The gal is not generally one for surprises (it is becoming, thankfully, well known that she prefers to choose her own food rather than having chefs, always incredibly passionate and keen, coming up with special menus that feature more courses than Ferran Adrià or René Redzepi or more ingredients than Dean Fearing when he does vegetables). But there are exceptions to every rule, and Raffles Dubai, the hotel that has consistently, with three short interruptions, topped TripAdvisor for that Emirate for the last two years, knows how to surprise. First, GM Ayman Gharib produced, as if out of a conjuror’s hat, no, not a white rabbit but a pleasure much more appreciated, namely Peter French, one-time GM of the hotel who went on to become President of the Raffles brand.
Oh what a lovely evening it was to be, all of us eating superb Japanese at Toro, the leased-out restaurant at the top of this pyramid-shaped hotel – you can tell how good it is by the fact that every other table in the packed space was taken by Japanese, not tourists but Japanese who are living and working in Dubai, say with Honda, Nissan, or Toyota (UAE is the seventh largest export market for the Japanese auto industry). They come here regularly, says Ayman Gharib, and I can see why, and because of the success of the restaurant he gains about another 800 room nights a year, from business people coming to Dubai who stay here primarily because of the restaurant. The surprises, however, continued.
At breakfast, I had just sat down when I was told that a small tasting plate of local Arabic breakfast dishes had been prepared – and look, at the top of the page, at all the goodies arrived, brought by a smiling Chef Patel who has undoubtedly learned about these dishes rather than growing up with them. He told me where all the ingredients came from but I am afraid he spoke so fast I cannot remember what came from where except that the dates were Yemeni. I looked later at the room service’s breakfast-any-time menu, which offers, for their Arabic breakfast, local cheeses that include haloumi, feta, baladi, and shanklish; foul medames, namely a broad bean stew with tomato, onion, parsley and olive oil; shakshouka which is Arabic-style scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, peppers and parsley; Arabic bread and herb-topped (zaatar) croissants.
A final surprise for me at this luxury hotel was to find a leather-covered notebook with a silver clasp. Most of the pages were empty, for divinely-creative thoughts, but about ten of the pages had photos of me arriving in various Raffles hotels around the world, including one of my arrival yesterday. I must find out how they achieved this. Certainly Ayman Gharib could be known as Mr Creative. Not long ago he had a regular guest about to make his first visit, with his family, to Raffles Istanbul. Unknown to the guest, Mr Creative flew his favourite butler to Istanbul so that when the guest arrived with his family they felt immediately at home. If the GM can give this amount of attention to everyone staying in his 248-room luxury hotel, no wonder 38% of the rooms are filled with repeat business. AND NOW TOUR SUITE 830, BELOW