Clare Dight checks into the new Ritz-Carlton in Dubai and finds courteous service and a refined decor.
Hotel insider: the Ritz-Carlton Dubai
When I arrive at any hotel, my car is invariably dusty, and my belongings have a tendency to spill out despite my efforts to pack neatly into matching luggage. The response of the valet and greeting service is always rather telling: quiet disdain? Panic at the chaos? A fussing army of attendants? At the new Ritz-Carlton there is none of the above. Two valets quickly help to unpack the boot of my car, baby's pushchair follows me to the reception desk and my suitcase is whipped out of sight. I'm given a ticket and asked to present it to reception staff to ensure that my suitcases meet me later; it's a reassuring system and it works. I'm given a refreshing juice to drink in a long-stemmed glass and a hand towel while the details of my booking are confirmed. All this is quietly efficient and no-nonsense.
In many ways, taking the wrong turning to DIFC off Sheikh Zayed Road gives visitors a more accurate impression of Dubai's financial district than rolling up at the front door. Like much of Dubai, DIFC is all shiny and high-rise around the Gate itself, with its carefully landscaped gardens and clutch of towers, but explore and you weave between sandy, vacant lots and smaller family businesses. It would be easy to lose your way to the hotel, but there are few buildings as imposing and Gotham City-like than the Ritz-Carlton. The Gate itself has attracted a number of Dubai's best-known restaurants, including Zuma, catering to the "Yippee! Lunch is on expenses" weekday crowd, but there is little sense of any life out and about on a weekend.
I'm in a Club Suite on the 10th floor, which has a separate bedroom and enormous bathroom with an oval bath (complete with small flatscreen TV) plus a shower with a stone bench just in case the powerful water jets prove a bit overwhelming. The bed, which points towards a huge flatscreen TV, is high and wide, with a duvet cum mattress topper that makes it exceptionally soft and difficult to leave of a morning. The suite looks out on rather anonymous office blocks. It's not a bad view but I'm careful to close the curtains for privacy in the evening. The decor is international - no Arabian fantasy, this - tasteful and very plush.
Be wary of looking lost in a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Wondering where the spa is? A member of staff will accompany you to any given destination whether it's up two flights of stairs or just around the corner. This is either very welcome or extremely irritating depending on personal taste. Generally, though, staff are polite, responsive without being overenthusiastic and very helpful. At breakfast, when I ask for a high chair in the club lounge (open daily from 7am to 10pm for club guests, serving complimentary food and non-alcoholic drinks) staff quickly bring one up from the ground floor. Breakfast is a relaxed, enjoyable affair despite the company of an 11-month old, with eggs to order and a great selection of pastries, juices and cereals. Staff rather sweetly help to entertain baby.
The hotel caters for business people dashing to the Gate next door and back again, and this weekend, very soon after the hotel opened, it is very quiet apart from a French tour party that has sensibly been re-routed from Egypt. What the hotel lacks in atmosphere, though, it tries to make up for with soft lighting and eyecatching interior design - at least there is something interesting to look at when people-watching falls rather flat.
Unlike many Dubai hotels, there isn't a plethora of dining options. Can-can is a French-style brasserie serving standard buffet fare; Center Cut is for meat-lovers with steaks sold by weight as well as lighter seafood dishes and salads, and Blue Rain is a Thai restaurant with an extensive menu of favourites with a twist. I try the prawns wrapped in betel leaves with ginger and chilli (Dh55) as an appetiser, which had a pleasing crunch, a spicy green papaya salad with crispy catfish (Dh60), and a penang curry with melt-in-the-mouth wagyu beef (Dh165).
The lack of bling. Every detail of the Ritz-Carlton DIFC seems to have been carefully and quietly considered: wall coverings include pearlescent leather panelling, and tactile chiselled marble as well as the ubiquitous polished variety; every chair in my suite is upholstered in a different patterned silk; the carpet (not one solid colour, mind) is so silky soft, I'd like to roll around on it. There are four different types of water with slices of lemon, orange or lime presented on an occasional table. And best of all? There are two types of bathrobe. One in thick towelling to dry you, and a lighter Japanese-style waffle robe to keep you cosy as you wander around before bedtime.
I'm not a huge fan of glass walls in hotel bathrooms. The Ritz-Carlton just about pulls it off because the bathroom in my suite is huge, so the glazing by the tub feels more like a design feature than an attempt to make a pokey room feel bigger. Nevertheless, just what is the point of introducing a public gallery into what needs be a private space?
A typically grown-up Ritz-Carlton with a polish and level of service that many a general manager at more established hotels would kill for. Guests staying for pleasure rather than business will feel a bit marooned out in the financial district but it's almost worth cutting yourself off from the rest of Dubai to appreciate the quality.
The bottom line
A standard double room costs from Dh1,140, per night, including taxes. A one-bedroom suite with club lounge access costs from Dh1,860 per night, including taxes. The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC, Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai (www.ritzcarlton.com; 04 372 2222).