The gate to the St Regis is grand enough, but once I'm past it, signs are unclear and I wind my way somewhat uncertainly up a narrow winding path to the entrance. There's a handful of other cars when I arrive at the entrance proper. I'm welcomed politely and my bags are unloaded, though one of the doormen confuses me by asking for my ID, which I only really have to present at reception. Check-in takes more than 10 minutes, which I find a little slow, but I love the view from the glass-walled lobby down across the resort and sand dunes to the sea. We're only five kilometres from the Corniche but, suddenly, it feels like Abu Dhabi's version of the Hamptons.
By car on a Thursday evening, it only takes me about 15 minutes to get to the hotel from the city centre. The hotel is set on a large site which comprises the hotel, spa and (mostly) still-to-be occupied St Regis-branded residences and villas. It's the first hotel on the turn-off after the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge after leaving Abu Dhabi island. It's nicely set (well away from the road) in front of the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and apart from the other current properties on Saadiyat Beach, the Park Hyatt and Monte-Carlo Beach Club. In front of the hotel is the blissful, 9km-long stretch of sandy beach.
There are 377 rooms in seven categories: mine is a superior sea view room, the second from bottom, but we love it. At 60 sq m, it's spacious, with a small separate hallway, a large designer bathroom with completely separate his and hers sink areas, a giant rain shower and lovely freestanding bath with a sea view. It also has a balcony overlooking some villas and a long strip of Saadiyat Beach. We weren't overlooked either by other buildings or neighbouring rooms, which made for a relaxing stay.
I liked the free internet, but the hotel needs to hurry up with its pillow menus, which aren't yet available when I stay. I was also irritated by the keycard system needed to operate the lights, as some of the lighting system works (erratically) without the card, but not the aircon - which we discovered when we woke up boiling in the middle of the night. Also, with the balcony door open, we could hear noisy air-conditioning units from outside.
Prompt, gracious and generally efficient - though we didn't like being told to get out of the sea one evening because the beach was closing at dusk.
The front wing of our floor was closed off because a VIP was staying on the same night, as was a large section of Sontaya restaurant, where we ate dinner. Sontaya was lively in the evening, with several small local groups and couples out for dinner. Guests staying over seemed to be a mix of businesspeople and couples on holiday. On Saturday, some Abu Dhabi residents turned up to have breakfast and use the beach.
There are seven restaurants, but the highlight for us was the South east Asian restaurant Sontaya. We loved the coolly slick Asian design, and the outdoor terrace will be a great place to be now that the weather is warmer. Everything we had there was excellent, but top marks for an outstanding pho (Vietnamese soup with braised beef, rice noodles, beansprouts, herbs and chillies) for Dh65, the steamed seabass with lime, ginger and coriander in a Vietnamese five-spice dressing (Dh125) and deep fried bean curd with shittake mushrooms, in a red curry sauce (Dh60).
The buffet breakfast at Olea, the hotel's all-day dining restaurant, was average, with nothing hugely appetising in the cooked section, though this was possibly because there aren't enough guests for the buffet model to work properly.
The view across the beach, and the Iridium Spa, where I had a one-hour signature massage (Dh525) and drank several cups of a dreamy-tasting tea concocted specially by the spa manager for the hotel.
The lack of a pillow menu in a resort of this stature is surprising. I am told it is "on the way". Also, the room's erratic lighting system, which led to a light coming on in the middle of the night. There was also a continual faint buzz coming from one of the speakers in the ceiling.
There are still a few teething problems, but this is a grand but homely getaway offering fresh air alongside fine restaurants and interiors.
The bottom line
A double room costs from Dh1,202 per night, including taxes. The St Regis Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi (www.stregissaadiyatisland.com; 02 498 8888).
See next week's Ultratravel magazine for a look inside all of Abu Dhabi's new hotels.