Dubai wears many hats: gateway to Africa and the Indian Ocean, an adventurers dream, a shiny, shopping mecca and, now, a luxury little Britain with guaranteed sunshine. As Dukes Dubai opens its doors, The Resident luxuriates in the British institutions making their mark in Dubai
Words: Vicky Smith
The first time I went to Dubai, I returned home surprised – I never thought I’d be able to get on board with the feeling of total excess, a place in such hot pursuit of building the biggest, best, highest, and most expensive of everything.
And what about culture? What would there be for those who travel to learn the history of a place, its roots and origins. Surely, Dubai would offer only one kind of getaway? I was wrong. Because, in terms of holiday experiences, pretty much anything is possible in Dubai, and that’s its biggest draw.
Fancy skiing when it’s 40-plus degrees outside? Fine. Want to gaze over a twinkling skyline from the top of the world’s tallest building? No problem. Feel like taking a dip in the ocean, partaking in a three-hour brunch then traversing the desert dunes in a 4×4, all before dinner? Check, check and, er, check.
But there seems to be a gradual creep creeping of the familiar edging its way into Dubai. Case in point: The brand new Dukes Dubai is the first ever offshoot of the original Dukes Hotel in St James’s. The London site oozes quintessentially old-school Englishness in all its richly carpeted glory, with muted tones and old masters on the walls, all wrapped up in a 19th century red-brick building.
But how the hell do you make that work in the middle of a desert over 3,000 miles away? As I said, in Dubai the seemingly impossible becomes a reality, and while stepping into the new hotel’s vast shiny lobby – where I’m dwarfed by a chandelier of gargantuan proportions – is an undeniably different experience to entering its St James’s counterpart, I spy replicas of the artworks that hang in the London site, and receive a low-key, courteous welcome that is undeniably British.
While stepping into Dukes Dubai’s vast shiny lobby is an undeniably different experience to entering its St James’s counterpart, I receive a low-key, courteous welcome that is undeniably British
The echoes from home continue in my vast Duchess room (located on a floor that’s reserved for women only), where curtains and bedspreads from Liberty Fabrics, bathroom cosmetics from Floris and a tiny dachshund stuffed toy (the brand’s mascot) wait to welcome me.
I step out onto the balcony into what feels like a solid wall of humidity – it’s only 7.30am, but the heat is an early riser here, and even as the sun shines straight off the floor-to-ceiling windows behind me, all the Brit-inspired interiors in the world couldn’t make me forget where I am.
As I take in the skyline in front of me, for every sparkling high-rise hotel or mega-mall, there’s a crane moving slowly around, a reminder that while Dubai has developed at a fast pace, it’s not thinking of slowing down anytime soon.
I, on the other hand, am very much in search of some rest and recuperation, so make my way to the hotel’s private beach – a rarity among the many hotels in Dubai. Taking advantage, I settle in and, in true British style, sit under the sun’s full rays for approximately 10 minutes before retreating under a shade to discuss the temperature in depth.
Like its London counterpart, Dukes Dubai is located in one of the fancier parts of town – The Palm. This man-made island in the shape of – you guessed it – a palm tree, houses some of the finest hotels and houses (small palaces) you’ll find in the emirate. Atlantis hotel, one of Dubai’s most iconic structures, stands on the outer ring of the island, while Dukes is nestled at the other side, granting an impressive view over the Dubai Marina.
It’s claimed that Ian Fleming gave Bond his passion for martinis because of the ones served at Dukes London, so if you’re staying here, it’s a must
Despite preconceptions that drinking in this part of the world is unwise, within the confines of a hotel, and providing you show respect in a place that’s traditionally dry, it’s not a problem. In fact, one of Dukes’ biggest draws is the chance to sample its signature martini in its chic bar.
It’s claimed that Ian Fleming gave Bond his passion for martinis because of the ones served at Dukes London, so if you’re staying here, it’s a must. They’re created table-side with a serious dose of showmanship, and the iconic vodka/vermouth blend is as potent as you’d imagine for a drink favoured by an international spy.
Food and drink is indeed superlative throughout the 275-room hotel, and assistant food and beverage manager Dean Jarvis spent the last decade working at Claridges before making the move east to Dubai, so you can expect dishes with a thoroughly British edge, whether that’s fish and chips at GBR (Great British Restaurant), afternoon tea in the Champagne and Tea Lounge, or an Indian banquet in the spectacular top-floor restaurant Khyber. Fish comes from Billingsgate, lamb is imported from Wales, and there’s more than one glass of Pimm’s enjoyed during our stay.
Double rooms at Dukes Dubai start from £187/AED 875 in low season; and from £316/AED1,478 in high season. Breakfast included. For more information visit dukesdubai.com and visitdubai.com (prices in GBP are based on today’s exchange rate)
The British institutions making Dubai home
Dukes isn’t the only British export to Dubai, and with around 240,000 UK expats currently living there, it’s unsurprising that a raft of UK brands and exports thrive in the emirate. There are even some of the UK’s favourite sporting exports to enjoy – the major difference being, of course, that the chance of rain putting a dampener on things is greatly reduced.
Food and drink
Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen has made the transition from St Paul’s in London to the Atlantis hotel in Dubai, bringing with it the warehouse-style vibe that’s made it such a hit in the UK. Ramsay isn’t the only Brit chef cooking up a storm in the emirate, with Jason Atherton recently opening Marina Social, while veteran English chef Gary Rhodes runs Rhodes Twenty10 in Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort.
Arts and Culture
The British Council in Dubai works to promote people in Dubai with learning opportunities and creative ideas from the UK. This includes performances, such as the ‘Shakespeare Under the Stars’ series, which this year staged Macbeth in an immersive experience, using the original text but moving all the action to be set in Dubai. Currently on show is an exhibition by British contemporary sculpture Tony Cragg.
The great British high street
There isn’t just one branch of M&S in Dubai, there’s eight. With so many British expats in town, it’s hardly surprising that the demand for prawn mayo sandwiches would be high, and the brand is thriving in the emirate. A John Lewis has also just opened (much to the delight of the members of expat forum britishmums.com), as well as a Tesco and WH Smith. Just like going down your local high street. But hotter.
British Polo Day is a big part of Dubai’s sporting and social calendar, with teams from the likes of Eton, Harrow, Oxford, Cambridge and the British Army competing. Meanwhile, Liverpool FC have launched an international youth academy in Dubai to hone youngsters’ talent and interest and there’s a thriving cricket scene, too. If you prefer to watch than participate, then it doesn’t get more best of British than sports bar the Crown and Lion where you can settle in to watch the match against a backdrop of wood-panelled walls, darts boards and old pub mirrors.