The 100Tables Interview with Foodiva Samantha Wood

Q. I see from your website that you’re a Greek-Cypriot-Brit living in Dubai. I have to ask, how did you end up in Dubai and how long have you been living there?

A. Sun, sea, sand and a tax-free salary! I moved here 13 years ago from London (having grown up in the Caribbean and Cyprus) to further my career in the PR industry working primarily in the hospitality, tourism and food and beverage sectors.

Q. I’ve been to Dubai and found the dining scene to be one of the most international anywhere across all price ranges. Is that accurate or is there more nuance to what you can experience in Dubai as a foodie?

A. The choice of restaurant concepts and cuisine we have here given the small population is tremendous. The top-end, fine dining concepts tend to be imported international brands though, with only a few home-grown restaurant developments. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have many small ethnic food joints scattered across town. Due to licensing laws, to have a glass of wine with your dinner, limits the choice to hotel, free zone and member club establishments.

Q. What’s the day-to-day life like for you in Dubai? What’s a normal day in the life of Samantha Wood?

A. Lots of juggling and good time management! FooDiva is one half of my business and life. My other hats are a freelance food/ travel journalist and a communications consultant/ trainer.

Q. Any great Greek food there? I’d imagine this is core for you.

A. Naturally I am very fond of Cypriot food which is a little different to Greek cuisine, more rustic. In Dubai, we have Elia, a Greek restaurant at the Majestic hotel in Bur Dubai — despite the non-central location, the restaurant’s interior and cuisine is one of Dubai’s best. Otherwise it’s home cooking!

Q. Is the food scene in Dubai concentrated to “new” Dubai around Sheikh Zayed Road or is it spread out? I imagine there are great finds in old Dubai no?

A. Dubai’s restaurant scene spreads across the whole city — from darkest Deira to trendy Downtown and glitzy New Dubai — covering decadent dining and cute cafes right through to street food.

Q. Tell us about FooDiva.net? How long have you been running this and what’s the purpose? I see you won Gold in the Expat Blog Awards for the UAE in 2012 and 2nd Best Blog in Dubai in 2011 — that’s a pretty high achievement!

A. As a result of a long time fascination with restaurant reviewing, and a real gap in Dubai for an online resource dedicated to impartial restaurant reviews, I launched FooDiva (www.foodiva.net) just over two years ago and within nine months it won its first award, with the second following a year later. I pay my own way and refuse freebies in exchange for reviews. I now hope to have narrowed that gap!

Q. Our One Hundred Tables platform is open to great dining experiences “from dive bars to five stars”. I have 36 hours in Dubai. What are the must try restaurants? Can be any price range cheap to second mortgage.

A. Check out my Dubai foodie bucket list.

Q. What sort of advice would you give to the first time traveller to Dubai looking to get a handle on the local scene?

A. Definitely check the foodie bucket list above.

Q. A decade ago Dubai was growing like mad, then there was a big bubble that burst. This naturally affects the restaurant scene. How is it today? Are things more sustainable and measured now? I’m talking real estate, building, city growth in general.

A. New hotel and real estate developments are on the rise again including a constant flurry of restaurant openings almost every week. Dubai has approximately 10,000 eateries of which 3,000 are licensed establishments serving booze. That’s a staggering amount for a population of just over two million, remembering that probably only about 500,000 have the disposable income to eat out well. I knew I would be busy when I was developing my plan for FooDiva, but I never thought I’d be so rushed off my feet!

Q. What are one or two of the best roof top bars in Dubai worth checking out for a drink?

A. The rooftop bar at the One & Only Royal Mirage overlooking Jumeirah beach, and Siddharta Lounge at Grosvenor House Tower 2. Just remember, once the steaming hot summer days kick in which is any day now, they won’t be much fun!

Q. What are the best couple of hotels to know about in Dubai for a great visit?

A. I have two favourites — the Moroccan-inspired Royal Mirage that I just mentioned, and the all-white simple and serene Park Hyatt on the other side of the Creek.

Q. Do you get around to nearby Emirates or say Oman? How’s the food scene there?

A. I do travel across the UAE. Abu Dhabi in particular with the hotel developments on Saadiyat and Yas islands, as well as the main island are attracting many restaurant concepts. The Six Senses resort at Zighy Bay in Oman, just on the border with the UAE is a goodie for its sustainable food.

Thank you Samantha.

You can find Samantha online at FooDiva.net and follow her on twitter at @FooDivaWorld

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