"Honey, do you mind if I put an afternoon tea on the credit card? It'll be $120. Ok thanks bye!" I ask Mr NQN by instant messenger.
Perhaps you may have heard of the Burj Al Arab Hotel which is Dubai's 7 star (self rated) all suite hotel that is said to be a must do - if only you can get in that is. Visitors or inevitable gawkers aren't permitted and can only gaze at it from afar, where it resembles a sail. It is the location of the famous tennis court where Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played tennis on the helipad. It sits in the middle of an artificial island and is accessible only by a 280 metre bridge. Otherwise the only way in is by a booking either as a guest of the hotel or as a restaurant visitor. This all seems rather easy until you realise three things:
1) You can't just walk in. You need to book ahead of time and you are assigned an unique code which allows you entry.
2) Apparently even with the current economic troubles in Dubai, a luxurious dining experience is a highly sought after thing and they advise you to book a few weeks in advance.
3) The least costly "encounter" is their ever popular afternoon tea which at 395AED for the Sky Lounge is about $120AUD/$105USD*. The Lobby Lounge afternoon tea on the first floor is 375AED and is slightly easier to get a spot at as it has less spectacular views.
So with these three things in mind I thought I would chance it and try to get in (for research purposes of course) even though I was shock horror asking for a table just the day before. I was in the business centre of the Le Meridien hotel and they were on the phone to the Burj Al Arab. It was a tense time waiting. As they were taking my credit card details (which secures your booking and diners are charged 50% for a no show) my booking quickly disappeared before our eyes as it was snapped up by another diner whose credit card details were entered just a fraction quicker than mine were. The business centre woman and I looked at each other aghast at being pipped at the post by mere seconds!
It was by a minor miracle along with some sweet talking by her and I was the recipient of a booking code. Located in Jumeirah which is best described as the Beverly Hills of Dubai, it is a sail boat shaped hotel. In has an adjacent sister property called the Jumeirah Beach Hotel which is shaped like a wave and from the sea it is said to look as if the sailboat is being supported by the wave. Nearby is the 360 degrees cocktail bar which revolves (and is said to be very expensive). I had intended to take a taxi there (interestingly enough pink topped taxis are driven by female taxi drivers for female passengers) but luckily my Arabian Adventures driver accommodates my last minute change in plan and offers to drive me there and wait for me and drop me off at the shopping centre for some post Afternoon Tea shopping. We can arrive up to 30 minutes ahead of our booking but no more than that (I suppose they don't want people loitering). There was of course a strict dress code: semi formal for the whole hotel. I took out my best silk dress and heels and off I went hoping that what I had would qualify me as a semi formal dresser.
We pull up with the printout at the ready with my confirmation code A suited man with a clipboard and a pen asks for our details and welcomes us with a smile. We drive up the winding pathway and see the beach with the Atlantis The Palm complex. As we drive up we see a range of luxury cars including of course, a red Ferrari behind a red rope. They open the door and I walk into the lobby past the pictures of the various Royal heads. I can see a Sheikh lighting the bakhoor (incense) and it fills the lobby with its heady scent. Inside it is opulent and lavish with the thick, spotlessly clean red patterned carpet, curved coloured panels that reach higher than the eye can see and a lot of gold.
I take some photos and look at them and realise that it's actually better looking in real life than in the photos. I walk past the fountain which is fascinating. I don't often get transfixed by fountains (read: never) but I am by this one. Instead of the constant bubbling noise, the water shoots out in a rhythmic clapping sound and someone comments that it's almost like a sporting or football chant rhythm. The pattern of the water is very pretty and then it explodes (and scared a few curious kiddies who had gone up close to stare at it) and shoots high up into the air.
I walk past a large curtained doorway not daring to look inside and go past two rather glitzy looking stores called what else but "Rodeo Drive" and travel up the glass panelled elevator and press #27. There are two women checking bookings. I'm invited to sit down in the waiting area which has foreign newspapers laid out to read and then I'm ushered past the red velvet rope through the green panelled tunnel into the Sky Bar. All staff members are very deferential and friendly. I take a seat and look around. There are mostly couples but some groups of four. Considerately they seat couples in the booths in tables of four so that no-one has their back to the view which is a nice touch as they could have easily filled the pace up with at least 30% more people.
I take a look at the menu (gold of course) and there are a range of teas. You can order as much food and tea and coffee as you like. Whilst I am having a look they bring me a glass of Louis Roederer and a mall bowl of fresh berries and cream. If there's one thing I find it hard to resist it's berries and cream (berries are healthy no ? And cream has calcium? Am I fooling myself?). I take a sip of the delicious bubbly and finish off the sweet berries and cream. I decide on a pot of White Glory tea which is a White Tea with hint of peach.
My waitress explains the order with which the dishes will come out. I will firstly receive a hot starter which is a Salmon Wellington and then out comes the High Tea goodies. Two of these tiers will then be replaced by scones and preserves and these will then be followed by Christmas cookies and mulled wine. They weren't kidding about the 7 courses, in fact I think I count 8.
The slice of Salmon Wellington is brought out. Thankfully (as I'm worried about stomach space) it's quite thin and comes with a fennel and butter sauce and in one corner I see a chef carving up slices to order. It's quite good indeed although a part of me is chomping at the bit to try the dainty pieces that I see around me. But first things first, I need to get photos as it gets dark quickly here as the maitre'd considerately lets me know. For once I'm not the only one taking photos, in fact every other table in the restaurant takes their camera out and walks around and starts snapping at the view.
I take a walk around the restaurant along with other curious camera wielding guests into the restaurant area (which is not open until later).
My four tier sailboat shaped tower of goodies arrives. As I am dining along I get one to myself and I notice the friendly German couple next to me get the same size. I can see the table of four opposite me get two sail stands which when they're set down next to each other look like one whole boat. My sail is packed with goodies - really enough for two people and I start with the sandwiches. There are three types of sandwiches cut into crustless half fingers: a blended goat's cheese, tomato and cucumber on a malty brown bread, cucumber and cream cheese, egg and mayonnaise and smoked salmon and cream cheese. I particularly like the smoked salmon and the egg and mayonnaise sandwiches and they're all wonderfully fresh and soft.
I tackle the second tier. There is a squid ink bread slice with mozarella and tomato on top, a roast beef sandwich, a prawn teardrop shaped vol au vent and a chicken filled choux puff with lid. The prawn vol au vent filling is delicious although the ratio of pastry to filling isn't quite right and it ends up being a little dry with mostly pastry (and it's not that fabulously buttery kind of pastry), the chicken choux is delicious and crisp with the chicken mixed with mayonnaise and the bread with mozarella and tomato on squid ink is interesting although not particularly squid ink tasting so I taste mainly just the mozarella and tomato. The simple roast beef sandwich is delicious.
I tackle the third layer but not before they ask me if I'd like another tea. My current pot is still hot but as I have a flight out that evening at 1:40am I ask for a coffee. When they bring it the foam isn't that impressive looking and sadly the coffee is burnt. When the waitress comes to pick up the untouched cup she asks if it is alright and I let her know that it is burnt. She offers to replace it with another but I decline as I'm more interested in the teas.
View 1: Panna cotta and cakes
View 2: cakes and shortbreads
Tier number 3 is stacked full of cake slices. These kinds of cakes aren't my usual preference i.e. fruit cake and carrot cake sans icing so I take a bite just to try them and they're really just too dry for me. There are two types of shortbread: a nutty shortbread and a plain vanilla shortbread and they're both very short and crumbly.
The sandwich layers are replaced with scones and there's a plain scone and a lemon scone today. They're served with clotted cream (yay!), strawberry mousse, and house made passionfruit jam and strawberry jam. The jams are of a runnier consistency and they're true to flavour, the passionfruit similar to a tangy passionfruit butter but my favourite combination has to be the strawberry mousse and the strawberry jam on the scones.
I've hit my point of satiety and realise that not only do I have one tier of cakes to go but also the mulled wine and Christmas cookies. Taking a deep breath I plunge on ahead knowing that if I don't go forth and eat then they won't bring me my cookies until later and the light will be terrible for photographs. I try the apple and sultana cake which is nice enough but not enough to make me eat more but the one item that has me swooning is the blackberry macaron. It's a macaron half with some blackberry jam on top. The three plump, fresh blackberries are placed on top of this and on top of that is a mini macaron and a strip of candied lemon zest. I back away from the chocolate layer cake which is nice but I find it hard to eat chocolate at the end of a rich meal.
Despite the fact that I feel like I've eaten 20 courses I can't help but be delighted when they present me with the Christmas cookies. There's all sorts of cookies from almond cookies to gingerbread and lebkuchen (like a soft gingerbread cake) but my favourite is most definitely the stollen which reminds me of a moist finger bun with thick icing on top. There's a centre of marzipan too and I almost, for a fleeting second, want to ask for some more of this before I realise that they may have to roll me out of here.
The Mulled Wine is a bit too hot to the touch in the champagne flute and I worry about bursting - even though I've taken bites of things today, these bites certainly add up so I take a sip and relax and watch the lights and view change. It's almost hypnotic sitting here by myself watching the blue and green light gradually reflect on the glass and look like part of the view.
As the evening presses on and the light dims I visit the ladies room where they have a bathroom attendant and they offer Hermes toiletries. I head downstairs wishing that I was turning into a suite here.
I depart slowly and outside the palm tree lights have come on and they light up the night beautifully.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever visited a place that you were really reluctant to leave?
*at time of writing
Burj Al Arab
Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, UAE
Tel: +971 4 3017777 Fax: +971 4 3017000
Open for Afternoon Tea 13:00-16:30 (Except Fridays)