"Dubai? During August? You must be crazy" said my friends. "Firstly, the heat will kill you, and secondly it's Ramadan! Nothing happens during Ramadan – you can't eat, you can't drink – what's the point?". I have to say – they were spot-on regarding the heat. 40C heat at 80% humidity is like walking through warm syrup, a passage lubricated by your own perspiration. Nice. But they were pretty wide of the mark about nothing happening during Ramadan.
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month, a time during which observant Muslims fast between the hours of sunrise and sunset and offer more daily prayers than usual. It is a time of spiritual contemplation and charitable works, but also a time for visiting family and friends. During Ramadan in Dubai, it is illegal to eat, drink, chew gum, or smoke in public during daylight hours (even if you are a non-Muslim, subject to certain exceptions) and even in the resorts no alcohol may be served during daylight hours. Shops are open (although sometimes with different trading hours) but restaurants outside of the resorts are closed during daylight hours. However, they usually extend their opening hours at night and night-life during Ramadan is usually lively as people pack all their eating activities into the hours of darkness (although there is no nightclubbing). And of course, Ramadan is the only time when you can enjoy two unusual traditional meals – Suhoor (a pre-sunrise or late-night meal to see people through the day's fast) and Iftar (the evening meal at sunset when the day's fast is broken.
At Atlantis The Palm, you can enjoy Iftar at Kaleidoskope or Saffron restaurants, or (as we did) at the spectacular Asateer, a huge function venue near the beach that draped inside to look like a traditional tent. Asateer can seat 600 guests and overlooks the waters of the Palm and the Dubai Marina skyline, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that span an entire length of the tent. In most Muslim countries, Ramadan is associated with lights and I have to say that this was my first imperession of Asateer – so many pretty, sparkling lights! From the gorgeous backlit silver cutouts that lines the entrance, to the candles flickering around the rose-petal filled pool in the lobby, to the 312 custom-made egg-shaped twinkling chandeliers in the dining area itself – pretty sparkles everywhere. I was already in love and I hadn't yet eaten a thing.
Once we were comfortably seated in the airy dining area (the apex of the tent is 8 metres high!) at our intimate circular booth, we were offered the traditional dates and water that Muslim people around the world use to break their daily Ramadan fast. All around us were what appeared to be local people – so Asateer is definitely not a tourist attraction, but a place where locals come to enjoy an Iftar treat and play chess and backgammon late into the night to the sounds of oud players. And once we had ordered some fresh fruit juices, we set off to explore the extensive buffet which is mirrored on either side of the serving area, so no tedious waiting for the hummus to be replenished! The buffet is served at individual can only be described as sumptuous, spanning soups; a fantastic selection of Middle-Eastern salads (fattoush, baba ganoush, dolmades, hummus and more); traditional Indian dishes such as biriyani; more substantial Middle-Eastern dishes (including foul mudammas, fatteh, kibbeh and lamb tagine); and (wait for it)… a tahini fountain. The tahini is diluted until it is the consistency of melted chocolate and then pumped through a fountain – like chocolate. You dip falafel balls and spicy za'atar pastry straws in it. Seriously.
I wish I had been hungrier so that I could have done the buffet justice. As it was, I had probably the best and silkiest hummus I have ever eaten, ditto the spectacularly good and fresh fattoush salad. Elsewhere on my plate, the dolmades, baba ganoush, spicy za'atar and sumac pastry straws, wonderful feta, and an intriguing spicy walnut (?) dip found a happy home, followed later by meltingly tender lamb tagine and excellent foul mudammas.
The dessert table proved to be too tempting to turn down, and soon we were clustering around the buffet for syrupy, nutty, flaky Middle-Eastern desserts as well as markedly more Western treats such as the chocolate fountain; the macaron topiaries, and the strawberry and chocolate ganache topiary. We were also intrigued by the hand-made and very pretty traditional Middle-Easten sweets that were being made to order on the spot and could be bought in boxes to take home
And when we had eaten our fill, what better way to walk off the meal than a stroll back to the hotel along the beach (although even at 11pm it was still well above 35C!!), snapping a few pics of the hotel and the spectacular view across the water towards the Dubai Marina? A few extra pics are available in my Flickr album.
Although Asateer is available year-round to rent as a venue for weddings, parties and corporate functions, the spectacular Iftar decor and buffet (165AED per person including water and juices) which we enjoyed is only served for the month of Ramadan, which runs until approximately the end of August.
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this complimentary meal as a guest of the Atlantis The Palm resort. Click here to read about my meal at Ronda Locatelli at Atlantis, and stay tuned for more posts on the resort and a spectacular dinner at Nobu.
Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah
Tel. +971 (0) 4 426 0800