By Julia Wheeler
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.
The original and still the most innovative of the Persian Gulf destinations, vibrant Dubai has an energetic drive that’s tough to beat. There’s always somewhere new to try, something special to experience – nothing stands still for long, and visitors reap the advantages of the residents’ expectations when it comes to dining and entertainment.
The city is bigger than you might imagine, so choose your hotel area well, since the traffic can slow you down. The Palm is some distance from the Old Town and the Creek, while Downtown Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (the tallest tower in the world) and dancing fountains are more than a stride from Dubai Marina.
Brunch is a must-do if you’re in town on a Friday (the Gulf’s big day off). The best tables, magnificent with sumptuous buffets and champagne, bask in a “we’ve got all day” atmosphere. Don’t bother booking dinner for Friday evening. Dubai offers Michelin-starred chefs, renowned hotel designers and a multinational feel open to trying anything that can boast the sprinkle of glitz.
Royal Bridge Suite, Atlantis, The Palm
At the crest of the Palm Jumeirah crescent, this suite spans the space between the towers of the fairy-tale resort, on the 22nd floor. Generous balconies run either side of the suite, offering expansive views both seaward and across the city, while inside, light floods in among palm tree-shaped pillars and sparkling chandeliers. There’s a games room, media center, library and a gold-leaf dining table that seats 16. Royalty and celebrities (including Kim Kardashian) are your predecessors here, and the mantra of the private butler, chef and their team is “Your every desire fulfilled.”
Royal Suite, Burj Al Arab
A flagship for the Jumeirah Group, this sail-shaped hotel sits gracefully on its own island. Inside the two-bedroom, two-story suite, all is peaceful except the decor – think leopard print, tented silk ceilings and clashes so bad they’re fab. There is a four-poster bath, a rotating bed fit for a king, a movie theater, library and Arabic majlis seating area. Your 24-hour butler will drop by with your 24K gold iPad.
Dubai Floor, Raffles Dubai
This was the private accommodation of a Dubai sheikh before it was transformed into six palatial suites and rooms across the entire floor of the pyramid-shaped hotel. The panoramic views from the large terrace reach as far as the Burj Khalifa. It is modern and flexible, with plenty of Arabic touches, including a majlis lounge and wooden mashrabiya screens. There’s a nine-seat movie theater, plus a private butler, chef and dedicated chauffeur.
TAKE THREE/// Opulent Hotels
Palazzo Versace Dubai
This is the height of designer luxury, with each and every piece of furniture and fabric created by the House of Versace. In a 16th-century-style palace, the hotel is situated within the Culture Village, overlooking Dubai Creek, 10 minutes from Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. Inside, you’ll find opulence beyond compare – from elegant white pillars topped with golden scrolls, to Baroque and Rococo embellishments in the rooms and suites. Think Louis XV meets Arabian Nights with a dash of Dangerous Liaisons.
One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai
With more than half a mile of golden sand and a generous sense of space inside and out, this hotel predates Palm Jumeirah, which now helps form its bay. There are Moorish influences in the architecture, and lush landscaping creates clever privacy. Fountains bubble, and the building is reflected in the many pools. Choose from three distinct environments: The Palace, Arabian Court and the Residence & Spa. It is just 10 minutes from the Emirates Golf Course.
Four Seasons Resort Dubai
The location – on a tranquil beach – is one of the best in town, but this is also the closest resort to the airport, the older parts of the city and the best shopping malls: Jumeirah 2 is known by some as the Beverly Hills of Dubai. The hotel atmosphere blends Arabic hints with contemporary style to create a luxurious sanctuary. Light illuminates rooms and shared spaces. The planting is exquisite. There is a sparkling gold-and-white mosaic, an adults only pool with private cabanas and day villas.
It’s all about the sharing, izakaya-style, at Zuma, in the Dubai International Financial Centre district, near Burj Khalifa. Japanese delicacies arrive one after the other to add to the informality of this contemporary gem. Try the wagyu beef sushi with Sevruga caviar or the thinly sliced seabass with yuzu, truffle oil and salmon roe. Private dining is available.
Both the heat and cool of Peru are stirred up in the award-winning Coya at the Four Seasons Resort at Jumeriah Beach. The menu keeps traditional flavors alive, and the chefs perform their food miracles for all to see amid a rainbow of Inca colors and Latin American artwork. Authentic vibes and the Pisco Lounge complete the deliciously chilled mood.
British-Mediterranean food is on offer at Marina Social, Jason Atherton’s “pocket of London in the heart of Dubai,” at the InterContinental Dubai Marina. Duck-leg agnolotti rubs menu shoulders with pumpkin gnocchi, crispy sage and Parmesan, while the lucky few at the Social Table share a tasting menu. Five carts serve champagne, digestifs, cigars, teas and sweets.
Andy Hayler’s Hidden Gem
This simple, no-reservation Indian café serves only seafood caught that day and landed at the local port. Fish or prawns are rubbed in spices, fried, then served with paratha bread, along with a seafood curry. Don’t expect air conditioned luxury or tablecloths. There are only plastic tables and chairs, so this is as far from luxury hotel fare as you can get, but BuQtair is about food rather than comfort. Testament to its popularity are the long lines at peak times.