A grand stay with plenty of promise in Abu Dhabi hotel.
Hotel insider: The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
Even at the hotel gates, guests are greeted by staff who look like they're in a pageant. Male staff wear elaborate headdresses and some women are in long, golden gowns. It may be a bit much but it gives you something to smile about. The valet attendants are on the ball and I'm directed to check in at the club lounge. The lobby is grand, with a huge chandelier and impressively steep marble staircase. It's quite a long walk to get to the club lounge and my room, but staff are available to escort me, and my luggage arrives without a hitch.
The hotel is at the back of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, but most of the property faces the Khor Al Maqta'a and the Fairmont and Shangri-La hotels. It's my first visit and I miss the small sign driving along Airport Road, resulting in a 15-minute diversion. Setting-wise, I'd rather the hotel was closer to the centre of Abu Dhabi, or on Saadiyat Island.
My room is on the fifth floor of a separate tower facing the water. It's a club room, which is a one-bedroom suite. It's a 10-minute walk to the club lounge, which is at the opposite side of the hotel's top floor. My room has yellow, marble-style floors, a long balcony facing the water (unfortunately, the hotel is facing the wrong way to enjoy the sunset). There are bespoke rugs and art deco-style furniture, including mirrors and tables. The best part is the bathroom - you can see the water from the bath. The air conditioning works perfectly, the bed is sublime, blackout curtains work well and the room is well soundproofed. The only hitch is that the bathroom mirror flashes during the night.
Genuine but a bit over-zealous in places. The Swiss intern couldn't get the Wi-Fi to work in the lounge, but there were computers available for use instead. The staff in Li Jiang restaurant were fast and confident.
The exterior of the hotel is rather stark; the Venetian Village, which is yet to be opened, will improve things, but you're still a long way from the real Grand Canal. The restaurants on the ground floor area, designed by the Japanese company Super Potato, are its best asset. The colour of the water on the beach doesn't look very inviting; the outdoor pool and restaurants seem to be enjoyed by well-off package holidaymakers from Europe and Russia. The club lounge feels exclusive enough after children have departed. Li Jiang is busy, with an open kitchen and deep red textured fabrics.
The canapés and snacks at the club lounge are a bit hit-and-miss. Dinner in Li Jiang is excellent. After a "pink palomina" mocktail - grapefruit juice with spiced syrup, ginger ale and lime juice - we order scallop dumplings (Dh42), black pepper beef (Dh110), crispy duck pancakes (Dh110) and mixed vegetables (Dh40). Everything is of a high standard and beautifully presented. At breakfast there is a good buffet with great juices and, impressively, fresh green coconuts prepared on demand.
The fast-filling bath and Li Jiang restaurant.
With the balcony door open I can hear the annoying sound of jet-skis from my room and the fire alarm goes off intermittently all over the hotel, though thankfully not while I'm asleep.
The hotel's location means it will never live up to the glamour of the group's Miami or Moscow properties, but hopefully, with the right events and clientele, with all its shops and restaurants open and if staff keep up their level of polish, it will succeed.
The bottom line
Double rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal (www.riztcarlton.com; 02 818 8888) cost from Dh870 per night, including taxes but not breakfast.
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