Gary and Lorraine, wining and dining in the world's tallest building - with some great tips on how to get to the top with No Crowds.
After 4 years in the most international city in the Gulf, we may have discovered our favorite bar.
If you want to experience the Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest building, you have two choices. You can follow the signs in the Dubai Mall and the endless ads on news media and queue up with hundreds of tourists to get jammed in a sweaty elevator to "At the Top", the observation deck, tchatchke shop and snack bar on the 125th floor. Or, if you have a bit of inside knowledge and you're willing to settle for the 123rd floor, you can have a completely different experience.
At.mosphere consists of a very expensive formal restaurant and a wonderful, and quite romantic lounge, with what are unarguably the best views in the time zone. To get into either you must book ahead, when you are told that the dress code is "smart elegant", whatever that is. When you arrive you go through two checkpoints where they check you against the list...before you even get out of your car! Of course you are greeted by the expected team - young ladies in long black cocktail dresses slit up to here, and guys who look they moonlight for a Chippendale act.
The beautiful people escort you to the lift, where you enjoy the quiet, if ear-popping ascent to 123 in a minute or less. As you step off, the floor to ceiling windows allow you to look out at the magnificent Dubai dancing fountains from quite a unique viewpoint. The lounge is small and intimate, with a short bar and a scattering of tables - not a mob scene, even on a Friday night, thanks to the reservation requirement. More beautiful people escort you to your table (we started at one that was a few feet away from the windows, but thanks to another couple who was on their way out, moved to one directly on the window a few minutes later).
Then you get your next happy surprise - the menu. First the drinks. My strangely named "Agua de Islay" was a masterpiece - Ardbeg single malt with fig and apricot juices and a slice of fresh fig on top. the other drinks were equally creative, including an 80% chocolate martini and several takes on the classic G&T. The wine and champagne lists were breathtakingly complete (and the high end was breathtakingly expensive), and so we will forgive the sommelier for his lapse in including a California white zin on the rosé list along with our chosen Côtes du Rhone.
Happily, the chef has not showered all of his attention on the fine dining restaurant across the hall, and has come up with a wonderful tapas menu that is the perfect accompaniment to the glorious setting. We selected the green pea falafel with three sauces (astounding), scallop ceviche with a tart white sauce that matched perfectly, but we still can't figure out (lemongrass and coconut milk? Yogurt? Creme fraiche?),and a softshell crab, slivered and served with fresh scallions and hot peppers, rolled in Chinese Peking duck-style pancakes. Truly a unique experience.