The Friday brunch at Al Qasr is quite rightly the stuff of legend. It is rumoured to be the first Friday brunch to exist in the UAE and remains hugely popular attracting hundreds of hungry guests each and every Friday without fail. It is also arguably the biggest brunch on the Dubai dining scene with an overwhelming selection of food available, that will quite possibly cause your brain to go into sensory overload. This brunch is so large that at one point you were given a map to help you navigate your way through the various bars and food options on offer. Things have changed slightly now but it is still an extravagant affair.
Our recent brunch at Al Qasr was our first visit to the hotel and we were astounded by what we found. On the approach to the hotel we were greeted by solid gold horses galloping across the grassed lawns, providing a sense of grandeur and foreshadowing the opulence that we were about to experience. The word Qasr translates as fort in Arabic and that is exactly what we encountered at the top of the resorts long driveway. The architecture of the hotel is a mixture of Islamic and colonial African influences and it is truly stunning.
Exiting the car at the valet we found the staff to be extremely polite and helpful and they were dressed like sheikhs from the 1001 Arabian Nights tales. Taking in our surroundings the hotels exterior is surrounded by pools of tranquil water and trickling fountains, whilst large Arabic carpets are laid out on the floor to welcome you into the main entranceway. As we entered the hotel lobby our eyes were immediately drawn upwards to the decadent chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, which are a thing of beauty in their own right and further enhance the Arabic setting of the resort.
Brunch begins at 12:30pm and we found ourselves queuing down the main stairway to reach our table. Thankfully despite the large number of people the line moved quickly and we were seated promptly. We opted to sit on the outside terrace of Arboretum restaurant which transpired to be a great location on the side of the Madinat Jumeirah canals. From our table we could watch the traditional abras sail past, whilst the majestic Burj Arab loomed above us in the distance. Despite this being one of the busiest brunches that we have attended, the tables were not crammed together so we felt like we had a little bit of space and privacy amongst our dining group. Babbling fountains and channels of water run amongst the walkways on the outside terrace which add a tranquil touch to the overall dining experience.
The Al Qasr Brunch is luxuriously spread across the ground floor of the hotel and serves sumptuous delicacies from three restaurants – the Spanish-inspired restaurant Al Hambra, MJ’s Steakhouse and the international restaurant Arboretum. We were suprised that staff automatically assumed that all guests will be having the alcohol package without even asking – one of our guests was driving and trying to order a soft drink from the staff was a virtual impossibility, which was more than a little dissapointing from such a high end establishment.
This mega-brunch is as much about the beverages as it is the food. The hotel grounds are littered with bars and drink stations offering everything from fresh mojitos, to gin cocktails and vodka shots. By far our favourite of these bars was the Malibu station – in which you select a coconut from a boat full of fresh coconuts, the top is removed and Malibu (coconut rum) is poured directly into the coconut shell, thus mixing with the juice inside to give a refreshing tropical beverage. Being big fans of Jack Daniels whisky we were also in awe of the Jack Daniels station and made frequent trips there throughout the brunch.
The brunch at Al Qasr is all about live cooking and the wealth of these interactive stations is extensive. With Mexican, Chinese, Arabic, Jamaican, Japanese, Thai and English cuisines (plus more) made fresh before your eyes. These live cooking stations line the pathways connecting all the restaurants and you are spoiled for choice as you browse the culinary offerings available.
Being big fans of dim sum this is generally where we head to at the start of any brunch that we visit (who needs salad hey?) We were far from disappointed as Al Qasr probably has the most extensive selection of dim sum that we have yet encountered at a brunch with a choice of steamed and fried options as well as money bags, wontons and spring rolls.
The outside terrace of Arboretum contains the Asian-style dishes and an Indian cuisine section with some of the best naan we have sampled in Dubai. There’s also a pad thai station where the Thai noodle delicacy is made fresh right before your eyes . The highlight of the outdoor area is the surf and turf bbq with scrumptious lobster tails, fluffy and succulent jumbo shrimp and barbecued wagyu burgers – the smell of these items alone is enough to convince anybody to brunch here and the taste did not let us down.
Venturing inside is a large banquet hall with indoor palm trees (we kid you not), that are hung with twinkling lights. The interior houses the sushi counter which was by far the most popular item of choice for most diners – judging by the queue of people trying to get their hands on the sushi rolls and sashimi! The selection of the raw fish dishes on offer was impressive and the chefs were on hand to prepare specific dishes made to order, these were generally items like octopus and cuttlefish.
The interior area also houses the seafood selection – boasting shrimp, crab legs, mussles and squid. All piled up on large beds of ice between some beautiful ice sculptures with an distinctly underwater theme. The attention to detail on offer is astounding and really makes the brunch a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Al Hamra is Al Qasr’s Spanish themed restaurant and is linked to the rest of this brunch via an outside terrace. The courtyard at Al Hambra has a variety of European influenced cooking stations including: freshly made spaghetti bolognese for Italy, individually boxed fish and chips to represent the UK and a large communal paella for the fans of Spanish cuisine and tapas.
A big problem with the all you can eat buffet brunches, is that the choice is sometimes so overwhelming that you don’t get to sample all of the dishes that interest you. We did enjoy the fish and chips (which as we have said before on this blog, is very difficult to find a good replication of here in the UAE). We were also fans of the squid ink paella which whilst not necessarily visually appealing, was fantastic to eat.
The inside of Al Hambra is the crown jewel of this brunch. The interior houses not only the traditional roast dinner station (which was amazing), but one of the largest pork sections that we have witnessed in this country – with everything from salami, to Iberico ham, to (our personal favourite) the sumptuous fried pork belly.
Ultimately for us the standout dish on the savoury side was the hummus and moutabal which were served in sweet ice-cream cones that really helped to complement the flavour of these dips. We were actually really surprised by how much we liked these dishes.
hummus and moutabal
Yet that is not all… Al Hamra also houses a chocolate room full of exquisite handmade chocolates, as well as the obligatory chocolate fountain – which seems to be obligatory at any UAE brunch! The handmade chocolates were very popular with diners as they are a small sweet hit, rather than having to stomach a large and heavy dessert. The chocolate room also housed an Arabic sweets station fully of sticky baklava and a great steamed date pudding.
For those looking for more traditional deserts, Arboretum has its own dessert section with cheesecake cups, gummy sweets, mini cakes and our personal favourite – the salted caramel ice cream, which is made in the same way as the ice-cream at FrostBite, using liquid nitrogen. For those looking for baked goods such as donuts and cupcakes, these are not found in the desert section, but rather in the bakery with the bread, so make sure you don’t miss them!
Overall we would say that the big brunch at Al Qasr is one that you should visit at least once during any stay in Dubai. It feels very special and extravagant and is a great place to impress visitors. We challenge you to find any other brunch in the UAE with a food selection as extensive as the one on offer here, yet the size of this brunch can be problematic…
We found the service to be a little sloppy and were often ignored by staff, especially if trying to order items such as soft drinks which are not available from the drink stations scattered around the premises. We were also disappointed to be asked to leave the brunch as soon as it hit 4pm – a security guard was sent round to ask guests to leave and the remaining staff immediately started disassembling the brunch and packing away around us – which ruined the ambiance and illusion of the whole event.
It should also be noted that the brunch is quite expensive with the lowest soft drink package starting at 499 dirham plus taxes. There is nothing so significant on this brunch that you can’t get it elsewhere so we are unsure as to why the price tag is so high.
The brunch as Al Qasr can be a bit of a raucous affair and is not especially suitable for families, as there is no children’s entertainment or buffet. The band do an excellent job of getting the crowd going, performing modern songs with a soulful twist. With drinks flowing the dance floor gets going early on in the afternoon and there were a number of guests visiting the brunch purely for the alcohol who seemed completely disinterested by the food.
We are glad that we went to experience the infamous brunch at Al Qasr, but doubt that we would go again. It really is a once in a lifetime experience, but one that comes at a high price and could do with a little tweaking. For example we felt really rushed and undervalued as customers, by the fact that we were asked twice to leave by the security team – before the clock had even hit 4:15pm!
On your way out do ensure that you stop by the outside terrace on the lobby level of the hotel for outstanding views over the palms trees to the opulent Burj Arab – the perfect way to end such an extravagant brunch.
Location: Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeriah, Dubai
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.