Review: Alpine iLX-007 and Apple CarPlay

Posted by Mark

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Apple’s CarPlay is an operating system for cars that allows you to connect your iPhone and control it from within your car display. Ever since Apple revealed it I had been eagerly waiting for a third party to launch a unit that I could buy and plug into my car. The first company to announce a unit was Pioneer and then at the end of October Alpine released their own CarPlay unit, the iLX-007. Right as soon as it became available I ordered it and I’ve now had it for around a month so I’ve decided to go ahead and review it.

This is my fourth Alpine unit with iPhone/iPod compatibility but the first to use Apple’s new CarPlay OS. There isn’t much to review in the Alpine unit itself since its basically useless without CarPlay. If you don’t have an iPhone the Alpine unit is just a $500 FM/AM receiver. It doesn’t have a CD player or even Bluetooth but it does have an Aux input. The only other thing worth mentioning is the fact I can change and fine tune the sound/speaker settings all from my iPhone using the Alpine Tune App which is a pretty cool feature. So anyway for the rest of the review I’ll be focusing on CarPlay itself.

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After using CarPlay for over a month now I’ve developed a love and hate relationship with it. On one hand I love how seamlessly the iPhone integrates with my car but I also hate how the software feels unpolished as well. First lets talk about the good stuff.


[YouTube]

I recorded a video which you can watch above showing how easy and simple it is to interact and use CarPlay. My biggest reason for wanting CarPlay was the fact that Spotify is a supported app. Even though I could previously use Spotify with all my older Alpine units, this is the first time I can actually browse through my playlists, music and other Spotify specific areas all through my cars interface. I also like how well Siri works in my car now and how I could have her make calls for me or read or send messages which I dicate to her. And thats about it when it comes to the good stuff.

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Now here is whats wrong with CarPlay… it’s still very new. It reminds me of the iPhone when it first came out and so I’m expecting a lot of things to get fixed pretty soon but for now here are my biggest issues:

– Maps. For some reason I had the impression Google Maps came built into CarPlay but when I got it I realized it’s actually Apple Maps which sucks big time in Kuwait. It shows you all the roads on the screen but it won’t give you directions and you can’t search for anything. It’s pretty much useless and I’m hoping Google Maps will work with CarPlay pretty soon.

– When your phone is connected to CarPlay, ALL notifications on your phone get turned off. Meaning if your phone screen is off and someone sends you a message on Whatsapp you won’t be able to tell since the notification screen doesn’t come on to let you know nor will you get a sound notification. You don’t even get a popup on the CarPlay screen informing you of a notification like you do if you get an iMessage or SMS. Same with email or any other notification, they all stop showing on your phones lock screen and you don’t get notified in CarPlay. This means I now drive around with my phone screen on and my notification screen pulled down so I can glance at my phone every now and then while driving to check and see if I got any notifications.

– If you get or make a phone call you can’t talk to the person from your phone. You can either talk to them hands-free on the cars speakers or using your phones speakerphone. There is no option to talk to them privately using your phone so if there are people in your car the only way you can answer a phone privately is to disconnect the phone from CarPlay and then mute the car sound system (since it automatically switches to FM when you remove the phone) and then answer the phone. Super unpractical and I mean come on Apple WTF?

– Not many apps support CarPlay yet. As of now there are a handful of apps that work but the two I use are Spotify and Sticher for podcasts. I’d like to see Google Maps, Soundcloud, Whatsapp, HypeMachine and YouTube integrated into CarPlay. Just to be clear right now you can use music apps like Soundcloud with CarPlay but in basic form. For example if you play a track in Soundcloud on your phone you can view the track name and album art on the CarPlay screen and forward, pause and reverse from the screen as well but that’s it.

So as I mentioned already, CarPlay is still in its infancy. I’m expecting a lot of bugs and things to get fixed with upcoming updates and I’m also expecting a lot more app support as CarPlay becomes more and more popular. For now though if you’re considering getting CarPlay just be aware of it’s limitations. I don’t have any regrets getting it and Spotify alone is worth it for me. My Alpine iLX-007 unit cost me $499 and I picked it up from Pacific Stereo since they were one of the first to carry it.


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Review: Garmin Dash Cam 10

Posted by Mark

dashcam

Dashboard cameras are cameras you mount in your car and record everything that takes place in front of you while you’re driving. I’ve been wanting to get a dash cam for sometime now but majority of the dash cams I had seen online were cheap looking no name ones. Although they were all very affordable and some had even gotten some great reviews, I was holding out for something better. If I was going to mount the camera on my windshield and have it in my face all day, I wanted something that at least looked decent and well made. Then out of the blue Garmin announced they were releasing a dash cam one day and I knew that was the one I was getting.

I’ve had the Garmin Dash Cam 10 for a few weeks now so I feel ready to give it a proper review.


[YouTube]

As expected, like all their products the Garmin Dash Cam is very well built. The unit feels very solid and looks great… until you mount it up on your windshield that is. I had a Garmin Navigator previously mounted in my car and it looked really sleek. I had the USB power cable come up from behind the dash board and plug in to the rear of the unit and because the suction cup is behind the unit the navigator looked like it was floating in front of the windshield. In my head I imagined the same would apply to the dash cam but I couldn’t have been so wrong. Even though the Garmin Dash Cam is pretty compact, once you connect the large suction cup to it and mount it into place it instantly doubles in height and becomes quite bulky. Then to make matters worse is the location of the USB plug, it plugs into the bottom right hand side of the device. That means I have ugly wire clutter around the unit adding to the overall visual pollution I now have on my windshield. I don’t understand why Garmin couldn’t have found a better solution, it’s like the designer who worked on the unit didn’t take anything into consideration. I mean they should have know people would most likely mount the dash cam on the left side of the windshield near the driver like everyone does with their navigators or that they will be mounted in the center of the windshield. So why would you have the power plug on the right? Wouldn’t it make sense to have it either on the left, the back side (like with my Garmin Navigator) or on the top left side of the device?

With those negatives out of the way it’s time to talk about some of the positives. The device works great. I have my unit set up to turn on and start recording automatically when I start the car and then to shutoff and stop recording when I turn off the car. I also have it set up so that once the memory card runs out of space to start recording over older videos. That means the dash cam operates continuously without any sort of action from me which is very convenient.


[YouTube]

The video quality isn’t anything close to say GoPro quality but then again these videos serve a different purpose. The camera can record up to 1080p and as you can see in the sample videos the license plates are easy to read both during the day and night. Obviously having a clean and crack free windshield improves the quality and in my videos you can see one of my window cracks on the right side of the footage which is a bit annoying but there isn’t anything I can do about it.

The Garmin Dash Cam 10 costs $200 which is really expensive compared to other more popular no brand dash cams. I originally didn’t mind paying this much because I expected a product that would be visually pleasing when mounted but now I know the Garmin is overpriced. The quality of the footage isn’t so different from the no name dash cams neither is the operating method so the Garmin really doesn’t have a major advantage to cost this much. But, since I already bought mine its too late for me but for anybody else I’d recommend they look at the alternatives carefully before deciding on the garmin.

For those interested, here is the dash cam on [Amazon]
They have the Dash Cam 20 as well which comes with GPS and records other data like your speed. I would recommend not going with that option if you tend to speed a lot.


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Review: The Meydan Hotel – Dubai

Posted by Mark

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As I mentioned in my previous post, over the weekend Red Bull sent me to Dubai to watch their Car Park Drift finale. Since the event was being held at the Meydan Racetrack, Red Bull ended up putting me up at The Meydan Hotel.

I had their standard room which over looked the racetrack and it was pretty large in size compared to most standard rooms I’ve stayed in. The whole hotel is pretty ginormous so makes sense that the rooms would be as well. When you first walk into the room you have a long winding corridor which contains the closets followed by the bathroom and then the rest of the room.

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The room had some nice features like touch controls for the lighting and the AC, an iPhone dock connected to a sound system and my favorite feature, a closet that opens from two sides. I don’t know why I’ve never come across this before but it’s super practical, basically you can access the closet from the main room corridor or from the bathroom since there are doors on both sides of the closet. This means if you come out of the shower you can just open the closet and pick your outfit without having to walk out into the main room. The bathroom also had a large bathtub with a tv and a large window overlooking the room. It was a beautiful and tasteful room.

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But, there are some downsides with the main one being the fact the hotel is located in the middle of nowhere. It’s somewhere between Dubai Mall and Mall of Emirates but located inwards and surrounded by nothing. It makes it really unpractical say to go shopping and then come back and drop stuff at the hotel. Another issue I faced was the lack of taxis again because the hotel was located in the middle of nowhere. You can have the hotel order a cab but it would take around 20 minutes to get one so the only option if you’re in a rush is to take the hotel limo which costs a considerable amount more. To be fair the hotel does offer shuttle services to and from Dubai Mall and Mall of Emirates but only at certain times.

The hotel is pretty cool, very modern and if you’re a party person then you’ll probably like the fact the club White is located on the rooftop of the hotel. But as I said, it’s not close to anything and thats the compromise you’ll have to make since the rooms are pretty affordable starting at around KD50 a night. Here is a link to their [Website]


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Review: Alfredo’s Gallery Restaurant

Posted by Mark

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Alfredo’s Gallery is an Italian restaurant that has been around since 1907. In Kuwait they opened up back in June and according to the message they have plastered everywhere, they’re “The birthplace of the original fettuccine Alfredo”. I decided to pass by with a friend last week for lunch and I left with mixed feelings.

Alfredo’s is located in The Avenues but in a secluded area away from all the hustle and bustle. I personally love the location but for those who are looking for a place to sit and be seen while watching people walk by, this isn’t for you. Alfredo’s is located in a quiet and nicely sun lit courtyard behind H&M in Grand Avenues. There is plenty of outdoor seating but even if you choose to sit inside you won’t be disappointed since the interior is cozy and nice looking.

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The menu is pretty big with a large selection of dishes. We ended up ordering:

Calamari Al Guazzetto KD3.750
Pizza Sofia Loren KD4.950
Extra Mushrooms KD1.000 (for the pizza)
Risotto Al Funghi KD4.750
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese KD4.250
Water KD0.000

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Yeah you read that right, the water is free. When tiny hole in the wall restaurants are selling water for upwards of KD1 it’s refreshing to see a proper restaurant serve complimentary water. The water is served in their own bottles like they would serve tap water in Europe so my guess is in Kuwait they’re filling the bottles from a water cooler which is perfectly fine by me. Let me move on and talk about the food. I found the calamari and pizza both bland. The pizza fared better than the calamari but I wouldn’t go back specifically for their pizza since there are a bunch of places that make better pizza. The bolognese was too salty for my liking and by the time I got down to the bottom of the dish where the sauce was located I stopped eating because I couldn’t bare the salt. The risotto on the other hand, how can I put this nicely… I saw my friend eating only the mushrooms in the risotto so I asked them about it and they told me to try the risotto. It was by far the worst risotto I’ve ever tried, it tasted so gritty and bland that it was inedible.

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Back to the positives, the staff are all Italian and pretty well informed on the menu. They were friendly and attentive although when I was there only two or three other tables were occupied so things might be different on the weekends when they get packed. I was pretty surprised though that the waiter didn’t ask if anything was wrong with the risotto when he came to clean up since the plate was basically untouched. I figured it’s probably a regular occurrence so they just stopped asking about it anymore. Price wise I didn’t find them expensive. My only issue with the place actually was with the food but that’s also the most important thing in a restaurant. In hindsight we should have ordered the fettuccine Alfredo since it’s probably the thing they do best but I didn’t feel like having it that day.

Would I go back? Not really sure. We don’t have that many Italian restaurants in Kuwait and I actually like their location even though it’s in Avenues. But, my guess is that even if I go back and try other dishes, I’d imagine everything would probably end up tasting bland. If you’re interested to find out more about Alfredo’s or if you’d like to check out their menu, here is the link to their [Website]


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Review: Chili Pepper Mexican Grill

Posted by Mark

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Chili Pepper is a new Mexican restaurant that recently opened up by the same guys behind the shawerma place Slice. My friends and I headed there on Thursday night thinking it was a proper dine-in Mexican restaurant but once we got there we realized it was actually a fast food place.

The entrance to Chili Pepper is on the ground floor but as soon as you enter you need to go down a flight of stairs since the actual restaurant is located in the basement. The place had a bunch of tables downstairs as well as the ones located outside the main entrance so finding a place to sit should never be a problem. Ordering is simple with the process is split into three steps:

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Step 1 – Choose a Type
Burrito
Burrito Bowl
Salad
Hard Tacos (2pcs)
Soft Tacos (2pcs)
Quesadilla

Step 2 – Choose a Protein
Chicken KD3.150
Steak KD3.350
Barbacoa KD3.350
Shrimp KD3.500
Vegetarian KD2.750

Step 3 – Choose the Salsa
Sour Cream KD0.200
Pico de Gallo
Corn Salsa
Green Chili
Red Chili
Guacamole KD0.600

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I ended up going with the soft tacos which come as two small pieces so I had one of them chicken and the other barbacoa (lamb). Between the two I preferred the chicken but the soft tacos were just too small and not very filling at all. When I passed by the second time today for lunch I chose the burrito and really thats the way to go, you get a lot more for the same price.

Speaking of price, I don’t understand why a fast food Mexican grill has to be so pricy. I had the chicken burrito today which is KD3.150 and that’s fine but then I added sour cream and guacamole and ended up paying KD3.950. Both those toppings should really be factored into the price. Still though the food is pretty good which is why I went back again. One cool thing they have is the nutritional information for all their items. This means you can know exactly how many calories you’re having which is great for calorie counters. If you’re interested in trying them out, they’re located in Kuwait City in the corner of the building right behind where Ubon and Rio are [Map].


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Street by Zubabar

Posted by Mark

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Last night I passed by Street, a new restaurant that just opened up this past weekend in Kuwait City. I had been waiting impatiently for this restaurant to open ever since I heard about it two months ago. The chef and mastermind behind Street is Faisal Al Nashmi, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate whom I had heard a lot of great things about, mostly from friends who had experienced his experimental eatery.

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Street is part of the Al Makan project which consists of a coffee shop, restaurant (Street), art gallery and a workshop studio all sharing the same space. They’re located on the first floor of a tower on the same street as Pick Yo and Karak House in Kuwait City. I found the place pretty easily since the restaurant overlooks the main road and is all glass so I spotted all the diners as I drove by. When we got there the place was packed and there was a 45 minute waiting period so me and my friend ended up walking to Souk Mubarkiyah down the road to kill time while our table freed up.

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The interior of the restaurant is very industrial looking with an open ceiling, bare concrete walls and a polished concrete floor. Some of the tables were standalone while others like the one we sat on was communal which I actually like. A communal table basically means you’re dinning next to strangers since everyone sits next to each other. Not only is it a great way of meeting people but it also allows you to see what others are eating (and if you’re nosy what others are talking about).

The menu is inspired by street food and isn’t that big consisting of around 16 main items and 5 desserts. Everything is meant to be shared so me and my friend ended up ordering the following dishes:

Crispy Duck Salad KD3.5
Spicy Crispy Rice Cakes & Brisket KD3.5
Green Curry Glazed Ribs KD4
Kimchi Fried Chicken Burger KD3.25
Brisket Bun KD2.75
Tiger Prawn Yakitori KD3.5
Chicken & Egg Bowl KD3.75
White Chocolate Tres Leches KD3.25
Snickers with Coffee Icecream KD3.75
Caramelized Pain Perdu KD3.25

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Looking at it now we pretty much ordered everything on the menu, it definitely was a cheat meal. Even though Street was packed and had only been open for four days, the service was pretty good and the food came out fast and at a steady pace. I thought that was impressive. The dishes overall were delicious, some a lot better than others. It’s street food yes but more like gourmet street food which is an interesting combination but also explains why the prices aren’t very street food like. My favorite dishes were the Spicy Crispy Rice Cakes, the Green Curry and the Chicken & Egg Bowl (pictured above). My least favorites were the Tiger Prawn which didn’t look that great presentation wise but also didn’t taste that great either, the duck salad which was just pretty boring compared to everything else we had and the Snickers with Coffee Icecream because I hate both snickers and coffee so worst combo ever. They’ve only been open for four days so I’m sure they’re still fine tuning all the dishes.

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I really liked Street and the whole concept and space. This is Faisal’s first restaurant and I think he has a lot of ideas he wants to share and Street is his canvas. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up changing the menu often or revamps the dishes whenever he feels like it. He’s young, full of passion (as you can see from his instagram) and most importantly, he has good taste. They’re currently in their soft launch phase and so are open from 7:30PM till 10PM. Check out their instagram [Here]


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Review: Borderlinx vs MyUS

Posted by Mark

Borderlinx and MyUS are both companies that offer US forwarding mailboxes so you can shop online, mail stuff to your US address and then have them forward it to your home in Kuwait. I’ve been using Aramex Shop&Ship since 2001 for my regular day to day shopping but a few years ago I signed up to Borderlinx since sometimes I needed my shipments to get to Kuwait fast and Shop&Ship is just too slow. Everything was fine and dandy until I realized Borderlinx was taking an 8.5% customs clearance fee on top of the 5% customs fee which I thought was absurd. So, I decided to try an alternative and I signed up to MyUS last month. This review is strictly Borderlinx vs MyUS and doesn’t include Shop&Ship because Shop&Ship is a lot cheaper as well as a lot slower (apples vs oranges).

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MyUS has been around since 1997, I first heard about them back in 2001 but ended up going with the much more affordable Shop&Ship instead. The reason I never signed up to MyUS even years later was their expensive shipping prices and fees. MyUS have different membership fees, the standard involves paying just $10 to open an account and no annual fee, but you don’t get the best shipping rates and you can’t consolidate your packages. To get the best deal you would have to sign up to their “premium” package but that costs $20 to setup and either $7 a month or $60 a year in membership fees. Recently though I found out that MyUS had special rates for credit card holders (which I posted here) where they not only waved all the setup fees but also offered additional discounts on shipping. I ended up signing up with my AMEX card which entitled me to free membership for 2 years as well as 30% off all my shipments.

Since I’m heading to SoleDXB next weekend I decided to order a backpack for the trip. I couldn’t risk shipping it with Shop&Ship and have it arrive after my trip so I sent it to MyUS mailbox instead. It was a bit risky since I hadn’t used my MyUS account yet but figured this would be the best way to test them out.

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MyUS allows you to customize a lot of different account options if you want to, for example they deal with a variety of shipping companies but if you have a preference you can say always use DHL or always use FedEx but by default its set on “Least Expensive Option”. You can also setup your account to ship packages as soon as they arrive or hold them until you choose to ship them. For an extra fee you can have them photograph the item for you, ship same day, add fragile stickers, add extra packing, discard shoe boxes and a bunch of more options. The different settings can be a bit overwhelming but you can not bother with them at all if you don’t want to.

Once my package got delivered to MyUS it popped up in my account on the same day. I then logged into my account and told them to ship it for me and this is where things weren’t as pretty as Borderlinx. With Borderlinx before you give the shipping order you’ll know exactly how much the shipping fee would cost as well as the customs fee, with MyUS you won’t know until your package is already shipped. I found that a bit uncomfortable since I’m not used to saying ship without knowing exactly how much it’s going to cost me. In any case a few hours later I got an email saying my package was shipped with FedEx and my credit card was charged. So I logged into my account to check and see how much it cost me. Based on the size of the package and weight, the package cost $93.74 to ship with insurance. With my 30% AMEX discount the price went down to $67.42. I took the package dimensions and weight and plugged them into the Borderlinx shipping cost calculator and ended up with an $85 shipping fee without insurance. Not a bad amount of savings but I was now worried about the customs fee. Borderlinx quoted me $52 for customs while with MyUS I needed to wait until the package arrived to Kuwait to find out. Three days later my package arrived to Kuwait and the total customs fee was around $30, I was relieved.

I saved around $40 by using MyUS over Borderlinx and the package arrived just as fast. MyUS has now officially become my go to mailbox for when I need my packages ASAP. I still find it uncomfortable to have them charge my credit card without knowing how much it’s going to cost me first but I’m just going to have to get used to it I guess. If you’re interested in signing up, make sure you check my previous post on MyUS to know how much you can save using which credit card. [Link]


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Pizzeria Volpe

Posted by Mark

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Pizzeria Volpe is a new Neapolitan pizzeria that has been open in Mahboula for a couple of months. The pizzeria is a small hole in the wall place with just three tables inside and a couple of more outside. The pizza chef is a Kuwaiti who studied and got his certificate under the famous chef Enzo Coccia. Enzo runs the pizzeria La Notizia in Naples which was the first pizzeria in the world to be recommended by the influential Michelin Guide and fork. Volpe are still in their soft launch stage but I passed by anyway earlier this week to try them out. We were two people so we ended up ordering:

Garlic Bread KD2.000
Margherita con Funghi KD4.500
Peperoni Pizza KD5.000
Pistachio Dessert KD2.750

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The first thing that arrived was the Garlic bread and it was super garlicy and delicious. Lots of flavor and when there was one piece left on the plate I wanted it. After the garlic bread the pizzas came one after the other. The pizzas were both great and similar in style and taste to traditional Neapolitan except for one minor edge, the Kuwaiti chef rubs a bit of garlic oil around the edge of the pizza to make the crust edge more enjoyable to eat. It works. It’s not as powerful in flavor as the garlic bread but you definitely get some flavor. Finally for dessert we ordered their Pistachio dessert. Not sure if I should call it Pistachio bread or pistachio pizza but whatever the actual term is doesn’t matter, the dessert was actually the best part of the whole dinner. It’s probably the single dish that would make me want to drive out all the way out to Mahboula again. Even though they had a Nutella pizza I really wanted to try something new and the pistachio pizza turned out to be a ridiculously great alternative.

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If you live in Mahboula or in the vicinity, Pizzeria Volpe is a no brainer, probably the best pizza place in the area if not the only authentic pizza place there. On the other hand is it worth the drive from the city all the way to Mahboula? That I’m not so sure about although the pistachio dessert is definitely worth trying out at least once. Pizzeria Volpe is open from Saturday to Thursday, 7:30PM to 10PM. Here is their location on [Google Maps]

Update: Based on the comments it seems Volpe are randomly closed sometimes so might be better to give them a call on 98927436 before you head there.


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Arirang Korean Restaurant

Posted by Mark

koreanrestaurant

Last week I passed by the Arirang Korean restaurant for lunch and it turned out to be a pretty disappointing experience to be honest. It was such an unexciting experience I’m actually forcing myself to write this review.

Arirang has been open for nearly three years and they’re located inside the Swiss-Belhotel Plaza (inside Muthana Complex). The location at one point was an Indian restaurant, a Kuwaiti restaurant and possibly a Chinese restaurant before finally becoming a Korean restaurant. So far the Korean restaurant has lasted the longest but not really sure why.

The interior is fairly decent looking I guess, it’s very spacious and the booths look cozy although awkwardly large for just a couple to just sit in alone.

We were three people and so we ended up ordering the following:
Beef Dumplings x 2 KD2.500 each
Shrimp Teppanyaki KD5.500
Bulgogi KD7.000
Galbi Pot KD7.000

Now here is where things started going downhill. Firstly there was only one waiter for the restaurant which is fine considering we were the only occupied table. But, because of the way the restaurant is laid out, the waiter was always at the main entrance while we were all the way inside. That meant whenever we needed anything we would have to get up and walk down a corridor to call him. It then took 50 minutes for them to serve us our starters (the dumplings) which was absurd considering we were the only customers there. Finally when the main courses arrived, the only dish that was any good was the Shrimp Teppanyaki… a non Korean dish. I had the Bulgogi which was dry and bland while Galbi Pot although looked great presentation wise, the dish was just too fatty. Once piece of rib for example had fat the size of a golf ball on it.

Maybe I visited the place on a bad day I’m not sure but I do know I didn’t enjoy the experience. They also have pretty strong competition since the popular Koryokwan Korean Restaurant is located across the street from them. But then again, if they’ve bene open for three years it must mean they have a loyal fan base, I just don’t know why.


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iPhone 6 Followup Review

Posted by Mark

Late last month I picked up my iPhone 6 from Geant and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s been just over two weeks now and the phone still hasn’t grown on me. The biggest issue I had with the iPhone 6 was the size, it’s just too big to use with one hand and two weeks later this remains my biggest issue with the phone. But, if that wasn’t enough, two more annoying issues have popped up as well.

I tend to leave my phone on silent most of the time because the vibration is usually strong enough to be felt and loud enough to be heard, or at least that was the case with my iPhone 5. With the new iPhone 6 the vibration is so much more weaker and quieter that I started missing a lot calls and now no longer keep my phone on silent.

The second issue I’ve been having with the phone is the grip since the phone constantly slips out of my hand. It probably has to do with the fact the edges are really curved and the phone is pretty wide making it difficult to get a good grip.

On the plus side everything else about the phone is just way better than my iPhone 5. I just wish Apple made the iPhone in three different sizes.


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