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Wednesday 5 October 2016

Pole Position - Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi

Imagine the scene. Flavio Briatore, the larger than life Italian Formula 1 supremo touches down in Abu Dhabi to discuss the possibility bringing the billion dollar super-sport to the Middle East. We'll build you a track Signore Briatore, the developers say; the best in the world! Very generous, but where will I park my 200ft yacht? We all know that Monaco has a delightful marina hugging it's F1 track, and I need to host glamorous parties too.

Not a problem for the visionaries of Abu Dhabi - We'll build the track on it's own island, and have it snake around a marina capable of hosting the largest super-yachts in the world, so that all of your friends can bring their sleek motor yachts too. All well and good, but Abu Dhabi is a fair voyage away from Monaco, and my shargreen sun loungers might melt in this heat...

But wait Signore Briatore, how about we position our F1 island a stones-throw away from our shiny new airport, so that you can get from the door of the race paddock, to the door of your Gulfstream in less than ten minutes! Sound promising? You could fly in mama's meatballs in less time than it'd take to order take-out.

A very fair point. But air-freighting packages of perfectly formed pasta from Milan to the Middle East is a tiresome affair. Far better to find some top-notch chefs and have them permanently stationed track-side to turn out truffles and tagliatelle on demand. Done. We'll build you an amazing F1 track, and a marina capable of making Monaco blush, we'll put them on their own island; practically on top of the airport; and build some world-class restaurants to keep your palate permanently delighted.

Flavio considers for a moment. It just doesn't seem like *enough* of a destination. At this point, the Abu Dhabi developers, in despair, throw in a super-mall. And a Ferrari theme park for good measure. Short of making the entire affair mechanically revolve to Beethoven's Fifth, there can't be much more to make the Yas Island project more of a global destination. Or can there?

While the above dialogue is entirely fictitious [if anything, it'd be old-boy Ecclestone doing the negotiating], there is one thing that makes a destination a destinatinon. The Yas Island in Abu Dhabi is a destination of the latter variety because of it's flagship hotel, the Viceroy.

Call it the Guggenheim effect, call it architectural place making, the Viceroy Hotel, Yas Island is an iconic work of wonder that makes The U.A.E's second city worth a visit. For too long Abu Dhabi has played second fiddle oud to Dubai, and upon hearing about the architectural wonder that is the Viceroy, Design Trawler diverted a returning trip from Tokyo to find out more.

The fist thing to note about the Viceroy is that it looks like something from the sketchbook of Zaha Hadid or Karim Rashid. It's a gorgeous space-age marvel that's fully integrated in to the F1 circuit. The work of Hani Rashid [no relation to Karim], and Lise Anne Couture, the building is most certainly destination architecture like Frank Gehry's Marques De Riscal.

The building's poised white sky bridge hosts the hotel's nightclub, and crosses the F1 track; linking the two towers. At the same time an extraordinary brise soleil envelops the superstructures; elegantly curving from rooftop to racetrack; a gigantic stingray or sheet of silk caught by the wind. At night time, it illuminates in a majestic show of blues and purples; slowly pulsating like the otherworldly creature it is.

Inside, the rooms too are poised, sleek and elegant. Everything in the hotel has a nod to the hotel's location and association with the world of F1. Curvaceous vanity consoles trace the tight bends of the racetrack, circular suspension lights echo wheels, sofas are integrated in to sweeping white forms that mirror the lines of the yachts outside. You'd be mistaken for thinking that you're staying in a floating stateroom aboard the 'A'.

But the Yas Viceroy isn't just an exercise in stand-out architecture. The Viceroy features two rooftop pools, three lounges, eight restaurants, two nightclubs, and separate men's and women's spas. Being the world's ultimate pasta-snob, Design Trawler though it only appropriate to stop by Amici, the Viceroy's Italian restaurant for lunch.

The swathes of white carrara marble, glass, swooping dinnerware, terrace, and a Pellegrino-green chandelier are a little more Miami then Milan, but it works, and is entirely appropriate. Starters from the seasonal truffle menu of poached duck egg, in a parmesan basket, with parmesan foam and black summer truffle set the bar high, and things get even better.

In rustling up a white ragu with veal over fresh pappardelle, chef Andrea Pastore made it in to Design Trawler's pasta hall of fame. Second only to the Tonnarelli alla Norcina at Terroni in Toronto, it's a dish I would gladly take the two-hour round trip detour from Dubai to seek out.

A quick stop by the spa after lunch was equally impressive. Design Trawler opted for the traditional hammam treatment, and was skillfully manipulated like said veal probably was before it met it's perilous delicious end. Served up on a warm marble slab in a room full of steam, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you were indeed entering a peculiar prep-kitchen; about to be dressed and served to some almighty deity. Needless to say, the spa menu and staff are as first rate as the restaurants, the architecture and the service at the Viceroy.

A fancy building, or quirky attraction like a racetrack or Ferrari world is not enough to define a destination. The Viceroy at Yas Island succeeds where so many other flagship projects fail because it has a quantity of facilities, at a quality that is truly world-class. Hats off to Abu Dhabi for developing a hotel that has enough to offer in order to justify a trip in it's own right.

Could you spend a week at the Viceroy? Absolutely. Is it worth making the Viceroy the sole benefactor of a week away? I don't see why not. If you've done Dubai, [and let's face it, there aren't many people left on this earth who haven't], checking yourself in to Yas Island is the smart answer to proliferation of builders and brunches that dominate Dubai. Bring your Formula 1 game and do Flavio proud. The Viceroy Hotel is this season's clear winner.
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