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Verve Stop: Dubai
Text by Vinod Advani
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

Air-conditioned malls brimming with global goodies and camel rides on desert dunes are passé in the new emerging DUBAI. With swish spa treatments, smooth ski runs, plush private aquariums and the world's only underwater restaurant, temptation and seduction have become the mantras of the swiftly changing metropolis. Vinod Advani whoops it up in the world's most futuristic city

I'm having dinner with sharks. There are two of them, neither of which is at the moment paying me the kind of attention that I am to them. The black tip Reef Shark is small, viviparous. The spotted Zebra Shark is prized for its contribution to the popularity of shark fin soup! Zip, zap…they swim through shoals of brightly coloured Fusiliers, Blue Lined Snappers, Black Spotted Sweet Lips, Soldier Fish and Parrot Fish with their startling beaks. Into this kaleidoscopic canvas, zoom the Batfish.

None of us are as blind as bats. All of us - wide-eyed and spiffily togged up - are seated in the world's one and only underwater restaurant, in the world's one and only seven-star hotel, in the world's only desert kingdom that has no oil revenue but is being archly textured and architectured as the world's most futuristic city. This is the Dubai that only the world's conspicuously wealthy glide through - the Dubai that only a financial genius could have thought of as an idea. An idea that is on its way to becoming a reality.

Breathe, breathe in the air. You might as well. You're paying for it. The temperature controlled and air-filtered air in the Al Mahara Restaurant at the Burj Al Arab Hotel (please speak the name in suitably hushed tones) comes with a tag. It's all built into the addition, which you will be presented with after dessert. Or, after the rarest Armagnac. Breathe, baby, breathe.

I am breathing in the bouquet of a Chateau Robine 2003 Cru Classe. To my right sits Loret Oberholzer, to my left Robyn James O'Connor. Straight ahead, my hypnotised gaze encompasses the sharks and the other fish, for all of whom, life in this aquarium restaurant is one long, satisfied swim.

It should be. It is after all, one of the world's most expensive private aquariums, managed by the National Marine Aquarium based in Plymouth, Britain's biggest public aquarium. Here in Dubai, they run a kitchen where each day, one of their highly paid aquarists spends four hours just preparing food for the day - different diets, ranging from mussels, shrimps, prawns, squids for the individual specimens. Some pampered fish are even fed by hand.

At the Al Mahara, Armani aficionados sip wine, dine. It's a hard life, to try not to look like Alice in Wonderland. One must conduct oneself, as if to the manor born. Or what will the very Gallic Gilles, the bow-tied, one-eyebrow, firmly pointed upwards, maître d', think of you?