London has Big Ben. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Chicago has the John Hancock building. For the city of Dubai, its iconic symbol has become the sail shaped Burj Al Arab hotel. Staying at this luxurious and ultra exclusive hotel is out of reach for most of us. But an afternoon tea or high tea at Burj Al Arab was one experience that was a doable splurge for my pocketbook.
The Burj Al Arab is the only (self proclaimed) seven star hotel in the world. It’s the third tallest hotel in the world, but despite its size, it only has 202 all suite rooms on 28 double height stories. The smallest suite takes up “only” 1800 square feet. The hotel is built on its own man made island, accessible by a bridge to the mainland. But don’t expect to pop in for a quick visit unless you have a reservation at one of the hotel’s facilities. The validity of your reservation will be confirmed at the guarded gate before you are allowed to enter the grounds.
The Burj Al Arab has a number of highly rated restaurants, but I like a good afternoon or high tea experience when I can find it, so that was my preferred choice. Afternoon tea is offered in two of the hotel’s restaurant locations: the Sahn Eddar atrium restaurant with three seatings in the afternoon, or at the Skyview Bar on the 27th floor which offers four afternoon seating times. High Tea is offered only in Sahn Eddar with seatings at 7 PM and 8 PM. The High tea option worked best with my planned travel itinerary and I made the 7 PM reservation before I left home.
Before heading to the Burj Al Arab, I stopped at the nearby Jumeriah Public Beach to get photos of Dubai’s icon at sunset. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the hotel lit up like a jewel in the night.
My hotel for that night, the Park Regis Boutique Hotel, was nearby so that I could walk both to the beach and then back to my hotel after my high tea experience. It was a quick 15 minute walk from the beach to the Burj Al Arab entrance gate. As I walked across the bridge to reach the hotel’s private island, the colors lighting up the front slowly changed across the spectrum. (I have to admit though, that from the angle I was approaching, the building looked a little like the belly of a large insect?)
After confirming my reservation with the security guard at the gate, I made my way inside the hotel. On the way I passed a few of the Rolls Royce fleet the hotel uses to transport their guests. As I entered, I got my first hint of the world’s tallest atrium as it peeked out over the floor-to-ceiling Cascade Waterfall fountain in the lobby.
I specifically picked High Tea at the Sahn Eddar atrium restaurant so that I could gawk (yes I admit it) at this impressive space while enjoying my treats. The open space inside this icon holds the title for the tallest atrium in the world. As you look up, the colors of each floor progress from blue to azure to green to lemon yellow, like the colors of the ocean outside fading into the sky and the noon day sun.
Sahn Eddar, which means “Reception of the House” in Arabic, is a vibrant and colorful space decorated in royal blues, reds and gold – colors reminiscent of a traditional Persian rug, yet here they were combined and presented in a very modern and sophisticated design. So, while the name means reception, this floor has restaurants and shops, but no reception desk. That is because each floor of suites has its own reception area and check in is done in the privacy of each suite.
The high tea menu started out with a selection of savory treats and a glass of bubbly from South Africa. The items were certainly very unique – like the Baked Eggplant, Sumac and Mohamarra Slice or the Cured Red Snapper in a Squid Ink Cone. I did not recognize all the ingredients, but the presentation was beautiful, and everything tasted very, very good.
The next course was the traditional scones and jam, but there was nothing traditional about their flavors, which were inspired by the region. Chocolate-Cardamon and Sumac-Barberry scones served with homemade passion fruit jam, date jam, and of course, clotted cream. All this with a choice of hot teas or hot herbal infusions (like Elderflower with Lemon). The tea came with a silver tiered stand that offered every possible additive you might want to add to your tea: honey, a variety of sugars, mint, lemon, and more that I don’t remember.
The final course was the Sweet Stand with treats like Pistachio and Orange Blossom Sponge Tart, and Spiced Carrot and Cinnamon Cake with Mint Cream and Salted Orange and Caraway Tuille. Again, the presentation was exquisite and the flavors of all four deserts absolutely delicious. Individually, it did not look like a lot of food, but by the time I was done, I was quite full. I was glad I did not choose the afternoon tea, which I was told, included many more courses.
Throughout the meal, a quartet played a variety of musical selections, both classical and modern. It goes without saying that the service was very attentive. Their website proudly promotes that “Unrivalled personalized service is a signature of Burj Al Arab.” With over 1600 employees, the staff to suite ratio is 8:1 – among the highest in the world.
After one more look up into the sail of this luxurious land locked ship, I walked off some of the calories back to my hotel, which was definitely not as luxurious, but more than adequate. My High Tea at the Burj Al Arab had indeed been a very memorable experience.
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