Archive | February, 2013

St Regis, Doha

10 Feb

St Regis Doha was the first of this refined NYC brand to hit the Middle East, and its location between the new West Bay development and beleaguered Pearl project seems a sensible move – it’s not too far from the Corniche, and seems to have hedged its bets on the expansion of Doha. Made up of two towers, the imposingly high ceiling lobby and public areas have been designed with light Arabic touches – plenty of marble, they’ve held back on the gold, thank goodness.

Standard rooms aren’t as big as you might expect for such a prestigious hotel, or compared to others in the market but they are finished to a high standard and you get your own butler. As lovely as this sounds, it always stresses me out a little, trying to think of things for them to do, but they will bring  you tea and iron your clothes, which if you can remember to ask them for both, is a nice treat. The hotel is also home to the largest Presidential suite in Doha, a sprawling duplex at the top of the tower, it has hosted royalty, celebrities and dignataries – all for the snip of a sum of $10,000 a night.

One of the attractions of St Regis for me is the high standard of its restaurants. Shouty British chef Gordon Ramsey has two restaurants in the hotel, one fine dining and very upmarket, think thick white linen tablecloths and an air of reverence, and one casual dining. While I’m not sure how I feel about five star chefs basically doing posh fast food, there’s no denying that Opal by Gordon Ramsey serves up the best chicken wings and pizzas in Doha. If it’s cool enough bag a table on the terrace which overlooks the vast pool and out to the lagoon. Also if you’re about in the evening, there’s a fabulous bird-cage slash country garden pagoda style bar on your way to Opal, one of the most interestingly decorated spaces in town.

But it doesn’t end there. St Regis is also home to two more venues worth your riyals. Jazz at Lincoln Centre is a small supper and jazz club, all small dark booths, strong cocktails and dark lighting, which plays host to NYC’s best jazz musicians who are flown out from Lincoln Centre New York to perform, for free. Head to the bar around 10pm to see some of the world’s best jazz artists…and if you’re lucky there might even be some other people there too.

And finally, acclaimed Chinese chain Hakkasan has just opened its first venue in Doha. Set on the ground floor, it has a decked terrace where the right people need to be seen, and brings seriously upmarket Chinese food to Doha. Going on visits to other Hakkasans, bring your wallet. But it will be worth it.

Djibouti Palace, Kempinski

10 Feb

There aren’t many options in Djibouti, if you want to stay somewhere recognisably branded. That’s not to dismiss the Kempinski’s efforts, it has managed to become somewhere where both solider and tourist can feel at home. Built originally in the 90s as a bespoke host of a huge conference, it is a long and low affair with almost time bending long corridors. Nowadays it hosts many economic, political and business get togethers, providing a safe haven for meetings, compared to the more unstable neighbour countries of Somalia and Ethiopia.

It’s also one of the only places soliders and visiting military, sailors and contractors can kick back and relax. The hotel has built two pools – one for guests and families, and another for more rambunctious R&R, next to an outdoor bar. But as noisy as this sounds, the hotel is so large, you can easily find a more quiet area. It also has a small beach where it has monthly themed parties that go on later into the night.

The hotel has an all day dining buffet restaurant, an Italian which has a lovely al fresco terrace and a seafood restaurant out on the beach, which serves up the locally famous Yemini fish. Spread open and rubbed with spices, the local fish is cooked inside a brick oven and is served with piles of local bread, also cooked in the oven, which is perhaps the most delicious flat bread I’ve ever had. It’s the only outside seafood restaurant in Djibouti and you’ll probably find yourself dining next to army captains although there’s no need to stand on ceremony.

There’s also a casino in the hotel which offers black jack, slot machines, poker and roulette, and although it can be pretty grim in the early evening, after midnight the place is packed with lads trying their luck.

The hotel can arrange whale shark trips – an absolute must do, as well as trips to Mousha Island – a ramshackle beach bar and restaurant where you can snorkel dive and kitesurf. Also ask for trips to Lac Assal, a lake two hours north, in a volcanic area, which is saltier than the Dead Sea.

The staff here deserve a special mention. Young, keen and ever so helpful, I couldn’t fault them – if you’re looking for tips on where to get a beer outside the hotel, or where to go to for a dance, they’ll not only point you in the right direction, they might even come with you.

Despite the difficulties in running such a vast hotel, Djibouti Palace Kempinski actually has a heart.