FOOD & DRINK
Is this the UAE’s coolest design hotel?
Words by Rob Chilton
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Led Zeppelin on the playlist, Le Labo toiletries and a gold leaf billiard table – step inside the UAE’s coolest hotel: The Abu Dhabi Edition by design genius Ian Schrager
Any hotel that has a restaurant which plays Talking Heads, Paul Weller, Fine Young Cannibals and Led Zeppelin is our kind of place. These, plus many more brilliant tracks from bands we loved made up a carefully-curated playlist that made us feel like we were in the coolest rock ‘n’ roll restaurant in the coolest hotel in the country.
Yes, people, the Abu Dhabi Edition is that good.
Following a successful blueprint of its sister hotels around the world, this outpost in the capital is the first to arrive in the UAE and the bosses at HQ have clearly come out with all guns blazing to stamp their authority in a crowded and competitive market.
Furniture, lighting, service, food – all are of the highest order, hardly a surprise when hotel genius Ian Schrager is the man in charge of the design. The highlight? That’s easy: the lobby. Receptionists at the Abu Dhabi Edition must now be familiar with the sight of guests arriving, dropping their bags in shock and gazing upwards at a cream-coloured, curved atrium stretching up five floors that looks like the set of a science fiction film but acts like a big cuddle. Numerous pot plants, walnut wood walls, and a black marble water feature create a sense of calm, while the gold leaf billiard table is a fantastic conversation starter, not to mention a pretty fun way to waste an hour. The edgy kinetic art installation of glass cylinders dangling from the ceiling, meanwhile, is mesmerising. Books on Victorian wallpaper or the history of fashion photography are worth a flick. It’s more than a lobby, it’s a statement of intent.
The staff we encountered were easygoing, helpful, confident and chatty - but not intrusive. Our French waitress Ossian at the Oak Room restaurant (the place with the awesome playlist) was so cool she was surely on a break from some sort of Parisian avant-garde art school with her cropped trousers and brogues.
The Abu Dhabi Edition has placed a big emphasis on food and turned to the Michelin-starred Brit Tom Aikens for its three dining concepts. Alba Terrace is a bright and breezy, French Riviera sort of place that has a fantastic burrata trolley, while Market is the marble and pine breakfast area surrounded by dozens of shelves lined with potted herb plants. There are naughty pastries if you want them, but also a selection of juice shots (turmeric, ginger, honey and black pepper – yowser) and healthy dishes such as a buckwheat and wholemeal crepe with spinach and ricotta. That’s what you get if your chef is a fanatical marathon runner, we suppose.
Aikens’ Oak Room is the standout food spot though, and has shot into the top five best restaurants in the UAE. A British steakhouse, it has a decor of dark wood and racing green, velvet banquettes which is warm and welcoming. The lighting is perfectly pitched at sexy and dusky, but not so gloomy that you can’t see your dinner date or the menu. A huge black and white photograph of the rebellious mod icons The Jam, yells to diners that this isn’t going to be a stuffy night out. Each dish from the English crab with basil mayonnaise to the kale and cashew salad was light, tasty and creative. The triple cooked chips and spotted dick sponge pudding, however, were retro, belt-stretching English classics as was the Marmite and butter blend that comes with the bread – it was so good that we asked for a jar to take home and the chef was happy to oblige.
Outside, a pool with cabanas melted away all the stress of a working week, as did the smushy pillows, soft towels, wood panelling and grey oak floors in the rooms. Lovely photographs of sand dunes by Brett Weston are a nod to the Abu Dhabi desert, while a Bang & Olufsen travel speaker provides the soundtrack to your stay.
Who is this hotel in the tranquil Al Bateen Marina aimed at? Everyone really. We saw families, young couples, groups enjoying brunch, solo business travellers. The one thing they all had in common was a very big smile on their faces.
Swim shorts: The summer 2019 edit