It's 9:30 at night. Sultan's Toyota Land Cruiser is fading into the darkness of AlUla Desert on an asphalt road with an uncertain outcome. The convoy stops at a security checkpoint before continuing its journey on an increasingly dark road.
The light will come through a few hundred meters further on, from a line of light spots along the road. The route leads to a recent, green building, lit by the soft glow of heated parasols and cleverly placed lights. At the entrance, a pretty blonde with a Slavic accent welcomes visitors behind a frog-green counter with “Annabel’s” in gold letters.
A private club in Arabia?
The name is familiar, and for good reason: we’re talking about one of the most prestigious and coveted institutions in the United Kingdom. A private club founded in 1963 on Berkeley Square in the Mayfair district of London. An address that only opens its doors to a handful of hand-picked members, including the Prince of Wales, Richard Nixon, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. Tens of thousands of people are still on the waiting list to get their membership cards,” bids Maciej Debal, manager of the Saudi branch of Annabel’s, with a smile on his face, “Tens of thousands of people are still on the waiting list to get their membership cards.
But then how do you explain the fact that this secret club is based in Saudi Arabia? “We were invited by the Saudis to open this ephemeral version of our private club,” Maciej explains behind his impeccable green suit, his big bow tie and his ideal son-in-law’s haircut.
A “brasserie” in the desert
The place is the first and only pop-up restaurant in the world created by Annabel’s. And for this first one, the place is not insignificant: we are in the middle of the desert, between two huge rocks eroded by time. “The imagery is incredible,” Maciej adds enthusiastically.
Here, on the other hand, there is no need for a membership card: access to the restaurant is open, albeit to a wealthy clientele. You won’t find all the cuisines – Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and French – of the London base here either, but only a brasserie-style menu. Shoulder of lamb confit, snack place and courgette fries follow seafood, guacamole, burrata, raw vegetables and tuna tartar served as a starter. The whole is concluded with a red fruit meringue and a tasty two chocolate cake. The customers, mostly local, are conquered, and it is not to displease the owner of the place. “I love it,” he exclaims. It’s very surprising for me. It’s great. The people are friendly and warm.”