Driving through the huge, pink, Moroccan-style archway that separates the Ibn Battuta Gate hotel from the office and apartment part of the development makes for a dramatic entrance. When I pull up at the busy hotel entrance on a Friday lunchtime, however, staff seem hurried and disorganised. Assuming that my female friend and I are sharing a room, two members of staff take our bags without asking for our names. Inside, the reception area is also busy and the man behind the counter fumbles to find my booking. When he does, he issues our keys quickly.
The hotel is adjacent to the Ibn Battuta Mall and in front of Jebel Ali village. On the other side of the Sheikh Zayed Road is the Jebel Ali power plant. It's a five-minute taxi ride from Dubai Marina and just an hour's drive from Abu Dhabi.
Despite the fact that most of the staff seemed genuine and hardworking, I sensed an overall lack of awareness of the needs and expectations of guests at a five-star hotel. Perhaps this was due to the hotel's newness (it opened in October), but I found myself irritated both by slowness (I waited more than 20 minutes for someone to come and collect my bags on check-out, and stood outside waiting for my car for a further 20 minutes; there was also a long wait for a taxi one evening) and at the bland responses I got when I informed the front desk that something was wrong with my room (as with many hotels these days, instead of being connected directly to, say, housekeeping, you have to explain your problem to someone else who then promises to pass the message on).
My room was an Indian-themed Ibn Battuta suite on the second floor. It had ghastly views of the Jebel Ali power station, and the large terrace was too blighted by traffic noise to be used for relaxation. But I liked the spacious living room with comfortable sofas, rugs and plenty of lamps, though it was a little too crammed full of furniture for my liking and some of it seemed mismatched. The four backless chairs surrounding the dining table were particularly odd and uncomfortable. The bedroom seemed poorly designed, with the bed in the centre of the room and a very dark desk and closet space behind it. On the ground below my bedroom window were three skips filled with rubbish, and there was also the remains of a building site to look at. The bathroom had a lovely deep bath and rain shower, but despite having the shower door closed, the bathroom floor flooded each time I used it - which necessitated another call to housekeeping to clean up the mess. The two power sockets at the desk in the living room didn't work, and, when I awoke the following morning, there was a strong smell of sewage coming from the bathroom. It was so bad that I asked to be moved and I was - up to a Moroccan-themed suite on the ninth floor. It had the same view but with slightly less garish decor, and the bathroom didn't smell.
The hotel has an excellent choice of restaurants built into alcoves off the impressive grand hall on the ground floor. The best is probably Shanghai Chic, where we enjoyed delicious sautéed beef cubes in black pepper sauce, crispy duck, oven-baked honey cod, sautéed scallops in a fragrant chilli sauce and aubergine, bean curd in a spicy bean sauce, and, for dessert, mango and coconut pudding and Chinese herbal jelly. The bill for three came to Dh965, including drinks.
The Friday brunch (Dh395 including beverages and taxes) was average overall, though the Indian food selection, which included mutton rogon, paneer tikka and vegetable biryani, was delicious. The spicy tuna sushi was tasty and there was a good French cheese selection. At the Indian restaurant, Chor Bazaar, the Amritsari fish fritters (Dh28) were a bit bland and fatty, but the pani puriand bhel puri(Dh28) were fresh, fragrant and tasty. The zingy tandoori lobster (Dh200) was a treat, though it could have done without the gloopy rice accompaniment, and the Kerala fish curry (Dh66) was faultless. An unfortunate postscript to the meal came when food that I had asked to be packed was mistakenly delivered to my room in a room service trolley that when opened cascaded all over the floor and over my friend's dress. The Maroc Lounge, with its outdoor terrace on the more attractive side of the hotel, is a very pleasant place to enjoy shisha, mocktails and masala chai.
The hotel was hosting the Dubai Tango and Salsa Congress, which made for an upbeat atmosphere. On top of this, the hotel was full with local and international leisure guests. The Ibn Battuta concept is a good one, and while I liked the grand hall, Maroc lounge and the maps of Ibn Battutah's route in the lifts, I felt some of the details could have been more tastefully executed and the themed suites could have defined their respective countries better.
The rooftop pool and its sheltered terrace and the Chinese restaurant, Shanghai Chic. I liked the grand hall with its myriad dangling Moroccan-style lamps, but I couldn't understand why guests checking in weren't brought into that space and were instead shoehorned into a cramped reception area next to the entrance.
The problems with my room and slow service that detracted from what should have been a fun weekend.
A five-star hotel which, at the moment, feels like a four-star.
The bottom line
Double rooms at the Ibn Battuta Gate Dubai (www.moevenpick-hotels.com; 04 444 0000) cost from Dh714 per night, including taxes. The Battuta suites cost from Dh2,214 per night, including taxes, transfers to and from the airport, access to the executive lounge, and access and transfers to the Oceana Beach Club on the Palm.