A royal treat

Friday - - Travel -

No trip to the UAE is com­plete with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an Ara­bian desert sa­fari with its din­ners of lamb biryani and ke­babs, and per­for­mances by belly dancers and tanoura dancers amid the dunes.

Take that desert sa­fari ex­pe­ri­ence and com­bine it with the mag­nif­i­cence of a sul­tan’s palace topped by the ser­vice and fi­nesse of mod­ern fine din­ing and voila – you’re in Qasr Al Sul­tan (Ara­bic for the sul­tan’s palace), Mer­aas’ new din­ing con­cept is ‘more of a des­ti­na­tion than just an Ara­bic restau­rant,’ says Monal Mal­ho­tra, di­rec­tor of F&B con­cepts at Dubai Gourmet.

And they’re not ex­ag­ger­at­ing when they call it a des­ti­na­tion. Sit­u­ated off the Dubai Parks and Re­sorts in a plot sur­rounded by no lights or build­ings for miles, the well-lit wind tow­ers of Qasr Al Sul­tan rise ma­jes­ti­cally from the dark­ness just when you think you’re lost.

Qasr Al Sul­tan strives to make an im­pact and has been de­signed as such. Right from a souq-like buf­fet set-up that re­quires guests to visit each shop for their food, to a bazaar at the en­trance that’s pep­pered with tex­tile, jew­ellery and oud shops, it is rem­i­nis­cent of the old Deira Souq. There’s also the Dukan Za­man – a her­itage ex­hi­bi­tion that’s a minia­ture replica of Dubai Mu­seum in Bas­takiya. Our three hours at Qasr Al Sul­tan feel like a whirl­wind tour of Bas­takiya. Monal agrees this is in­deed a cu­rated col­lage of Old Dubai, ‘Yes, UAE res­i­dents might have ex­pe­ri­enced Bas­takiya’s souq but you’ll never find this din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and bazaar, all un­der one roof.’

This in part ex­plains the hefty price tag of Dh435 per per­son; Qasr Al Sul­tan is for splurg­ing on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, and for vis­i­tors who want to com­press the day-long ex­pe­ri­ence of am­bling around Bas­takiya and Deira into a few hours. The Ara­bic ex­pe­ri­ence ra­di­ates the most in the en­ter­tain­ment. Din­ing ar­range­ments are in a cen­tral court­yard with a huge stage – whose crown­ing glory is a real dhow in the back­ground. The five-hour en­ter­tain­ment ses­sion un­folds in seg­ments and is full of Dabke, Saidi and belly dances; foot-tap­ping Ara­bic songs per­formed live; oud recitals and the one cheer­ful tanoura per­former. The clear win­ner, though, is the open­ing act of pearl div­ing songs with syn­chro­nised dances per­formed to the rhythm of drums. It’s a trib­ute to the cen­turies-old pearl-div­ing trade that’s in­grained in Emi­rati cul­ture.

‘We wanted to have a dif­fer­en­tia­tor [from other Ara­bian-themed din­ers] so we got a lit­tle bit of lo­cal her­itage into our en­ter­tain­ment,’ Monal ex­plains. ‘Din­ner is just part of the ex­pe­ri­ence.’

But it’s an in­te­gral and de­li­cious part. The souq-like live kitchens are manned by chefs who’ve pre­vi­ously worked at fine-din­ing restau­rants at the Jumeirah and Shangri-La ho­tels and come armed with en­gross­ing show­man­ship – cartwheel­ing knives and la­dles pre­car­i­ously over their heads – while whip­ping up ke­babs and man­akeshes.

A ro­ta­tional menu means the dishes are rarely re­peated but the em­pha­sis is on Emi­rati and re­gional cui­sine with plenty of hot and cold mezzes, grills, and desserts. We kept go­ing back for sec­onds of the saf­fron­in­fused Irani jewelled rice and luqaimat – an Emi­rati dumpling soaked in date syrup – but what made the food an ab­so­lute de­light are the well-in­formed staff’s speedy ser­vice and friendly sug­ges­tions.

As we tour other hid­den nooks of the venue we en­ter a read­ing room – a cosy stone li­brary, with shelves stacked with fan­tasy, fic­tion, clas­sics, Ara­bic books and pot­boil­ers. ‘We are prob­a­bly the only din­ing des­ti­na­tion to have our own li­brary to en­cour­age read­ing among both guests and staff,’ Monal says.

There are also plans to add 12 vil­las to the venue so guests can stay overnight.

While Qasr Al Sul­tan will ex­ude a sense of déjà vu for vet­eran res­i­dents who’ve tried and tested all the Ara­bic ex­pe­ri­ences Dubai has to of­fer there’s no deny­ing the lav­ish hos­pi­tal­ity, qual­ity and care that sets this in­au­gu­ral ven­ture by Dubai Gourmet (Mer­aas’ hos­pi­tal­ity and F&B busi­ness) apart from its con­tem­po­raries.

Bas­takiya in Old Dubai is not the only place where you can get a taste of au­then­tic Ara­bian cul­ture. Qasr Al Sul­tan is a valid op­tion too

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