LUCY SELF SPENDS 48 HOURS AT THE RITZ-CARLTON DIFC AND DISCOVERS THAT NOTHING BEATS A DEDICATED HOTEL TEAM WHEN IT COMES TO AN EXCEPTIONAL STAYCATION…
Over brunch at Flair No.5, The Ritz-Carlton DIFC’s foliage-filled rooftop restaurant, our dining companion tells us that she has a high-rolling friend who practically lives at the hotel. She’s tried countless competitors in the area but comes back every time because of the unbeatable service. American tycoon and founder of J.C Penney, James Cash Penney, famously said: “Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.” It is evident, during our two-night stint at the five-star hotel located in Dubai’s Financial District that this ethos beats at the heart of every member of The RitzCarlton DIFC team.
But first impressions first, which begin as our taxi swings into the hotel’s impressive black marble entrance courtyard – to the right a cluster of alfresco tables are filled with the buzz of locals and visitors enjoying coffee and freshly-baked treats at casual ground floor café Cake. In the gleaming lobby, a small gaggle of guests are lining up to check in but, to our surprise (its 2pm on a Friday – AKA peak tourist time), we’re waiting barely ten seconds before we’re ushered to the front and embark on the first of many delightful encounters with the efficient and friendly staff.
Our 7th floor Premier Room is probably the only part of The RitzCarlton DIFC experience that doesn’t feel entirely polished. Its size (huge bed decked with that five-star linen that never feels the same at home, imposing dark-wood desk, silk-lined window-seat flanking one wall) is more than generous, and the cleverly designed bathroom gleams with the luxury of stainless steel and marble, but the décor feels a bit… tired. Like everything in Dubai, it’s hardly old (the hotel is currently celebrating its 8th anniversary) and although it’s a beautiful space, there is certainly room for décor revamps. That being said, we sleep like a baby on a mattress fit for a princess and love the bathrobe so much we mourn having to get out of it and down to breakfast on both mornings.
Which brings us nicely to the cuisine, an area where The Ritz-Carlton DIFC team earns every corner of those five stars. Our two-day hotel restaurant safari begins with The Secret Garden Brunch at Flair No.5 (helpfully named for those, like us, who never listen when they tell you which floor a restaurant is on). Taking place every Friday from 12pm to 5pm, this is very much a party brunch, which becomes clear the moment you step into the urban garden and hear it before you see it. The visuals might be delayed by the insistent beat of the Resident DJ, but they are worth the wait – the al fresco bar-cumrestaurant is teaming with photo-ops, from suspended floral garlands to oversized pots filled with wide-leafed plants creating an evergreen backdrop – stunning.
Brunch at Flair No.5 is a high-octane few hours, a steady parade of sharing dishes served straight to the low-tables of raised lounge seating. It’s a format of which we approve wholeheartedly, meaning we can perch happily watching expert-waiters whip up impressively named cocktails at the bar and sharply dressed regulars abandoning the eating part to dance and mingle in the melee. Highlights from the menu include crisp balls of arancini rich with mushroom and oozing with sharp Taleggio, firm lamb koftas kicked into gear by a sauce singing with cumin and mint, a selection of brightly-flavoured salads – one with burrata that is impossible to leave alone – and some seriously spicy and deliciously sticky chicken skewers. To finish, try to stop talking long enough to sample the fun ice pops (we didn’t and ended up with brain freezes from trying to save passion fruit stains on our skirts).
A different experience but equally compelling, was Saturday Brunch at Le Cirque. Billed as a New York-based modish eatery and sister restaurant to its same-named Big Apple counterpart, it’s a classy affair and one that does bring to mind previous visits to NYC’s Upper East Side. Like any fine-dining restaurant worth its stark white table cloths, the service is immaculate – the black waistcoated waiters clearly trained to be charming, swift and completely unobtrusive. Wondering past a decidedly more refined clientele than the day before (no pumping music here, the Resident DJ is replaced with a resident clown as part of Le Cirque’s circus themed brunch) we spot wealthy doyens of Dubai and elegant families chattering cheerfully. Everything we sample from a set menu of eggs, main dishes, pastas and decadent desserts is top notch – a basket bulging with still-warm croissants, fluffy muffins and pastries oozing with fruit being an excellent start. Still full from the previous day, we kept it light with a sunshine yellow asparagus frittata and crunchy tuna nicoise but would recommend settling in for a few hours to tuck into the Whole Roasted Striploin with Roasted Potatoes and Lemon Meringue Pie.
Our final Ritz-Carlton DIFC excursion comes in the form of a 60-minute massage at the spa. As to be expected by now, the wellness team is thorough and thoughtful – checking genuinely that any preferences are noted. The treatment itself is faultless, our small but powerful therapist determinedly kneading away any stress-induced knots with expert hands. Floating out in a cloud of lavender, we make the most of the steam room and serene relaxation area to maximise on detoxing time.
The next morning, after another deep slumber, a farewell breakfast and an internal struggle not to steal that bathrobe, we find ourselves being speedily checked out by the same smiling team member we encountered 48 hours earlier. She’s not only as efficient as we remember, but genuinely concerned that our stay has been everything we wanted it to be. Leaving the lobby for the reality of our own apartment, we feel a tinge of envy for that lucky lady that lives there and can’t help but agree with JC Penny: if courteous treatment is the answer to good PR, then we should all be talking about the excellent team and service at The Ritz-Carlton DIFC. ✤