Eating In The World's Only 7 Star Hotel - What Is The Burj Al Arab Really Like?
You've seen the outside in pictures everywhere, but what's it like to eat there?
Dubai is one of the most spectacular cities in the world, and if one building was to define it then it would have to be the Burj Al Arab Hotel. Said to have cost over $1 billion to construct, it has fast become as iconic a global landmark as The White House or the Eiffel Tower.
Aside from viewing the incredible exterior, very few people actually get to step through the front door and see how the other half live - so we thought it our duty to get inside, check the place out and review the food in full...
As you can imagine, at such a well-known building there are people straining their necks and whipping out the selfie sticks all around the perimeter of the hotel. Security is very tight. Unless you have a booking confirmation for a room or a dining reservation, you simply won't get in. The hotel is effectively on a tiny island with a road leading out to it, so unless you're paying, the closest you'll get is a couple of hundred yards.
They do offer a pick-up service with their fleet of white Bentleys, but we were driving and used the valet parking service instead. Cruising across the bridge and looking up at the smooth white exterior of the building is one of those moments where you feel your heart race a little. Suddenly, we were one of the chosen ones and it felt like arriving at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Entering another world.
As soon as you set foot in the lobby, your eyes are drawn in 100 different directions. Elegant water features spout jets in a myriad of directions and your senses are assaulted by a kaleidoscope of colour and activity. The reception area is full of seriously important-looking people; checking into their expensive suites while staff diligently run around after them.
We headed up the gold escalators clutching our lunch booking like two schoolboys late for class. The magic really starts when you reach the atrium and look up into the building's interior. No photos could ever do it justice, and you can quickly understand where the $1 billion price tag comes from. Amazingly all the mad designs, features, gold and art actually work. It doesn't feel over the top or gaudy, but actually just right. It's exactly what the world's most luxurious hotel should look and feel like.
There are a selection of fine restaurants here, but we settled on Al Muntaha, which is at the very top of the building in the unusual structure I've highlighted on the image below.
A high speed lift whisks you up to the restaurant in what feels like a combination of paragliding behind a boat and being shot into space. Arriving on the top deck is an otherworldly experience and given the way it's built (jutting out from the hotel) all you can see is the deep blue seawater and incredible city panoramas through the huge, floor-to-ceiling windows. As views go, this is as good as it gets. We were smart coming at lunch because the natural daylight seemed only to enhance the whole experience.
This is the main reason we'd come here, and sitting down at the perfectly starched linen tables looking out to sea had us licking out lips. We decided on the three-course lunch menu with a glass of wine.
The bread came out and - although decent - it didn't set the world on fire. A couple of dips were average at best, but we were still too busy taking it all in to really worry. My scallops starter was nicely cooked and a perfect little entree. Same with the tuna, which unusually came with shaved coconut - something that my dining partner, Richard, loved.
The mains for me were a let down. My veal was overcooked, dry and lacked any flavour at all. The truffle macaroni it was served with sounded amazing on the menu but in reality was a big gloopy tasteless mess. Nothing about the dish worked and the two limp pieces of asparagus were the final insult.
We finished with a deliciously rich chocolate cake; the perfect end to the meal. It had the obligatory gold finish (tastes of very little) and was as luxurious as the surroundings.
A couple of coffees came served with six gorgeous little petit fours, which were big enough to be a dessert in their own right. The service throughout was super attentive with a seriously knowledgable sommelier doing a killer job.
We were left for 10 minutes towards the end waiting for the bill, but with a view like that and the place filling up, there are worse places to be stuck. In fact, the classical music being performed by the restaurant's pianist made things even more relaxing.
Our entire meal came to AED 1,600 ($450) which included water and glass of wine each. Certainly not cheap, but eating here at lunchtime is the more affordable option.
A quick glance at the menu showed wines at AED 80,000 (about $20,000) and caviar at prices that would involve remortgaging your house. Put it this way, if you want to bring some rich friends and show off by spending thousands on a meal, then this is the place to do it!
I wouldn't normally mention the toilets when reviewing a place, but I thought they were worth highlighting here. They were so clean and well looked after that I'd have happily eaten my dinner off the floor, rather than a plate.
Gold leaf, aftershaves, fresh towels (arranged by somebody with OCD) and the whole set up more tastefully decorated than some art galleries. I can easily say these are the best restaurant toilets I've ever been in (I've eaten at a lot of places) and were very befitting the venue.
So, is it worth it?
As a once in a lifetime experience: yes, absolutely. The prices are steep, but you'd spend the same on a trip for two to do some activities in Dubai and have a normal meal. You aren't going to be coming here every fortnight to devour steaks and wash it down with endless bottles of wine because you'd be broke in no time.
It's a place to save up for and bring visiting relatives; for a goodbye party when leaving the city, or for an incredibly special birthday or anniversary. I'm glad we went and I enjoyed every single second of it.
It's one of those things to tick off the list that very few people can say they've done. And, although I've had better food in Dubai, I've never been inside a more incredible building anywhere in the world.