After a breathtaking but rather barren drive across Saadiyat Island to Yas, the presence of human life at the small gate next to the marina comes as a relief. We're waved through and hop over a neat little bridge to the Yas Hotel's entrance, where the welcome is reassuringly anonymous. Several other cars have just arrived and we head inside to the stunning lobby: an all-white expanse of high ceilings, pieces of modern art and acres of lightweight latticed walls. The check-in area is space-age, and after copying my ID and swiping my credit card I'm escorted to my room - the key isn't given to me until we get inside.
The Yas Hotel sits in the centre of the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island, a 20-minute drive in normal traffic from central Abu Dhabi and 10 minutes from the airport. Designed by New York architects Asymptote, the hotel straddles the marina and at the moment is very much a world unto itself. The Ferrari World theme park is due to open by the end of this year and the Yas Mall in 2012. Just to the west of the Formula One circuit is a clutch of other newly opened hotels including the Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites, a Rotana and Radisson Blu.
The hotel has a total of 499 rooms over seven floors. Mine was on the fifth floor and was one of 252 "deluxe", or standard, rooms. It looked impressive and at first sight rather Austin Powers - floor-to-ceiling windows with a view over the mostly empty side of the marina, a small sitting area with a coffee table and integrated desk area, large double bed and large flat-screen television. The bathroom was contained in a mostly opaque glass box, with separate bathing and shower areas. The finish was excellent and everything appeared to work properly, apart from the balcony and sliding door that was out of use. The television remote control, light switches, wireless internet connection and safe were all easy to use, though having been told that there was an iPod dock, I discovered there wasn't. The bed was less than luxurious, and I was kept awake until 1am by lightly thudding music from one of the hotel's bars and then greeted at 6.30am by the faint tap-tap-tap of maintenance work somewhere in the building.
I didn't have extravagant requirements but something was lacking here. Part of it was a basic language problem - when I called down to ask for an iPod dock, the man asked me to explain what that was. When I complained to the duty manager about the noise from the bar, it took an hour and a half and several phone calls to have it turned down. And when I asked for a foam pillow - a basic request in most five-star hotels - I was asked if I meant "firm" - neither, it turned out, were available.
On Friday lunchtime the hotel was busy with local families and in the evening the Italian restaurant on the ground floor was buzzing. Few, however, appeared to be staying, as that night I saw only a small handful of people in the funky bar above the racetrack, Rush, and there was only one other couple at breakfast late the next morning. By Saturday lunchtime, there were more Emirati families hanging out at the attractive coffee shop on the ground floor and when I visited on a weeknight a few days later, the lobby was filled with Japanese businessmen. The scene no doubt improves on big race days.
The hotel has eight restaurants, including Atayeb, serving Arabic food, Kazu, doing Japanese, and Angar, an Indian restaurant. I tried the Friday brunch at Origins, the all-day dining restaurant on the ground floor: despite a brilliantly light ambience and fashionably tailored staff, ("their uniforms are very Balenciaga spring/summer 2010," my friend remarked) the food was only average and there were an off-putting number of flies hovering around the food and the tables.
The best restaurant seemed to be Nautilus, overlooking the marina. There's a fun-looking oyster and vodka bar just inside the door and a fish-market style display. My starter, the "tuna tasting" (US$30; Dh110), consisted of a firm, fresh block of Filipino tuna in a citrus marinade, a small spicy tuna tartare and seared tuna with a peppercorn crust. All were excellent and it could have been a meal in itself. My main course, the Dover sole meunière ($67; Dh246), was three perfectly white, pan-fried fillets in a butter and lemon sauce: the fish was perfect but the accompanying sliced potatoes undercooked. My companion said their clam chowder ($17; Dh63) was the cheapest and probably best thing on the menu. Noodle Box, the Asian restaurant, was small, smart and intimate, and the food better than average in Abu Dhabi. For starters, the Vietnamese rice paper summer rolls ($12; Dh46) were fresh and tasty, if not sublime; the roasted glazed duck pancakes ($26; Dh98) were more satisfying. For mains, the laksa noodle soup ($15; Dh58) with fresh prawns and quail eggs, with a spicy and not-too-heavy coconut base, was worth the money; the spicy tofu goreng ($15; Dh58), which was described on the menu as "wok-fried tofu with spicy chilli and cashew nuts", sadly arrived deep-fried, and was a job to finish.
The fabulous design, both interior and exterior, particularly at night, when the colours change on the 5,016 exterior glass panels. The deep bath and rooftop bar, Skylite, where you can sit under the hotel's "gridshell" and smoke shisha in Ibiza-style cabanas.
The noise disturbance and limp pillows, which meant I left the hotel worn out rather than rested.
Abu Dhabi's first design hotel is a visually stunning property which delivers a much-needed shot of excitement and flair into the capital's hotel scene. Paying the current cheapest internet room rate of $205 (Dh754) for two including tax, one can accept a bit of noise: for the bottom rack rate of $1,137 (Dh4,176), you'd want your money back.
Double rooms cost from $205 (Dh754) including tax, if booked online for stays over the weekend. The Yas Hotel, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (www.theyashotel.com; 02 656 0000).