Jonathan Ashmore’s perfect weekend in Dubai

The founder and director of award-winning design practice Anarchitect has made his name on projects including penthouses on Dubai’s The Palm and the city’s desert escape Al Faya Lodge

Anarchitect founder/director Jonathan Ashmore, a Dubai resident for 10 years, enjoys driving into the desert in winter
Anarchitect founder/director Jonathan Ashmore, a Dubai resident for 10 years, enjoys driving into the desert in winter | Image: Mohamed Somji

Friday and Saturday have become the weekend since I moved to Dubai 10 years ago, with Friday being the more relaxed of the two. For me, that means heading straight to the gym in our building to do some free weights and stretching. I got into the habit of early-morning exercise as a teenager, and I find it helps to relieve all the stresses of a week in the office.

Working out gives me an appetite, so when I get back, my wife Militza and I will head to Jumeirah for brunch. This older part of the city on the main beach road was built for expats and now many of the original villas have been converted into lovely neighbourhood cafés and restaurants, which can get really lively after prayer time. The Balkan bistro 21 Grams is a particular favourite – Militza is Serbian and the food here reminds me of her mother’s cooking. They make a delicious pašticada – a slow-cooked beef stew – with gnocchi, and their cheese burek, with thin, flaky pastry, is pretty good, too.

In the winter, when the temperature’s a bit lower, we’ll drive to the desert to walk at Fossil Rock. I grew up in Yorkshire, surrounded by green rolling hills, so this landscape of prehistoric mountains and fluid, dark-red sand dunes – the colour comes from the iron oxide in the ground – is magnificently alien. I first got to know the area because my studio is converting two derelict 1960s structures into a spa retreat here and I find spending time out there is a welcome removal from the city.

As it’s an hour’s drive back to our apartment in Dubai Marina, we’ll usually just meet friends and walk over to The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill for the evening. I’m not a huge fan of oysters – they’re not filling enough for a Yorkshire lad – but I’ll sit at the bar with a gin sour and fish tacos; they also serve great grilled octopus and roasted garlic with fresh bread. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual, which is rare for Dubai and reminds me of London.

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Saturday mornings are set aside for work. I’ll sit on our balcony with a strong espresso, a long glass of sparkling water, my Moleskine sketchbook and a 0.2mm pen – no matter how much technology might have invaded architecture, I have to draw out every idea on paper. We live on the 29th floor above the Marina and I like watching the reflections of this mini metropolis in the calm waters below me.

I’ll stop at lunchtime so we can spend time enjoying the city. An exciting art scene has emerged in the past five years, centred around Alserkal Avenue. Many abandoned warehouses have been turned into galleries so we’ll drive over there, especially if something’s on at the Rem Koolhaus-designed Concrete. The beauty of this building comes from its translucent, polycarbonate façade, which bathes the interiors in a soft, whimsical light.

Afterwards, we’ll grab a toastie at the charming, homegrown café Boston Lane. Refreshed, we’ll go shopping downtown: The Dubai Mall is unlike anything else. It’s totally overscaled and, because it caters for so many different expat communities, it’s a melting pot of international brands. I like Sandro for clothes and Coach for accessories and bags. But for a more unusual experience, I’ll visit City Walk and be tempted inside Lumas. It specialises in limited edition photographic prints and often has work by Guy Diehl. His dark-toned still lifes sit on the edge between painting and photography.

We often end the weekend at 101 Dining Lounge and Bar. Set on One&Only The Palm’s marina, it feels removed from the city – ideal if you’re not quite ready to be busy again. Sitting on the terrace with friends and a king crab hot dog, watching the sun set over the skyline, is perfect preparation for the week.

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