The style-led getaway is staking a claim to being the UAE's first design hotel.
Hotel insider: Rocco Forte Abu Dhabi
The rippling blue and green glass building is more striking than the attention I receive from the valet staff, who look rather bemused as I sit in my car waiting for someone to open the door. Eventually, the stand-off ends and I'm ushered inside to be greeted more appropriately.
Intended to represent the form of a sand dune and the colours of the Arabian Gulf, the recently opened, 281-room Rocco Forte Hotel near Zayed Sports City, just off Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Road, is a bold but simple architectural statement for a city where more is usually more. The reason? Rocco Forte Hotels is a European chain better known for smaller, style-led and historic properties, thanks in part to the design talents of Olga Polizzi, sister of British hotelier Sir Rocco Forte.
Somewhat adrift from downtown Abu Dhabi, the hotel has been opened to service the needs of visitors to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) and the high-rise Capital Centre area, which is still under construction.
There are three categories of double room and five suite categories ranging from the 70m Junior Suite to a 235m Royal Suite. Polizzi's flourishes can be found in the thoughtful, eclectic furnishings. The paintings on the walls are by a local artist and the Arabic script over my bathtub pleads for rain in the desert - all sympathetic touches. Given the proximity of one of Abu Dhabi's main roads, my Grand Suite (105 sq m), with its separate living area and enormous balcony overlooking the Zayed Sports City Stadium, is remarkably quiet.
Expect tracksuited sports stars as well as business executives shuttling to and from Adnec. When the Ivory Coast national football team stayed to train at the stadium nearby, they treated guests to feel-good dance moves in the lobby.
A beautifully suited and perfectly pleasant butler shows me to my suite and gives me a tour of the executive lounge with its "complimentary" food and drinks and array of business services. All goes well until I need his help to turn on the flatscreen TV in the bathroom. There's no answer at the concierge desk and I don't have a number to contact him directly. Housekeeping agrees to send someone to assist me but while I wait my bath water goes cold.
The Italian restaurant Oro is a gem, thanks to its Art Deco-styling in accents of pink and gold.
For lunch, I tried the succulent free-range chicken breast with wild mushrooms (Dh90). Delicious. Upstairs, Rouge is a modern Chinese and Japanese restaurant serving up staples such as dim sum (Dh45) and Cantonese roasted duck with plum sauce (Dh115). My main course of soy honey-glazed black cod with parsnip purée and scallion oil (Dh145) was perfectly cooked and managed to be sweet without being cloying. Staff here (as elsewhere) are knowledgeable and friendly, which almost makes up for the inevitable lack of intimacy: the restaurant sits within the huge atrium space that gives the hotel its unique looks.
The unexpected library of books dotted around my suite, including volumes by Adonis, Rumi and Raymond Chandler.
The hotel's rather inauspicious entrance just back from the road, behind a car park, fails to entice.
The Rocco Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi is staking a claim to being the UAE's first design hotel. Expect it to develop a following among those jaded by palatial chic.
The bottom line
A double room costs from Dh754 per night, including breakfast and taxes. Rocco Forte Hotel, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Road, Abu Dhabi (www.roccofortehotelabudhabi.com; 02 617 0000).