Christian Louboutin And Sabyasachi’s Glamorous “Sole” Collaboration At FDCI’s Amazon India Couture Week 2015

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Sabyasachi 

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Christian Louboutin and Sabyasachi

©Rubina A Khan 2015

Ranbir Kapoor And The Mumbai City FC Footballers – Nicolas Anelka, Sunil Chhetri, Andre Moritz & Subrata Paul

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Nicolas Anelka, Andre Moritz, Sunil Chhetri and Ranbir Kapoor

 

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Subrata Paul, Nicolas Anelka and Andre Moritz

©Rubina A Khan 2015

Fashion Design Council Of India’s Amazon India Couture Week 2015 Rohit Bal | New Delhi

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©Rubina A Khan 2015

My Favourite Restaurants In London

Rubina A Khan reviews the top eight new restaurants in London, UK: “led by some of the world’s most celebrated culinary artists and some fascinating new chefs challenging the old order in Britain that I love.”

If there’s any city in the world that has mastered the art of food coquetry with the relentless zeal of an amorous lover, it’s undeniably London. The city’s endless flirtation with culinary inceptions from across the world has everyone enthralled with its constant quest for epicurean excellence. From Michelin-starred restaurants to pop-ups to secret chef tables to food trucks to old-school British lunchrooms to supper clubs, tasting master classes to chef-driven restaurants; London’s tempting insatiable appetites with culinary artistry across the board.

CUT | 45, PARK LANE

Austrian born-US based celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s first foray on European terrain, CUT, is a contemporary steakhouse, located inside the imperious Thierry Despont designed interiors of the 45, Park Lane, a Dorchester Collection hotel on London’s Money Mile in Mayfair. Wolfgang is a culinary artist extraordinaire and is the only chef to have won the Outstanding Chef of the Year Award twice. Executive Chef, David McIntyre, an integral member of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group since 1998, who has worked at Wolfgang’s most high-profile Los Angeles restaurants including Spago, CUT and WP24 at the Ritz Carlton, moved to South West London from the US to launch CUT with Wolfgang in 2011 and leads the culinary team here.

The restaurant, by day, is ebullient, with the Psalms, a collection of 16 Damian Hirst paintings lending an artistic edge to its walls, but by sundown, it turns into a seductive dining destination, with spangled flecks of light dancing off the ceiling, that add to the allure and mystery of the night ahead. CUT has a world-class selection of steaks, grilled to perfection to your exacting preference – USDA Prime, Black Angus Beef from Kansas, aged 35 years, South Devon Angus from South West England, aged 28 days, Wagyu / Black Angus Beef from Queensland, Australia, and True A5 Japanese 100% Wagyu Omi Beef from Shiga Prefecture, Japan and a tasting of New York Sirloin, which is a fabulous way to try out three distinct cuts. CUT is the only place in London that’s serves Japanese Wagyu and it’s worth every pound for that little medallion of a steak on your plate! The cuts are brought out to your table, to choose from, in a manner most theatrical – prime cuts of raw steak, stacked up high on a massive plate, with the server outlining each cut, helping you make an informed decision on what goes on your plate. This sui generis process, exciting as it is, is quite overwhelming at first, but once the steak’s on your plate, with Tempura Onion Rings, Smoked Paprika Saffron Aioli and the Desiree Potato Puree, nothing else matters!

Hand crafted cocktails like the vodka infused Show Me Love and the vintage Negroni and Old Fashioned add to the heady evening in the fascinating ambience. The Dorset Crab and Lobster Louis Spicy Tomato Horseradish is brilliant as are the Mini Wagyu (Australian) Beef Sliders in brioche Buns with sweet pickles and hand cut French fries with herbs. Breakfast here too is just as marvelous, with my favourite being the Salt Beef Hash Cake, Poached Organic Eggs, Crispy Leeks with sauce béarnaise, reading the Sunday Times, looking up occasionally to watch London go by from the windows overlooking Hyde Park. It is unquestionably, my most preferred restaurant in London. The exceptional service at CUT is perhaps unrivalled yet, but for its legendary counterpart across the street, the old guard of The Dorchester.

PLUM + SPILT MILK | GREAT NORTHERN HOTEL

This is an absolute delight of a restaurant, ensconced inside the historic Great Northern Hotel, right in the heart of King’s Cross St Pancras, that first opened in 1854, as the world’s first railway hotel, designed by Victorian master builder, Lewis Cubitt. Taking its name from the distinctive livery worn by the dining cars the Flying Scotsman first pulled out of King’s Cross, Plum + Spilt Milk offers an elegant, yet relaxed dining experience, with floor-to-ceiling windows and hand-blown glass light bulbs warming up the classy space magnificently. Every dish on the Plum & Spilt Milk menu, under the able culinary direction of Mark Sargeant, an Englishman, formerly head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin starred restaurant in Claridges’, is spectacular! He has created a menu based on beautiful British ingredients cooked simply, but with a definitive creative bent. The Devilled Lamb Kidneys on toast is incredibly delicious as is the Plum + Spilt Milk pudding! The Fish Pie and Braised Peas is as deliciously British as it gets and the Kentish Strawberry Eton Mess is whipped delight of summer in a bowl. Almost all the drinks here are fascinating – New Etonian – Hayman’s Old Tom Gin stirred with Lillet Blanc, Cointreau Amaretto and Orange Bitters, Suntory Negroni – Yamazaki 12-year-old stirred with Antica Formula and Campari and the Northern Sour – Pink Grapefruit and Lemon Shaken with Hayman’s Gin, Cointreau and Rhubarb Bitters and Egg White.

The restaurant is extremely busy and almost always abuzz with birthday celebrations, romantic dates and jet-setting travellers, given its location. The breakfast menu here is very nutritious and anything but nondescript – it is imaginatively healthy with a nourishing Quinoa Porridge with Soya Milk, Blueberries and Almonds being the best way to start a wonderful day in London as is the Crab and Avocado with tomato and chilli on granary toast. And if you still want your breakfast sugar fix, the delicious Buckwheat Crepes with Strawberries and Agave Syrup and Lemon balm is just the treat for you, with a dash of health. You have to try out P+SM’s amazing food the next time you’re in London.

MIRROR ROOM | ROSEWOOD LONDON

Forget English Breakfasts and Earl Greys and Italian Roasts! Imagine starting your day with Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Truffle on exquisite Limoges china and a flute (or more!) of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut or Belle Époque for breakfast? Yes, breakfast! It is an exceptionally luxurious experience first thing on a rainswept London morning with the lovely Louis as your server. This is just one of the most decadent and delicious dishes from the à la carte menu that the beautifully designed jewel box of a dining salon, the Mirror Room, at the Rosewood London Hotel on High Holborn offers it’s discerning patrons, alongside a vast array of other exquisite delicacies on their breakfast buffet. Whoever said champagne only sets nights on fire has absolutely no idea how it lends its glamorous sparkle to your day, especially on weekends! In moderation of course, and definitely not if you’re driving to work! In any case, who drives to work in London really?

Born in Paris, Jerome Voltat began his culinary career in 1994 at the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, where he was a Commis Chef and in 2014, Jerome brought his exceptional passion for simplicity, taste and fresh produce to the position of Head Chef at Rosewood London’s Mirror Room, working alongside Bjorn van der Horst, Director of Food & Beverage at the hotel. Dishes like Crabcake, Poached Egg with Smoked Haddock and Hollandaise and the Soft scrambled Eggs, Sea Urchin with Oscietra Caviar tell you how meticulously the menu has been crafted and executed in the kitchens to give you a taste of heaven. A friendly sommelier is always on hand to guide you with wine pairings from a list focused on organic and biodynamic wines from both the Old World and the New. This is the place in London for a decadent breakfast!

HOLBORN DINING ROOM | ROSEWOOD LONDON

A grand brasserie, also inside the historical 1914 Belle Époque building that is the Rosewood Hotel today, the Holborn Dining Room serves up seasonal, locally sourced British cuisine in a lively dining salon. Combining reclaimed oak with antique mirrors, red leather banquettes with tweed detailing, and two patina copper-topped bars, this is where you laugh out loud with friends over relaxed meals or a spot of local lagers and burgers – whatever you’re in the mood for. Drawing on a wealth of culinary experience, Calum Franklin, whose career began working with a Michelin-star restaurant, Chapter One in Kent, is the Head Chef in charge here, whose main focus has been British cuisine for the last eight years. He is passionate about using the best produce the country has to offer and feels that British food needs to be championed so that diners “can be wowed by ingredients as well as cooking.”

The menu, comprises of traditional British dishes made from the finest locally sourced ingredients, and is divided into eight sections: Bar Snacks, Cold Counter, Hot Counter, Grill, English Kitchen, Sides, Sandwiches and Afters. The Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas here is the best I have ever had in London – it is truly exceptional and smacks of the flavours of a local chippie, despite being served up in a ritzy diner. The Dressed Cornish Crab, Shrimp Burger (a first for me!) the Mushroom and Spelt Rissotto, the Crab Hash with Basil Mayonnaise will just wow you with their scrumptious taste, turning you into a glutton du jour! And the Deli Dessert Table is a little sweet heaven in itself with the best selection of cakes, tarts, crumbles and all things British!

TING / GŎNG | SHANGRI-LA AT THE SHARD

Chinoiserie design and a contemporary setting make for the destination restaurant, TĪNG, that serves up modern European fare with Asian influences, on the 35th floor of the newly-opened Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard. Overlooking the Thames and almost all of London’s iconic landmarks like the Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Maritime Greenwich and the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex, TĪNG offers the most sweeping expanse of the city and the best lunch table on a sunny afternoon. The culinary expertise of Executive Chef Emil Minev, a native of Bulgaria, who moved to London in 2002 to study at Cordon Bleu, and subsequently trained with London’s best restaurants whilst his academic pursuits took him the Alain Ducasse Formation Center in Paris and three Michelin-starred restaurant, El Bulli in Barcelona, is visible in the food experience here. The food here is good, especially the Foie Gras – Duck, Cherry, Pomegranate, Grue and the wine pairings are just exceptional! But it is the breathtaking view of London that makes for the magical allure of dining here really.

And if it’s sunset cocktails and celebratory cheers are what you desire, then it’s GŎNG, on level 52, that you need to be at – London’s never looked as spectacular as it does from here. Well, unless you flew over in a chopper earlier, but now all it takes is an elevator ride up to the bar and a cocktail of your choice to take in the London view. The bar derives its name from ‘dougong’ – a unique structural element of interlocking wooden brackets, used in traditional Chinese architecture that’s featured in the bar. The venue’s modern Asian design was inspired by the mythical aspect of cinnabar – a mineral that has been used historically to create the ‘dragon red’ found in the walls of Chinese Imperial Palaces. The drinks at Gong are just as stellar as the views and the staff is very friendly and ever ready to snap your pictures as Selfies are just tedious here as they cut out the background completely. And even if you do manage a good shot, by the time you get the light and angle right, you’d look a bit looney to the rest of the cool crew. And it might be a tad disrespectful to your waiting drink on the table too. You’ll be flying on those tangy and sour cocktails, but the question that remains unanswered though is, how high will YOU get at London’s highest bar?

APERO | SOUTH KENSINGTON

This quiet little Mediterranean, all-day brasserie in South Kensington is like a flash of Greece in bustling London. With leather snugs, Spanish tiled floors and exposed bricks, this intimate London restaurant and bar is where South Kensington chic meets Mediterranean zest. Chef Chris Golding is all about creating unpretentious food packed with colour and fresh, seasonal ingredients over stuffy gastronomy. His easygoing menus are perfect for a relaxed meal from breakfast to supper. Apero’s bar is a vibrant place to enjoy quirky cocktails like the Tintoretto or L’Oiseau de Feu, that are inspired by the art collection at the Victoria and Albert museum a short walk away.

Apero is perfect for a weekend brunch, over an UnBeetable Burger that comprises of a beetroot burger bun, patty with stracciatella cheese and beet mayonnaise and a Tipi’s Tiger cocktail, named after Tipu Sultan. Turkish style poached eggs with yogurt chilli and avocado, Coconut Porridge with Caramelized Banana, Wild Mushrooms and poached eggs on grilled seaweed bread with hollandaise and the Toffee Banana Bread with Banana Sorbet are my hot favourites here. Apero is the ideal brunch place where you can hold as intimate or raucous a conversation, depending on the happenings of the night before.

HAM YARD AFTERNOON TEA | HAM YARD HOTEL

No trip to London is complete without a languid Afternoon Tea experience, faux British accent et al in the process and the Ham Yard hotel’s Orangery is just the place for it. A weekly changing afternoon tea menu that comprises of tea, cakes and scones (plain or with golden sultanas) with clotted cream and jam, Black Pudding, Bacon Scotch Duck Eggs, mini sandwiches like Avocado on rye and crushed tomatoes, Hamyard rarebit, baby watercress and a flute or two of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne NV Magnum or a classic Veuve Clicquot Rose NV Magnum is just what you need from all the shopping in the city!

The Ham Yard hotel, a Firmdale property, opened in June 2014 and is set on a three-quarter acre site, and is a riot of colours designed by owner, Kit Kemp, in her fun and distinctively modern British style, that gives off a cultivated “urban village” vibe with its lush garden, bang in the midst of bustling Piccadilly Circus and Soho.

BERNERS TAVERN | LONDON EDITION

Located in central London’s Fitzrovia, the glamourous and opulent Berners Tavern is housed in a historical building that dates back to 1909. Using the building’s elegant, landmarked architecture as a backdrop, Ian Schrager, of Studio 54, and his design team, created a visually arresting space now called the London Edition hotel, that is fast gaining an iconic status in design circles. The location, Berners Street, was named after Josius Berners, who purchased land there in 1654. Later it was used to build five conjoining houses in the classical style, which were converted in 1909 into a luxury hotel. During the Edwardian years the Berners Hotel, as it was named, enjoyed a dazzling reputation at the heart of London nightlife, playing host to King Edward VII as well as Carl Fabergé and other luminaries of the age.

Led by Michelin-starred Executive Chef Jason Atherton with a menu entirely sourced in the UK, Berners Tavern opened in the autumn of 2013 and already has a reputation for being the most difficult table to get in London, with a minimum waiting period of 3 months! I think this is mainly to do with an extremely smart publicity machine and not as much as the food. Atherton started out working alongside great chefs including Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Ferran Adria at El Bulli, before joining the Gordon Ramsay Group in 2001 and his flagship restaurant, Pollen Street Social opened in April 2011 in Mayfair and was awarded a coveted Michelin star within just six months of opening.

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Berner’s Tavern | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Ironbark Pumpkin Risotto with Truffled Goat Cheese, Cobbnut and Watercress is exquisite as is the Whole Dover Sole with Roasted New Potatoes, Burnt Butter and Capers and the Native Lobster and Prawn Cocktail. The Crème Brulee came highly recommended and it was worth every word of praise from the charming GM, Lionel Lacheze, also a proud member of the UK Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. The Southside cocktail, created by the wizard of cocktails, Robert, is out of this world! The contemporary British food here is great, but definitely not worth the painful wait for over three months to get a reservation! But once inside, you’ll be blown away by the stunning design of Berner’s Tavern, almost akin to sitting inside a Fabergé egg!

This feature was first published in the July-September 2015 issue of Upper Crust magazine.

©Rubina A Khan 2015

Shah Rukh Khan For TAG Heuer Watches

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Photographs by ©Rubina A Khan / Getty Images

Shah Rukh Khan | Getty Images

Living Life Sultan-size At The Opulent Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul!

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about Istanbul, or erstwhile Byzantium and Constantinople, in the Republic of Turkey, that’s as enchanting as it is enigmatic, given its artistic and regal antiquity. Right by the shore of the Bosphorous Strait on the European side, overlooking Asia across the blue ribbon, stands the majestic Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel, the last residence of the Turkish Sultans from the glorious Ottoman era.

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Ciragan Palace Kempinski Bosphorous view | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The architectural magnificence and royal grandeur of the Çırağan (meaning “spreading light”) Palace is captivating – glittering chandeliers, Ottoman and Baroque style interiors, high ceilings, plush Turkish carpets, luxuriant gardens lined with palm trees along the waterfront – all befitting of a sovereign, serenading his harem of alluring women amorously on these very grounds, so much so, that you start walking around with an arched stance, like a Sultan yourself, surveying your transient kingdom!

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Heritage Palace Wing of the Caravan Palace Kempinski that houses the Imperial Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

And if anything exemplifies opulence, it is the Sultan Suite in the heritage palace wing of the hotel. It is one of the most expensive suites in the world (€ 30,000 a night) and the largest in Europe, with a handmade marble Hamam (Turkish Bath) attached to its master bedroom, replete with gold plated and crystal faucets, a private steam room and rain shower and your own Hamam attendants! Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti was the first guest of this luxurious suite once the palace was restored and opened to the public as a Kempinski hotel in 1992, followed by U2’s Bono, Madonna and Oprah Winfrey, amongst many other global luminaries as its guests in residence.

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Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Turkish Hamam is a culturally significant bathing ritual that harks back hundreds of years to the Ottoman empire when the custom began in Anatolia and it was not just for the privileged or the imperial classes. The Turks built communal bathhouses where men and women, belonging to any rank or strata of society, could enjoy a Hamam, albeit at separate times, given the Islamic way of life. The Hamam was an extremely important inclusion in people’s lives, from the beginning of life to the very end. The word Hamam simply means a Turkish bath, but nothing about it is simple; it’s a self-indulgent and leisurely bathing ceremony. Back then; Hamams were used not just for cleansing and relaxing the body, but also for celebratory events with song and dance, food and drink, akin to a party, but in a bathhouse! The Sultans, along with their wives and harems of beautiful girls, indulged in Hamams in their palaces that went on for hours. Interestingly, the emperor as well as his wife or wives, were both addressed as Sultan.

 

The hotel’s Sanitas Spa recreates the magical ambience, reminiscent of the Ottoman Hamam times in the palace, with the 40-minute Pasha / Sultan treatment (€130) being the most popular. In the serene environs of the spa, a glass of refreshing apple water is brought to you, as your Hamam attendant gently washes your feet. She then helps you disrobe and wraps a hand-woven, thin, but highly absorbent, cotton wash cloth (Peştemal) around your waist and takes you into the exotically aromatic and heated Hamam. It’s almost minimalistic in its white marble design, with a massive marble slab in the middle of the bathhouse, but for the ornate wall carvings and designs like the original palace Hamam.

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Sanitas Spa Hamam

As you lie down on the warm marble slab, called “göbek taşı” in Turkish, the heat begins to envelop your body and soul, and as you relax and give in to the soothing sounds of the Turkish music, the outside world ceases to exist. The attendant then scrubs your body with a specially textured mitten that exfoliates and cleanses the skin, improving blood circulation, making your skin exceptionally soft to the touch, like silk. She then covers your person in a fragrant soap foam, making you float away on a dreamy white cloud, as she massages your head and body with aromatic oils, revitalizing your muscles, with special attention to your hands and feet. Then she shampoos the oil off your hair with an exceptional amalgamation of a head massage and rinse. Big metal cauldrons of water, first hot and then cold, are then poured over you to rinse off the soap and just like that, the most sensual bath experience of your life comes to an end with a cup of tea or the very sweet Turkish sherbet.

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Pestemal

At no point during the ritual do you want to open your eyes and especially when the Hamam is over. You’d think getting bathed by another human being in a manner so intimate would be odd and somewhat embarrassing, but it surprisingly isn’t; it feels absolutely natural to renew your body and soul, in a bath session as indulgent and spiritual as this. The oriental Haman ritual eclipses any kind of spa experience you’ve ever had and spoils you for life. The Sehrazat (55 minutes / € 165) and VIP Hamams (80 minutes / € 500) on the menu are amped up, more indulgent versions of the Pasha / Sultan Hamam to spoil your body and nourish your soul. The Çırağan spa has male Hamam attendants for men and female ones for women, like in the Ottoman era, but in today’s times, if a man requests for a female attendant or vice versa, the spa complies. Who knew water, soap suds and magical hands could come together in such exotic harmony?

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Turkish cuisine at Tugra from the kitchens of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire | Photo: Rubina A Khan

From eating authentic Ottoman cuisine at Tuğra, their signature restaurant, with recipes straight from the kitchens of the Sultans like the incredibly delicious Testi (Turkish for clay pot) Lamb Casserole to bathing like the Sultans in the Hamam, to savoring a cup of Turkish coffee in the gazebo, watching the ships go by, living life Sultan-size in the Çırağan Palace is undeniably a hedonistic affair, with the Hamam ritual being the most momentuous, and unforgettable aspect of it all.

©Rubina A Khan 2015

The Most Decadent Breakfast In London Is At The Mirror Room At The Rosewood London!

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Mirror Room at the Rosewood London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Forget English Breakfasts and Earl Greys and Italian Roasts! Imagine starting your day with Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Truffle and a flute (or more!) of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut for breakfast? Yes, breakfast! It is an exceptionally luxurious experience first thing on a rainswept London morning with the lovely Louis as your server. This is just one of the most decadent and delicious dishes from the à la carte menu that the beautifully designed jewel box of a dining salon, the Mirror Room, at the Rosewood London Hotel offers it’s discerning patrons, alongside a vast array of other exquisite delicacies on their breakfast buffet. This is undeniably a HUGE favorite of mine, as you can see I’ve woken up to quite a few of these Mirror Room breakfast mornings in London!

Whoever said champagne only sets nights on fire has absolutely no idea how it lends its glamorous sparkle to your day, especially on weekends! In moderation of course, and definitely not if you’re driving to work! In any case, who drives to work in London really? Get on it!

©Rubina A Khan 2014

Taking In London From The Highest Bar In Town, Gong, At The Shangri-La!

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London has never looked as spectacular as it did from the 52nd floor of Gong, the bar with THE view at the Shangri-La hotel at The Shard that opened in May earlier this year. Well, unless you flew over in a chopper earlier, but now all it takes is an elevator ride up to the bar and a cocktail of your choice to take in the London views, right from the St Paul’s Cathedral to the Big Ben to the London Bridge. The drinks at Gong are just as stellar as the views and the staff is very friendly and ever ready to snap your pictures for you as selfies are just tedious here as they cut out the background completely. And even if you do manage a good shot, by the time you get the light and angle right, you’d look a bit looney to the rest of the cool crew. And it might be a tad disrespectful to your waiting drink on the table too. Everyone was flying on those tangy and sour cocktails, but the question that remains unanswered though is, how high will YOU get at London’s highest bar?

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Photo: Rubina A Khan

©Rubina A Khan 2014

Partying Inside The World’s First Underwater Nightclub – SUBSIX At Niyama Maldives!

The sun has just set on the island, after a theatrical flourish of colors stretching across the Maldivian skies in all imaginable shades of the big fireball. The indigo waters of the Indian Ocean are awash with a golden gleam till dusk takes over with a dazzling display of twinkling stars, dancing and sparkling around an incandescent moon above in an unorchestrated symphony of the skies. It’s the perfect evening to go out dancing, and the elegant group of people waiting for their ride at the Niyama, Maldives jetty know that. The excitement is palpable as the speedboat docks in to the jetty and everyone gingerly boards the boat, all the while maintaining the poise and glamour of seasoned fashion forwards. With all its beautiful people aboard, the boat then heads 500 metres north of the island to Niyama’s exclusive and the world’s first, one of a kind, underwater nightclub – Subsix.

480226200As the breeze sprays you with the salty, ocean water, you cannot help but wonder if partying in a nightclub in the Maldivian archipelago is really happening, that too one that has a dress code. From flip-flops and cut-offs and sunscreen, it’s quite the departure for the party on board to evening dresses, heels and makeup! After all, the islands are best known for their pristine, sunny beaches, crystal blue waters, spectacular spas, world-class cuisine and wines, state-of-the-art water sports and incredibly stunning vistas. Of course, all these relaxing activities are limited largely to the island resort you are visiting. In other words, all the action is on the island. So, naturally, one simply cannot fathom the very idea of a nightclub in the Maldives. Sure, there’s dancing and music in beach bars, sunset view bars and even restaurants (if no one’s looking) on the island resorts, but an actual nightclub? Sounds absolutely incredulous and unbelievable! But Niyama by Per Aquum, seems to have changed the game globally, by offering the world a getaway on its vast island playground with Subsix. As the boat approaches Edge, the over water bar and restaurant, swathed in a fluorescent pink hue, near the landing jetty, everyone’s ready to get this party started!

480226190After getting off the boat and sipping on some welcome cocktails, a wooden staircase to the left of Edge, takes you down under. A large door swings open and there it is – Subsix – the world’s first and only nightclub underwater! Nothing you have ever imagined can compare to what hits you when you are inside it, aside from gasps of sheer wonder and amazement. ‘You are in a nightclub underwater’ is a sentence that keeps whirling around in your head as you take in the interiors of the club. The club is built six feet under the surface of the Indian Ocean and spins the term ‘partying’ on its head, giving a whole new meaning to shaking things up under water. Floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the structure allow unparalleled views of the marine life that swim by from the inner depths of the blue – Manta Rays, Parrotfish, Turtles, Clown Fish and many more exotic underwater inhabitants. A myriad shades of blue bounce off the ocean, straight into the club, and seem to change colour by the minute, set off by the glimmering lights inside. Fishes and sea creatures swim up to the windows and it all seems like a very ethereal dream!

480226206The design and décor of the club and the bar is on trend and no different from any hip nightclub anywhere in the world, except the fact that Subsix is underwater. The structure was built entirely on land, before being sunk into place, making sure no corals on the house reef were damaged. Niyama encourages people to adopt corals to protect and enrich the environment and since they started their Coral Regeneration Program in 2007, 3000 corals have been added to the house reef. Everyone soon turns into paparazzi mode, taking pictures of the fishes that even hold a pose sometimes! Imagine the delight of one guest who managed to score picture of a fish French-kissing her through the glass! Needless to add, that’s her Facebook profile picture for at least a week, if not more! Just sitting by one of the windows enjoying a signature cocktail, watching the fishes come up to the glass and blow kisses at you, is a sublime experience. It is almost as if you are one with the ocean and its colourful inhabitants. Dancing to the resident DJ’s tunes and burning up a dance floor six feet under water hits you harder than any cocktail made in any bar in the world! International rap star Tinie Tempah, was the first to perform at Subsix when it opened in the last quarter of 2012, followed by DJ Poet who is the official DJ of the band, Black Eyed Peas. Night divers and snorkellers, are often surprised when they see the glittering lights of Subsix on their explorations and feel the pulsating rhythms of the music, but the ocean life seems unperturbed by the humans dancing and swaying to the music. The underwater nightclub experience is definitely the reason Niyama’s residents swing by for a good time, but it is Subsix’s extraordinary view that is far more heady than any of the exotic cocktails on the expansive menu.

480226154Such is the popularity of Subsix’s spectacular ocean life views, that Niyama has started a Prix Fixe lunch menu on Wednesdays and Saturdays to accommodate their guests’ requests. It is an exceptionally well-crafted menu that caters to a global palette, paired with some of the best wines from around the world. From the best grass-fed beef to the best seafood the ocean has to offer, the Subsix menu is created to entice the most discerning patron. The food is prepared by the chefs at the Edge kitchen above and brought down to the diners by the very congenial and charming staff on the days that Subsix hosts lunches.

Partying underwater has so far been the realm of avid scuba divers who love the depths of the ocean and its fascinating inhabitants and each dive feels like an underwater party to them. But when there’s a man-made wonder like Subsix, you don’t need to be a swimmer or a scuba diver to enjoy the marvels of the ocean. In fact, you can drink to that!

©Rubina A Khan 2014 

The Kingdom Of Enchantment – Velaa Private Island, Maldives

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An alluring new resort in the Maldivian archipelago officially launched this weekend – Velaa Private Island. The island resort’s been built as an ode of love by Czech businessman Jiri Smejc for his wife Radka, who fell in love with the Maldives on the couples’ numerous trips to the land of the blue. The premise of creating a beautiful structure for a loved one is almost akin to that of Mughal emperor, Shahjahan’s, who built the magnificent Taj Mahal in India in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Velaa too, is reminiscent of a vintage romance in the modern world. The Smejcs desire to create a magical space for themselves and share it with the world, gave life and form to a barren island on Noonu Atoll with no vegetation and absolutely none of the wondrous elements of splendor and luxury that stand on it today. Designed by Czech architect Petr Kolar and landscaped by Alla Kohoutkova over an arduous period of two years, with an investment well over 230 million Euros, Velaa is now ready to enchant the world with its beauty and hospitality. Kohoutkova used approximately 500,000 plants from 200 local species, including 1600 coconut palms that green the island and allow for the privacy of its residents.

Velaa in Dhivehi, the language of the Republic of Maldives, means turtle, and the property was named thus, given the atoll is home to a large population of turtles in the waters surrounding the island. The design elements work around the turtle theme, from the mesmerizing black and white art on the walls to the glass windows and doors and the resort’s logo. The eyes of the turtles on the wall art, follow you around the room, in a friendly, welcoming manner.

The minute you disembark from the steps of the aircraft at Male airport and are whisked away in a sedan from the runway to the seaplane that takes you to the idyllic and exquisite island, you are a VIP – Velaa’s Important Person.

Landing onto the island, the jetty belies all the bespoke enchantments that await you as you soak in the island’s alchemy with the beach and the “oh-so-blue” ocean. Every moment from then on is whatever you want your experience to be – relaxed, romantic, familial, nothingness, sublime – it’s yours.

With Velaa aiming to provide unprecedented luxury to its guests, the rooms befit royalty, to say the least. The comfort of the bed is unquestionable, as you’ll know the morning after. The electrical switches are not complicated and frustrating as in the norm in luxe resorts, and are as easy as All On / All Off, as are the entertainment systems. The mini bar has some of the best chocolates from Ghana and a favourite, the Organic Australian Beetroot Chips, with no Nasties added! The tea and coffee menu entices you to try out new flavors each morning. Whatever your mood, there’s a shower plan to match it!

The view from every kind of accommodation on the island, be it the Deluxe Beach Pool Villa, Ocean Pool House Villa, Private Residences or the dreamy Romantic Pool Residence, is its own, but never the same, with every sunrise and sunset more magical than the last. It’s a pleasure to wake up and watch the first rays of the sun hit the ocean and then, your eyes.

Velaa has three restaurants – all day dining at Athiri (Beach) with a wood-fired pizza oven, Teppanyaki at Tavaru (Tower) and the fine dine Aragu (Essence) and two bars – CRU Champagne lounge and the Avi Bar and an impressive wine cellar with a thirty-page wine list! A 1956 Domaine de la Romanée Conti “Romanée Conti”, rare vintage Salon Champagne or a 200-year-old fortified wine 1870 Blandy “Verdelho Solera” are just a request away. Every meal is an indulgence especially when you are spoilt for choice!

Michelin-star chef Adeline Grattard from Paris looks into the culinary diversity at Velaa along with Executive Chef Bruno Contreras, who specializes in Mediterranean and European cuisine and Executive Sous Chef Gaushan de Silva from Sri Lanka who creates exceptional tasting menus with innovative presentation, marrying the finest produce with molecular gastronomy.

Velaa has a unique recreational facility, so far the only one in the Maldives, in a resort – Velaa Golf Academy by Olazabal. Swinging has never been as much fun as on the 170m of green in a swing studio carefully crafted by Masters Champion Jose Maria Olazabal. If your swing impresses the island’s golf pros, Peter Anthony Holland and Martin Dewhurst, you might get your swing analyzed on a split screen video with Rory McElroy and even get a custom made Velaa golf ball set present from them! Apart from golf, there’s Yoga, Squash, Tennis, an extensive array of Water Sports, Jet Skis, Semi Submarine, Snorkeling, Diving, Fishing, cruises on the Prestige Yacht or the traditional Bahtheli boats to keep you fit and active on your holiday. Staring into the blue, with a Coconut Vodka cocktail works just as well!

And after all that sun and water, a spa treatment is just what the body needs – My Blend by Clarins Spa has partnered with Velaa, and features exclusive My Blend facial products and body treatments by Clarins, created by Dr. Olivier Courtin, for a relaxing experience.

480038522“You are unique. And so in your skin, just like your fingerprints. The story of your life, whether biological or emotional, can be read on your skin,” reads the opening page of the spa menu. You can choose from a range of therapies of Indian origin to Asian to Tibetan. Not only does the spa offer bespoke massage treatments, it’s a full service salon with Manicures, Pedicures, Blow Dries, Hair Cuts and Styling, Epilation – the works. Velaa scores big with the ladies on this! And it’s not just about the adults; the spa has a Junior Menu too for the little ladies and little men on the resort! That is, if they haven’t tired themselves with all the fun and games at the Kid’s Play Zone whilst their parents enjoyed romantic lunches and walks on the beach. The Clarins team of therapists, as you’d expect from a brand that renowned, are exceptional. Your skin is in paradise as are you with pure harmony resonating within your mind, body and soul! And the treatment beds have a wonderful window into the lagoon below that gently lull you into an even more relaxed state.

The spa also has a special room for its Cloud 9 experience – created by Viennese artist and Perception Researcher, Sha, Cloud 9 is a comprehensive and holistic relaxing experience that has a multi sensory blend of color therapy, mental acoustic therapy, lighting-video-spatial concept and a reclining swinging pod which sways and cradles you into deep relaxation. A twenty-minute session does leave you lighter from the thoughts racing through your mind. A definite to-do on the island!

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Cloud 9 | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Velaa has 45 varied accommodations that range from $1,500 a night for a Beach Pool Villa to $1,900 for a Deluxe Beach Pool Villas to $6000 for a 2 Bedroom Ocean Pool House in the Turtle Season (1 June-31 July, 1Sep-30 Sep) to $14,000 per night for the Romantic Pool Residence and $30,000 per night for the Velaa Private Residence in the Celebration Season (24 Dec-12 Jan).

Velaa’s rooms are spotlessly clean, just like its white sand beaches. Everything is perfect. Yes, perfect. The staff share an easy camaraderie with each other, that is key to the island maintaining an amiable and harmonious environment overall. The butlers assigned to the villas are the wizards of your dreams – they actualize them, like Aamir. The staff is knowledgeable, pleasing and just wonderful to be around, as they all seem to love their jobs. The pools attached to the villas are not plunge pools, but full size. And when you book a Romantic Pool Residence or a Velaa Private Residence, they come with their own private Gyms, Spa Rooms and round-the-clock Chef services. All elements on the island strive to perfect the guests’ day in every way, everyday! Bespoke, most definitely!

From the time you are its guest, Velaa is the Kingdom of Enchantment and you, its imperial sovereign, albeit a paying one!

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©Rubina A Khan 2014