The splendour of Emirates Palace is home to an outpost of Chinese Michelin-starred noshery, called Hakkasan. It’s a decadent oasis featuring a bar draped with leggy lovelies and bartenders who are deadly serious about their noble craft. But be warned: you can expect the cheque to hit you in the jugular like a polo mallet. The famous Cipriani family has also set up shop at Yas Island in the Yas Yacht Club and, nearby, Marco Pierre White is at the Fairmont.
Fact: Abu Dhabi gives great steak. For fancy schmancy it’s Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, but the competition is fierce: Blue Grill at Yas Island Rotana and the Rodeo Grill at Beach Rotana are both standouts. The Meat Co at the souk (commercial quarter) attached to the Shangri-La is no slouch and, if you like lamb, chicken and goat with your beef, make like a hungry butcher to Chamas for an all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ at the InterContinental.
The sunset and evening views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from the Shangri-La and the Fairmont are simply spectacular, with Tolkienesque white marble spires on a George Lucas horizon. The pick of the bunch is the Shangri-La’s balcony bar, Pearls & Caviar. Or sprawl on the cane sofas on the green at Yas Links Golf Club, with its magnificent vista over the mangroves. If your belly is still sluggish with goat meat, laze on the deck outside Yacht Club at the InterContinental.
With so many mega-projects in the pipeline, Abu Dhabi counts some fine human specimens as residents. After all, someone’s gotta procure art for the Louvre and the Guggenheim, prepare curricula at NYU and the Sorbonne, service the Ferraris and F1 cars, and design the renewable energy-powered Masdar City.
Nightclubs here roll out the rockstar tables when you order a top-shelf bottle of spirits. Perhaps surprisingly, this will only set you back about $250 and includes unlimited mixers, a velvet rope and a dedicated waitress. That’s damn good value and a whole lot of fun, so it’s best to take a group. Or just meet a new one.
Most bars are deserted until midnight. But don’t be fooled — when the party starts it doesn’t stop. While Dubai’s wildest clubs call last drinks at 3am, Allure at the Yas Marina Yacht Club heaves until well after sun-up, with revellers jiving till well past 7am. Eight at Souk Qaryat Al Beri and Etoiles at Emirates Palace are also well worth a look. The sizeable shift-worker populace (flight attendants included) ensures school nights are kept busy, too.
The driveways of Abu Dhabi’s hotels and clubs are littered with Maybachs, Bentleys, Mercs and, naturally, Ferraris. The motoring enthusiast need only lurk by valet parking for some serious vehicular eye candy. The passengers tend to be worth a look too. But rather than rolling up in a silver cab, take the hotel car (which will almost certainly be an Audi A8 or similar). It won’t actually cost much more, and it means you’ll look the part.
Don’t get the wrong idea – packing a black Amex is not obligatoire. Although on the face of it, wining and dining is expensive, the bargains are there to be found. Ask your concierge or check online guides for where and when the price is right. Happy hours are ubiquitous and somewhere, every night, it’s ladies’ night, where women get to drink for free.
There are about 16,000 Aussies living in the UAE so never fear — if you’re after an ale from home and a fix of Chisel then Khe Sanh it down to Cooper’s Bar at the Park Rotana. And would you believe the most popular casual diner in town is Jones the Grocer? The Crown Prince loves our tucker so much they opened one as the private canteen at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
Abu Dhabi is not all white tablecloths, DJs and dancing. In the evenings, Emirati men gather and talk shop over hookahs and coffee. The best place to count the stars through the flavoured smoke is Marina Al Bateen Resort (the Riviera Italian restaurant is a hidden gem). It’s hard to find, so make sure you have a good driver.