Review of the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
Where: Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. The hotel is the main landmark on the Corniche. It's 40 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport and 20 minutes from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Hotel credentials: The hotel opened in 2005. It has 394 rooms/suites, 9 restaurants, a spa, leisure/adventure swimming pools, games fields, a 1.3km private beach and private marina.
When: 3 to 5 April 2017
Purpose of trip: Leisure
First impressions : My first impression of the hotel began about a quarter of a mile before even reaching the hotel gates. It is an incredible example of modern Arab architecture – imposing, elegant and completely over the top. I simply love this red sandstone beauty that symbolizes the pride of Abu Dhabi. As I drove through the hotel grounds I was greeted by security guards who waved me in the direction of the hotel entrance. I continued my drive through perfectly manicured gardens and an impressive water feature (which was swarmed by tourists). When I finally reached the hotel entrance, a smartly dressed valet attendant quickly unloaded my luggage and escorted me to reception. Reception staff were friendly, efficient and exuded confidence.
Dress code: No shorts or flip flops (unless you are an in-house guest off to the beach/pool).
Check-in : Within minutes of arriving I was checked-in and accompanied to my room by a member of the reception staff. My suite was located in the East Wing of the hotel. It took approximately 10 minutes to walk to the room - something to bear in mind if you are traveling with anyone who has restricted mobility. The route to the suite is lined with thick lush printed carpets and pretty atriums.
Room type & amenities: I stayed in a Deluxe Khaleej Suite (one bedroom suite measuring approximately 165 square metres and pictured above). The suite was a wash with cream and gold tones and luxurious carpets. I could not help but feel that the interior was designed with royals and diplomats in mind. The suite had a dining area with a table (with complimentary fruit) which led into a living room area with desk, sofas and arm chairs and a wide screen TV). The bedroom had a king sized bed, a chez long, vanity mirror and chair – it had plenty of space and felt super luxurious thanks to the colour pallet and use of rich silks and other fabrics. The bedroom led into the bathroom - an opulent optic treat of gold and marble with three stairs leading up to a jet bath. There was a separate rain shower and twin sinks with the usual complimentary toiletries (having a gold tone toothbrush was a first for me). Within 5 minutes of entering this suite I began to feel really quite regal.
The suite's best feature was the balcony which spanned the entire length of the living spaces and the bedroom and was accessible from numerous French doors. The view from the balcony was absolutely breathtaking - the palace, the pristine white beach and the marina were all on full display. I cannot exaggerate the magnificence of the view. Unless you dine in one of the restaurants with outdoor seating or stay at the hotel the splendor of this view to the rear of the property is off limits.
Some of the room functions (lights and TV) were controlled by an ipad that worked sporadically. The screen froze quite a few times. When I raised the issue it was resolved quickly by a butler but it did occur on more than one occasion. Due to the fact that some of the room functions, such as the curtains, were controlled manually I actually didn't use the ipad very much. I like technology and smart luxury but there was something about this hotel that did not need that extra functionality - despite being constructed within the past 15 years the hotel has an old world feel which did not make me miss using centralized electronic controls. I did however miss having a coffee machine and an iron/ironing board (albeit both of these items could be requested from the suite butler).
Wifi : Complimentary and available throughout the hotel.
Business : There was a desk (with a comfortable chair) in the living area with all the necessary sockets/portals and some stationary. It was quite a serine place to work.
Slumber : Comfortable mattress (medium/hard) with good quality bed linen. The suite was extremely quiet. I left the curtains open because I wanted to take advantage of being woken by the sunrise over the beach. Eye cream and complimentary water are part of the turn down service - a welcome pre-bedtime treat for tired eyes.
Dining options: The hotel has 9 dining options:
Le Vendome : All day dining restaurant with a terrace. This seemed to be a popular choice with families. Breakfast is served in Le Vendome. There was a decent buffet style offering for breakfast. Not the best croissants I have ever had but the coffee was piping hot when it arrived and the a la carte egg menu (included in the room rate) is excellent - I recommend the eggs benedict. Staff in the restaurant were polite, responsive and efficient.
Le Café : This is the hotel's signature lobby lounge which sprawls over three sections. It is an elegant space with comfortable soft furnishing - it's a place to relax and enjoy one of the hotel's afternoon tea selections. It also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I guess I cannot complete this review without mentioning the gold leaf cappuccino. I didn't order one but saw plenty of tourists drinking it (of course not before they had snapped and posted it on social media). Hot drinks at Le Café (priced around AED35) are presented on a silver tone tray and come with a small glass of water and a couple of sweets (usually a chocolate and a date or in the morning a mini croissant). Having coffee here is a real occasion. I recommend trying the Emirates Palace chocolate cake (food coma inducingly good), feather light scones and the vanilla milkshake. Be warned the service here can be slow during busy periods but this is not the type of place you come for a quick espresso. Give yourself plenty of time if you dine here. During peak times be sure to book afternoon tea in advance to ensure you secure a table.
Mezzaluna : Italian upmarket restaurant. Like most of the restaurants at the hotel, the restaurant has high ceilings and an impressive décor. The restaurant has a warm feel which is predominately thanks to the staff who are sincere, welcoming and knowledgeable. I liked the fact that the waiting staff have tasted most of the dishes and offer informed opinions on their favourite dish.
I had dinner at Mezzaluna on an evening when 2 Micheline star chef Norbert Niederkofler was resident for that week. Chef Norbert spent time chatting about his time in Italy and clear passion for cooking the freshest ingredients available. As a foodie, in a region void of Micheline stars, this experience was a real treat. I commend Emirates Palace for bringing a series of Micheline star chefs to the hotel to share their special talents with hotel guests and other diners.
Sayad (pictured above): Upmarket seafood restaurant serving fresh seafood. I did not dine at Sayad during my stay but I have had dinner here on numerous occasions. The restaurant has a beautiful, sophisticated, aquatic inspired interior and every fish dish that I experienced here was cooked to perfection. It is not always that busy which sometimes leaves it void of atmosphere despite the beautiful fit out. I definitely recommend having dinner here if you love seafood. The outside dining space has beautiful views of the palace grounds and the beach.
Mezlai : Emirati restaurant serving Arabian cuisine.
BBQ Al Qasr : Beachside restaurant with spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf, private marina and palaces. This is hands down the best place to enjoy a romantic, low key meal with the sound of the Arabian Gulf as the ultimate soundtrack. Good for barbequed steak and seafood in a relaxed setting. A post-dinner walk along the beach is an absolute must.
Hakkasan : Chinese restaurant with a dark, cool interior serving some seriously good food. This is one of my favourit restaurants in Abu Dhabi. At times the staff can be quite stiff and don't seem as cool as their surroundings but that is not to say that the service is bad - service is polite and efficient. The restaurant has a cool long bar where you can enjoy pre-dinner drinks and bar snacks. I highly recommend the steamed dim sim platter, tea smoked wagyu ribs (melt in the mouth) and the pippa duck (although eat this quickly because it doesn't stay warm for long). I miss the beautiful peach soufflé that graced the dessert menu at Hakkasan a long time ago. In my view the current desserts are underwhelming so stock up on starters and mains. The restaurant also has a terrace which is a nice place to dine during the cooler months.
Cascades : Pool side restaurant located at the West beach club serving casual fayre. I recommend the chicken shawarma (comes with a naughty side of French fries and some good garlic sauce).
Las Briasa : Spanish poolside restaurant at the East Beach Club. A great spot for sun seekers and those looking to escape for some peace and quiet.
Mawal (pictured above): Upmarket Lebanese restaurant. I had lunch here during my stay. The interior is adorned with Arabesque chandeliers that hang from high ceilings. The service is polite, efficient and bordering on being friendly (I say that because none of the waiters actually smiled while I was there - perhaps it was a challenge to look Gucci-good and smile at the same time). The food is excellent and had me smiling from ear to ear. I tasted the hummus, sizzling prawns and the mixed grille (an assortment of grilled meat, poultry and seafood). The restaurant is well priced for the high quality of food. The restaurant has outdoor seating with fabulous views of the hotel's landscaped gardens. This is a good place for a business lunch due the efficiency of service but equally good for a long lazy lunch.
Alternative dining tips : If you are staying in a suite and want to enjoy some decent food within the comfort of your room or on the spectacular balcony then I recommend ordering from the in-room dining menu. It offers a vast array of options with a particular focus on healthy options. If you have kids there is a decent kid's menu and options for babies. The hotel also hosts brunch every Friday.
The hotel is close to other hotels and shopping malls if you are staying for more than a couple of nights I recommend getting out and about and exploring the area. Al Marsay is a waterside development near Al Bateen Marina which is a 10minuite drive from the hotel - it has some quirky independent cafes (eg No. Fifty Seven café and Tashas) serving great food.
Beach clubs : The hotel has two beach clubs, one at the East Wing and the other at the West Wing. If you are traveling with children Irecommend staying in the West Wing of the hotel because the beach club on that side of the hotel is ideal for families - it has several kids pools, a kids club and outdoor play areas. The East side of the hotel is quieter and the swimming pools and relaxation areas are geared towards adults.
Fitness : Four words... "get on your bike." The hotel has complimentary bikes (for all ages) and safety helmets outside each of the beach clubs. It is the best mode of transport to see the vast landscape of the hotel. The East and West beach clubs each have a fitness suite open 24 hours a day with state of the art equipment and complimentary yoga, pilates and Zumba classes. The hotel also has an outdoor jogging track. There are numerous water sports on offer. There really is something for everyone.
Spa : The hotel spa is 1,500square metres. In addition to treatment rooms it includes Jacuzzis, steam rooms and an ice cave. Treatments include Moroccan hammam treatments, 24 carat gold inspired facials and scrubs and seasonal treats. During my stay, black diamond and chocolate inspired treatments were on offer. I did not have a treatment during my two day stay probably because there was so much else to do. Had I stayed for longer I would definitely have been tempted.
Kids club: The hotel has an excellent offering for kids. In addition to the adventure pools the hotel has a kids club for ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 years may attend the club but they must be accompanied by an adult. There is an outdoor kids playground and for older kids plenty of water sports or camel riding. The hotel's hair salon also caters for children and has a dedicated kids' spa!
Check-out : Check out was super efficient. My room invoice was ready and waiting for me when I reached reception and my bags had been loaded into my car.
HSQ's view : I would categorize a stay at the Emirates Palace as an experience. Yes, it is intimidating when you first arrive because of the sheer unspoken statement that you can hear from every part of the exterior which screams "this IS luxury!!". The common perception is that the hotel is way more expensive than its competitors - this is a hard perception for the hotel to shake when the décor is dominated by gold, silk and marble. The reality is that the restaurants are not any more expensive than upmarket restaurants in other 5 star hotels in the UAE.
The hotel interior is impressive but the real star of the show is what's on offer outside. Private gardens (including Picasso sculptures), a pristine white beach and plethora of pools and activities elevate this hotel to a rating beyond 5 stars and into a fairytale category of its own. It is a truly unique offering.
If I am being picky I would like to see the hotel either ditch the in-room ipads completely or upgrade the technology and centralize more of the room functions. This and the speed of service in Le Café are the only two aspects of the hotel that I felt needed attention.
The Emirates Palace is a fabulous hotel and an experience that must be tried at least once. I would definitely stay at the hotel again. It felt majestic - a true escape in the heart of the city. I would recommend the Emirates Palace to couples, families and those seeking quiet luxury in the most splendid surroundings.