You may think you have brunched. You might even think you hate brunch. But that’s only because you’ve never been ferried to your destination–a complex filled with so many food and drink stations that a map is required–down a man made canal with the Persian Gulf and sail-fin Burj al Arab at your side. Omelets, organic eggs or not, and bottomless mimosas will no longer cut it.
Having a few Hong Kong champagne buffets and Singapore high teas under my belt, I thought I knew all about luxury hotel excess in faraway places. Southeast Asia ruined me for Vegas; I’ve never bothered with its all-you-can-eat affairs. America, we can’t compete on a world stage. Nowhere is this more evident than in Dubai where they kick our ass in malls, chain restaurants, fast cars, and of course, three-and-a-half-hour eatathons.
Friday is their Sunday and the place to be is at the Al Qasr. (This is actually where I stayed last July, which seems odd in retrospect since I don’t really enjoy resorts but didn’t know that at the time. The downside to Dubai in summer–beyond the inability to take the sun’s searing rays on your skin for more than two minutes–is that you might find yourself in the middle of a religious holiday where being separated from alcohol till sundown completely defeats the purpose of the all-afternoon brunch.)
Spanning three restaurants and occupying multiple outdoor patios that abut the artificial waterways, there is more to ingest than the mind can take in at once. I mean, there’s a boat, a gondola really, sitting in a shallow fountain, where men who aren’t Italian wear black-and-white striped shirts and red kerchiefs and serve bagna cauda. As to that map, it really exists, but I was not handed one, nor saw anyone else scrutinizing one. However, I was provided with a sample menu beforehand, which turned out to be a 14-page Word document.
For my first meal of this trip, I met up with a friend’s sister who lives in Abu Dhabi, a blessing really because solo travel is one thing, but brunch for one is a punishment on par with being made to sit through A Winter’s Tale alone on Valentine’s Day. We went the AED 575 route, which includes “bubbly” and “grape beverages”–the words champagne and wine are not used in advertising out of cultural respect–in addition to cocktails. As of this second, that’s $157, not a small amount of money, though true ballers can cough up an extra $60 for Moet (or save a paltry $27 by eschewing alcohol altogether, which either means this brunch a great value for drinkers or financially abusive to teetotalers).
Halt. You are now entering pork territory. Fair warning.
This is really just the Spanish section, though; there’s plenty of gazpacho, paella, tortilla, coca, olives and anchovies among the jamon and chorizo.
What little I tried of the Thai food was shockingly good. The papaya salad with shrimp was way spicier and fresher than expected for a tourist show, and I was impressed to see chor muang dumplings in all their purple-skinned glory.
I don’t know that I would consider spit-roasted chimichurri beef to be American bbq, though mac and cheese, corn on the cob and baked beans were accurate enough. It also didn’t seem prudent to fill up on fried chicken or brisket. Same with the Middle Eastern and Indian food, which are pretty much everywhere in Dubai. We were accosted here by a presumably working Canadian chef, as if he had set a comfort food trap to lure North American women. To his credit, he cut a drinks line to get us alcoholic coconut beverages (more on that later).
Just a fraction of the sweet things on display.
Round one: raw bar and sushi.
Round two: Spanish. I could pretty much just stick to this theme and be happy.
Round three: a little Thai, a little Chinese.
Round four: A trip back to the Spanish section for squid, albondigas, honeyed eggplant, cheese, figs, and an unnecessary sampling of un-Spanish fudge and chocolate-covered dates (there were culturally appropriate flans and rice pudding, of course).
Round five: my sweets.
All the sweets (and drinks).
You can use your legs and pick up all types of alcohol. You can also just stay put and your champagne flute will be topped off without fail.
There are also Asian men in not-quite-rice-paddy-hats who’ll hack off the tops of coconuts and pour in Malibu or Bacardi–or both–and hand them to Sienna Miller-looking women in short shorts.
Ok, I had one (or two) too. Enough to make me forget and leave my sweater behind, causing exposed shoulder self-consciousness while out and about later.
Al Qasr * Dubai, United Arab Emirates