Think hotels in Dubai, and visions of over-the-top, will-need-to-sell-your-camel luxury inevitably crop up. Dubai has always been that sort of place. But when I walked into Zabeel House MINI, a stylish budget hotel in Al Seef, Dubai’s hottest new precinct, I had to start questioning this assumption. How much does one need out of a hotel, and should one pay a premium for a larger space which one doesn’t really require? (More often than not, you’re going to be out all day, and just need a bed to crash.)
The lobby—unlike that of any budget hotel I’ve been to—was large and designer, littered with funky artwork and modernist furniture. In the middle hung four swings, possibly to encourage guests to lighten up and get into holiday mode.
My smart-chic room had a subtle retro music theme: two antennas peeking out of the cubby that held a fully modern LED TV; sound mixer controls repurposed as bathroom hangers (which, I must confess, I tried to turn); next to the bed dangling from a magazine stand was a history of rock in the 1970s, which has to be some of the coolest hotel reading material I’ve seen anywhere. There was no scrimping on mod cons either: Nespresso machine, Smeg minibar, Noritake stoneware. So what if there was just a clothes rack instead of a cupboard? I had a colourful map on Dubai on the ceiling to cheer me up and this bit of graffiti on the wall: “Dubai is always a good idea.”
Next door was Zabeel House, with larger rooms, larger gym, larger pool, larger everything... It also had the better views and the more mature F&B outlets, including Nyon, offering Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, Chapters, a library-themed space, and the Sol Sky Bar, offering handcrafted cocktails and small bites next to the rooftop pool.
Both hotels are from the Jumeirah group, the creators of the Burj al Arab, so they probably know what they’re up to. They felt the need for another brand and saw an untapped opportunity in the mid-segment space. As far as star ratings go, Zabeel House MINI and Zabeel House are classified as three- and four-star, respectively, but that hardly does justice to these upscale casual offerings where the key words are urban, fun, young and so on. “High on design and low on complexity” is what Jumeirah likes to call it.
The Zabeel House hotels—and several are planned—are all intended to be hyper local, immersed in their respective neighbourhoods. Which brings us to Al Seef itself, a brand-new creek-facing development that is a great example of Dubai’s particular brand of forward-looking urban planning. After all, if you don’t have a neighbourhood, you just have to invent it.
Jumeirah has a third hotel in Al Seef, a heritage style property perched atop a traditional souq, and it has nothing in common with the modernist cubes of the Zabeel Houses. Between the three, 550 rooms are on offer, so they have you covered. One hates to have to choose, but if I had to, I’d pick Zabeel House MINI over the others. I’m a sucker for good ideas and the MINI is the best idea of them all.
150 rooms in Zabeel House MINI by Jumeirah, 200 rooms in Zabeel House Al Seef by Jumeirah