Vienna used to be the world’s illicit meeting point, a city full of discreet banks, arms dealers and diplomats. A place where any kind of business could get done. Now it is Dubai.
What do you miss most when you’re away?
The intrigue and all the stories. Dubai is an edgy, tense meeting point; a neutral spot in the world’s most contested region. Chancers, losers, dreamers and schemers flock to the place. How could a thriller writer not get a buzz out of that?
What’s the first thing you do when you return?
Head to Bar 44 at the Grosvenor House Hotel for a glass of champagne. It’s a kitsch, Seventies-themed bar on the 44th floor that has great views.
Where’s the best place to stay?
The Burj Al Arab (www.jumeirah.com/Hotels-and-Resorts; suites from £862 per night), a fabulously over-the-top luxury hotel that encapsulates the madness of Dubai. On an artificial island, it is both symbolically and literally cut off from the rest of the world. A place where anything might happen.
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
The Double Decker Pub (Al Murooj Rotana, Sheikh Zayed Road), favoured by expat Britons, or the Belgian Beer Café (Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City, Festival City), a recreation of a Belgian café with a great selection of beers and some delicious snacks.
Where are your favourite place for lunch?
Urban Tadka Restaurant (Trade Centre Road, Karama): Dubai is as much an Indian city as it is anything else: it’s the Indians who get all the work done. So it’s a great place for cheap, authentic Indian food. This vegetarian restaurant does tasty street-food snacks and is always packed with locals. Dubai is hot and it’s unlikely you’ll feel like anything heavy. Sushi is the perfect light snack. Sumo Shushi & Bento (Jumeirah Beach Road) is Tokyo-style Japanese food – fast, inexpensive, no-fuss and delicious.
And for dinner?
Eating grilled meat and cold mezze is one of the city’s pleasures. There is nowhere better to do it than Al Khaima at Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa (04 399 5555), a Lebanese restaurant with a huge garden overlooking the spectacular marina. Or try Armani Ristorante at the Armani Hotel Dubai (800 276264), with a sumptuous interior, the immaculate presentation and beautiful customers. The food isn’t bad either. Wear a decent suit, though. Casual it isn’t.
Where would you send a first-time vistior?
Deira’s Gold Souk, a wonderful maze of dealers and shops.
What would you tell them to avoid?
The Dubai Museum: this city doesn’t have any history to speak of.
Public transport or taxi?
Taxis are reliable and cheap – two or three miles cost about £2.50. Be sure to try an abra, a traditional, open-topped wooden ferry across the Dubai Creek.
Handbag or moneybelt?
On the whole Dubai is safe, but be cautious, particularly in the souk.
What should I take home?
If you don’t mind haggling, the gold souk is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy jewellery. And the perfume souk has a huge selection of traditional Arab scents, quite different from anything you’ll find in Europe.
And if I’ve only time for one shop?
Go to the Karama area, which is fake central. Everyone in Dubai dresses in designer gear because they buy perfect copies here at a tenth of the normal price.