Saudi recently came top of a ranking of Middle East countries for ease of doing business, but it still compares unfavourably with the UAE, Qatar, and even Bahrain when it comes down to the practicalities of opening and operating a business.
Royal China's unique charm
I have a new favourite restaurant in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). Having dallied with the delights of Caramel, and the decidedly posh nosh of La Petite Maison, I am now converted to the Asian charms of Royal China.
Strategically located on level one of The Balcony, looking out over the Gate building itself, Royal China has been many months in preparation. A sign announcing "New dining experience coming soon" hung over the doorway for some time.
For once, it did not mean "previous establishment closed, don't know when somebody else will stump up for the lease" (as these signs often mean in DIFC), but was a real description of a culinary treat to come.
Royal China, despite the name, is actually run by a British company, and has branches in London and Singapore, as well as China. It's worth the trip, as the Michelin guides say.
Clean, cool furniture, a panoramic view over the DIFC, attentive staff and classic Chinese cuisine are the main attractions. I didn't stray far from the traditional delights of the Chinese menu, going for dim sum, crispy aromatic duck, a spicy Szechuan chicken and beautifully cooked pak choy and mushrooms. It was all quite delicious.
Most of my fellow lunchers were Asian, which I believe is always a good sign. I strongly recommend.
My lunch partner was Anthony Harris, the former British ambassador to the UAE, now turned general businessman and expert on all things Emirati.
Anthony's company is always convivial and stimulating. He retains an enthusiasm and zest for life and work that is contagious, and it's difficult to leave lunch with him without feeling just a little more optimistic about, well, virtually everything.
One of his jobs is as the head of Robert Fleming Insurance Brokers (RFIB) in Dubai, but much of his time recently has been spent opening an office in Riyadh, RFIB's first move into the big Saudi insurance market.
A recent bash at the British embassy in Riyadh marked the formal opening, but there were many months of planning and preparation, not always eased by the red tape and bureaucracy that still inhibits business in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia recently came top of a ranking of Middle East countries for ease of doing business, but it still compares unfavourably with the UAE, Qatar, and even Bahrain when it comes down to the practicalities of opening and operating a business. It is an issue that has to be addressed if the sleeping giant of the Gulf is to become a truly global marketplace.
Buy and read The Submission, a new novel by Amy Waldman, the former New York Times journalist. Much like TheBonfire of the Vanities, the Tom Wolfe book that summed up all you needed to know about life in New York in the cash-fuelled 1980s, Waldman's tour de force gives you an authentic feel for the Big Apple (do they still call it that?) in the rather grimmer 2011.
The storyline (I will not spoil the plot) is of a competition to design and build a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001. The city authorities throw open the anonymous contest to anybody, but are wrong-footed when the winning design turns out to be from an American Muslim, and is based on classical Islamic architectural forms.
The ensuing furore tells you plenty about America's national psychosis when it comes to handling the Islamic population in its midst, and the prejudices and priorities of modern New Yorkers. But ultimately it also gives you hope that New York, perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world, can accommodate and assimilate its most problematic minority.
Journalists, especially in these phone-hacking times, will be intrigued by the character of the tabloid reporter Alyssa, who will go to almost any lengths to get her story; while the character of the governor blends elements of Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg to stunning effect.
My 18-year-old daughter, who is doing an internship in the city, tells me it's impossible to miss the book, it's in every shop window and is almost obligatory reading on the subway. It's certain to be a defining work for our troubled times.