Since 1908, Dukes London has occupied a pair of ivy-clad town houses on a quiet cul-de-sac just moments from Green Park. A little more than a century later, its first international outpost is set to open officially next month in two gleaming towers on an artificial island in Dubai.
Palm Jumeirah’s man-made brashness may be the antithesis of Mayfair’s old-school elegance, but Debrah Dhugga, the managing director of both Dukes’ properties, believes the 506-room Dukes Dubai can faithfully recreate the quintessentially British character of its boutique bedfellow.
• Read the full review: Dukes London
“Dukes London is a little gem with a country house hotel feel in the heart of St James,” she says. “We want to create the same feeling in Dubai but we say they are sister hotels, not twins. People won’t come into the hotel in Dubai because it has glitz and glamour. Instead, it will be cosy with luxury service and perfectly groomed staff.”
Due to welcome its first guests on February 15, Dukes Dubai’s 400 staff from around the world are currently being immersed in all things British. It begs the question: is it unimaginative to stay in such a familiar environment? Perhaps so, but in a city renowned for building a ski slope in a shopping mall and a mega-resort based on the lost city of Atlantis, Dukes Dubai is a refreshing antidote to the emirate’s more over-the-top hotels.
In a prime location on the trunk of the Palm, Dukes Dubai is set within an existing residential complex with sandy beach. The hotel’s façade is unremarkable, with white cladding and a skybridge connecting the two towers. Step inside, however, and Dukes Dubai undeniably achieves the quiet opulence it is striving for.
Despite the marble floors and Swarovski chandelier, the lobby is intimate and understated, with chesterfield sofas, bookcases and portraits of English aristocrats. “Trying to get across the true British experience [to a Dubai audience] has been challenging,” Dhugga admits.
“For example, I wanted the bookcases filled with old leather-bound books and they were saying, 'Why do you want old books when we can have new ones?’ I have a thing about flowers too, so trying to explain the concept of an English country garden was another challenge – we don’t want bamboo, we want peonies.”
A discreet double staircase leads to Dukes Bar on the mezzanine level, where guests will convene for cocktails behind black fringe curtains. The original London bar is one of the city’s most celebrated drinking dens where, legend has it, Ian Fleming first envisioned James Bond ordering his signature tipple “shaken, not stirred”.
It’s a lot for any new incarnation to live up to, let alone in a city that accepts, but doesn’t celebrate, bar culture. To its credit, the bar channels the same gentlemen’s club vibe as its London namesake, with a palette of black marble, mahogany, tan and gold, while the tradition of serving martinis from a drinks trolley will also be upheld.
The bartenders, meanwhile, have been hand-picked and trained by Alessandro Palazzi, Dukes London’s legendary head bartender. “Alessandro is the guru of the martini – no one does it like him,” Dhugga says.
Spread over 15 floors, the hotel’s 215 rooms and 64 suites are contained in one tower, with 227 studio and one-bedroom apartments in the other. They are snug by Dubai standards, and some are awkwardly configured due to the tower’s circular structure, so if space is important, it’s worth stretching to a Junior Suite.
Rooms have nevertheless been outfitted in elegant style, with neutral tones, upholstered headboards and dark-wood writing desks. A solid brass statue of Dukesy the dachshund, the hotel’s mascot, sits atop the minibar, while framed black-and-white prints of Routemaster buses and telephone boxes add character. Bathrooms are sleek and modern, with black tiles, Japanese-style toilets and walk-in rain showers (along with separate baths in higher category rooms).
The fourth floor is dedicated to 20 Duchess Rooms, which are designed for women travelling alone. The ladies-only rooms will feature charming Liberty prints inspired by antique dolls’ houses, marking the first time the iconic British brand has partnered with a hotel.
Liberty is just one of a handful of home-grown marques, synonymous with style and sophistication, to feature in the hotel. There are in-room amenities from Floris London, fine bone china from William Edwards and furniture from Andrew Martin.
“We’re proud to play host to such historic British brands and the partnerships will also be extended to Dukes London, where a multimillion-pound refurbishment is currently under way,” says Dhugga.
With the recent closures of The Ivy and Rivington Grill in Dubai, the timing couldn’t be better for Great British Restaurant (GBR), the hotel’s brasserie-style restaurant. The ground-floor space oozes glamour, with soaring columns, checkerboard-tiled floors and blue velvet drapes.
Sunlight streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the terrace offers views of Dubai Marina, while executive chef Martin Cahill will serve modern British fare. The casual concept will also be exported to Dukes London by the end of spring.
Dubai is awash with fantastic food from the subcontinent, so Khyber, the first international franchise of the much-lauded Mumbai restaurant, will face much stiffer competition. Due to open in April on the hotel’s 15th floor, it will offer North Indian cuisine in high-end surroundings.
A tea salon and a cigar lounge will open the same month, while the hotel has already taken over management of West 14th Steakhouse, a New York-style grill and bar located in its grounds.
Another work in progress is the pool and bar area that takes up most of the 14th-floor skybridge, with views across the Arabian Gulf. Plans are afoot to build a spa complex next door to the hotel by the end of the year, while guests will be ferried around town in a fleet of London black cabs.
It all sounds very grown-up, but Dukes Dubai is surprisingly family friendly, with a small lazy river that wends its way through landscaped gardens, and a kids’ club with nannies for tiny tots and “playmakers” to keep five to 12-year-olds entertained. In-room goodies, meanwhile, include storybooks, healthy bedtime treats and children’s bathrobes and slippers.
While the young upstart can’t compete with the London original when it comes to history and charm, Dukes Dubai will appeal to travellers looking for a classy winter sun escape – and that’s something the old guard can’t match.
Double rooms at Dukes Dubai cost from £212, including breakfast, as a special opening offer and subject to availability. For more information, see: dukesdubai.com.