Escaping Christmas

This year we decided to escape the Christmas hype and stress and travel somewhere warm. We chose Dubai as the weather is guaranteed to be warm, the flight time (around 7 hours direct flight) is bearable as is the time difference (+2 hours). Our flight took off in the early evening on December 19th and arrived in Dubai at 3 am. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, Intercontinental Dubai Marina and we got a taste of the lifestyle in Dubai right away as the taxi was a Tesla Model S. After checking in we headed straight for bed.

Super comfy king size bed to sleep in
…and a glass-box bathroom

We woke up around 11 am the next morning, got unpacked and headed out to check out the neighborhood. After grabbing a late breakfast and some coffee at a nearby Starbucks we explored part of the Dubai Marin area. After strolling around for a few hours we decided to spend some time at the hotel pool just relaxing and recovering from the early morning arrival.

Part of the Marina was lined with food trucks
Dubai Marina Mall ceiling decoration
Time to relax at the pool

Then it was time to think about dinner. While walking around the Marina area we had spotted a place called Pier 7 that houses seven restaurants. After checking out these restaurants online we decided to try out Asia Asia. Before heading out we made a pit stop at our hotel’s bar Ginter for some G&Ts. Luckily we were early enough (a little before 7 pm) to get a table without a reservation. The place was almost full by the time we had eaten and left. We started with an 8 piece dim sum basket and chili garlic edamame. My main was steamed sea bass in a soy broth with bok choy and bamboo shoots, hubby ate ribeye teriyaki with roasted kabocha, parsnip miso & glazed ancho chili. The food was delicious, service really good and the restaurant décor was interesting. While walking back to our hotel we stopped at Pinkberry for some frozen yogurt.

View from Ginter’s terrace at dusk
Entrance to restrooms at Asia Asia
Some of the dumplings
Ribeye teriyaki
Inside Asia Asia
Terracotta soldiers in the elevator lobby of Asia Asia

We had booked a desert safari for Friday afternoon/night. We kicked off the morning with an excellent brunch at Bistro des Arts. The brunch was delicious and affordable. For AED 99 you got the cold buffet, one main course, one crêpe and a hot beverage. You could also add AED75 to select three cocktails but we skipped this option. First we picked various cold breakfast foods from the buffet and some juice. Then we both had a variety of eggs benedict for the main and shared a crêpe to round it all off. Once we were fortified we jumped on the metro and headed to the Mall of the Emirates. While there we received word that the driver would come and pick us up at the hotel at 2 pm for the safari so it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for our desert adventure. Safari post to follow.

Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates

St. George & Ventuno

This year to celebrate hubby’s birthday I booked a room at the new boutique hotel St. George that opened in Helsinki this past spring and a table at restaurant Ventuno that had opened its doors in September. The room I booked was a Sky Attic Studio at the top floor of the hotel with lovely views of the Old Church Park. The room was perfect for a short stay but would feel quite small for say a week’s vacation. The hotel offers a spa, Wintergarden restaurant and bar, restaurant Andrea – where Nordic and Anatolian kitchens meet, and the St. George Bakery café with the first ever Monocle Shop in the Nordic countries.

 

 

After checking in at the hotel we headed out for some lunch and shopping. We had lunch at Kamppi shopping mall’s Kortteli restaurant world at Beijing8, a dumpling restaurant. After lunch and shopping we headed back to the hotel and visited the Wintergarden bar for a cocktail. I liked the atmosphere in the bar and the cocktail was good too. Then we withdrew to our room to relax and get ready for dinner.

Dumplings with broccoli and edamame sides
 
Wintergarden had some nice private rooms
 

Ventuno was quite surprising, as we walked in, the place seemed noisy and slightly chaotic but when we were taken to our table, the atmosphere changed to a calm and relaxing place. So the front café/bar type area was really bustling, while the dining room/osteria was calm even though fully booked. We started with an aperitif while studying the menu. We ordered the Ventuno Degustazione tasting menu accompanied with the recommended wine package. The menu consisted of: Arancini /Lemon & thyme flavoured crispy risotto ball, thyme-parmesan dressing), Alici & N’Duja (Fennel cracker, spicy n´duja sausage, anchovy, dill, pecorino), Kingfish Bianco (Raw marinated kingfish, green olives, pistachio vinaigrette, lemon jam cremé), Casarecce al Ragù (Braised brisket ‘ragù’, confit garlic, toasted almonds, gremolata), Capesante & Gamberetti (Roasted scallops, dried tomato-shrimp dressing, saffron, trout roe), Pesce Piccata (Roasted fish of the day, olive oil hollandaise, salted halibut fritters) with Gratin di Patate (Potato, cabbage, caramel onions, parmesan) , and for dessert  Limoncello (Lemon pie, meringue, blackberries, blackberry sorbet, limoncello jus). The food was really good and we loved every course except for the Pesce Piccata, which seemed a bit too heavy with both hollandaise sauce, a fritter and creamy potatoes. It also did not seem very Italian to us. However, all in all the menu was really good as where the wines. The service was also good and the waitress followed our wishes regarding pausing between certain courses. The only small faux pas happened with the wine as we had to ask for the third wine when we were served the fish and this wine was supposed to be served already with the scallops. We will come back to this restaurant when the menu changes.

Back at the hotel when we tried to get to sleep we noticed that the control panel for the door was super bright so I had to drape a towel over it. Once the panel was covered we got a good night’s sleep in a bed that was slightly too soft. In the morning it was time for breakfast that on weekends was served until noon, which is a huge plus. The breakfast was quite good but I found the bread selection a bit disappointing. For a hotel that advertises its own bakery only being served a small basket of one type of bread with a small serving of butter was a letdown. Also, the selection of cold cuts was very limited. The omelets and home-made yogurt were a nice touch. All in all, I loved the feel of the hotel and the staff was really friendly but Hotel Haven still remains our favorite boutique hotel in Helsinki.

Clarion Helsinki and “the friendly Russian” Troikka

Last weekend we finally got around to spending a night at Clarion Helsinki. The views were stunning and the heated rooftop pool was nice but other than that there was not much to impress me. They need to pay far more attention to detail for me to consider staying there again.

The whole thing went slightly pear-shaped right from the start. The check-in desks are arranged in a very peculiar manner which causes chaos and unclarity as soon as more people are waiting to check in than there are available receptionist. A more traditional set-up with one long desk would work much better. When we got to our room we could not find the robes that were supposed to be in the room but a phone call to the front desk fixed this in no time. The bathroom had a flickering light, which was quite annoying and the hallway lamp outside our door was not working. These are some of the details I would hope a hotel that apparently is classified as a four-star hotel would pay more attention to. I also found it interesting that the room had no place to put your clothes (no wardrobe or dresser, just a place to hang your coat). During a one-night stay this was not a problem but if I was staying even for just two nights I would prefer to unpack my things. The actual room was nicely decorated and had lovely views over the sea and part of the city.

Only place for your clothes in the room
 

After we got the robes and the pool opened we headed up to the 16th floor for a plunge in the rooftop pool. The pool has an open roof and glass walls so it is practically an outdoor pool. The water was warm enough that you could enjoy a dip even in below zero weather. The pool was really nice, the views amazing and taking a swim in the cold weather was invigorating. What I found strange was that the pool was only open in the morning and late afternoon. In my opinion, this is a very Finnish approach to pools that somehow is connected to the saunas that are kept heated only a few hours per day. In my opinion, hotels could keep the pools open even if the sauna is not heated and some hotels in Finland do offer all-day access to their pool. 

Picture from Nordic Choice Hotels site

I had made a reservation for us at a traditional Russian restaurant located in Töölö called Troikka. The restaurant has been operating since the 1920s and I have been visiting it for around 30 years. We started with aperitifs: I had a house-version of a Kir Royale with homemade strawberry juice, citrus liquor and bubbles, and hubby had a classic Bloody Mary. As it is blini season we opted for the blini palette. After we had placed our order we were served a small greeting from the kitchen – a lovely Crème Ninon soup. The blini palette consisted of vendace and burbot roe, onion, sour cream, cold-smoked salmon, tartar of cold-smoked horsemeat, mushroom salad, hardboiled egg whites and yolks, and as many buckwheat blinis as you could eat. We accompanied the meal with a bottle of French sparkling wine. These were by far the best blinis I’ve had and the fillings were delicious. I could only manage to eat two blinis but hubby polished off three. As I still had some room left I decided to have dessert; Strawberries Romanov.

A perfect blini
The roes and salmon, onion & sour cream
Horse tartar, mushroom salad and egg whites & yolks

The following morning we had breakfast in a very busy hotel restaurant.The breakfast was pretty standard with some specialties like over-night oats and a mango smoothie. All in all a nice break, but in future I will continue to prefer the boutique-style hotels in Helsinki.

Found this guy outside the hotel restaurant