Condé Nast Traveler: Dubai destination guide

Spotted: my words and photo on the Condé Nast Traveler US site. Very pleased – it looks so pretty.

Dubai cntraveler.com

Time Out London: Harringay guide

Last month I wrote a little guide to Harringay, my ‘hood, for Time Out London. Read on for the places I like best, after frequent frequenting*

Tree-hugging, neon lights and Turkish wedding parties: it’s the best bits of Harringay

Harringay will put a spring in your step, and an inch on your waist.

Why go there?
For the food, bars and buzz of a great place as yet largely undiscovered by the non-Turkish masses. But mainly for the food.

What’s the vibe?
Hectic. Harringay’s Grand Parade on Green Lanes (where every place mentioned here is located) is a street that never sleeps – it’s a blur of neon lights, 24-hour fruit-and-veg shops, young families and professionals, students and the occasional Turkish wedding party.

 © Jessica Long© Jessica Long

Sounds good. What’s on the menu? 
There are ten Turkish restaurants doing a roaring trade within less than a mile.Gökyüzü offers the friendliest and most efficient service and, more importantly, the finest meat platter. Antepliler isn’t bad either, especially with its big wood oven in the front for Turkish pizzas. A crop of non-Turkish places has also recently sprung up: Bun & Bar serves burgers and cocktails, while Autograf Grill claims to be ‘probably the best Polish restaurant in London’.

Got the meat sweats?
Try casual café Mezzo, or the Harringay Sunday market which frequently includes a bánh mì stall.

The Salisbury Hotel

Let’s get drunk!
Make a beeline for The Salisbury. It’s staggeringly big and has everything you could wish for in a London pub: a revolving selection of ales, stuffed animals and a roaring fire. Jam in a Jar has a friendly Lower East Side dive vibe and heaves on weekends, when it plays host to Americana-flavoured live music.

gozleme at hala

Time for some sobering retail therapy.
There’s an imposing Hawes & Curtis Outlet Store selling heavily discounted threads, and the curious soon-to-open Harringay Local Store, whose window states it is ‘Not another Tesco’. It’s opposite Tesco. But, mostly, Harringay is all about food, so eyes on the prize. Yasar Halim is the best bakery on the block – grab some flaky baklava from there, or a gözleme, a pastry stuffed with spinach, mince, cheese or potato, from the ladies making them in the window of Hala.

Now how about a nice sit down?
Finsbury Park is but a ten-minute walk away, while down near the Overground station, the surprisingly peaceful Railway Fields nature reserve is also sporadically open to the public for dawn chorus walks and tree-hugging festivals and the like.

And if I only do one thing?
Sip Turkish black tea with lots of sugar outside Café Lemon and watch the action on the Parade whirl past.

By Becky Lucas, who lives on Harringay Road, in Harringay, in the borough of Haringey. The previous resident was called Harry.

*Two little edits I’d like to make to this piece. In fact, let’s go for three: 1) If you’re only going to do one thing in Harringay, it should really be eating the mezzes and meat feast at Gökyüzü, rather than sitting outside Café Lemon. I just couldn’t repeat myself. 2) Blend café was edited out of my copy and it is absolutely by FAR The best café on the strip: the perfect place to spend a few hours with your laptop (in fact, I am in Blend as I type this). 3) The picture of The Salisbury included is extremely out of date. A lot of money has been spent making the pub and area surrounding it a lot grander.

Time Out London: Jam in a Jar bar review

A review of my favourite little artsy dive bar in North London. Come discover Jam in a Jar.

The ‘Jam’ in this bar’s name doesn’t refer to the preserve, or to the local traffic, but is used in the impromptu musical freak-out sense. Harringay’s Jam in a Jar marks a sea change for the particular stretch of Green Lanes known as Grand Parade. It forms a hat-trick alongside impressive refurbished Victorian boozer the Salisbury down the road and yummy mummy café Blend next door.

‘Qwerty’, stamped in higgledy-piggledy typewritten characters constitutes the bar’s main signage and reflects its laidback leanings. The intimate interior has exposed brick and bare wooden floorboards, with a couple of dark leather sofas and armchairs, art for sale on the walls and a giant old transistor radio and some bongos by way of ornament.

Jam’s drink selection is equally small but well formed. There are four or so cocktails (margaritas, mojitos), Kozel, Estrella and Pilsner Urquell on tap, two red wines, two whites, one rosé, and seven or so ciders and bottled beers. Brunch, dinner and snacks are covered by the food menu, whose high point is the Jam in a Jar Special: an epic stacked burger, with pineapple, bacon and a fried egg thrown in for luck, only to be ordered by the ravenous or particularly fulsome of stomach.

Yet, as the bar’s name suggests, what makes Jam exciting is not its refreshments but its embrace of local arts and music: revolving musicians play really rather good blues, jazz, garage rock and whatever else suits their mood on weekend nights, drawing artsy, beard-heavy crowds so large they spill on to the pavement. Get there before 7pm on a Saturday if you want a table inside: later on it really is like being jammed into a jar, albeit one full of nice tunes and booze.

By Becky Lucas

Venue details

  • Address:599 Green Lanes
    London
    N8 0RE
  • Venue phone:

    8341 1116

  • Transport:Tube: Turnpike Lane. Rail: Hornsey

Sunday Times Travel magazine: Best Beds

This month’s issue includes my round up of the best and buzziest hotels in Dubai right now, from the new Anantara Dubai The Palm, on stilts over the sea, to Barjeel Heritage, a recreated traditional Emirati guesthouse. You’ll also spot my mug on the Contributors page.

photo-5

Cntraveller.com review

Check out my experience on London’s first ever afternoon tea bus tour on Conde Nast Traveller‘s website. Thoroughly recommended (the tour, that is!)

LONDON BUS AFTERNOON TEA TOUR
BEST FOR: SIGHTSEERS IN HEELS

London buses: not a mode of transport you’d normally associate with such a sophisticated pastime as afternoon tea. But then you haven’t been on BB Bakery’s bus yet – aka ‘Rodney’, a shiny 1960s Routemaster, which the Covent Garden family-owned bakery recently restored and put back on the road for its new Afternoon Tea Bus Tour.

Served on vintage crockery in keeping with the retro bus, the tea includes dainty sandwiches, quiche, macaroons, cupcakes, lemon-meringue pie, strawberries-and-cream cakes, scones and particularly delightful brownies, with a flute of pink champagne and tea; English breakfast, Earl Grey, green and various other options (served in a less-delightful but reassuringly spill-resistant paper cup with a lid).

On-board waiter Jean-Philippe manages to simultaneously charm and serve all customers while keeping his balance in the aisles during the 90-minute ride. Outside, if you can tear yourself away from the brownies (and the attentions of Jean-Philippe), you’ll catch iconic landmarks including Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye on a route that travels from Trafalgar Square and back via Kensington and Notting Hill – although thankfully there is no audio tour guide to interrupt the spirited conversation.

The bus-tour tea is the first of its kind, and brilliantly combines sightseeing with other classic English pursuits of afternoon tea, cake and a charming piece of history. If only all bus rides were this much fun – what a merry city London would be.

Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, £45 per person. The tea lasts around 90 minutes and departs every day at 12.30pm and 3pm from the London Eye. For more details or to book contact BB Bakery (020 7237 3392; www.bbbakery.co.uk).

By Becky Lucas

Sunday Times Travel: Dubai supplement

Head here to read my guide to Dubai for Sunday Times Travel. I wrote everything bar the golf and brunch bits (not that I am not an expert in the latter!)

Sundaytimesdubai

Beckyamylucas.com updated!

For this feature and plenty of other fresh, fun-to-skim-through uploads, head over to http://www.beckyamylucas.com, right this minute.

The Guardian: Shopping fit for a sheikh

My piece in The Guardian today about a Dubai sheikh’s hunt for 60 female personal shoppers from Venice. It was the most-read article on the site for a while, with 10,987 Facebook shares at last count. Fantastico!

It seemed like an April Fools’ joke. On Tuesday 1 April, news circulated in Italy that a Dubai sheikh had a job opening – in fact, he had 60 of them. The candidate requirements? Applicants must be female, attractive, stylish, aged (or at least look) between 18 and 28, from the province of Venice, able to speak English (French and Arabic a bonus) and, most importantly, possess supremely sharp shopping skills.

In return they would be offered €100 (£83) a day and the opportunity to join the sheikh on his European tour next month, where they would attend various high-end dinners and events, stay in luxury accommodation and fly “by private jet only” between Madrid, Paris, London, Stockholm, Ibiza, Milan and Venice. The role itself? To assist his numerous wives and daughters with their shopping.

Mauro Belcaro, owner of Italian fashion company Rosy Garbo and casting agency Padua DOC, is in charge of recruitment. He quickly confirms the ad’s legitimacy. “I got a call from an agency in Dubai because we regularly cast fashion models and other roles in the industry,” he says. They wanted Italian women because of “their strong taste in fashion”.

Now 100 women have thrown their (oh-so-on-trend) hats into the ring. Sixty went under the casting directors’ scrutiny last week: only “one or two” made the grade. The selection process is stringent. The hopefuls must face a panel consisting of an image consultant, a personal shopper and a lawyer (“to keep the process transparent and ensure the contracts they sign with the sheikh are 100% accurate”). “Beauty is the least important criteria here,” says Belcaro. “Image consultancy experience and intelligence are more crucial.”

On Friday, one applicant apparently answered “bread” when asked what the word “baguette” conjured in her mind. The answer should have been the famed Fendi bag of the same name. Other questions the women have so far been faced with include: “What are the big makeup trends of 2014?” and “Which designer labels best suit a woman in her 50s?”

When I ask Belcaro if the women’s marital status is relevant, he laughs. “This is not a harem we are building! It is more like a family vacation; many of the sheikh’s children will be there. The ladies’ responsibility is to ensure they are dressed correctly for the social events they attend.” And what if the Italian employees also lack suitable attire? “They may buy clothes too.”

Like all good things, the role is rather short-lived: the “shopping shifts” last 15 days, after which 10 new women are installed. On the plus side, Belcaro is in desperate need of English speakers, as this is the language the Emirati women use. “If there are any interested English women living in Italy, or who have lived here before for a year or so, please tell them to apply,” he says.

VICE: Dubai Labour Camp’s Got Talent

My piece on the new VICE news site, about the singing sensations amid Dubai’s construction worker camps. We just never heard them over the diggers before… (Try not to let the US spellings annoy you.)

Singing contest Camp Ka Champ (“Champ of the Camp” in English) is like The X Factor except rather than allowing novice singers indulge in a vacuous pop-star fantasy for a few months, years after that boat sailed, it helps impoverished migrant workers in Dubai escape from the daily grind of building one of the world’s most opulent cities at break-neck speed.

Instead of Simon Cowell, with his tight t-shirt and eye-rolling theatrics, Dubai-based Indian singer and presenter Shobana Chandramohan plays judge. The format is different too: contestants fight to recognize a tune from its opening chords, then sing, however well, or badly, the remaining lyrics.

It’s a chance for every camp employee to show off their singing skills and Bollywood wisdom in front of everyone they live and work with — but only within government-regulated camps where workers have the right residency documents.

Understandably, tensions run high in the battle for the Champ stamp and the pressure mounts with every passing year. It was devised by UAE-based advertising agency Right Track to promote clients including Western Union, the company that transfers most of the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nepalese worker’s salaries back to their families.

When the competition first hit UAE labor camps in 2008, 30 men entered. In 2013, 3,000 took a chance, with around 10,000 said to have come to watch the final. The prizes, even according to the contestants, aren’t life changing. They are flights home, a bit of cash, flat-screen TVs. You could argue that the champ’s biggest win is the veneration of his campmates.

A man currently earning similar respect in film industry camps is Lebanese-born long-term Dubai resident, director Mahmoud Kaabour. After producer Eva Sayre told him about Champ of the Camp during its second year, it quickly dawned on them that the contest could offer a way to get into the camps with a camera — plus permission.

The seed for this desire to record inside laborer accommodation was planted young. “At 14 I got a summer job in an UAE industrial area,” remembered Kaabour. “Every day I ate lunch in a cafeteria where laborers ate.”

“The following 20 years, my life in the UAE did not offer me such proximity to laborers again. I always thought that was baffling. I decided I wanted to create a film to break down that invisible wall between Dubai dwellers and the people who create and build Dubai for us.”

Eventually, access was granted and filming of the 2012 contest for the documentary Champ of the Camp began, albeit nervously. “I couldn’t actually understand why I was allowed in,” recalls Mahmoud.

“As a documentary maker anything I would have come across was going to end up being in the film,” he said. “Either the film would annoy the authorities for showing a side of the camps they did not approve of, even though I was in there legally. Or it was going to disappoint by not honoring the prevailing impression of what a (labor) camp is. I was anxious throughout.”

Then there is the sensitive issue of filmmaking itself in Dubai, following the much-publicized imprisonment of American expat Shezanne Cassim. Cassim was held on charges of threatening national security last April, after he and some friends posted a satirical short set in the emirate about a made-up martial arts school on YouTube. Following eight months in jail, the UAE deported him in January.

Kaabour’s reality-style film therefore follows an objective structure. Dozens of men were initially interviewed at the auditions, but only those who made it furthest in the Champ crusade become the film’s main characters. Knowing they’d be accused of interviewing men handpicked for either their positivity or particularly bleak circumstances, Kaabour is adamant about the documentary’s non-bias.

“We gave the voice entirely to the laborers and wanted them to say whatever it is they have to say,” he said. It turns out most workers just want to talk to their wives and children back home. Dozens are filmed singing Bollywood numbers and “ghazal” — classical Indian love songs. Some are comparable to American blues, with somber lyrics about wives and families. It seems the topic uppermost in most of the laborers’ minds is not the work they sweat through during the day, but whatever’s going on wherever they came from. While work contracts are typically at least three years, trips home are made once a year, if that.

“Sometimes I talk to my mother on the phone and she tells me to just come home, that they don’t need the money,” says one young man choking back tears. He hasn’t seen his family in three years. He ignores her, as he knows his parents need the Dhs700 ($190) monthly salary they sold their sliver of land in India for, in order to finance their son’s Dubai relocation.

An older man, Dhattu, seems more at peace with his situation. His job is to sweep the labor camps. He knows he will have to keep this job for several more years in order to marry off each of his three daughters. But before we’re introduced to Champ’s key characters, viewers are intrigued by shots inside the infamous “labor camps.”

While the accommodation appears to be an improvement on that which appalled the world in media reports in 2008 and 2009, even these regulated camps are a shock. Eight workers share a room with little storage or belongings, and dozens share kitchens with no AC, even during the summer’s 110-degree-plus heat.

Many of the camp inhabitants have come from impoverished villages, often without running water or reliable electricity, but that’s no excuse for substandard accommodation. “They are a strange construct,” said Kaabour, after spending months filming inside them. “They only exist in this part of the world, they have a gender imbalance, they’re transitory, they’re impersonal: this remains the great source of discomfort with labor camps.”

Dhattu says early on that he feels like he’s living “in jail,” though he laughs as he says it. The first uncensored screening of Champ of the Camp took place outdoors in front of more than 1,000 viewers in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, as part of Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in December.

It is said to have triggered tears, so moved were the city’s relatively more affluent types to hear first-hand of the harsh realities of thousands of men living right next to them. Five of the laborers from the film were invited to a podium to sing immediately afterwards — they were met by a standing ovation.

“I like to think that there was some sort of social reconciliation happening that night in Dubai,” said Kaabour. “I haven’t seen anything like it before.” The film was released in the UAE at the end of January. There’s been interest from European distributors and Kaabour has been invited to speak at the International Labour Organization’s summit next month, on the topic of “creative narratives on labor and migration.”

But he’s still holding out for a little more love at home. “As we made the film, no one wanted to be seen as 100 percent siding with it. Even DIFF gave their budget to films over the Arab world other than ours. But when they saw it, they ended up throwing this huge (premiere). I think now, with the public support for the film, there’s going to be more backing,” the director said.

The latest Human Rights Watch report on the UAE outlines the continuing injustices for Dubai’s hundreds of thousands of migrant construction workers. There’s still no minimum wage. Some working environments have been deemed unsafe. Employers are said to continue to hold too much power over their workforce, while recruitment companies allegedly still illegally charge extortionate visa fees.

Obviously none of this can be tackled head on in a government-approved documentary. But the fact that Champ of the Camp gives a handful of Dubai’s sea of anonymous, overall-clad workers some depth and dignity — and that it can be shown inside the UAE — is a start. The fact Simon Cowell is nowhere to be seen is just a bonus.

Review: Why putting lots of pollen on your face keeps you young

Set down one of Covent Garden’s sidestreets, Thai Square Spa is a haven of compact calm amid the West End hubbub. On my recent visit, I was firstly treated to two friendly faces and handed a short form to fill in by the Thai reception staff, before being encouraged to settle onto one of the traditional wooden seats, opposite a slightly tense looking couple (couples treatment first-timers, perhaps?). Next, I was flourished with some special herbal tea which, they informed me, had been freshly infused that morning. A couple of sips later – you never have time to drink that first cup of spa tea, do you? – I was introduced to my (again, Thai) facialist (yes, that is what someone who gives facials is called), who led me to the ladies changing room and handed me a dressing gown, slippers and a locker key. Thankfully, Thai Spa Square is not one of those places where you must change into disposable underwear for a facial – a procedure I never quite understand.

Once on my back on the massage table in the cosy, comfortably heated treatment room (not too cold, not too hot – keeping this Goldilocks happy), listening to the hushed, not-overly-plinky-plonky background music, my facialist got to work with my requested Seven Pollen Facial. Over the course of the next hour, she applied dozens of lotions and scrubs to my skin – all of them pleasant in odour and sans any skin-stinging side-effects. The products incorporated (you guessed it) seven different pollens as part of a secret recipe, famously used by the Thai royal family in order to keep skin balanced, relaxed and boasting a healthy glow, via a process of ‘cleansing, balancing, repairing, moisturising and awakening the skin’. I don’t think my skin has ever done so much in its life, let alone an hour.

And this facial wasn’t even just a ‘facial’ – it was a massage too. At least the last 15 minutes of the treatment (it’s hard to keep track of time when you’re in a dark room with your eyes closed and you’re almost deliriously relaxed) included a thorough head, neck, shoulder and arm massage, all to help encourage overall radiance.

Once I had my clothes back on, I repaired to the softly-lit unisex relaxation room for a full cup of that sweet herbal tea and a leisurely flick through the spa’s stock of magazines (stylish consumer titles including Dazed & Confused, Conde Nast Traveller and House & Garden – FYI). A quick farewell wave later – thankfully accompanied by no product hard-sell from staff, despite the display shelves upstairs – and I was back out on Covent Garden’s cobbled streets, markedly unwound, to the point where I wasn’t even overly worried about my lack of make-up. Whether passersby were, I don’t know. Or care.

The all-important question: did the facial make any actual difference to my face? Over the next few days, at least four people commented that my skin ‘looked good’. One even said it looked ‘all glowy’. And these aren’t the sort of people to give a compliment for no reason.

So, it seems those shimmering, wrinkle-free Thai Royals – and, perhaps, bees – are on to something.

Entrance Treatment room

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