Monday, March 31, 2008

There's something about Ginseng

As with most people who come here, my first two years in Dubai were spent in giddy and relentlessly sociable excesses. Of all the binge temples that we favoured with our dubious custom, the one I think of most warmly is Ginseng.

I’ve never had a bad time there – whether casual evenings with close friends, unwieldy nights with too many friends of friends, misguided bonding events with colleagues or my best friend’s hen night, with all its potential for emotional disasters. I should try a New Year’s Eve there to see if the magic is strong enough to neutralise that minefield. The Irish Village has not done too badly in that respect, unlike Jimmy Dix – to name but one – which always turns out to be not such a good idea, any night of the year.

So many places have come and gone, some have changed identities so fast, so many times, it makes my head spin. Remarkably, in a city that changes almost hourly, Ginseng is still the same.

I walked in there last weekend after nearly two years and instantly felt myself regress, in the nicest way. The dumplings are as I remember. Friday Fizz is still going strong, the Caipirinha, divinely unchanged. Being older, more decrepit and marginally wiser, I didn’t attempt to mix it with the Moon Goddess, but I’m sure that’s still on the menu, ready to beguile newcomers into making inadvisable phone calls.

Boudoir taught us why free champagne is free. Zinc taught us how not to dance. Le Plage gave us important life lessons about absinthe. El Malecon made us respect the insidious Marguerita. Serai introduced us to the weird world of Arabic clubbing. But Ginseng forged friendships. These are the relationships that not only survived but strengthened through the disruptions of age, shifting priorities and job crises. This is a rare and wonderful thing in this transient gold-mining town.

And though we now savour red wine at the right temperature and prefer to team it with paté rather than spring rolls, the Moon Goddess still glows within us, not very far beneath the surface.

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