David Parkin on Arabian days and nights, the PwC connection and salt beef success

THERE are worse ways to wake up than pulling back your curtains and seeing the shimmering blue sea of the Persian Gulf beyond a golden white beach.

I’m on a trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai as a guest of Etihad Airways and Hyatt Hotels as they showcase these twin pillars of success.

I’ve visited Dubai a few times before but this is my first visit to Abu Dhabi and I’d assumed that it was following the blueprint of its neighbour as part of its inexorable development plans.

To the visitor it often looks like the strategy employed in the United Arab Emirates is to just build something that is bigger and better than the last skyscraper down the road.

But it is much more than that.

Where Dubai has focused on becoming a leisure and shopping destination, Abu Dhabi is looking at the arts for its future.

The Louvre museum is due to open here soon followed by the Guggenheim.

As somebody explained to me – museums always have more pieces of art and artefacts than they can actually display, so why not put them somewhere people can enjoy them?

It is an approach that some of the UK’s cash-strapped museums should adopt.

However you get the impression that the arty types that run them might look down their noses at something that actually might be commercially successful.

In the case of the British Museum, I bet most of its treasures can’t be take abroad because the countries we originally pinched them from would try to claim them back.

Anyway, back to my job (it’s not a holiday, as someone hurtfully described it yesterday). All I’ve got to do now is bring all this knowledge I’m acquiring in the UAE back to help out clients in the UK.

It will beat a wet weekend in Scarborough, but the budget is a bit different.

We’re staying at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi which, with its acres of gardens, pools and beach, is as much a leisure hotel as a popular venue for conferences and business meetings.

Last night we had a tour of the hotel and walked past a gathering of PwC partners from the UAE.

You needed a navy blue suit to fit in, but I stared at the faces of those in the drinks reception, hoping I might see a familiar one.

Perhaps Arif Ahmad, office senior partner of PwC in Leeds, but he’s too busy running the firm back home and planning its move to new offices up Wellington Street.

Given Ron McMillan, the former Yorkshire chairman of PwC, moved to run its Middle East operations in 2009, there has been a strong Yorkshire connection between the firm and this part of the world for a while.

But now Ron has retired from PwC and this week it was announced that he is the new chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire.

He takes over from the hard-working Clare Morrow after a period of great success for the tourism organisation.

Ron and Sir Gary Verity make a formidable partnership at the top of Welcome to Yorkshire.

Board meetings will be interesting.

And in terms of the men now running influential organisations in the region, there is Ron at WTY and his old friend and colleague at PwC, Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region LEP.

Perhaps now Ron is back with a high profile role in the region, I can persuade him and Roger to take me out for dinner.

Not only can I glean their views on the region and Yorkshire’s role as part of the government’s mooted Northern Powerhouse, but I can also benefit from their knowledge of vino.

The pair invest in wine and share a cellar.

Given the industrious nature of both, that cellar is going to be far too full.


A SMALL Leeds deli that only launched last year is starting to get national attention.

Small wonder when the eponymously titled Ira B’s is run by a human dynamo called Ira B Silverman.

She made her name on the corporate circuit where she used to cater for all the best office gatherings in town. One of her former clients told me that her food was great but her enthusiasm for pulling up a chair to add her two penn’orth to a high level discussion around the boardroom table often unnerved his guests.

Her deli, situated in the leafy suburb of Roundhay, just off Street Lane, is a buzzing hive of energy with a great menu, although I rarely get to see it as I eat what I’m told to by Ira.

She doesn’t do a lot of PR or engage in social media, but her customers and supporters clearly do as the respected Guardian food writer Jay Rayner gave the place a mention recently when discussing the merits of hot salt beef sandwiches.

The welcoming smiles of the staff and hearty food are complemented by posters for films including Carry On’s and On the Buses.

And there are loads of one liners adorning the menu and the walls. I like the one that said: “I’m not a big fan of double entendres, but I try to slip one in when I can.”

Have a great weekend. Even if you are working, like me.

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