Dubai has been on our hotlist for a while now, not least because it works so well as part of a twin-centre honeymoon, paired with somewhere like The Maldives. But what comes to mind when you imagine a getaway in Dubai? Perhaps you picture that famously futuristic skyline, or maybe you think of opulent nightclubs and glamorous bars. You might envisage a vast shopping mall filled with luxury goods. For me, it’s always been a combination of all of these – maybe with a water park or two thrown in (they’re a big part of the Dubai tourist experience, I’ve been told).
So, on my first trip, I’m not expecting my experience to be a quintessentially British one. But that’s exactly what I get when I check into the new DUKES Dubai.
Of course, I could have expected this – it’s the sister property of the famously old-school DUKES London in Mayfair, after all. Stepping from the dry heat of the morning into the air-conditioned hush of the lobby is refreshing. There’s a neutral colour palette, lots of dark wood and portraits on the walls. My room follows a similar style, with subtly chic furnishings and muted colour combinations. A classic British aesthetic is evident throughout. It's almost like the setting of a romantic break at a country house in the UK - if it weren't for the palm trees!
One of the eateries, called Great British Restaurant, serves a menu of UK dishes made from British-sourced ingredients. On one afternoon, I have high tea in the Champagne and Tea Lounge, which includes scones smothered in jam and clotted cream. Dukes London is renowned for its martinis, and you can also find them at the bar here in Dubai, expertly served. So far, so impeccably British.
When I look closer, however, I realise they’ve actually done something rather clever here. The mood may be old-school elegance, but mixed in are plenty of Dubai-appropriate elements that make the most of the setting. The outdoor infinity pool, for example, is positioned to take advantage of that skyline. It’s also a place to sun yourself in very un-British weather – temperatures here can soar to the mid-30s in summer, and are generally high year-round. There’s also a beach with lots of water sports, including paddleboarding.
Friday brunch is a Dubai institution, and Dukes offers two options depending on how formal you want to go. I have the laid-back version at the beach-side steakhouse West 14th, which is a feast of freshly grilled meats, mouthwatering salads and an array of sides – all washed down with plenty of sparkling wine. My favourite dining experience of the trip is at the hotel’s Khyber restaurant. The North Indian dishes are beautifully spiced and utterly flavoursome, and the Mughal era-inspired dining room is so atmospheric.
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I’m only here for a very short stay – not even two full nights - so I never make it to one of those famous water parks. I do, however, visit the Dubai Mall. This is located at the foot of the famous Burj Khalifa building, so I have to stop to take some photos in the sun. I’m also distracted by the impressive dancing fountain show outside. When I do finally make it inside, I’m utterly amazed – which is not something I ever thought I’d say about a shopping centre! But this is so much more than a retail paradise. Yes, there are over a thousand shops calling to your wallet, but there’s also an extraordinary aquarium full of marine life, a virtual reality experience and an ice rink, plus restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable. If you’re more interested in outdoor pursuits, it’s worth looking into a Dubai desert safari. This involves heading out of the city to surge up and down sand dunes in Jeeps, ride camels, and even a sunset barbecue. For more adrenaline, you can take a helicopter tour or sky dive over the city.