Bab Al Shams
From The English Patient to Lawrence of Arabia, few settings spell romance as much as an authentic fort surrounded by sand dunes. Bab Al Shams is no movie set, however – it is the five-star luxuriously tranquil resort with a famous open-air Al Hadheerah desert restaurant that boasts an authentic ‘experience’.
That means there is a fabulously decadent Arabic menu, along with Indian and international dishes, but the food is just one ingredient on a unique night beneath the stars. We, like most tourists, have done a desert safari before having an Arabic feast in a Bedouin-style camp, and I worried that a night out at Bab Al Shams would be just a more upscale, and expensive version of that.
I needn’t have fretted. Firstly, we were picked up at our apartment by a driver, who took us to the resort an hour away from Dubai, without going anywhere near a dune, and delivered us at the restaurant, explaining that he would wait however long it took to drive us back again.
Then we were escorted to our table under the stars – we were far enough from the city to have a night sky only lit up by the MilkyWay – and told to help ourselves to whatever we wanted to eat. The live buffet stations were more like a bustling market place than a restaurant and the sights and smells were amazing.
I loaded my first plate with salad, but on my
I discovered the Indian quarter with bubbling vats of vegetable biryani, dahl and paneer
second visit discovered the Indian quarter with bubbling copper vats of vegetable biryani, dahl and paneer. I sampled them all – rich delicacies, made all the tastier by the cool evening air, while my husband feasted on lamb ouzi, barbecued prawns, fresh seabass and vegetables.
Along with the food we were treated to Arabic singers, and whirling dervishes, along with camel and horse rides for the brave. But it was a five-star version, with a dazzling display of horsemanship as 20 riders pranced, performed dressage, ‘battles’ and daring ‘tricks’ against a backdrop of inky sky. And if that wasn’t enough, we were treated to an equally amazing fireworks display, which lit up the black canvas with brilliant explosions of magenta, green, silver and gold above us.
Snuggling into a warm pashmina against the cool, desert breeze, I smiled, realising how lucky I was. There were myriad entertainment options still to enjoy – henna artists were on hand to create sophisticated patterns along with artisans with authentic wares to haggle over, and a driver waiting outside to whisk me back to Dubai.
But first, there was the agonising choice over which dessert to choose. I finally opted for a rich and creamy Arabic classic, umm ali, then headed to the safety of our chauffeur. I was so relaxed I fell asleep on the journey home, as my mind drifted back to dream of the romantic sights, sounds and flavours of our Arabian fairy tale.