cheese.


The spaghetti was perfectly al dente, with a touch too much chilli for my liking.


And the fresh juices were divine.

It was about 2.30pm by the time we sat down, and we were surrounded by men talking business, but alone in our little corner of this gorgeous resturant, we had one of the most romantic lunches of my life.


A wander around the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque



It would be a travesty to come to Muscat without making a visit to the architectural wonder that is the Grand Mosque.

The Mosque, which is the principal place of worship for Muslims in Muscat took six years to build and is constructed of 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone. It is a huge space, which can hold over 20,000 worshippers at capacity.

And it is simply beautiful.




We walked the length and breadth of this stunning building in the late afternoon, without bumping into a single other soul.


The most romantic of views, set against the backdrop of a setting sun.

A few hours on the open ocean


The real selling point of this stunning city is the easy access to the big blue. The long city is built along the rocky, volcanic coastline which borders the Gulf of Oman, which feeds out into the Arabian Sea.

At an hour which was far too unsociable for the first full day of a holiday, we were picked up by a friendly driver from Sidab Sea Tours who drove us out to a waiting boat in the pretty Marina Bander Al Rowdha.


We passed forts that were steeped in history and brimming with secrets perched on the beautiful cliffs.



We sailed past interesting geographical features, including a stump that was affectionately known as 'Elephant Rock'.


But the only thing I really wanted to see was a dolphin.

Revving the engine, our captain took us far out to sea, skimming over waves for what seemed like miles. Then suddenly someone pointed. We'd found them.




Rich and I eagerly rushed to the front of the boat to get a better look, just as one of them flipped out of the sea right in front of us!


I gasped, and held on tight as we took chase.





I wasn't prepared for just how emotional I felt after seeing this school skipping and jumping through the sea in front of us, playing amongst the waves and daring one another to jump a little higher, and somersault a little more.

Dolphins are so intelligent that some Scientists believe that they are able to make immediate, and often complicated judgements that are well beyond the scope of human ability. And they're really fun to watch.


As we turned around and headed for dry land, I held Rich's hand all the way back to shore, salty tears running down my face (it was the wind, honest).

Have you ever visited the romantic city of Muscat? What would you recommend to see and do?
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