The illusion of luxury in Dubai

Will Milner has trouble keeping up appearances

Last word, The Knowledge

Will Milner has bitten off more luxury than he can chew.

It was choking on an amuse bouche that got me in the end.

That was when I realised my search for the high life had reached a new low. Gasping for breath, I looked back through bulging eyes on my pointless pursuit of poshness.

I have not always been like this. Truth be told, I prefer camping to clubbing and I am much more at home at the beach than at a brunch. But once in a while I forget who I am and launch myself at luxury.

I think it is because I wasn’t exposed to these things as a child. Take the simple example of salt. Growing up, we had two types – a big pot or a small one. The very notion that there were different grains and flavours never even occurred to me.

So when a waiter appeared at my shoulder asking if I wanted Tibetan Rock, Pink Kashmir or Balinese Beach salt sprinkled on my chips, I simply don’t know what to say.

Nor do I think I have the vocabulary to successfully navigate a pillow menu. The Burj Al Arab, so I am told, presents guests with a selection of 13 different types of pillow on which to rest weary heads at the end of the day.

I’ve spent the last 20 minutes trying to think what choices this could possibly include and can only think of five alternatives. Even then I am pretty sure inflatable can’t be one of them.

Which brings us back to the amuse bouche. If I have learned anything from my exploration of the finer parts of Dubai, it is that you have to, at the very least, act like you belong. Confidence on the outside covers over any internal insecurities I always think.

So when I arrived at one of the city’s most expensive restaurants for dinner last week I was not at all surprised to find a little delicacy waiting for me. The perfect white disc on my plate, no larger than a dirham, was clearly a mini-appetiser for the delicious meal to come.

I’m no rube, I belong in places like this, so I picked it up and popped it in my mouth. To be honest it was a lot chewier than I expected and the taste admittedly slightly chemical but it was with a smug expression of social acceptance that I looked across to my neighbouring diners.

That’s when I saw the waiter theatrically pouring boiling water onto other diner’s discs. It wasn’t amuse-bouche I was eating after all. It was an ultra-compacted dehydrated towel. The item expanding rapidly in my mouth was supposed to freshen up my face and hands, not my palate.

As I slowly pulled out the half- chewed towel from my mouth – like a magician revealing a hidden hankie – I realised great luxury is an illusion, if you look too closely it spoils the trick.

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