Hotel check: Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
BACKGROUND Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, the group's first property in Abu Dhabi, is part of a five-tower complex (three are residential, one corporate). The hotel tower, which opened on November 1, is the second tallest (the right one in the photo) and contains 382 rooms and suites and 199 serviced residences. Located in the Ras Al Akhdar area of Abu Dhabi, the property is close to the central business district and ministry compounds and directly opposite Emirates Palace Hotel. As befits the city's red-hot market it won't be the new tower on the block for long, with the Regent Emirates Pearl Hotel shooting up next door - due to open next year - and St Regis Abu Dhabi opening in close proximity soon. Its arrival ups the competition with established five-stars nearby (eg Hilton, InterContinental, Le Royal Meridien).
WHERE IS IT? The towers are clearly in view as you drive along the Corniche. From Dubai, it was very easy and convenient, thanks to the new Khalifa highway onto Yas and Saadiyat islands, which bypasses the city and brings you right into the centre. Driving to/from the airport though, allow at least half an hour. There were numerable traffic cones and a fair amount of ongoing construction in the immediate vicinity (although I didn't hear anything disruptive during the stay). I had to drive past and u-turn at the nearby roundabout, but access to the hotel on the right was clearly signposted. On entering the complex, I was directed to the right and to a large circular parking bay where I valet parked and walked straight in.
WHAT'S IT LIKE? The panoramic lobby makes a bold first impression, dominated by enormous curved glass panes soaring 24 metres high, and ball chandeliers (each crystal light is suspended individually by rope). The width takes you by surprise, as your mind's slipping into high-rise mode. The reception desk is discreetly located in the corner and you shoot up to the rooms via the ear poppingly fast lifts, a short walk away to the left.
One curious touch in the lifts is the lack of floor numbers - there's only 1-to-9 and zero - so to go to the 30th, for example, you press '3' and 'O'. It feels a bit odd the first few times, not least because you have to look out for some podium floors too, but then you soon get the hang of it.
One can only wonder how much marble was laid in this hotel, but it certainly provides a clean, classy look - the kind that has served Jumeirah Emirates Towers so well for the last decade. Up to 36 upscale shops will be on site when the complex is established.
THE ROOM I was booked into a 60sqm Grand Deluxe room (3007), which I accessed through smartcard. A couple of jugs and square light were on the right, and on the left was the bathroom beyond a sliding door (bath, two sinks, powershower and separate toilet/bidet). Plentiful cupboard space was available, and the room itself was a straight-forward layout with kingsize bed, flatscreen TV, underneath desk/work area, two leather stools at the foot of the bed, and chaise longue from where you could gaze out over the water. Two small paintings hung on the wall (palm tree/boat) and art on the corridor wall showed Abu Dhabi life in the 1960s, taken from HH Sheikh Suroor bin Mohammed Al Nahyan's private photograph collection.
ROOM FACILITIES The 42-inch TV listed all the room and hotel information in a neat way and the video was pleasantly watchable, with no commentary and soothing strings. There were complimentary bottles of water, fruit tray and small purple box of chocolates, and shelf of Jumeirah-branded snacks above the minibar (charged).
I didn't find the a/c unit the easiest to work though, and had to call someone up as the room felt hot. Another gripe was the undertable lights and bedside radio seemed to have a life of their own, coming on at unexpected moments.
The bottles of the bath gels and scrubs were shaped like the towers, which was fun and distinctive; the cookies in the lobby lounge were also served in a striking tower-shape box, and the afternoon tea stand is similarly designed.
Logging onto the internet - which is universally free - was quick and easy. Another useful innovation is that I'm told your room phone will work wirelessly anywhere in the hotel, so you don't have to be stuck in the room waiting for that call.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS There are 12 bars and restaurants, most located at the bottom or top. Breakfast was excellent at Rosewater (pictured), which overlooked the pool and had plenty of seating indoors and on the terrace. It served a broad selection of cereals, pastries and hot dishes - every bit as comprehensive as Imperium at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray - and there were some items you tend not to see at your standard breakfast buffet (grilled seabass).
The night before I popped up to Ray's Bar (on 62nd floor, now the highest bar in the city), which has bar stools for solitary travellers, and chic-looking u-shaped white leather seats in separate alcoves for groups. One of them was occupied by a birthday party and it sounded like they were having a blast - but the glass must have been extremely thick as I could only hear muffled laughter. The bartender was busy knocking up a range of colourful fruit cocktails when I arrived, but I went safe with a bottled beer, and it was a nice touch having a bowl of popcorn served with the nuts. DJ Cliff Townley mixes house music on Thursday nights.
Afterwards I visited the signature Quest restaurant on the top floor (63rd) and was seated at the back, which offered a city view. The dishes are based on Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese, with a thread of Singapore running throughout. I had a series of small dishes - prawns, angus beef striploin - but the most memorable parts were the 'plant pot' starter, which thankfully tasted a lot nicer than it looked (the soil effect was rather creatively created by vegetable ash) and being served a glass of fizz direct from a large, mobile leather trunk. Both Ray's Bar and Quest were busy with local expat custom, probably as a result of their lofty novelty factor.
I grabbed a lunchtime bite before departure at Nahaam poolside restaurant, which had most of your usual favourites but with a healthier, fresher twist (eg thick grilled chicken burger with sliced beetroot). From my seat I could see workers busy on the roof of a large construction that juts out into the water - this will be Scott's seafood restaurant, based on the London Mayfair venue, which is due to open in the summer.
The other signature restaurant is Li Beirut (Lebanese), whose novel dishes include kibbeh with foie gras.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES Clearly the 4,000sqm conference facilities are going to be one of the hotel's main draws. The ballroom facilities, on floor P4, have their own escalator access and feature a vast pre-function area and chandeliers whose lights change before your eyes. The conference area and Mezzoon ballroom can hold up to 1,400. Numerable meeting rooms run along the side - there's one offering striking views of Emirates Palace - and a small business centre is also available.
Thought has gone into the design of the attractive Club Executive Lounge, on the 45th floor. It's a square layout (kitchen in the centre, hidden from view) with discreet meeting areas complemented by break-out leisure areas; separate F&B area at the back; internet room; and there's even a shower, for guests who may arrive at an odd time and want to brush up before their room is ready. The largest meeting room, to the left of reception, can comfortably seat 12 and contains flipchart and TV facilities. The lounge is complimentary for club room guests.
LEISURE FACILITIES Two pools are side by side at the basement, one large circular leisure pool and another longer one to the right - the latter wasn't operational during my stay, but unlike the other had a swim-up bar; a kids pool is also available to the left. The water is a man-made lagoon, and they've added a stretch of beach, which was novel for what is ostensibly a corporate hotel.
Back inside, the SixP gym and Talise spa are located on Podium 3M. The spa menu is comprehensive with facials, body scrubs/wraps, choice of six massages, three Hammam rituals and 12 Talise bath rituals (I don't think I've ever heard of a six-hour treatment before - 'here comes the bride', 'here comes the groom'.). It has 13 treatment rooms and seriously lavish VIP room with a deep bath awash with innumerable jacuzzi nozzles. The gym has warm welcoming colours - and wheelchair access - as well as techno-savvy treadmills, steppers and free weights.
VERDICT Jumeirah's first hotel in Abu Dhabi is sure to raise the hospitality bar in the city's increasingly competitive city centre market. I liked the way that the hotel has tried to adopt a leisurely, near-resort persona while remaining fundamentally corporate.
How many rooms? 382 and 199 serviced apartments. Tower, Deluxe and Grand Deluxe rooms are also all available in Club categories, and four types of suites are also available (Club, Etihad, Sky and Royal Etihad).
Room highlights Comfortable bedroom/bathroom, quick wifi and striking view.
Price Online advance purchase rates for stays in March are AED1,104 for Tower Twin, rising to AED1200 for Deluxe Queen/King and AED1,440 per night for Grand Deluxe King rooms. A 'business first' package (includes buffet breakfast at Rosewater, wireless access, use of business centre and suit pressing) costs AED1,920. Top-end suites range from AED8,800-11,120.