At.mosphere restaurant on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, Dubai’s final extravagance before the financial crisis, offers a vista of the boom years.
Floor-to-ceiling windows look out over the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel, Sol Kerzner’s $1.5bn Atlantis resort jutting out from the tip of the manmade Palm Jumeirah island, and beyond that, a huddle of towers near Dubai Marina.
“There are two kinds of people: One type gets a big thrill from being at the top of the world’s tallest tower, the other type is scared to go up there,” Adam Tihany, the restaurant’s New York-based designer, said in an interview.
Emaar Properties halted its Dubai projects after the economic crisis, except for the 828m Burj Khalifa, which opened in January 2010. The company restarted some projects last year.
Dubai received a $20bn bailout from Abu Dhabi in 2009 and named the tower after that emirate’s ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
At.mosphere is the world’s highest restaurant. Guests may choose between a formal grill for lunch or dinner and a casual lounge with purple and gray velvet sofas for tea and cocktails. The AED200 ($54.50) minimum charge is half the price of a ticket for the outdoor observation area on the 124th floor, and it only applies to men. Women can spend what they like.
Afternoon tea is a good choice for whiling away a few hours. Visitors are directed to a separate entrance on the ground floor of the tower and taken up some escalators to a high-speed elevator. There’s only one button to press, 123, and then it takes off, flying passengers half a kilometer upwards at an ear-popping 10 meters a second.
A glass atrium welcomes guests to their first vistas - and photo opportunities. The restaurant is one floor below and is reached via a spiral staircase against a wall of windows.
At.mosphere is split into two semi-circles, with an 80-seater restaurant in one half and a lounge that can seat 135 people in the other. Tables situated all along the outer rim offer the obligatory view as well as ensuring optimum use of space, as much of the interior is taken up by the elevators.
“The floor space is 1,000sq m, but you have an extensive core,” said Tihany. “The elevators don’t get smaller, even though the tower gets thinner as you get higher.”
Tea is served in the lounge, where guests are scattered among the window tables - two British men sipping champagne, three Farsi-speaking women chatting away - while the sofas in the interior are empty, presumably until the bar opens at 6 pm.
It costs AED290per person for three courses and unlimited tea, coffee and juices; a glass of champagne costs an extra AED70.
(Afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab’s Skyview Bar, which is 200 meters above sea level, on the 27th floor, costs AED425. Champagne is included.)
The first course is a tray of five finger sandwiches - chopped quail egg with truffle caviar, salmon, tuna, cucumber and tomato with goat’s cheese - followed by tea and scones served with strawberry jam and lemon curd.
The main course is a choice between a mini chicken-and-mushroom quiche and poached quail-egg Florentine. Then, accompanied by non-alcoholic cocktails and juices, more landmark-spotting.
At.mosphere’s washrooms overlook the $20bn Downtown Dubai. The area is home to the world’s biggest mall and a 275- meter-long dancing fountain that is 25 percent larger than that of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
We return to our table and order more tea with which to enjoy the variety of miniature cakes and sweets with a sorbet. Our two hours of eating, drinking and relaxing 442 meters above ground level now over, we head back to the elevator.
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