Emerald Palace KEMPINSKI DUBAI
Stepping into a new palace on the Palm, RHEA SARAN is transported through time and space
I’ve always imagined that, for a luxury hotelier, Dubai is both a heart-racingly exciting and bone-chillingly terrifying market. There’s such an enormous appetite for new and wonderful experiences, yet there’s also plenty of competition. So how do you stand out, as a debutante on the scene? One of the most convincing answers to that question has just thrown open its unique, gilded doors on the west crescent of the Palm Jumeirah.
Stepping into Emerald Palace Kempinski is like being transported in time and space. Despite the Dubai Marina skyline view and glimpses of the Burj Al Arab – and even the Burj Khalifa and Downtown on a clear day – once you’ve stepped into the ornate marble lobby, overhung with one of the largest crystal chandeliers I’ve ever laid eyes on, you’ll be utterly convinced you’ve timetravelled to a grand European palace at the turn of the century. Pink-marble columns tower up to a sparkling gold-embellished dome; bellhops look like bellhops did in the days when the term was first invented; and floating down from Blüthner Hall – the lobby lounge on a mezzanine level – the sounds of a live string quartet’s expert rendition of Mozart.
I’ve stayed at plenty of hotels in Europe, and you’d be hard-pressed to name one I haven’t visited in Dubai, so it’s with a great measure of certainty that I say there simply isn’t another hotel here that has attempted to do what Emerald Palace had done, quite effectively. Which is, recreate the concept of a European grande dame in this Middle Eastern city.
If there are any lingering doubts about the concept of the hotel from the entrance (there won’t be), these are laid to rest upon entering the guest rooms. Chandeliers abound, gold- or platinum-tinged brocade fabric upholsters furniture that has a distinct Louis XV vibe, beds are backed by elaborate headboards and carpeting is plush and patterned with what looks like regal insignia. Throw in the marble bathrooms, framed paintings and an 18th-centuryinspired china cabinet in my suite, and the overall effect is of a slice of Versailles. My presidential suite wasn’t just palatial in design but in size, with a grand foyer, a large living and dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchenette and a vast balcony housing two distinct lounging areas as well as a gurgling Jacuzzi. (Even entry-level rooms here come in at 75sqm, making them among the largest in the market.)
“STEP INSIDE AND YOU’LL BE UTTERLY CONVINCED YOU’VE TIME-TRAVELLED TO
A GRAND OLD EUROPEAN PALACE”
Having finished my in-suite check-in with Kempinski’s signature Lady in Red, and achieved an ideal number of steps for the day just walking around my suite, I wound my way back to Blüthner Hall, which had so charmed me with strains of live music. Named for famed German piano-maker Julius Blüthner – and equipped with an instrument from the company – this stately lounge is where afternoon tea or drinks are taken. From Thursday to Saturday, a string quartet of four gown-clad ladies plays, and I was pleased to have the classical music accompany my unusual Austrian afternoon-tea spread (a different European cuisine inspires the spread each day of the week). Bite-sized offerings included trout on toast, a bone marrow and Austrian cheese canapé, a breaded-chicken morsel that reminded me of a modern take on a schnitzel and, of course, Linzer torte.
Given the extravagant nature of the hotel, it’s only fitting there’s an extensive selection of dining options. Le Jardin is the all-day restaurant, the name signalling the importance of gardens to European palaces such as Versailles. Matagi is the hotel’s Asian steakhouse, and while I didn’t dine there during my stay, a slice of wagyu I sampled from the restaurant was so buttery-soft it drove me to immediately pencil in a date to return. All’Onda, developed in partnership with chef Chris Jaeckle, is Italian meets… well, the world – word is, you can expect Japanese and even Indian influences in the dishes. And for laid-back Mediterranean, Villamoré, set in a villa down by the pool and beach, has outdoor seating and a terrace. Sharing plates here include starters such as warm octopus salad, a zingy Mediterranean salad and scallops ceviche, as well as larger dishes like seafood couscous (a take on bouillabaisse with large couscous pearls) and the best cacio e pepe I’ve had in this city – albeit less traditional with a dusting of black-truffle shavings. Perhaps the most anticipated of the restaurants is miX by Alain Ducasse, which launched during my visit and included an appearance from the superstar French chef. Over a chat and a drink he told me that the restaurant is inspired by cuisine that is, of course, French but also with Latin, Asian and Middle Eastern touches – inspiration I later saw in action in a sea bream ceviche and a Moroccan-influenced lamb shoulder. Also in attendance was architect Manuel Clavel, whose firm is responsible for the modern interiors of this three-story space, the centrepiece of which is a giant egg housing a lift that culminates in the private dining room on the top floor.
In addition to an enviable stretch of beach, an impossibly blue outdoor pool fed by fountains, a Technogym-equipped fitness centre and a private cinema, there’s also a sprawling 3,000sqm Cinq Mondes spa from Paris where parents can head having deposited their tots in the kids’ and teens’ club. A beautifully designed sanctuary with artful lighting, there are 23 treatment rooms, an indoor pool, plus hammam facilities and steam and sauna separated by gender for comfort in the local market. My Thai therapist was extremely competent, delivering a firm and rejuvenating 80-minute hot stone treatment using Ayurveda oils.
Back in the opulent, Baroque-inspired surroundings of my suite, it occurred to me that while Emerald Palace is delivering on a more Continental “golden age” style of luxury than is typical in this region, it’s also managed to tap into current trends with the focus on wellness and haute global flavours. After all, as much as a guest might enjoy a throwback to European decadence, people aren’t one-dimensional – it’s good to see the hotel understands that past and present can, and must, go hand in hand.
Doubles from AED 2,770; 00971-4-248 8888, kempinski.com
This page, clockwisefrom left: Gold details in a suite bedroom; inside the Cinq Mondes spa; a signature cake at Blüthner Hall. Opposite, from top: Asian steakhouse Matagi; the gardens, pool and private beach; a china cabinet