zabeel-imperium chandeliersThere are opposing mirrors reflecting the scene to eternity, volumizing the intensity of the room. The surroundings are lavish to say the least, each surface shiny and refracting light, or dense and lush, absorbing it. Each place is set with four sets of cutlery, three glasses, candles, napkins in perfect poise. There’s so many rays bouncing around on multitudinous planes that it feels like I could put my hand in a beam and short-circuit it, turn the room dark.The people file in en-masse, as perfect as the setting. Sunday dress on a Friday. Silk, linen, labels, bespoke, hair, make-up, lights, camera, action. It’s a scene, and the players walk in on cue, silently taking the offered Kir Royale on arrival, floating to the designated table, touching shoulders at other tables in recognition on the way there. Clockwork.I sit at a table with people I know, and others I don’t. It’s sedate. half smiles and nods, chit-chat ensues, until the hungriest leaves the table. Others follow, one by one. The buffet in Dubai is not something to be tackled while absorbed in gossip. It requires strict attention, planning and solitude. The offering is both delicious and outrageously varied, and picking up the wrong piece will result in a churning belly, or an over-stuffed one. This is not time to mix ones mezze and hors d’ouvres. Nor is it time to be voted biggest pig of the table as you return with plate after plate of sky high sushi. Restraint. One can always return when the others are not watching.

zabeel-imperium bread

House wine is poured. A test of the establishment. Fortunately this one is not serving cheap Argentinian swill, and a Muscadet appears in my glass. Unfortunately it is very good, and will require much care in the drinking. Careful not to gulp. Conversation leaps to another level. Seats are swapped, and soon the girls are all down one end giggling, and the men quietly talk shop at the other. It doesn’t last long – the men start guffawing soon enough.

zabeel-imperium prawnsThe wine is going down well. One hour in, two drinks down. Time for mains. Restraint flees as I help myself to a slab of rare beef on croute. And a smidgen more of the fois gras terrine from the entree stand. Vegetables are for paupers. The spiralled tower of peeled prawns is dishevelled. A commis chef rushes out with more, but the tender morsels are removed faster than they are stacked, and soon the chef stands with the tray while people help themselves like five-year-olds in a candy store with a swiped five dollar bill.

Third drink is poured. They have changed the wine to a non-descript French white, but my appetite has picked up steam. The wine is gone before the main. The room is buzzing. Laughs are loud, and sound like wild animals – chimps, hyenas, kookaburras have moved in and replaced the ladies who were there before. Suddenly I find I know everyone at the table very, very well. Confessions, inner thoughts, profound moments are shared over Chardonnay.

zabeel-imperium piece monteeBy the time I return with my dainty plate of assorted miniature desserts, everything is funny, hilarious even. We shift back to Kir to partner the sweets, and tuck into macaron and mini mousses, gigling like little girls – male and female alike. The smokers have given up on food, and despite the shamal on the terrace, chain smoke with likewise chuggers, drawing back particles of the Omani dessert with their nicotine hit.

The call of last drinks is like Mr Hyde’s elixir, and we turn into ravenous monsters, demanding three drinks per person, raiding the petit fours and cheese displays in an attempt to line the stomach. The table is akin to the Mad-hatter’s tea party. Clothing is skewed, shoes kicked off under the table. Someone is singing, and it’s not the paid entertainment. Busboys and girls duck the fragments of maelstrom expertly – red wine, chocolate and spittle fly. Large gents stagger and leer. The few children there either look on bored and disgusted or tear around toppling drunkards.

It reminds me of Derby Day, Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne. The morning brings sunshine, tailored pastel suits, hats and coiffed hair. By the afternoon, the bellies are full, the wallets empty, the clothing mussed and stilletos discarded in preference of rubber flipflops for the way home. The singles hook up with undesirables, the partnered fight with their spouses. The train carrage home is like sweaty dolmades stuffed into a jar. Friends are lost. There’s tears. There’s laughter. It’s ugly after 3:30, just as it is at a Dubai Brunch. Those with beer goggles on don’t notice the difference, but those who have abstained quickly skuttle before they are sucked into the drunken debaucherous mire that is the after-brunch.

zabeel-imperium figs

Is it reasonable to be both disgusted with oneself and yet more than willing to recommit the crime? Dorian Gray could hide his multitude of sins in a picture in the attic. The rest of us have to look in the mirror at the end of the day, and it’s not pretty. Brunch is disgraceful example of western expats dragging a city down to its own level, but it’s an institution here in Dubai, and a hellova lot of fun. I’ll pretend if you like though, that I won’t do it again….


There are different standards of Brunch in Dubai. Everyone has their favourites, but these are mine:

Beachcombers, Jumeirah Beach Hotel. 
ph. +971 4 406 8999
When: Fridays and Saturdays, 12:30-4pm
How much: 250 AED including soft drinks, 360 AED wine and beer, 525 Champagne, wine and beer, kids 115, under 5s free
Go For: the kids. Jumping castle, beachside, clowns, magic, band, juggling, kids room with minders, toys and play stations.

Bubblicious, Westin Mina Seyahi. 
ph.  +971 4 399 4141
When: Fridays 12:30-4pm
How much: 350 AED including soft drinks, 500 AED Champagne, wine and beer, kids 190, under 6 free
Go For: the bubbles. Free-flowing Laurent Perrier, plus heaps of stuff for the kids including a petting zoo!

Imperium, Zabeel Saray. 
ph.  +971 4 453 0444
When: Fridays 1-4pm
How much: 275 AED including soft drinks, 395 AED house wine, beer, and spirits 550 Champagne etc, kids half price, under 4 free
Go For: the whole package. This is the brunch described above. Food is great and the beverage package is generous. Setting is opulent. Don’t take the kids.
Yalumba, Le Meridien Dubai. 
ph.  +971 4 702 2455
When: Fridays 12:30-3:30pm (then happy hour after)
How much: 499 AED Champagne, wine and beer
Go For: The trash. Silliest, drunkest, rowdiest brunch. Dancing after lunch. Saturday will be awful.

There are also plenty of great non-alcoholic brunches, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. If that’s more your thing, lucky you – they’re much cheaper. Best I’ve found are at Almaz by Momo, Abshar Iranian Restaurant, Organic Cafe and More Cafe.

7 thoughts on “Dubai Brunch and the mirror of Dorian Gray”

  1. Have been meaning to try Imperium's but am not a huge fan of Mumm champagne (think that's what they serve?) Traiteur at the Park Hyatt is my favourite – Veuve with foie gras creme brulee 🙂 Al Badia Golf Club's picnic brunch is also a good one – with Laurent Perrier and a huge pork BBQ!

  2. Hi Sarah,Sounds like a fun afternoon! I never did get to a Friday brunch in Dubai (unless you consider the biker bar I stumbled across one Friday with a couple of friends). Closest thing I did to what you're describing is the afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab (I took my mom and sisters). Here in Phuket we head to the closest market or road-side restaurant (I use the term loosely), perch on a plastic stool and slurp tasty Thai soup from weird-shaped spoons. I've gone from the sublime to the ridiculous but am loving every minute.Cheers,Anne

  3. I think I may be invited to my first brunch soon, and the first thing I did was hunt this post down to read it again before deciding what to say. So unsure about whether I should go and experience it, or sit it out. The description is, frankly, unnerving. Doesn't sound like my scene at all. I'm thinking: go and get some amusing observations down…may get a blog post out of it VERSUS keep your sanity and stay home. I'm going to be on this blog post for a while…re-reading.

Some other suggestions or opinion to add? Please comment