Justin Kauflin at Q's Bar & Lounge by Quincy Jones - Palazzo Versace, Dubai

What can I say about Q's that I have not said after my previous 2 visits - readers of my two last posts will by now know how I feel about the balance the venue offers with the opulent luxury of the hotel. The inside, with its broody lighting, levels the grounds. 

My guest and I arrive at 9pm, at a time when the venue is about half full. I am told though it has been sold out, as is the case on all nights, days in advance. As an Abu Dhabi resident where we are over fed on 2 for 1 offers to fill restaurant seats and hotel beds, it is clear that Q's has struck a chord with people ravenous for the sophisticated type of entertainment with which it has become synonymous. 

Tonight, I am here to witness the hotel's 4th resident performer, Justin Kauflin, and on paper, he already looks someone I cannot wait to hear. This is even more true considering I met him in the hallway on his way to to Q's. We exchanged pleasantries - unassuming, humble, approachable. This continued when I was introduced to him while he was having a  glass of water at the bar prior to his performance. Real. 

While he kicks off the show with a bit of Herbie Hancock, he has me rapt when he launches into his version of the Lennon composition, Strawberry fields forever. He says: "We can take songs that we love and play them in our own way". There is a simple honesty about this declaration. No sugar coating. No poetry. Just real. The build up is memorable with him on piano before drums and bass join in. It is a brilliant interpretation. 

His honesty as artist and human being is illustrated when he asks the audience to keep their conversation down to a low because it is about the enjoyment of music and that silence is often needed for particular songs. I look at my guest and nod approvingly - we still have a lot to do to educate some guests in a venue like this who think they are at a football match, but thanks to this sort of engagement and forthrightness, people will learn. 

As he shifts through some classic jazz pieces, it occurs to me that he has such an incredible story to tell, but there is not the hint of self indulgence in him and instead, he allows his fingers and keys to tell us his story. He introduces the band in stages. Initially Billy Williams on drums and Christopher Smith are introduced but not long after, they are joined on stage by the super seductive and sultry vocalist, Imani Grace Cooper. 

While this is about Justin Kauflin, it is not actually about him, if you allow the contradiction. He is much too averse to being in the limelight and is happy to share the stage with a group of talented musicians. If they worked well as a trio, it is Imany who makes them a complete group. Georgia on my mind is a high point and she shows her clarity of voice. She brings a graceful femininity to the stage in her body hugging black number that goes on for miles and miles, accentuated by pencil stilettos! Audrey Hepburn would be pleased.

What is an evening of jazz without a some decent bites though, so I have a look at the menu. I like how they keep changing the menu items. I have never had the same menu on the occasions I have been to Q's. An old favourite, albeit an expensive one, the Beef tataki, is still on the menu, but feeling a bit hungrier, I opt for the slow cooked Beef rib while my guest chooses the Smoked Lamb Chops served with spicy Korean gochujang. Both dishes, priced at 125AED and 150AED respectively, are perfectly cooked and while pricey for bar food, are quite filling. Be warned, the lamb has a delicious spicy kick to it. As for the beef, if there were a bone, it would simply drop off, so tender it is. I can understand why this is one Quincy Jones' favourites. Overall, a very nice menu that has a decent balance between something light and more substantial. 

As far as drinks go, on this occasion, I explore some of the cocktails, while of course indulging in one of my favourite NV champagnes, the R de Ruinart - my Palazzo Versace ritual.  I have the Off the Wall, named after Michael Jackson's Quincy Jones-produced debut solo album. As someone who likes champagne and cognac, I love this drink which combines my two vices of Hennessy Cognac and Ruinart Brut Champagne. Make sure you have this on your next visit. 

The service at Q's is, and this is an added reason to visit, very relaxed. Once again,  I am waited on by a waitress who steps outside of the training manual and is able to make meaningful conversation while at the same time being aware of how busy the bar is. She makes recommendations, is witty and intelligent - a real pleasure. Management has come up with a very strong team of female staff at Q's and also recognised that all-day dining and a niche outlet like this require a different kind of waitress.

But ultimately, one visits Q's for the music, the music and the music. If Georgia on my mind was about Imani revealing a sensitive and controlled side, then her fun side comes through emphatically on Michael Jackson's Rock with you. The cliche of bringing down the house is no more applicable than on this. Also,  some killer piano moves by Justin on this one. 

As is customary for his sets at Q's, Justin is joined by Billy and Christopher to get things started. Their version of Bruce Hornsby's classic "That's the way it is", while being faithful in essence, allows some stellar solos. Kudos to the drum work on this piece.  By the time they are joined by Imany, the audience in a packed venue, is ready to be taken to another place. And this is what happens in their rendition of "I wish I knew how it would feel to be free" by Billy Taylor, later performed by Nina Simone and in the 90's, The Lighthouse Family. It is a rousing version that brings Imany's vocals to the fore - Imagine a place where Estelle meets Anita Baker!

By the time the evening ends at around 1am, it is my usual time for reflection, as I sip on another Q's signature cocktail, and think about what Justin has brought to Q's in his residency here at the hotel. It would be easy and cliched to mention the fact that his impaired vision makes him a special artist - he lost his sight at age 11. But that would be unfair to him and his art. He is just a special artist. One cannot deny that he is what he is to a large extent because of his experiences, but tonight, as he performed, I did not focus the cane underneath his piano stool, or take not when he was guided off the stage...it is his eschewing of his fame and his privileging of his music, or the humility I mentioned earlier, that I will remember. And his fingers on the keys - well of course!

Qs Bar & Lounge
Palazzo Versace Hotel
+971 4 556 8888
Qs at Palazzo Versace
Note: There is a minimum spend of AED250

Disclaimer: I tried the brunch by invitation of the hotel. All views are my own. 
Brandon Stoltenkamp