The Monarch, Dubai

A good choice for those who like the five-star facilities of a large hotel with the intimacy of a boutique hotel.

The Mandara Spa, where the gorgeous decor, fragrant oils and a ritual-filled treatment belied the thorough pummelling.
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Seamless. I arrived late, thanks to a two-hour traffic jam on Sheikh Zayed Road followed by confusion navigating the hotel's labyrinthine entrance. It's easy when you know how: just do a U-turn as soon as you get onto Sheikh Zayed Road or you'll be stuck in one-way limbo. With my dinner companions already waiting in the Empire restaurant for almost an hour, it took a special level of smiling calm to return me to equilibrium. The check-in was speedy, painless and relaxing, and I was dispatched in one direction (to the Empire), while my cases were sent in the other (the room).

Number One, Sheikh Zayed Road: you don't get a more central position than this. Perched on the Trade Centre Roundabout, one of Dubai's pivotal road systems - luckily not noisy enough to penetrate the hushed atmosphere of the hotel - you have easy access to the old areas of Deira and Bur Dubai, the posh shopping of Emirates Towers and the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the spectacularly gigantic Dubai Mall and, on the other side of the building, Jumeirah Beach Road. If you're lucky enough to check in to an upper-floor room, you also will be treated to a view of the sea, the port and the ever-developing building work that has Dubai growing taller and wider every day.

Compact, certainly, but beautifully designed, with frosted glass elegantly separating the bathroom from the bedroom. All the usual goodies were there - thick robes, fluffy slippers, crisp sheets and so on - but the absolute best thing of all was an immense, overflowing fruit basket. This wasn't just a few apples and a plum or two: the pineapple and a cornucopia of soft fruits would have kept us happy all night - if we hadn't eaten far too much at Empire - and they made a refreshing start to the morning.

Always deferential and quick, with a butler attached to the room, although we couldn't think of anything to ask her for, once she'd shown us the room, brought an orange juice in a champagne glass and offered to draw a bath. Perhaps it's a little too discreet - if that's possible. As we waited in the lobby for a taxi, the nonplussed staff stoically endured a screaming rant from an apoplectic Englishman, incensed that he had been charged for internet use without being forewarned. Whoever was in the right (and it probably wasn't the Brit), the almost narcoleptic response from the staff only infuriated him more.

The Monarch may have the best address in Dubai, but it's still a rather quiet spot, with tourists and locals only just starting to discover its delights. It's not a building that gets passing trade, and the result is a slight feeling of emptiness. Nevertheless, the serene modern-Arabic interior design of the immense lobby feels tranquil rather than desolate. The advantage of this is, of course, that your every command is obeyed with a click of a finger, and the personal attention in the none-too-full Empire restaurant was exceptional.

Empire is a joy - and an undiscovered one at that. In a dark, opulent setting filled with velvet, dark wood and chandeliers, best described as groovy grand, it is intimate even when empty, and unstarchy but special enough to warrant its price tag of US$135 (Dh495) for three courses. Unlike most restaurants that I've experienced in Dubai, Empire's waiters and maitre d' (an urbane Anthony LaPaglia lookalike from France) have a superb grasp of the menu, the source of the ingredients, the methods of cooking and the traditions of serving. The menu majors on seafood and the pan-fried scallops, and seabass and sea bream were superb. A stonking cheese board and a ceremonially presented crêpes Suzette were dessert highlights, but the whole experience, from the amuse-bouches to the final coffees, were calculated to provide a long, enjoyable evening.

The Mandara Spa, where the gorgeous decor, fragrant oils and a ritual-filled treatment belied the thorough pummelling received at the hands of the therapist during the Balinese massage. At $135 (Dh495,) it wasn't cheap, but it was deeply fabulous, leaving me dazed for a good 15 minutes afterwards.

The internet-charging policy. Really, when you're paying these prices at a five-star hotel, it seems extraordinarily stingy to not have wifi included as standard. Not that I condone shouting at the staff about it, obviously.

An off-the-beaten-track (so far, at least) escape in Dubai, that's as conveniently placed as you could ask for, with excellent service, very, very comfortable beds and a superb spa. A good choice for those who like the five-star facilities of a large hotel with the intimacy of a boutique hotel.

An executive double room at the Monarch costs from $1,241 (Dh4,560) per night, including taxes (www.themonarchdubai.com; 0 4 501 8888).