Villa Romana St Tropez-Dubai

Villa Romana is the latest in a slew of über-exclusive European club brands to arrive, franchised out, in Dubai, hoping to attract the Middle East’s moneyed party people and notorious big spenders. Yet this one may be among the most eager to flaunt its outrageously VIP-only credentials. A brand hailing from the French Riviera, founder Jean-Luc Fournier apparently transformed a traditional family pizzeria into a booming Saint-Tropez nightspot, incorporating exclusive fashion shows, opulent decor and an exclusive door policy. The venue’s proximity to the Cannes Film Festival probably didn’t hurt; its web home page proudly and shamelessly displays numerous images of George Clooney and Penélope Cruz enjoying a bite and a beverage. The tone is set in Dubai with two large lion statues sitting either side of the venue’s garden entrance, while what looks like a Greek goddess marks a small courtyard. Ushered inside by a polite hostess, the interior is rather tasteless: as though Marie Antoinette’s boudoir was spewed over an art-deco ’70s apartment. The plus side of such a gaudy cultural cacophony is that we were able to fill several minutes of an awkward date playing a novel take on I Spy, entitled ‘guess which feature I think is the most ugly’. We were torn between the pink chandeliers and the leopard-skin bar stools, but do tell us yours. The bar’s staff didn’t escape the tar of tastelessness: we were handed menus by a gent wearing a beefeater-esque costume, topped by a feathered black top hat. Yet we noticed that the barmen, dressed in a black suit-and-shirt combo, along with a white bow tie, had got off comparatively lightly. These guys clearly took it all in good humour, with the legions of staff — far outweighing the punters on a quiet week night — offering a jovial conversational flair and enjoying riotous jokes among themselves. However, a little more attention to detail wouldn’t have gone astray: when we were handed an (old) menu quoting prices of Dhs180 for a signature mixed drink, we gawped and asked for the bill after one. Had we known we’d only (!) be charged Dhs100 apiece — the correct price, apparently — we might have ordered a second. Meanwhile, a side order of water never appeared, yet graced our bill nonetheless. This kind of shoddy service isn’t really acceptable in a venue that serves mixed-drink pitchers spiralling into five figures, and has bubbly bottles worth Dhs115,000 sitting on the shelf. The same careless attitude was displayed in the music policy. Exclusively playing misplaced cheese may be in keeping with the bar’s ironic lowbrow ethos — but hearing ‘Angels’ and ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ twice within an hour suggests the management may need to invest in a few more iTunes tracks. The new wave of high-end European brands setting up shop in Dubai — this, Café del Mar, VIP Room — is welcome proof that Dubai’s nightlife scene is as buoyant as ever, yet seems to pander to one kind of (very moneyed) expat.

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