By Gene Gonzalez
I keep thinking about how many of us mere mortals get that chance to wake up and have breakfast at the most expensive luxury hotel in the world. I won’t call it palatial exactly, but it is built like a palace, the closest I’d get to the Abu Dhabi Royal Palace, of which, from my room, I have view framed in the center by the east wing swimming pool. With my daily one-kilometer-long walks from my room to the dining areas and ballrooms (I always get lost going to and fro, but the staff has a great command of English and, surprisingly, a lot of them are Pinoys. Looking forward to breakfast, I make it there extremely hungry and eager to start the day with one of the finest breakfast buffets in the world.
For the east wing, the venue of the buffet is La Vendome, the hotel’s French brasserie, with its bright and cheery feel, brocade tablecloths, and a perky staff serving either Aqua Panna, if you want your water still, or San Pellegrino, if you want it pétillant.
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Cruising along the edges of the breakfast buffet tables, you will find at the end of the service area two lanes of magnificent breads with aromas that make you want to try everything. Alas, the same aromas will only serve to confuse you with this early morning sensory overload. It has all manner of bread, from the crumbly crusted French baguette—plain, topped with flax, sesame, or poppy—to deliciously rich and buttery croissants, brioche, shiny salt-dotted German pretzels, sweet muffins, a hefty chocolate hazelnut torte, buttery pound cake, and for that Middle Eastern touch, freshly made dosas with coconut sambal. Beside this menagerie of breads is an array of European cheeses and every frill that can go with them, such as a grand selection of olives from the Middle East, pickles and at least six to seven kinds of mustard, a forest of salads, and the house butter, which is French, a Beurre d’Isigny. Not to be beaten is the other side of the western cheese row, all the fresh cheeses representative of the Middle East, like haloumi, akkawi, nabulsi, and the creamy labneh.
One very interesting dairy item, aside from the wide variety of yogurt offerings, is the stretched, spaghetti looking cheese called mushalala. It has a mild delicate flavor and a texture that is quite al dente. For dips and other spreads, there is a selection of spiced olive oils, such as zatar and the staples of mutabal(eggplant) and hummus (white bean).
Another regular offering is a recipe that dates back to the time of the Egyptians, a breakfast dish called Fol Mesdames. This bean stew with its buttery texture is served with aromatic wood spices like coriander, cinnamon, and cumin, plus fresh diced tomatoes, parsley, onion, and lemon.
The egg station, with its assortment of omelet fillings, also features a unique egg concoction that changes every day. One day, during my stay, it was luxurious Eggs Benedict, on another, it was spinach and smoked salmon frittata, and yet on another, a chicken patty with melted haloumi cheese. One doesn’t line up for eggs or omelet, it is instead sent to your table. One is also advised not to touch the pancakes and waffles as the staff will serve a fresh batch upon order, with authentic Canadian maple, varieties of honey, and French berry comfitures.
The carvery is quite interesting, as a mini roast beef came out one morning and on another morning some roasted organic salmon. The porkless charcuterie selection is divine with excellent quality sausages of every variety and fresh salamis. I always had a second helping of the delightful air-dried beef, smoked tuna, and the wide horizontal slices of fatty, creamy smoked salmon.
I would always end breakfast with a double shot of espresso from Rolando while, lazily viewing the yachts docked on the marina, I would admire the beautiful planning of the Marina Mall area and wash everything down with a bottle of alkaline water—AcquaPanna one day, and San Pellegrino, the next, to calm my angry morning body system and to prepare myself for another evening of champagne, 18-year-old Scotch, and other beverages all mixing into a massive cocktail in my system that would get me dancing to the music of the evening receptions.
The original article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.