Just as the gal predicts that those staying on the south bank of Abu Dhabi’s Grand Canal will want to cross over for gelati at Dolce, so those staying on the north bank will cross over to try Pearls & Caviar on the south bank. They will also head to another of the south bank’s luxury hotels, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, for its Friday brunch (what the gal would call Sunday brunch in nations where the weekend is Saturday to Sunday). Oh boy, come Fridays, here in the UAE, knowledgeable gourmets and groups of friends meet up, to eat-out. No-one seems to entertain at home.
The buffet tables stretch out of the door and along the corridor of CuiSine restaurant. There is Arabic, of course, and Chinese and Japanese and everything else you can think of. A young guy at our table starts with a mountain of sushi. I go for a healthy salad, and then lots of sashimi, cannot get enough of it. Main courses include a whole fish cooked on top of what looks like a paella for an entire sumo wrestling team.
Nils Axing, who runs this hotel, zeroes in on the cheeses but by that time I am spent, eaten-aplenty and more, but who cares, it is a weekend. We talk about what we all eat for breakfast. The sushi addict, who runs a restaurant in the Stockholm archipelago, starts his day with smoothies. Faces look amazed when I recount my usual breakfast at home, which includes bread home-made by the man in my life. Around us there are, as usual, kids who cannot make up their minds what to choose from the splendid buffet spreads and end up with, say, a couple of bread rolls.
Perhaps buffets are like department stores. The more you put out the more difficult it is to choose. And yet, in the retail world, a Nordstrom limits the number of frocks on a rack and charges ten times as much as a Wal-Mart. On our way out from brunch I exclaim at the lobby flowers, sheer simplicity. Once again, less is more. In the lobby here, by the way, look far up at the ceiling. There are 26 shapes hanging, like inverted nude-coloured mushrooms, about three feet across. Modern art by a local firm.
This Fairmont, now three and a half years old, has a younger sibling, Fairmont Palm Jumeirah on the trunk of the man-made Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. Fairmont, as a group, threw one of the best parties of the recent Arabian Travel Market there, bringing in all the chefs of the region. To me, the highlight was the Abu Dhabi corner, with Fairmont Bab Al Bahr’s talented chef Cladys Magagna there. He and his team were cooking Australian wagyu, as from the hotel’s Marco Pierre White Steak restaurant. They got through 60 kilos that night, cooked on the grill right there in front of us all and served as single-bits, on metal double-leg toothpicks. Yum yum.
Everybody who is anybody was there at that Fairmont party, including the Fairmont President, Jennifer Fox. Fairmont is becoming renowned as one of the best, if not arguably THE best, party giver, and this one was up to its amazing usual level. They even flew in raspy-voiced American singer Macy Gray to sing and, unlike the rude Justin Bieber who sang elsewhere in Dubai a couple of nights later, she appreciated her adoring audience – JB started two hours late, on both his nights.
The gal is a great believer in the value of club floors in luxury hotels. Yes, some hotels say their whole hotel is ‘club level’ but there are many luxury travellers, especially women, who want a cocoon within a larger environment. This does not mean a women-only floor, although some, like Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai, do ladies-only rooms beautifully. Ritz-Carlton’s clubs are legendary, world over. The seventh floor club lounge of The Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal, Abu Dhabi, is sensational. It is, literally, a glass box on a rooftop, looking down to the Grand Canal 200 feet away.
Look straight down from here and you see the central part of what is essentially an arc-shaped hotel, with add-ons. The main building looks like side-by-side ‘old’ Italian houses, each in a subtle colour different from its neighbours. The add-ons are villas, whose occupants can park underground and emerge, right by their villa (clever, as from above the whole area looks like one big garden). There will also be a restaurant row, with big names from the USA who are not, amazingly, already running culinary outposts in the celebrity-chef-mad UAE.
The hotel’s main pool is infinity edged, with a wide-wide shallow ‘lip’ that intentionally is so set so you can lie looking over the edge, so to speak. I personally use any pool for serious laps, albeit for a short time period, but for those on holiday, basking up the beneficial rays to get as brown, or red, as possible, just lying around in the water is what they want. For mums who want to park their kids while so doing, the hotel’s indoor, air-conditioned kids club is literally 50 feet away.
Lots of kids here are enjoying frolicking in the under-awning wet playground, which looks like lots of fun. We had our own fun, in the form of an outstanding buffet lunch back up in the club lounge and then a tour of the hotel’s array of restaurants, the ones inside the building rather than outside in restaurant row. You could spend your whole time here eatin’ and drinkin’, perhaps Lebanese from Mijana, or great steaks in The Forge.
One favourite, for all ages, is Dolce, a white with orange highlights ice cream and gelato parlour. My eye is drawn, indeed captivated, by the array of ice-creams, set as if it were in Milan, or Rome, or Venice. Which one to have? There are crayons and colouring books on nearby tables. Creativity is encouraged. This place is delightfully whimsical – see the giant lollipops that also form part of Dolce’s decoration. I bet people staying across the Grand Canal, say at the Fairmont or Shangri-La, will take the three-minute boat ride across for ice-cream and gelato.
Many of the ideas in this luxury hotel have been put in by the owning company’s boss, Richard Riley – the same creator who posed by the Scott bike at the Abu Dhabi Hilton. Today he has swapped bikes for his steely-turquoise Porsche Carrera which, the gal has to admit, is an ideal way to be chauffeured around town. The only challenge is that there is barely room for the trusty Porsche Rimowa (it has not featured recently but I do assure you it is still constantly on the go, being unpacked on arrival, and packed up again the following morning…).
When a spa says COLOUR, as at Bulgari Hotel London, the gal feels like dancing – OK not necessarily Psy’s Gangnam but dancing on clouds, dancing through life. This is just the effect that the spa gives at what will be St Regis Abu Dhabi. Look at the colours in the wet room in the ladies’ locker area (the bars are wrapped in polythene as the hotel is not yet open – the first guest will arrive this August). Yes, not only another luxury hotel in town, but a second St Regis, a sibling to the fabulous St Regis Saadiyat Island Abu Dhabi.
The spa here just goes on saying wow, wow. There are 11 treatment rooms, all at least 600 sq ft, which is twice the size of some hotels’ basic bedrooms and more than three times those at the clever Citizen M hotel in Amsterdam, a fun place that conveniently happens to be a couple of blocks from Amsterdam’s RAI conference centre.
Some of the spa rooms here have chandeliers, but then the whole hotel seems to be highlighted by chandeliers. Yet more work for the Czech makers who must be supporting their nation’s economy. That would be a good trivia question – which nation has the highest GDP contribution from overhead crystals? This hotel is part of a sculpture-like affair of twin towers, 50 floors high and joined at the top by what will be an 11,000 sq ft – yes, you read that right – an 11,000 sq ft suite, for which you get three proper bedrooms and one tiny one ‘for the maid’. The rest of the hotel will be on floors 33 to 49, and rooms start from 430 sq ft in size.
Actually I really liked, at my show-round, what they call Grand Deluxe Suites. You have one shared bedroom and salon, reached by a corridor that goes past the bathroom. This is the pièce de résistance as you have a freestanding oval bathtub with stunning views out of the window. Look down at the grounds of Emirates Palace while you soak, or whatever.
I fantasize. Perhaps I would lie in the bathtub drinking the house Bloody Mary. As you by now know, dear reader, every St Regis has its own version of the Bloody Mary that was first invented in the bar of St Regis New York. Here the drink will be a desert snapper, with za’atar once again but here it is smoked, with one of the little hand-held smokers that I first came across in the bar of Ritz-Carlton Vienna. Yes, you can see my mind is wandering the world (just as if I really WERE in the bath drinking not just one but a succession of desert snappers…)
The hotel will have a statuesque bar, just as in all St Regis. There is always a big painting with some local emphasis: here, there are three paintings of horsemen tearing through the desert. I am told by Oliver Key, who will be opening boss of this luxury hotel, that they are by a Russian named Sergei Yatsenko, whose company is called Scythian. Looking at them I think of my friend Wael Soueid at Qasr al Sarab whose hobbies are polo and endurance riding. For the latter, you ride and ride, a hundred miles or more, but you stop at set times for the horses to be medically tested. This is when you might need a desert snapper, or at least you could fantasize about one.