4pm: Hello, Ajman!
ERM: The traffic on Shaikh Zayed Road behaves well and flows freely, but things become a bit sticky as Al Ittihad Road takes me into Sharjah. But check-in at Kempinski Hotel Ajman, the oldest five-star property in the emirate, goes smoothly. I run into a couple who’s staying here for the 32nd time in 16 years; I can see why they keep returning.
NAS: If there’s one thing UAE residents are spoilt for, it’s buildings with ultra-modern exteriors and grandiose interiors. Understated, old-world charm? That don’t impress me much.
5pm: Rub me the right way
ERM: The week’s worries are worlds away in the Ayurveda Spa. The fragrant oils used in the Indian head massage are comforting, and my therapist skilfully rubs, prods and squeezes my head, neck and shoulders. Half an hour later I’m the epitome of relaxedness. Settling on the balcony overlooking the sea is about all I can muster.
9pm: India on a plate
NAS: At the Kempinski’s Bukhara, they give us aprons instead of napkins. I guess this means the lobster isn’t going down without a fight...
ERM: Thus far three people have recommended the signature tandoori lobster, and it lives up to expectation. The meat is taken out of the shell and cubed, cooked in the tandoor, then smothered in garlic and butter before being stuffed back into the shell for winning presentation. The flavouring is delicate enough to not render the taste of the meat unrecognisable.
NAS: I’d like to try the lamb kebab that’s served with sheermal (saffron-flavoured flat bread) as I haven’t seen that on a menu in the UAE before, but we’re told that’s one of the most popular dishes and sold out at lunch. We order the leg of lamb instead. Why ask me if I would like it to be extra spicy if you will only serve it mild?
ERM: I’m more confused about why the meat is shredded. But the butter chicken is unexpectedly spicy, so I’m happy.
NAS: Dance hits from the 1990s, a full-service bar and six lanes for bowling. If that doesn’t say “loads of fun”, I don’t know what does.
ERM: Confession — this is my first time. I manage to only lose two of the three games, and even get a strike or three. That’s a win in my book.
NAS: ERM ended on his behind – twice!
9.30am: The most important meal of the day
ERM: The only thing better than having breakfast for dinner is having breakfast for breakfast. Unfortunately the service at 24-hour outlet Café Kranzler could be better. Coffee takes ages, and I leave after 45 minutes without my omelette.
NAS: Important stuff is never on my to-do list.
10.30am: Sun, sea and sand
NAS: The sun is out, there is a cool breeze blowing and what better way to spend the morning than lying next to the sea with a book in hand and music in your ears? The huge beach beds are a major plus. I only wish we’d seen the hammocks earlier.
1pm: The big feast
ERM: At the Ajman Palace Hotel’s Encore Bistro, there are people lounging next to the pool and on the lawn facing the sea. Inside they’ve laid out what’s meant to be an Easter buffet. I find the selection a bit odd and miss a theme to it all. The deviled eggs — rich and creamy with spicy, sweet pepper dollops on the side — are a clear winner. Smoked salmon wrapped around a cream cheese and capsicum filling is the most inventive option on offer, and although I find the whole salmon wrapped in rice, then baked in thin dough interesting, it’s too dry and doesn’t do anything for me. The chicken saves the Arab grill — the marinade is great and ensures the meat is moist, with a welcome hint of spice. The fake bubbly — this is a halal establishment, after all — isn’t too bad at all, once I finally get a glass with bubbles.
NAS: Easter brunch without chocolate eggs? My sweet tooth isn’t happy.
4pm: Gentlemen, start your engines
NAS: A little birdie — read: the internet — told us there’s a dedicated go-kart track in Helio Park (google Al Hamidiyah Park). We’re excited to put in a few laps, but there isn’t one to be found. Don’t trust everything you read, folks! But we get our adrenaline rush racing quad bikes around the dirt track. For those who don’t like life in the fast lane, there are pedal vehicles you can hire to go around the park watching families picnicking and boys having a kick about in the well-maintained soccer and volleyball pitches.
ERM: NAS lies! He didn’t want to get his outfit dirty and I wasn’t sure my ego could take another bruising, so I didn’t take on the preteens on the quad bikes. Given that it’s Friday afternoon, the park is a hive of activity with families lining all the paths with small barbecues. It smells amazing. It’s a good thing we ate before we came.
6pm: Goodbye, sun
ERM: We’re back on the beach, catching the last rays of the day. I’m making good progress on my novel.
8pm: A hard day’s night
ERM: We pop in at the Kempinski’s 1897 bar for an aperitif. This elegant cocktail venue makes a mean old-fashioned, and the deep leather couches are super comfy.
NAS: Too bad we’re missing the live performers later. I’ve heard it can get crazy in here.
9pm: Dinner is served
NAS: We stroll next door to Ajman Saray’s Bab Al Bahr. DJ Matt’s 1980s and 1990s hits help the relaxed atmosphere of this beach bar and grill.
ERM: One simply must sit on the terrace at this casual beachside venue. The first item on the menu that catches my eye is the unusual sumac-spiced fried calamari. This unique pairing works well with the guacamole dip, the woody, nutty spice adding a subtle taste difference. On the Greek meze platter I’m unmoved by octopus sat on cauliflower purée and find the grilled halloumi pretty perfunctory, but the meatballs in lovely mint-and-fennel yoghurt is beautifully fresh and tastes of island-style holidays. The different elements of jumbo prawns on eggplant purée (with tomato, capsicum and parsley) are pretty meh individually, but together — wow!
NAS: The seafood platter raised an interesting conundrum. The lobster (yes, two nights in a row!) tail is nice and buttery, and cooked to perfection, but the prawns are disappointing. It’s curious how the preparation of the delicate meat succeeds but that of the more everyday one doesn’t.
ERM: The calamari, which often is too chewy, is perfect; the scallops just on the right side of chewy. The salmon is almost too dry, but saved by the recommended tomato salsa – its tartness goes well with the rest of the selection too.
NAS: A chocolate brownie to share! I can finally get my fix!
ERM: My heart skipped a beat. Moist, walnut-ty with delicious chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, it’s pure decadence. I’d like this as part of my final meal, please.
NAS: Would it be gloating to say that despite throwing several gutter balls, I still managed to beat ERM comfortably?
1am: Getting to know the locals
NAS: The dust storm is gone. The tide is high. And there’s a cool breeze. Ideal weather to stroll across the Corniche, like the residents. When in Rome, and all that.
ERM: I was out for the count as soon as I hit the massive bed and super-soft pillows. Now I’m starving. Remembering yesterday’s events, I opt for room service. The trolley is laden, but is ultimately unremarkable. Note to self: Anticipation does not improve an omelette.
9.30am: On the road again
ERM: Don’t trust millennials with traditional maps. NAS had to steer us to a place not on Google Maps using the app and a paper map. It went something like this. Me: China Mall is ahead of us. Him: That’s not right. It should be behind us. Me: I can see it right there. Him: Whatever. It’s still in the wrong place. We drive in silence for a while. Him: Turn right here. Me: Where? Him: Right here! Me: But there’s no road! Him: Google says there is! We turn on to a dirt track and head into the unknown. Him: So this is why Google didn’t recommend this route...
10am: You had me at stud
NAS: You must be familiar with trophy wives, but have you heard of trophy horses? These horses don’t race, showjump, or help in the fields. But they’re kept because they have perfect noses, beautiful long necks, slim ankles and a gait that mesmerises. And once you fall in love with them, they aren’t horses any more, they become Vervaldee, Kwestura, Bess Fa’izah — multiple
winners of international horse shows.
ERM: After the industrial area we just drove through, Ajman Stud is even more impressive. This is a pet project of Shaikh Ammar Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Crown Prince of Ajman, and we only got in through the Kempinski’s connections. Billed as the home of the world’s most beautiful horses, the more than 160 horses, most of them Arabian with their distinctive noses, are a sight to behold. The whole breeding cycle is represented here — from foals still finding their feet to pregnant mares to others who have done the show circuit for years. This site provides great insight into why Emiratis love these majestic animals so much.
12pm: Time to go. Almost
ERM: I couldn’t resist another spa treatment to bookend my weekend. Kempinski The Spa’s Autumn Velvet Scrub is both massage and exfoliation programme, promising to clear stagnant energy, leaving you energised — and energised I am.
NAS: I judge a spa experience by how I feel at the end of it. And by the end of the Autumn Sleep Massage, I was walking on air.
NAS: If the food at Kempinski’s fittingly named Zanzi Bar is half as good as the setting, it’s worth it.
ERM: Having lunch under a gazebo, we make a list of things we haven’t tried at the resort — water sport, table tennis, golf, tennis and more. Well, there’s always next time. After a quick stop at Ajman Museum, it’s back to the hustle and bustle of the big city. Until next time, Ajman. It’s been grand.