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Ithaa Undersa Restaurant: The Maldives

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On my most recent trip to the Dubai I had some extra time for a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of travel life and headed straight south to experience the magic that is the Maldives. I had the distinct pleasure of staying at couple resorts – one of which was the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island where I successfully checked off one of my life long dreams: Dining underwater. Yes, as close to that as I could get without drowning.

I had actually written about Ithaa, The Worlds First Undersea Restaurant in 2005, more than five years prior to the visit I made.

To say the restaurant itself is unique would be an understatement of the century, and surely it is the crown jewel of the New Zealand based MJ Murphy Design Group’s portfolio.

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Their deep understanding of aquarium design and construction made them a very qualified partner for the job– but as you can see from their own journal, balancing a 175 ton acrylic restaurant 16 feat below the oceans surface was no small task. The story of construction alone is amazing.

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The entrance is set above sea (disappointingly you didn’t have to swim in).  A door is setup on a small nondescript thatched pavilion above the ocean with an overwater path to the beach. If it weren’t for the buoys lined up around the waters surface in the distance you would hardly know what you were getting yourself into.

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After a spiral staircase you’re welcomed into what is best described in picture. It is indeed just like you’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean as schools of fish fly by and inspect the 14 people dining just on the other side of the clear acrylic encasing.  It’s a little bit like sitting inside a clear bullet laying in the sand.

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Being down there it took a few minutes to get used to how bright it was. I went for lunch at high noon and they actually had a tray of sunglasses to choose from if you forgot your own. The water acts as a magnifying glass and the intensity of the light is almost unbearable without shades on.

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Food wise, it was a set lunch menu paired with a refreshing bottle of wine.  The AC was pumping down there, but the sun was still very hot.  As you can imagine, food wise the seafood was as fresh as it could get, likely caught only earlier that morning.  My date and I enjoyed a piece of seared line-caught barrier reef fish, palm heart and fresh coconut. But while the eating was good, it was hard to pay attention to the meal– the view you’re sharing with only a few other lucky souls under the ocean was just too incredible.  We spent most of the time pointing and laughing as fish and undersea life passed right before our eyes every minute.

Ironically, eating here turned our to be my early inspiration to go ahead and get my scuba diving certification the next week, as it was a taste of the serenity and beauty the undersea provides.

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As we were leaving the restaurant our host reminded us that for a mere $11,000 a night we could spend the night. Too rich for my blood, but wow– what an offer.  The space has also been rented out for weddings.

Reservations for Ithaa are required far in advance of your visit to the island, and if you’re even considering a trip to the Maldives, it’s a must see, a great meal and worth the visit.

*Some of these photos were obviously pulled from around the web to illustrate the construction process.  Others were taken by me.  It was surprisingly hard to photograph under there!

Movida Bar De Tapas: Melbourne

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Guest Post by David Vo

Having finished an amazing morning at the National Gallery of Victoria, my companion and I made our way to Federation Square, the long way. With a few kilometers under our belt and a hunger that demanded some sustenance, we found ourselves in one of Melbourne’s infamous laneways, standing in front of Movida Bar De Tapas. We put our names down on the list and explored the ever-changing graffiti art on the brick walls just outside the doors. Within twenty minutes we were seated at a high table.

We went though the entire tapas menu, sharing just a bite of each. The Gazpacho Andaluz really stood out for the flavor profile and creativity. The croqueta with the saltiness from the jamon and the silkiness from the egg really hit home for me. We also ordered a main course of the pork jowl. Extremely unctuous with the right amount of counter-balance from the Borlotti beans. We wrapped up with the churros and drinking chocolate plus a chocolate ganache with vanilla bean ice cream.

Next time you are in Melbourne, be sure to check out this gem of a restaurant. Make sure you bring a few friends so you can try each of the dishes. Just watch your wallet as things add up quick!

Movida Bar De Tapas
1 Hosier Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
(03) 9663 3038

Lung King Heen: Hong Kong

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Asking a seasoned traveler for the name of a good Chinese restaurant is like searching online for a custom made shirt. With no chance to feel the hand of the fabric or compare that particular shade of blue you like with your skin tone, the search for right tastes and a healthy blend of ingredients is elusive at best and can often lead to a major disappointment if not a sour stomach. So, it was a rare and welcome discovery to sit down to the five-course near perfection offered up by Chef Chan Yan Tak at Lung King Heen in Hong Kong. Situated in the spectacular Four Seasons Hotel (the largest Four on the planet), this three star Michelin master holds court daily for diners whose adoration for dim sum bring them to the ongoing power lunch scene around the peaceful, spacious and beautifully arranged tables of this stellar restaurant. We passed up the initial invite for lunch so as to be able instead to savor a delicious dinner we will lovingly remember.

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Well prepared to feast on a variety of Chef Chan's Cantonese signature dishes, we passed over the objectionable but requisite opening page of twelve shark's fin this and that to make our selection from the not-so-obvious fish and seafood, tofu, vegetable, rice and noodle offerings many diners consider side dishes. Carnivorous reviewers of Lung King Heen have already waxed eloquent about the numerous beef and pork entrees which are a standard in Hong Kong; however, our intention was to ascertain whether or not a globe-trotting vegetarian, vegan or macrobiotic diner could leave feeling healthy and sated without exceeding the credit card limit. Following the complimentary opener "“ a nibble of bean curd floating atop three straight, bright string beans cleverly arranged to reflect the I Ching hexagram for Heaven, a platter of eight small servings of "Crispy Scallops with Fresh Pear" (pictured below) started the meal with sweet slices of fruit bonded to the tender seafood by a thin layer of rich shrimp pâté. Numbers play a big role in all of Hong Kong, the land of feng shui and good fortune, where three and eight carry promising significance. The scallop-pair combination was like a fine French pastry and made us giddy with anticipation.

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"Fried Rice with Lobster and Seafood" was equally divine; the rich taste of the rice combined well with sweet peas, tiny slivers of carrot delicately mixed with small bites of succulent lobster, prawn and crab. The result was tasty without being too filling, as much a light vegetable dish as one with seafood. From the page entitled "Organic, Vegetarian" we selected the "Five Grain Noodles and Assorted Vegetables", abandoning our gluten-free preference for this special occasion. Both full of flavor and rich, this was as fine a noodle dish as any we'd ever had, the accent on the organic solidly noticeable with each bite. Since most noodle dishes in lesser establishments are often buoyed by water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and Chinese cabbage, the absence of these staple fillers has to be acknowledged.

More familiar with tofu than most other patrons (my family has made our own for four decades), we were eager to try the "Crispy Tofu Sheet Rolls with Vegetables." We'd happily devour this dish, with a bowl of brown rice (not served here) and steamed greens, on a daily basis "“ that is if we could prepare it as well as Chef Chan did. It was exceptionally appetizing and totally enjoyable.

Despite our sense that we'd ordered the right amount to share, we soon realized our dinner would pack well for a four-hour plane ride the next day. Our wish would be graciously granted as the remaining food was taken to the kitchen and boxed for travel. This gave us a chance to sample one of the eight dessert bean or fruit puddings and one of the eight innovative pastries offered on the menu. Accompanied by Fuding Silver Needle Tea, a surprising twist awaited us as we sampled the "Chilled Coconut Pudding with Hasma and Longan." While the "Red Bean Cream with Lotus Seed" was pleasant enough, the Coconut Pudding was truly unusual. It was a wholly unrecognizable taste: a sweet, light custardy soufflé layered between cool agar, somewhere between sparkling aspic and Japanese kanten.

Vegans, vegetarians and macros take note: don't settle for ordinary rice and bean curd just to save money in the great city of Hong Kong. Assuming they sample the beef, pork and shark's fin items on the menu, most people pay $150 – $200 each at Lung King Heen. Calculating that our meal served three people generously, the tab was $50 US per person, and we dined at the only three star Michelin Chinese restaurant in Asia. If that's not great value for money, then my tai chi is full of hungry ghosts.

The surprise ending? Hasma, known for its health-giving properties, are moist, chewy morsels with almost no taste. Hasma is said to be very good for the kidneys, lungs and women's skin as it contains many hormones and has a high lipid content. This is because it is a combination of fat and part of the reproductive area of a white-bellied frog from the north of China. Thus, as the meal ended, we conceded that when searching for healthy food, it just might not be essential to avoid all four-legged creatures that evolution moved out of the water. Astonished that we'd ingested our first amphibious body part, we both left of the same mind, feeling blessed that dinner at Lung King Heen was the best Chinese meal we'd ever had.

SriPraPhai: Queens, New York

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I lived in Bangkok from age zero to thirteen and only realized I took true Thai food for granted after I spent some time in the US. Yes, it’s true that there’s plenty of Thai folk working their culinary magic right here in America (especially in New York), but I’d given up hope for perfectly authentic Thai food until I experienced SriPraPhai, a little spot in Queens that made me miss home more than ever. The place is not exactly fancy, but that just adds to the effect, reminiscent of the Thailand I remember where the best food is at street level and won’t cost you much. While I’ve always favored beef noodle soup, that’s about the most basic thing on the extensive menu, which includes obscure items from every region. Go there once and take a Thai person with you. They’ll agree, the proof is in the spicy som tam.

MuvBox's Shipping Container

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The term “fast food” usually applies to the speed in which a frozen hunk of processed mystery ingredients mutates into a wondrously cheap and edible delight; not the rate at which a seemingly innocuous old shipping box transforms into a chic new restaurant. Alas, MuvBox might change the meaning of fast food forever, not only with it’s unique sort of sanctuary, but also with the gourmet fare being dished out on site. The space-saving solar-powered Montreal eatery created by Daniel Noiseux serves up high quality cuisine using the finest of local ingredients. Customers delight in savory seafood pizza, lobster rolls and the like. And when the day is done and it’s time to shut up shop, it all goes back in the box in a matter of minutes. If you want to witness this magnifique mealtime miracle head to Montreal’s Old Port and satisfy your inner fast foodie.

Via Springwise

Yew Restaurant: Vancouver

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Vancouver is a fantastic city to explore and discover new restaurants "“ especially if you like seafood as much as I do. The access to quality ingredients would make any food connoisseur drool. It certainly had me blissed the whole week I was there.

I didn't need to go far from my hotel for my first big dinner, and the experience at Yew Restaurant was certainly worth celebrating. After undergoing a massive renovation in the lobby of The Four Seasons ($4 million Canadian dollars for the restaurant alone, I'm told), a dramatic space was born, seating more than 128 guests. You're dazzled in this gorgeous space by its massive 40 foot ceilings, a floor to ceiling fireplace, and a communal table formed from a single piece of western maple.

The Executive Chef, Oliver Beckert launched a dinner menu he calls No Passport Required, a way to lead his guests on an enticing culinary journey to far away destinations — all without the need to leave their comfortable downtown Vancouver seats. April was "Japan" month (my favorite, of course) so I gave up the reins and went for it.

My Japanese adventure started with King Crab Soup, a Sake based broth with Daikon and Shiso. Very simple, light, and tasty. Large chunks of King Crab which tasted like they’d been lifted out of the sea a few hours earlier. Soup was followed by a Miso-Marinated Black Cod served with Asparagus, Edamame and a Kombu Broth — a classic. Dessert was a Pink Grapefruit Parfait with Ginger and Vanilla Consomme and Almond Milk Caviar.

My guest loved his dish from the daily menu"“ the fresh wild Salmon, miso-broiled with Chinese Broccoli, Baby Shiitake Mushrooms, Squash and a Plum Puree. If you're not up for food from the sea, they offer Wild Boar, Venison, or a pasta dish for the vegetarians.

There's also an impressive wine selection with more than 150 bottles available by the glass"“ (yes, one hundred and fifty) and they'll open nearly any selection you might want to sample.

Our Parfait was an ideal ending for us, but if you’re feeling especially brave, finish off with a selection of their Homemade Ice Cream and Sorbet's "“ Nutella, Carmel Honeycomb, S'more Ice Cream — and then call the cardiologist! Delicious.

Inamo: Restaurant of the Future

You know what’s annoying about restaurants: waiters. They bring you the wrong orders, you can’t find them when you need them, and conversely they constantly check up when you don’t (no offense to any of our reader/waiters, we’re sure you’re terrific). New London restaurant Inamo is taking a technological approach turning everyone’s table into a computer. At Inamo, order food, change the color or design of the table, play battleship (which is amazing), check out what’s happening in the kitchen via webcam, request the waiter, pay the bill — everything can be done from your table that doubles as a computer screen. This isn’t Microsoft Surface, it’s a projection from above that doubles as lighting and visual effect.

The fact that our table was a computer was inspired, but by the time the food comes who cares right? Well the food was amazing, too. Get the black cod. As fun as it was to have a computer table, that was the highlight of the night. Hit the jump for a few pictures (via Johannes Kleske) of my visit there.

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Uoshins Sushi Tokyo

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With a few locations around Tokyo, Uoshins is my new favorite Japanese sushi spot. It’s affordable, incredibly fresh (fish is laid out on ice when you walk in) and casual. The location I went to in Nogizaka is an old converted gas stand with outdoor/indoor seating and a great, fun, buzzing atmosphere. Make sure to try the uni, maguro-kama, and just about anything else on the menu (which is in Japanese, so good luck reading it, just smile and ask for Omakase, the chefs choice…)

Directions and map (thanks Alex) in English after the jump.

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What should Josh do in Rome?

rome.jpg I’ve been collecting the frequent flyer miles, and right now I’m in Rome for the next week (for the first time). I’m here because on Thursday I’m speaking at the TTI/Vanguard conference about the future of the social web, this new group of humans called Born Digitals, etc. The speaker lineup is pretty great, and I’m humbled to be here. But, like any good globe trotter, I’ve got some time to burn this trip (by design), and I have planned, wait for it, yep– nothing. Why would I come to Rome with nothing planned? Well, I figured a few of my faithful readers have been here and can lend a hand in recommendations. Where should I eat? What should I visit (other than the obvious city attractions?) Where should I shop? Who wants to get gelato with me? Drop me a note or leave a comment below. Ciao!

Whiter than White at Vanilla

We recently had the pleasure of dining and drinking at Vanilla, a new London restaurant blending high-end design with upscale food. For those of you in the know of London restaurants, Vanilla was created from the ashes of Firevault"” also known for its decor as much as its food.

Vanilla works on a color scheme of whiter than white. It takes you back the second you walk in the door. The bar feels like an eloquent bath– an eloquent bath of champagne. Which is fitting because the first thing you will see on the menu are vanilla champagne cocktails. The neat thing about a design scheme relying on white is the lighting possibilities. Vanilla runs the entire lighting system on LEDs, so the mood can be changed at the rotation of a dial letting different reds, blues, and greens bounce from the white.

Manager Matthieu Destandau has put his heart and soul into creating the restaurant from every detail of the placement of the LEDs, to the gorgeous food on the menu. If you get a chance to check it out, tell them we sent you– they’ll take good care of you. Can't make it to London anytime soon? Have a look at a few more photos after the jump.

 

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