To think it started as a sail rising from the ocean, like the birth of a new era, or the dawn of a sinking ship. Yet, being the Persian Gulf in all its opulence, it was actually the enigmatic structure of the world’s only 7 star hotel, the Burj Al Arab. Where I Live in a Frying Pan gracefully escorted me into the arms of luxury. And she took a skinny dip herself, outside of her more earthy and tasteful Frying Pan endeavors.
As I Live in a Frying Pan gave her cutesy red cooper to the valet, I couldn’t help but notice ten Rolls Royce Phantoms reserved exclusively for airport transfers. If helicopters weren’t available that is. This was just the start of many startling revelations about the glorified display of wealth. For there was no sneaking into the world’s only seven star resort sans a reservation for a meal or a room. So no Cinderella sidekick or Ratatouille’s accomplice could ever enter the dominion of a lavish lobby with gilded interior designs and dancing fountains. We were there for high tea, a thought at which the British tucked inside me yelped in glee.
Having skipped breakfast, our ravenous appetites beckoned us to race right to the 27th floor Skyview Bar, the little glass capsule that jutted out of the sail, overlooking the Perisan Gulf and an unmatched view of Dubai from the air. As we rose, the perspective was as magnifying as it was distancing. The island of Palm Jumeirah shrunk as the Atlantis bean to rise from the sea, its gigantic wings spanning the width of perception, and then languishing into the sunny, shimmering sea like a defeated eagle, two dimensional from my predator’s eye view.
We perched below the green and blue woven ceiling, leaning against matching backrest seats, thankfully slightly farther away from the arched glass floor to ceiling windows that gave a cliff drop view of the ocean and city, instantly evoking my acrophobic fears and notions of nauseous suicide. Gulp.
The non-alcoholic date champagne arrived in a rather ordinary looking flute, poured ceremoniously in a horizontal fashion by a tall waiter with a longer arm and precise body movement. It was paired with cream and fresh berries, alarmingly fresh, and perhaps perceived as fresher in the crisp, linen like atmosphere. The tea menu was vividly descriptive but alarmingly plainly etched on a white menu that made it rather challenging to navigate the 50+ variety of options. I chose the one infused with jasmine pearls and licorice root, and vowed to try the ethereal white teas thereafter. Each came in individual white teapots and petite teacups, reminiscent of British India, and reflected the splash of sunlight glaring through the glass walls. The subsequent conversations flowed as seamlessly as the whiff of aromatic steaming tea.
The ambiance was glistening in the closer-than-ever sunlight and with a perspective that was unmatched and attainable only from the cloudlike elevation, the city was a bleached desert of petite sugar cubes. The coastline ended in the shape of a horror movie dagger, curved with the ethereal 360 bar at its sharp tip, evoking tales of a fun previous night. The shadow of the sail onto the vast landscape relayed a sense of excitement and adventure, albeit captured more like artistic portraiture than live action. Perhaps it was the overall stillness of the boats and sands and people-free beaches and oceans. Quite a relief, for luxury is most valued in solitude and stillness, but for a flick of a second I missed the spirit of the Hamptons.
The appetizer for teatime, so to say, was a beef wellington for the ladies atop clotted cream and beetroot sauce, while the vegetarian in me dove into a roasted eggplant sliver with mint green chutney and red cherry tomatoes. I guess it was one of those things where you felt it tasted better because of where you were seated, but I wouldn’t sparkle beyond praise for these. The bottomless portion of petite sandwiches however evoked reactions would make Alice-in-Wonderland lovers swoon.
Forming a bird’s eye view of a Tim Burton smiley face, there were cuboids and tiny buns, some open faced, all in colors reminiscent of the aquarium walls at the entrance. The carrot hued sandwich was lined with sour potato spread and cucumbers, not only patriotic in colors but delectable in texture. Cottage cheese also layered perfectly with the tartness of berry spread, making this an instant replay request.
The beet and tamarind infused sesame coated bun hit the perfect sour note, offset by the bitterness of the rather sterile tasting open faced bun next to it, topped with asparagus, artichoke, mushroom and tomato. The sunset hued peppers sandwich was swimming in a vinegary dressing, atop a cranberry infused bun that proclaimed delicious juxtaposition. The bottomless offering ensured that the fountain of petite sandwiches and teas kept coming at irregular intervals, and we gobbled away, ignoring the foreboding sense of delusional overeating.
Already at the verge of unbuttoning, we were then greeted by a steel outline replica of the building, holding three tiers of kaleidoscopic desserts. One layer had an assortment of scones, from wheaty osat and grain infused ones to raisin specked and raisinless ones. They came with a plethora of spreads: strawberry and rose petal jam, passion fruit date gelee with a dose of honey, and clotted creams. Two mousse cakes accompanied the platter – strawberry mousse atop gingerbread cake and goat cheese mousse with a candied raisin as its crown.
The adjacent sugar encrusted biscuits were soft on the inside and glistening with granules on the outside, making it akin to disco dipping exercise. Alarmingly, the chocolate mousse ball with wafers and a caramel topping sounded like it would be an instant favorite, but was rather bland. It reminded me that when in Dubai, do as the Arabs do – eat dates and baklava till you pop!
Ditto for the chocolate truffles, which while divine, were a less weird derivation of what I’d tasted time and time again in New York. Nonetheless I did munch through the coconut ones in particular, delectably licking my chops.
Perhaps the one demise of the experience was the sour end of the meal, where the tables around us began to rather quickly turn around for the next hosting, and a plethora of hints were dropped our way to knot up our threads of conversation. The anxiety of the waiters and the perplexed handling of the wrap up was definitely uncalled for, but was not enough to overshadow our inherent optimism and appreciation for the luscious hotel.
We digested en route out of the hotel, feeling the aftereffects of a decadent meal in an overly opulent setting. Admittedly, the Palm Jumeirah made us dizzy at soaring heights, reflecting on the mirrors of the swoonworthy elevators in the blazing sunlight, enough to evoke ghost like hallucinations on untarnished surfaces.
The elevators were gold plated, something that was obvious now that we were absolutely un-famished. The area surrounding it was enchanting, multi leveled and layered with colors and textures to rival the Beauty and the Beast castle, sans the kitsch. A chandelier constructed of tentacles stared down at a glamorous sunlit tile formation, like an upside down underworld looking at a sky on the floor. It was like the underwater fish scales from the Little Mermaid’s magnificent kingdom, and I could almost imagine myself bubbling in swimmer’s fantasy.
My favorite eye candy store, Rodeo Drive, complete with its blood red doors and venomous, reptilian door handles and roaring lion door piece were a strange insertion amidst everything that flowed so fluidly, but fit in terms of colorful opulence.
Red robed chandeliers gave off dim light that matched with the heavyweight curtains that promised to hold a deep secret behind their silent velvety rustles. Gold pillars reached for the skies in the atrium, with trigonometric midnight blue and white shapes playing peeakaboo with the sunlight to give an ethereal effect.
The highlight was the large, central showpiece of a symmetrical dancing fountain at the mezzanine level, quite distinct from the Vegas inspired flair of the Burj Khalifa. There were contemporary fibre-optic-like tubes of water curvaceously jumping between multicolored lit up pebblestones arranged like a gigantic fish fin. The fact that we were beneath a colossal sail made this akin to a sunken treasure.
The lobby itself was hued in rich reds (a curvy sofa, like a multitude of love seats infused together) and royal blues, which gave I Live in a Frying Pan’s red heels a dimension of their own. While we sat besides floral gardens made of real orchids in pastel colors, sheikhs came by to serve us gold covered dates which we politely refused courtesy of inflated abdomens.
Perhaps it was the inhalation of ethereal ambiance or the sheer combination of bottomless teas with carb infused flavorful sandwiches… but we literally rolled out of the Burj. Back into the sugar cubes of the real world, its lazy gazing heat and the plethora of people that invaded the silence. We waved regally to the burst of sudden commotion that greeted us as the gates parted: capri clad Canon bearing tooth grinning tourists who clicked ceremoniously as they got a gate-less peak at the architectural wonder, elevating it to strange Wonka-like heights.
Reminds me that with every sail, voyage, mermaid, sunken treasure and buccaneering adventure, comes an anchor point.