A visit to the newly renovated Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi not only gave me an insight into one of the city’s landmark hotels, but into the UAE capital itself.
I have to confess, as a confirmed Dubai-ite, the roads of Abu Dhabi always confounded me and the pace never seem to mesh with my style. But a peaceful weekend in the heart of the city at this hotel helped me discover its charm and calm, especially that of the Corniche, which the Le Royal Méridien overlooks in rather spectacular fashion.
The 25-year-old hotel began its revamp late last year, with rooms getting a fresh, contemporary look in pale greys and blues, complementing the dazzling blue streaming in through the wrap-around windows overlooking the sea and the city. As far as the eye can see, there are views over the water, and sunset is beautiful.
The hotel’s greatest advantage is its location: a 15-minute stroll takes you down the well-ordered streets to the new World Trade Centre Mall (home to the capital’s only Nandos and PF Changs, and the UAE’s first House of Fraser department store). You can also take a very pleasant walk along the Corniche (although accessing it through the area’s underground walkways is a little confusing).
A quick car ride takes you to the dazzling new Al Maryah Island complex, with the Galleria shopping mall the perfect spot for a sundowner, as it looks westward back towards the Corniche (I found the Moroccan tea and sweets selection at the Momo restaurant terrace was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up, but there’s also a Zuma recently opened, if that’s your bent).
Back at the hotel, what can you expect in terms of hospitality? It’s warm, clean and contemporary, with modern artwork a key feature throughout the hotel, most impressively in the lobby, called The Hub, where a sculpture pays tribute to the mix of languages in the UAE. Take a seat there while you take a phone call or wait for a friend — in the evening, it’s a pleasant lounge with a live pianist and violinist.
Families as well as solo travellers will find themselves well catered-for, with a fun outdoor pool as well as a more peaceful indoor one, part of the fitness centre. It’s a great base for exploring the city, and a nice option for those wanting to stay centrally.
The rooms are modern with the kind of ultra-comfortable beds and pillows you’d expect from an international hotel with an eye on business travellers; there is free wi-fi for two devices throughout the hotel (although I struggled to get a signal poolside).
But it’s the F&B that sets this hotel apart, making it possible to spend a couple of days leisurely sampling the various delights without repetition. There’s whEAT, the cafe-bakery with a unique menu of breads and pastries as well as full breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes; and Café Palmier’s all-day dining option. whEAT, as the name indicates, is a bread-lover’s dream, and (sorry to any coeliacs out there) in this age of gluten-free everything, it’s interesting to see a restaurant market itself that way.
The offerings are diverse, from your classic perfect French loaf, to a sugar-encrusted Estonian wreath and a buttery brioche, with pumpkin and sunflower seed breads in between. It’s aimed not only at hotel guests, but also the city’s residents looking for a value walk-in lunch.
The smoked salmon pâté sandwich was a winning noon-time treat, served with a bright green avocado-cucumber-kale-lemon smoothie from the modern healthy food menu. Feeling naughtier? Have the super-moist blueberry muffin.
Café Palmier is the kind of a buffet restaurant others should learn from: a generous but not over-the-top selection of dishes that gives more than enough for everyone’s needs. I’m not a fan of too many dishes at a buffet (I’d rather go for a kitchen that did a few dishes well) and here the well-planned menus leave you satiated, not groaning. In fair weather, dinner on the poolside terrace is a must.
There’s more exciting news for foodies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as the Le Royal Méridien will be the first opening in the UAE by French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Market Kitchen is one of the elements still being finished off as the hotel wraps ups its renovation, and will be a relaxed “home from home” concept when it opens in April. Frenchman Vongerichten is one of the world’s top chefs and restaurateurs, blending French styles with South East Asian flavours with success from Vegas to Hong Kong (he already has a Spice Market opened at the W in Doha).
Also due to reopen in the first quarter of this year is a revamped Amalfi, an Italian restaurant, and Stratos, a new grill in the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel.