There is always the next luxury island popping up in these rich waters of the Arabian Sea. The latest masterpiece is the coveted Nurai Island, which was a natural island that has been developed into a high-end beach resort. It just opened a few months ago and so time presented itself for me get out there and test their offerings. It is situated just east of Abu Dhabi, reachable by a 10 minute high-speed boat ride, just past the Sheikh's beautiful remote palace.
The departure dock (from Abu Dhabi) is situated at the east end of Saadiyat Island. They have created a clean, bright and fresh waiting room for guests to relax before their ride out to the remote Nurai.
After a quick and scenic ride, you have reached your destination. Stepping off of the boat, you are handed a sparkling and refreshing cherry spritzer (that is not too sweet!) and welcomed into another nice airy waiting area. There, you look over the set lunch menu for the day and decide on your choice of three or four courses. The main course choice was either salmon or wagyu beef striploin. Really not the most exciting offering, but I let it go, figuring that an unadventurous meal could be balanced by perfect execution.
We paid our upfront lunch fee of 350 Aed ($95 US) per person and then were escorted out to the scenic and quiet beach front. We were given our own beach lounges, which are attended to by a server offering complementary coffee drinks and bottled water all day long. Since I would love to sit and sip coffee all day, this was a much appreciated perk.
The infinity pool sits right on the beach, overlooking the ocean. In case you are like me, and prefer a little of both, you can hop from pool to beach in an instant.
The sand was fairly smooth, although scattered with shells and some small rocks, so while very pretty to look at, not ideal for running with bare feet. Nonetheless, there was a short game of volleyball while I was there.
After a delicious coffee, we took a quick peek at the well-planned children's zone that was setting up for their Hawaiian Party later in the day. Funny how you can be in the Arabian Sea, but Hawaii still seems to win as the prototype of the "fun island destination".
While you can choose to have lunch at any time of the day that you prefer, we ended up making it to the still fairly quiet restaurant somewhere after 12:30.
They did an excellent job choosing the cutlery and the table linens. Both were very high quality and managed to feel luxurious but beachy at the same time.
The first few items were fantastic. The french bread was very fresh and offered four different varieties, two types of multigrain and 2 types of white, including one with sesame seeds. We also enjoyed the French, semi-salted butter.
The salad was well executed and only lightly dressed. Sprinkled with crunchy toasted hazelnuts, the thinly sliced radishes, crunchy endive and spicy rocket created a salad that you surprisingly just wanted to keep eating.
The tomato soup, which can be a rather bland dish if not done well, was also enjoyable. It was seasoned well and slightly tangy from the the swirl of balsamic glaze.
While the first courses were great, there was much (too much) confusion in the service as to whom ordered what. My dining partner actually had to eat his soup after his main dish, since the server suddenly showed up with his steak before bringing his soup. I personally (and many others that I know) would have sent the steak back, however he was trying to be polite. As the service began to crack and crumble, so too did the quality of our meal.
The waygu beef lacked flavor and a really crispy exterior. It was quickly decided that it could have easily been outdone by one of the high-end American steak houses.
The salmon reflected a bit of an old-fashion preparation with a heavy cream sauce as an accompaniment. The celeriac salad was heavy on the mayonnaise flavor and unfortunately the fish was under-cooked.
While our servers were apologetic for the service confusion, I was excited when they finally took our half eaten plates back to the kitchen. Lastly, dessert. Although this photo might make you salivate, remember that pictures can be deceiving. Again, the dessert course did not deliver what I would expect from such a high-end resort as Nurai. The ice cream was melted on arrival and the chocolate cake was cold and dry. I was relieved when lunch was over and I could go back to relaxing under my umbrella. At least they could not go wrong there.
In our final hour of the day, we were given a quick tour of some of their hotel suites and villas. While pricey, they were beautiful and do have their guests desires in mind. The open floor plans and floor to ceiling windows allow all of the natural light and fresh air to flow through each dwelling. And the hotel rooms offer an assortment of snacks and drinks including a well-presented array of loose tea leaves.
As we waited for the speed boat back to Abu Dhabi (with more people that we knew could fit on) , the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping. Luckily we were in the front of the line so we would not be the ones left waiting another 30 minutes for the boat to return for the next pick up.
As we stood there in the breezy setting sun, it was clear that no matter how much crystal blue water, speed boats, and beach front lounging that you offer, if you can not execute on the food, you are already loosing the battle. Hopefully, they will spruce up their culinary act in the coming months and make their meals as impressive as their rooms.