Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Maldivian Goodness

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru MaldivesOn our way to Maldives, we stopped for a few hours in Colombo. This gave us an opportunity to try out a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast. I am glad we did, because it was fantastic!

The 'milk rice' cakes, called Kiri Bath is made of rice cooked in coconut milk, before being served in diamond-shaped cakes. The other interesting item was the chili-onion chutney mixed with Maldive fish called Lunu Miris and a fiery chicken curry that was completely delectible!

We had time to shop for gemstones before catching our connection to Male. Tea lovers can find a lot of variety from this old outpost from the ancient Spice Route. I have to be back here with more time to explore the secrets of the Emerald Isle, now that the years of internal strife have come to an end.

Sri Lankan BreakfastNow for the concluding part of our dream vacation in the Maldives...

The Spa at Four Seasons Landaa Giravaaru is an indulgence worth exploring. Over-the-water treatment rooms open to the ocean with glass floors afford the most extraordinary massage experience. The menu is predominantly Indian Ayurvedic treatments, but they also include Balinese and Thai staples. Ayurvedic treatments including such exotic varieties as the tantric kundalini ritual and the devi bhavani for women.

Dhoni Ride in the MaldivesI settled for their signature Landaa massage that combines Thai and Balinese techniques. Lying down, I watched the brightly colored tropical fish swim around in the coral reef below me as the therapist did her magic a heavenly 60 minutes that seemed to end only too quickly.

My wife went back to the spa for a couple of complimentary yoga classes and consultation. Even the Kids Club had a session at the spa where they were taught kiddy yoga!

Dhoni Ride in the MaldivesOne afternoon, we took a dhoni ride to the oceans on a dolphin tour. While the dolphins never made an appearance on that day, the ride on a traditionally designed boat to the deep water was fun. The ocean was a deep blue and we went past many unhabited islands, each a vision in white and green from the distance.

Landaa Giraavaru MaldivesThe Kids Club was the highlight for my 7-year old daughter. She would pore over the agenda for the next day in the booklet they had provided her, and all she wanted to do was go back there. The young lady who looked after the kids, Sana, was fantastic with the kids. Turns out Priyanka Gandhi was vacationing there too, and our daughters - the only two Indians around - made friends. Programs at the Kids Club during the week included a crazy coconut tree climb - a demo for the kids, beach scavenger hunt, sand castle competition, crab races, arts and craft, wet-n-wild, pizza making, and cookie decorating.

Landaa Giraavaru MaldivesThere were outdoor ping-pong tables, an excellent gym, watersports, snorkelling, diving, and even a marine research center at our resort. We even spent some time reading travellers' accounts of Maldives during the 16th century at the library.

Graham, the friendly Chief Engineer responsible for keeping the lights on in this resort, took us on a behind-the-scenes tour one day. It was fascinating to see how much goes into keeping a luxury resort operational 24x7. Especially when the resort is located in the middle of the Indian Ocean where everything - including water and electricity - has to be generated or shipped from thousands of miles away. It was impressive seeing people busy at the heavy-duty laundry, the power generating stations, the employee quarters, and the dock where ships with diesel visit twice a week.

Landaa Giraavaru MaldivesAll fresh water for the resort, including the swimming pools, come from the de-salination plant. The employees are virtually prisoners in this resort given that there is not much else to do outside in their personal time! I had a far greater appreciation of the lives of those who work for the hospitality industry in these far-flung hotels and resorts.

The cool thing is they are a truely multi-national workforce. There were people from Indonesia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka along with locals from Maldives. Graham himself is a New Zealander who has now been living at the Four Seasons resort for over three years with his wife.

Previous post in this series: Dining at Landaa Giraavaru


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dining at Landaa Giraavaru

Scallops at Blu @ Landaa GiraavaruFour Seasons' Landaa Giraavaru in the Maldives has four restaurants. Besides Cafe Landaa, their all-day dining restaurant, Blu on the sunset beach specializes in Italian, Al Barakat at the jetty in Arabic cuisine, and Feugo Grill by the seaside in grilled meats and seafood. During our seven days here, we tried these restaurants more than once.

Blu, on the sunset end of the island, is contemporary and sophisticated with a white-and-blue decor that merges with the bright white sand and the blue waters on the sunset beach. They have a lobster night every Friday. We went with the Chef's tasting menu with four courses. The warm tropical lobster salad had sour and ripe mangoes and chunks of lobster meat with a hint of tropical spices. Very refreshing! My wife chose a lobster soup which was an Italian twist on a local spicy soup, also very good.

Blu @ Landaa Giraavaru
Herb encrusted jackfish at Blu
Grilled Tiger Prawns at BluNext came my lobster risotto, a killer! The freshest lobster combined with the flavorful and tasty risotto made my evening. This was by far the memorable dish of the night. My wife's pasta was not particularly remarkable. The braised boster that came next with foie gras was also delectible as was my wife's grilled lobster. We were so full by now, we could only taste the delicious coconut sorbet but made a note to come back here for more.

Mozarella at Blu
Grilled Lobster at Blu
Braised Lobster with Foie Gras at Blu
Lobster Risotto at BluIf you love seafood and Italian, this is a restaurant you want to try for sure. During our next visit, we picked stuff off the a la carte menu. The grilled scallops on a bed of Indian pulses was good as was the nicely spiced local jackfish. And finally, do try the gelato/sorbet selection here.

Cafe Landaa @ Landaa GiraavaruCafe Landaa opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu is heavily tilted towards Asian dishes from India and the Far East. On the day we arrived, they had an Asian rainforest-themed dinner. There was a sushi bar, a live teppanyaki counter, Indian kababs and curries among other things. In the mornings, this restaurant dishes up fluffy soft waffles and pancakes with raspberry compote to die for!

Fruits at Cafe Landaa
Cafe at Cafe LandaaLots of Japanese and Asian items abound in the breakfast buffet such as dimsums, miso soup, kongee, etc. You can also find some interesting varieties of sausages made of salmon, beef, etc. The restaurant is open on three sides and made of wood and woven bamboo, with water bodies and small fountains. They also have a fruit counter with a person who will artfully cut fresh tropical fruits for you on order.

Al Barakat at Landaa GiraavaruAl Barakat is located near the jetty over the turquoise waters of the reef. A Persian themed lounge overlooks the sea-waters. Hookahs, low seating cushions, rugs and lamps complete the interesting decor. Al Barakat is named after the North African scholar who made this atoll his home in the 12h century. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor dining spaces and we tried both during our two trips here. The a la carte menu contains cold and hot Lebanese mezze, Grills and Tagine selections.

Al Barakat @ Landaa Giraavaru
Cous Cous at Al Barakat
Mezze at Al Barakat
The mezze was quite authentic and tasty with the freshly made pita bread. We tried the hummus, Arides Lebnani Bil Zayton - shrimps with tomatoes, green olives and herbs and Jawneh Ferakh - chicken wings in corainder sauce.

Captain's Marques Platter at Al BarakatI tried Captain Marques Platter from the Tagine section. Tagines are special clay pots used in North African cooking. The dish itself is an ancient Moroccon recipe with grilled marinated lamb chops and homemade Moroccon sausages filled with ground beef, herbs, spices, cabbage and chickpeas. It was quite delightful!

My wife had the Samaka Harra, baked reef fish marinated with Arabic spices, diced tomato, cilantro and capsicum. She enjoyed her entree too. We also ordered some cous cous with the entrees that was good.

Desserts at Al BarakatThe chocolate profiteroles with date ice-cream was good, but the standout dessert was the banana, mango and strawberry gratin with cardomom ice-cream.

During the next night, they had a Sultan's night special dinner at Al Barakat where they had cooked an entire lamb for eight hours under the sand. The buffet included mezze samplers, beef and lamb shawarma which were so well seasoned, I can still remember the taste. We enjoyed our food on the outdoor terrace as lamps flickered in the cool wind and waves crashed below us.

Mezze platter at Al Barakat
Whole Lamb at Al Barakat
Feugo Grill is another excellent dining option. Both location and food are top-class here. Tables set in the bleached white sands, right at the waters edge where baby lemon sharks show up during the evenings. We gobbled up some real tasteful seafood selections here. Starters of crab meat and prawns were excellent. Our mains were always the catches of the day: snapper, lobster and tiger prawns. Fish here are usually always line-caught and absolutely fresh. We would be eating at 7 PM what was caught only at 4 PM!

Feugo Grill
Feugo Grill
Feugo Grill
Feugo Grill
Feugo GrillFinally, a word on in-room dining. We found the menu quite varied and Chandan's Chicken Biryani and Cheesecake were hits with the kid. It is actually quite fun to have lunch on the sun-deck of your beach bungalow with the ocean in front of you just after a swim in the plunge pool.

There are kids menus at all restuarants here. We had paid for half-board which is a good option if you are all adults. If you have kids, paying actuals may be a better option unless you can polish of three courses every night (children's menu are much cheaper). Also note that prices here are high because everything has to be flown in from distant countries. Dinner entrees at Blu are priced at about USD 40, lunch items at USD 24, a glass of wine at USD 24, etc. However, the portions are large.

Next: More Goodness at Landaa Giraavaru
Previous: A Vacation in Maldives


A Vacation in the Maldives

Four Seasons Landaa GiraavaruThe great traveller, Ibn Batuta, came here during the 14th century and called it one of the wonders of the world. Seven hundred years later, this place can still leave you speechless as you take in the picture-perfect scenery: perfectly formed islands of powdery white sands, lush green coconut palms at their center, and ringed by bright turqoise waters that merge into the deepest blues of the Indian Ocean.

The 30 minute seaplane ride from the international airport at Male to the island of Landaa Giraavaru gave us a bird's eye view of the spectacular coral reefs below. It was a bright sunny morning, with only strands of clouds between us and the ocean vistas below. Maldives is the lowest country in the world with a maxium height of 8 ft. above sea-level! This country of about a thousand small islands is but a speck in the vastness of the Indian Ocean: try bringing up Maldives on Google Maps and you will see what I mean. However, it is this very remoteness and small size that makes these islands such a treat to visit.

The coral reefs that ring the Maldivian atolls are abundant in marine life, including many rare species. Colorful tropical fish, manta rays, sting rays, sharks and dolphins abound making this a place of choice for divers. In recent years, these islands have also become home to some of the best luxury resort hideaways. While many of the best resorts cater to honeymooners, there are a few good ones that are family-oriented. I chose the Four Seasons Landaa Giravaaru for multiple reasons: reputation, the kids club, the quality and location of the resort island (far away from the busy Male atoll).

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Four Seasons Landaa GiraavaruThe Four Seasons experience was extraordinary. They were waiting for us as we arrived at the jetty; they even addressed our daughter by her name. The first impressions of our beach bungalow was amazing! Here are some pictures of the living area, the outdoor rainshower, the plunge pool, the thatched sundeck with our own private beach. It doesn't get any better than this!

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Four Seasons Landaa GiraavaruThe staff made us feel like royalty: welcome lomi-lomi drinks at the airport, the sweetest tender-coconut welcome drinks at our room, and a personalized cookie for our girl. We were soon in our plunge pool, the temperature a very pleasant 32 C - a welcome change from the hot Pune summer. They again delighted us by bringing us a champagne ice-bucket for us on the sundeck.

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Four Seasons Landaa GiraavaruWe spent the rest of the day discovering all the nice little touches in the room, sitting out in our little beach watching the astonishing blue hues of the water and skies as the waves crashed on our feet. Our little girl was busy collecting sea-shells until one of them starting walking! She got a quick lesson on hermit crabs and ghost crabs. :)

The earliest people in the Maldives were called Giraavaru; they are thought to have come from South India and Sri Lanka. Ibn Batuta took meticulous notes, which are amongst the earliest documents that describe life in these islands in the early 14th century. The islands of the atolls were even close to each other than now, and navigating ships required help of the locals. He refers to these islands as Dhibat Almahal. He writes about how hospitable the people were - apparently every traveller became someone's responsibility to feed and shelter. The women would even marry travellers for the duration of their stay in these islands - they were not allowed to travel out of the country those days.

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Four Seasons Landaa GiraavaruFour Seasons Landaa Giraavaru has multiple living options: 40 beach bungalows - each with their own pool, sundeck and private beach, 60 water bungalows, and a couple of large villas that have rooms on the beach and over water. This vacation resort also has a very well-run kids club, Kuda Vella - meaning Little Turtles and a varieties of outdoor activities for the family. However, given the size of the property, even the honeymooners can have plenty of privacy and quiet.

Here are some resources I found very useful when planning my trip:

1. The Maldives Resort Guide: Useful description of all the luxury resorts in one place.

2. Atoll Paradise: Our travel agent in Maldives who helped us make the bookings, added a few extras and provided exceptional service throughout. Jhoana, Melissa, Biman and the others I interacted with during this trip were very friendly, helpful and prompt. I strongly recommend using them to plan your own vacation here.

3. Trip Advisor: To check reviews, good and bad, of people who had visited this resort before.

“Travelling: It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story-teller. ” - Ibn Batuta, 1325-1354

Next: Dining at Landaa Giravaaru


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Blue Ginger in Delhi

ICe-cream Trio at Blue Ginger DelhiDuring a quick trip to New Delhi last month, I found myself at the Blue Ginger restaurant within the Taj Palace. As Bangalore foodies will attest, Blue Ginger at the Taj Westend has become something of an institution, especially its Blue Bar. With its success has come the obvious temptation for an encore - in another city.

Unlike the open-air al fresco setting of its Bangalore namesake, this restaurant has an opulent, warm and interesting decor. One of the staff, a Vietnamese girl, was in full Vietnamese regalia, her bright turquoise headgear and dress brightening the dark earthy colors of the interiors.

Blue Ginger DelhiService was attentive and friendly but lacked sophistication and knowledge of the menu items. On this Sunday, the lunch-time patrons has just begun to stroll in; strangely enough all of them women out with their girlfriends. Now this wouldn't be ususual for a weekday, but seemed strange on a Sunday!

In the hot summer day what better to start with than the Goi Du Du Tom, raw papaya salad with shrimp to cool me down. The salad was good, tangy and spicy in the right amounts whetting my appetite for all that would follow.

Raw Papaya Salad at Blue Ginger DelhiThe Tom Rang Me, stir fried prawns in tamarind sauce with sweet potato basil mash was interesting, the prawns large and crunchy, but not a standout.

Stir Fried Prawns at Blue Ginger DelhiThe Mien Xao Cua, stir-fried glass noodles with crab meat and greens was pretty exciting and went well with the sweet-sour-spicy prawns.

Glass Noodles at Blue Ginger DelhiThe dessert was clearly the memorable one: Ice-cream Alaska - a trio of flavors on sticks stuck into a cup-cake. The flavors were an interesting combination too: basil, lemon-grass and pandanus, covered with a layer of thick cream and flambeed before serving.

Vir Sanghvi has a review of this restaurant here with several interesting anecdotes. Try this place for something different if you are near the Taj Palace New Delhi. But for a superior experience try The Blue Ginger at the Taj Westend in Bangalore (my review here).

The Taj Palace is no longer the best Taj property in New Delhi; for the foodie that honor ought to go to the Taj Mahal Hotel which now boasts of Varq and Wasabi - both delights for the sophisticated gourmet.