x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

New taste of island luxury only soured by food

Hotel Insider: Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort, Sir Bani Yas Island.

A two-bedroom pool villa at Al Yamm. Courtesy Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas
A two-bedroom pool villa at Al Yamm. Courtesy Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas

The welcome

Landing at Sir Bani Yas Airport, I walk across the tarmac, through the small, boxy welcome building and out to a waiting Land Cruiser. The arrival has been so stress-free that it’s not until I’m in the front passenger seat of the vehicle that I and the Emirati couple on the back seat remember our luggage. Our driver, Hashim from Kerala, explains that it’s already taken care of, as he dispenses cold towels. Guests travelling to the island’s main hotel, Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa, pile into a bus.

The neighbourhood

A smooth tarmac road leads from the airport to the resort on the north-east coast. The slightly eerie emptiness of the landscape – the salt-dome mountains in the centre of the resort are to the left, next to the Arabian Wildlife Park; the sea is to the right – is immediately relaxing.

The room

I have a one-bedroom beach villa. It’s single-storey and sensitively designed, with handsome, sand-coloured walls finished with wooden windows, fencing and shaded areas. It has a small private outdoor area next to its entrance and a generously sized deck, which leads immediately to a stretch of wild beach strewn with shells, sponges and corals. The water is clear, but there are rock pools at low tide. Patio doors open directly from the bedroom onto the deck, which means (weather permitting) that you can sleep with the sound of the sea, though as I’m alone I keep them closed for security. At night, I can smell chemicals; the next morning, I’m told that the room was sprayed with insecticide before my visit. Everything else works.

The service

Generally calm, polite and pleasantly unassuming, though a little challenging in the restaurant.

The scene

There’s a nicely adult feel to this place, despite the fact that it has (unfortunately in my view) just lifted a ban on young children. The main building houses Olio, the only restaurant (guests can, if they wish, eat at the island’s other hotels, but I can’t see why you would want to), a small bar and library, and shaded outdoor courtyard; it also leads to the main pool. The resort’s 30 villas are spread out left and right, left for the beach villas and right for the mangrove-view villas. It feels intimate and even smaller than it actually is. On my first evening, I’m the only one walking along the beach in the evening, bar some gazelles. It’s great to watch the sun setting behind the mountains on the other side of the island.

The food

The Italian restaurant itself is very attractive and an almost idyllic place to unwind, but I’m a bit disappointed with the food. The tuna tartare isn’t available, so I try the fettuccine with lobster and shellfish bisque (Dh55) – it’s good, but the pasta is overcooked and the waitress initially brings the wrong dish. The crab salad with avocado, fennel and lemon on sour dough bruschetta (Dh45) looks like it’s been previously prepared and refrigerated, and doesn’t appeal. Breakfast was uninspiring and, even though it’s an Italian restaurant, the cappuccino comes from a machine and doesn’t pass muster.

Loved

The setting and the villa. Powerful, open-access Wi-Fi is included.

Hated

The chemical smell in the bedroom, which resulted in a less restful night’s sleep than expected.

The verdict

This is a very well thought-out place with huge potential; better restaurant service and food are needed long-term.

The bottom line

The hotel is currently offering a two-night package for two people, including return flights from Dubai or Abu Dhabi with Rotana Jet, ­accommodation, breakfast and a game drive, from Dh2,726 per night including taxes (www.al-yamm.anantara.com; 02 801 4200).

rbehan@thenational.ae