Well lucky me. I’d found a cosy hideaway in the top floor Royal Club Lounge giving me a front row bird’s eye view of the Arabic Dhow boats setting off up Deira Creek on their evening dinner cruises. “Must book one of those for tomorrow night” I thought to myself as I sipped a smooth scotch and contemplated a chocolate dipped date. Such is life at the Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek, a world away from the razzle dazzle Dubai of Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim.
This is very much old Dubai; the Creek, a vital artery supplying the goods for the colourful collection of merchants residing in the warren of streets and souks a stone’s throw from the water’s edge.
Turns out the Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek has its own piece of Dubai Creek history. When it first opened in 1975 as the Intercontinental, it was not only the first luxury hotel in Dubai, it was, unbelievably, the tallest! Forty years on, it’s lack of size in relation to its taller neighbours has no bearing on its stature. It is still one of the iconic places to stay in Dubai if you yearn for a luxury stay away from all the high rise hullabaloo.
The early evening Creek strollers were out in force as I arrived after a mercifully short transfer from the airport, the light breeze down by the water’s edge always a magnet for a quayside walk. It was a mercifully short check in too; a smile, a cool serviette, fruit juice and a signature and I was up in my Royal Club Class room. A space dominated by the king bed and flat screen TV. With 40 years’ service behind it, the room was what I would call mature; that’s not to say it was in need of major work, but perhaps a cosmetic spruce up, although the bathroom was on the small side. A Nespresso machine winked at me from the top of the dresser and I was tempted to have a coffee outside on the balcony, but I wanted to get up to the Club Lounge before happy hour finished and enjoy a free drink or two before dinner.
Talk of dinner brought on a bevy of complex decisions with no less than nine options to choose from; a trio of Asian possibilities with The China Club, Yum! or the Japanese inspired Minato, the 24 hour buffet style Boulevar, seafood at The Fish Market, Persian fare at Shabestan, an English Pub, Emirati food at Aseelah and an authentic Arabic experience on board the hotel’s own Dhow on the Creek, the Al-Mansour.
Having already promised myself a cruise along the Creek for my second night, I picked Shabestan mainly because it had attained an almost institution-like status with the locals with Chef Shirazi at the helm for over 22 years. It was something of a surprise though, not the kind of restaurant you would expect in a 5 star hotel, much more intimate and genuine really, almost like a very large lounge of a Persian household if you get my drift. I made friends with the bread maker very quickly, an ancient gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English but patiently took me through the process of making fresh Persian flat bread. Slapping dough to the side of a burning hot clay oven is not a simple task, but my new friend had a languid style all of his own that made it look easy. I decided that eating it was a lot less work than cooking it, so went back to my table to take in the feast.
The food isn’t what you would call fine dining, or clever creative gastronomy. It is though, traditional and very authentic Persian fare full of exotic flavours and very full plates. A sabzi khordan salad with radish, lettuce, tomato, feta and herbs went down very well with mint, yoghurt and piping hot flat bread. An ash-e-reshteh thick bean soup was next followed by a plate of aubergines, pureed tomato and egg with a fabulously marinated kebab filet and rice the tipping point for me. I had just enough energy and room left to sip a cup of mint tea and nibble sweet baglawa while enjoying some live Persian music.
After dinner, a much needed late night stroll around the bustling streets behind the Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek, an area teeming with shops selling everything from clothes to electronics.
A new day dawned and that long awaited coffee was finally taken on my balcony, the early morning sun already warm, a reminder of another hot day to come.
Back downstairs and a very impressive breakfast buffet at Boulevar, although I could have eaten a smaller selection up at the Royal Club Lounge. Boulavar is the latest public room to be renovated in a program of extensive renovations at the hotel over the next 6 months. Plenty of options from healthy salads and fruit to hot international favourites and traditional Arabic dishes like hummus and ful.
After spending a morning exploring the souks and markets around the Creek area, all within walking distance of the Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek. I finally found the spice market, wall to wall shops offering piles of every spice known to man, from saffron to sage and everything in-between. “Smell this” said a vendor as he thrust a stick of cinnamon in my hand. “The finest you will get anywhere in Dubai.I promise!” Much as I would have loved to test the validity of his promise, I felt the draw of poolside rest come on before my evening Creek cruise and beat a retreat back to the hotel.
As the whole swimming pool complex was under renovation, I was offered free use of the neighbouring Sheraton poolside for the afternoon. Perfect.
The Al-Mansour, a wonderfully authentic Arabic Dhow was docked just opposite the Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek and was set to sail at 8pm for a two hour buffet cruise along the Creek.
Joining some fellow guests on the top deck and a couple of ex-pats Mike and Lizzie who were on the next table proved to be a great move. It was a joyful way to see Dubai after dark, the river offering up a welcome gentle breeze as the Deira district unfolded on both sides of us. I shared a hilarious drinks moment with Mike and Lizzie who had asked the waiter for a “rum and coke” and was given a “warm coke, especially for you madam.”
The coke had been warmed by a heater for 15 minutes before it was delivered! It was clearly lost in translation, but gave us all, including the waiters, a good laugh.
The drink incident was a light hearted matinee to the main event, the Al-Mansour dinner buffet comprising an impressive 3 course array of Indian, Arabic and western dishes freshly prepared by the hotel kitchen.
The cruise was an excellent option and great value at just AED 185 or £35 per person, although the alcoholic drinks were very pricey but that was to be expected in a country where alcohol is only allowed in hotels and restaurants.
The Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek has a long legacy of luxury hospitality in Dubai and still fully justified its legendary status which is no mean feat considering the competition. Diera Creek showcases an entirely different aspect to Dubai which is well worth considering for a short stay, as I was, before moving on to Radisson Blu Hotel Yas Island Abu Dhabi.
As for me, I just wanted to get in another smooth scotch before the Royal Club Lounge happy hour finished.
Shebastan images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about the Radisson Blu Hotel Deira Creek
Royal Club room rates for the summer are from 490 AED per night which include private check in and check out at the Royal Club reception, breakfast, high tea and happy hour free drinks and canapes in the Royal Club lounge and free transfers to and from Dubai airport.
Bani Yas Road
United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 4 222 7171
Airport parking at Heathrow
UK Airport car parking: I Love meet and greet provides valet parking at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports. Prices for one week’s parking in June at Heathrow start from £98.98. For more details and to book please visit: www.ilovemeetandgreet.co.uk.