By Geoff Cumming

Dubai’s Burj al-Arab hotel serves up a sensory feast like no other, writes Geoff Cumming.

She’s a treasure, is my Sami. And I was happy for her when she announced she was off to London on an extended OE, her devoted bloke Tamlyn in tow.

She’d been to London before but, like many young New Zealanders, found it no easy road. But this time Tamlyn had a job lined up and they were travelling in style – a Sydney stopover, and two weeks on Thai beaches before the long haul to London, broken up with a couple of nights in Dubai.

It was a bit of a let down to then learn that I would be overseas when she left and not at the airport to pass on Dad’s invaluable tips about avoiding the Welsh or anyone from Otago.

Then we worked out that, as they were flying from Bangkok to Dubai, I would be on my way home from Dubai to Auckland. I kept thinking of two planes passing in the night, the pair of us waving forlornly out the window.

A quick phone call to Emirates and my overnighter in Dubai became two nights, and a chance to see more of that mad city than an overnight transit hotel room while I waited for them to arrive.

Tamlyn was on a mission. He’d arranged the Dubai stopover so he could tick off the world’s tallest building, the 828m high Burj Khalifa.

Like her father, Sami is not so crazy about heights. But to keep her sweet, Tamlyn had promised to take her for high tea at the Burj al-Arab, the hotel that’s shaped like a spinnaker and built on its own island off Jumeirah beach. They invited me to tag along.

We met at the airport and took a cheap taxi across town, past the futuristic skyscrapers of the city centre and out to Jumeirah in time for the 4pm sitting. You cannot get near the hotel without an invitation – but Tamlyn had our names on a list and the security guards waved us through.

If the Burj Khalifa is the architecture anticipated in The Jetsons, the Burj al-Arab has the restaurant at the end of the universe. It was the tallest hotel in the world when it opened in 1999 and, despite the architectural flights of fancy which have since taken shape along Sheikh Zayed Rd, it remains Dubai’s signature building.

The hotel foyer is eye-boggling enough with its polished brass, gold leaf trimmings and dancing water fountain, while the soaring glass lift which whisks us to the 24th floor looks over two of Dubai’s madder visions: the Palm Jumeirah, a palm-shaped reclamation with a Disney-like castle at its crown, and “The World” – a modest attempt to recreate the countries of Planet Earth.

We arrive to find a queue of people waiting to enter the crescent-shaped Sky View Bar for High Tea, most of them observing Dubai’s protocols about long trousers (men) and long sleeves (women). Inside there are more wall-to-wall views of the coast and city towers but it’s the high tea trays – shaped like the hotel – which everyone is here to see.

Our waiter first serves champagne with extravagant style, accompanied by berries and cream. Soon after, the trays arrive (Tamlyn has, quite unnecessarily, ordered two for the three of us), stacked five high.

We start from the top: delectable sandwiches with salmon, cucumber, beef, tomato and mozzarella on coloured bread; petits fours with shrimp and chicken; boysenberry meringues, custard slices, raspberry sponge with almond marzipan biscuits, creme caramel …

And we haven’t even started tea, of which there is an endless list: Darjeeling, Assam, Earl Grey, White Yin Long, Jasmin, Superior Oolong, Milima …

Of course, you can’t take high tea without Devonshire scones with boysenberry clotted cream and strawberry conserve.

I did think the offering of hand dipped chocolates to finish risked a Monty Python moment but in the interests of research …

The bill for three was 1185 dirhams, about $200. One plate would have been quite sufficient.

There was certainly no question of any of us needing dinner as we set off to explore that other Dubai attraction – shopping malls.

Much better than an airport farewell.


Getting there: Emirates flies three times daily from Auckland to Dubai and beyond with direct connections to 25 destinations in Europe. Dubai stopover accommodation and activities are also available.

Further information: See

Geoff Cumming stayed in Dubai courtesy of Emirates. Tamlyn shouted the high tea.