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Du-Try: The Collective at Grand Hyatt

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How long do you reckon it takes living in Dubai before you become ruinously spoilt? Not necessarily in a princessy, I-can’t-make-my-own-bed kind of sense (although that, too, happens to the best of us), but in a culinary vein, where if you’re presented with less than 35 different types of eggs at brunch that you turn your nose up and wonder where it all went wrong. I’d hazard about six months. So to be genuinely impressed after that (and I’ll be really honest here) is quite a rarity. The Collective, a new restaurant in the Grand Hyatt, however, is one of those places that makes your heart beat that little bit faster. No mean feat.

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I’ll lay my cards on the table. It’s the best breakfast I’ve ever had. I know, I know. It sounds like I’m either a) doing the PR for the place and/ or b) I’ve been bribed to say it changed my life. Neither of those things are true. Firstly, this is no cookie-cutter, traditional hotel breakfast. Four different connected restaurants in one allow you to wander through, buffet-style, heaping your plate with things from the boutique bakery, Levantine Emporium, Indian cafe and grill bar – all for Dhs135. Dishes are served up in mismatched pots and pans, on cake stands and giant trays, giving it an eclectic, street food-style energy. Not only is the actual food incredible and all made on-site (we watched the madeleines and croissants being baked and then served to us hot from the oven), but the buzz is contagious. At every station there’s a least one chef from the region to give it a real authentic, home-made flavour, and they are the friendliest, sweetest bunch of people I’ve come across in a long time.

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Special shout out to the healthy pancakes (made with egg white, banana, oats and honey), cheese shawarma served on Turkish bread with honey (complete with honeycomb) and exceptional coffee. I’ll be back for lunch (and dinner most likely. AND probably the Friday brunch). Basically, if you can’t find me – I’ll be there.

Du-Try: The Farm

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One of the best things about Dubai (aside from the tax-free living, constant sunshine and ridiculous shopping – but I won’t bang on about that, don’t worry), is the endless array of gastro hotspots that seem to spring up in the desert on an almost weekly basis. Some cheery soul told me the other day that if something disastrous happened and we were to stop getting food imported, that we would run out in 2 weeks. I had two responses to this: one, eat everything, quickly, in the manner of preparing for the apocalypse. And two, look for restaurants that serve locally-sourced produce so if the aforementioned does happen, I’d know exactly where to make a beeline for. A cunning plan, no?

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The Farm, a delightfully bucolic eaterie out in the sticks of Al Barari, was first on my list; set up almost like a retreat and looking absolutely nothing like the rest of Dubai’s glass-and-gloss veneer. Zen-like, surrounded by nature and with a strong back to basics vibe, it was nonetheless luxurious and boasted an extensive menu (on iPads, no less). In a town where organic food is gaining popularity (welcome to the 21st Century, Dubs) but can still be tricky to track down, The Farm’s dedication to it is totally welcome.

Aside from a pretty impressive Thai menu (prawn lemongrass salad, roasted duck red curry with pineapple and grape), is the hearty European offering. We tucked into tenderloin with foie gras pastie and basil mash and white chocolate creme brulee – every bit as deadly as it sounds. The live jazz was a nice backdrop to dinner but I’d imagine the airy vibe lends itself really well to a weekend breakfast that feels more like you’ve escaped to Provence rather than actually in the desert somewhere. In fact, I can’t wait to go back to try their gluten-free almond blueberry pancakes and pistachio and raspberry waffles. Yes, both of them. What? Don’t look at me like that. A girl’s gotta eat.

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The Farm, Al Barari, Opposite Falcon City (thefarmdubai.com)

New Favourite Gadget: Kindle Fire HDX

DSCF6259There’s very few things that could sway me from my love for all things Apple. Despite regularly (and inexplicably) dying when it hits 40% battery, my iPhone is more family than telecomms device, and I’ve even been known to wake up cuddling my mini iPad before. (To be fair, I’d been FaceTiming, not just decided it needed a good night’s kip). In fact, I harassed my poor dad so much when I was 16 to buy me my first iMac, that he drew a massive heart with ‘Apple Mac 4 Eva’ on our kitchen blackboard to wind me up even more when he said no. He buckled in the end though. Obvs. So when I got given the new Kindle Fire HDX, I really did have my reservations. A little peek into my internal monologue at this point: What, a Kindle? Like, those grey things that can only do black and white and have no pictures? Sounds a bit too much like reading The FT, thanks. I’ll just be over here pinning pictures of kittens in hats on Pinterest. Ooh, look a recipe for avocado humous! Etc etc…

Ok, so I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but, he-llo! It arrived and it looked, er, pretty goddam sexy to be honest. Smaller than the iPad mini and just as thin, it also boasted a GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOUR screen – which you would already know if you hadn’t evidently been trapped under something heavy for the last 4 years, like me. Yep, Kindles have come a long way – email, web browsing, a nifty little camera – all zooming around the swishy, backlit touch screen and looking quite hot. So no longer just about surreptitiously reading 50 Shades of Grey on the tube without being looked at like oh you’re one of THOSE people. No, this can now do a whole lot more than just provide you with a private way to enjoy E.L James’ best.

For starters, a few shiny, easy-to-navigate apps (Amazon’s is really fun to play around with – not to mention enlightening. I went to the music store and under ‘albums recommended for you’ were Eternal’s Greatest Hits, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – The Soundtrack, Streets Of Fear: 20 Fearless Tracks and SoulO by Nick Lachey.) Some amazing algorithms at work, there. Mayday, Amazon’s live help app (an actual person on webcam available 24 hours a day. Siri who?) is pretty fancy, if a little intimidating at first. It’s slightly, um, intimate, but you do have the option of just doing faceless live chat for those moments when you don’t want a total stranger to see that it’s 4pm and you’re still in your pyjamas.

What else is a bit good is that you can print wirelessly, work on documents, stream TV shows/ movies to your actual TV from the tablet whilst keeping it open to email/ browse the net from (multi-tasking, baby – it’s all the rage) AND (crucially) the battery actually lasts. After using Apple products for so long I did need an hour or so to get used to it – it took me a while to stop stabbing around for a home button, for example – but after that, no problems. And I’ll tell you what else: the speakers are well good (technical term).DSCF6262

Converted? Well I won’t exactly be replacing my desktop with it but I will be chucking it in my bag to the beach/ park etc. It’s pretty slick, I must admit and if you’re looking for a tablet it’s a serious amount cheaper than the iPad mini, and just as good in terms of speed, looks and functionality. There aren’t as many apps but I imagine that’s just a matter of time, and, if you’re anything like me, you tend to just use those on your phone anyway.

Verdict: The cheaper yet just as sleek alternative to a mini iPad.

From £159.99 for 16GB at Argos