Honestly, when ‘Emirates Palace’ opened in April 2005 it was shock-surprise, eyes open wide. 200 beach-set acres and a $2.3-billion spend on a palace that would even have impressed mughal rulers of yore. With the help of an Algerian middle man the 394-room palace, with both fitness centres and spas duplicated either end of the kilometre-long builimg and with 16 royal suites hidden from general view, was ready to become an ‘ordinary’ hotel.
Not possible. with the help of designer Alexandra Champalimaud, the now 390-rooom EMIRATES PALACE MANDARIN ORIENTAL is a truly extra-ordinary hotel. Although yesterday’s patterned window glass and the impractical circular door-opening pressure coins remain, everything else is pure Hollywood. Champagnes and soft blues, Champalimaud-style. Marvellous satin-smooth wood etceteras, with sockets set into the circular dining table’s leg, with an umbrella-shape of identical white orchid erupting from a central bowl, tabletop.
It was tempting merely to soak up the sublime ambience of suite 3519 (block 3 floor 5 suite 19) but there were things to do. A 15-minute internal hike brought us to Italian restaurant Talea by Antonio Guida, inside and out, looking out to sea, and the Royal Palace to the left. Come off it, one thinks, how can any building be more royal than this ‘mere hotel’? There are 11 restaurants here, with another to come, and between them they feed anything from 1,200 to 2,000 diners daily, banquetting excluded. And yet, tables are set so far apart you feel you are alone in space on earth. Michael and Denise Koth, above, appreciate every iota of what Abu Dhabi has to offer: she relishes the physical and mental opportunities while he, as hotel GM and regional Mandarin Oriental boss, blesses his 1,200 colleagues from 72 countries who make this property work.
Dinner, which started with a shared black crust pizza and proceeded, via local-tomatoes caprese and finger strips of veal milanaise to made tableside tiramisu, was faultlessly enjoyable. Breakfast, inside in EP Club rather than on its terrace, was a delight, and not only for the Perrier-Jouêt with truffled avo toast. There were neat piles of today’s papers, pink ones, and white ones from New York, London, Hong Kong and here, the UAE. You do feel very special here, cossetted rather than cocooned in endless space.