It’s no exaggeration to say that the world is on a plate when it comes to Abu Dhabi’s vibrant dining scene
A social occasion in any language, food unites cultures and cuisines in a unique way, and Abu Dhabi’s culinary offering is as distinctive as its multicultural population. As the city continues to grow and add new experiences, the menu of dining opportunities gets longer each year. Two decades after launching in Paris, a foodie icon has finally made it to Abu Dhabi with the opening of day-to-night destination Buddha-Bar Beach at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi. Boho chic vibes abound but there is still the same focus on delivering a high-quality Far Eastern dining experience. The signature Buddha-Bar chicken salad is a robust, zingy affair but don’t ignore the awesome seafood on offer – the ceviche is a clear winner.
It’s a squeeze fitting another Italian restaurant into the city’s pasta-laden repertoire but save room for Dino’s Bistro Italiano at Pearl Rotana Capital Centre where kitsch red and white checkered tablecloths scream trattoria and the calzone with mushrooms and spinach is utterly moreish.
Gastro flavours have found their place on Saadiyat Island at the Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, where Hamilton’s Gastropub is fast becoming the social hangout of choice, ably aided by its bestselling metre-long lamb, chicken or veal sausage platters served with caramelised onions (the black Mediterranean mussels pot is another standout).
Casual seems to be the new cool this year and another welcome addition – and the subject of a gazillion Instagram posts, is Black Tap. No need to drive to Dubai any longer to get your freakshake fix with Yas Mall serving up the pink, blue and yellow froufrou cotton candy shake and other lurid concoctions. Their All-American burger and falafel burger are both superb although the sides may tip you over the edge – crispy Brussels sprouts anyone? Expect to queue.
Pop-ups, food trucks and homegrown concepts are picking up speed. On the busy waterfront Corniche, the A’l Bahar leisure development has a slew of quick eat options. We particularly like Eat Sol’s burgers and Cupagahwa for a warming cup of karak chai. The jaw-aching allure of a prime cut of meat, cooked simply to order, is the MO at Bill’s Farm where you get to chow down on top quality flavours, and soak up the phenomenal views of the city skyline. The Porterhouse for two with forkfuls of truffle mash is the way to go.
For a suits-all spread in a five-star setting, Rosewater at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers (main picture) has a brilliant buffet serving a variety of global flavours, with live cooking stations so you can see the chefs in action.
South American cuisine is still very much in favour and the modern Peruvian fare at Coya Abu Dhabi has won its place in the hearts of local diners. Reserve the private 12-seat dining room for a special occasion and share the gourmet fun. Tip: make sure you try the savoury churros de papa, wagyu tartare tacos and corn served three ways.
In the same upscale retail location, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, 99 Sushi Bar is the brainchild of Spanish siblings and serves up Japanese haute cuisine to haute couture-clad diners. Staying in Asia, authentic Thai fare is always guaranteed at Pachaylen at Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara. The calming views of the protected mangroves are offset by the vibrant flavours and presentations.
When it comes to Indian cuisine, you really are spoilt for choice. We hate to be picky, but our three current faves, in no particular order, are the award-winning Ushna at The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri for the gosht khada masala, Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor at Nation Galleria where the Telangana lobster chingari always tickles our fancy, and Angar at Yas Hotel Abu Dhabi for the set Curry Club menu, featuring the exquisite dish of baby eggplant and jalapeños in a peanut, coconut gravy.
Carnivores are well catered for in Abu Dhabi, with many a plush wood-panelled steakhouse. A winter favourite is the upmarket BBQ Al Qasr at Emirates Palace. Seafront gazebos set the scene while the menu of prime American and Aussie beef will satisfy those meat cravings. The restaurant also does a nice line in seafood. If celeb status steaks are your thing, Turkish Internet sensation Salt Bae has his own gaff in The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, and while he’s rarely in residence, the Nusr-Et team knows their stuff. Less star-studded but with a menu that has Australian master Kobe beef as a highlight, The Forge at The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal is worth a splurge. The crab cake and carnicero burger with wagyu beef and truffle, are a delicious alternative to a classic steak dinner.
Circle back to Mediterranean and European flavours via long-running seafood veteran, Fishmarket at InterContinental Abu Dhabi, where you’ll also find Circo, the award-winning Italian transplant from New York. Its deceptively simple slow-cooked veal and beef Bolognese with tagliatelle packs a hearty punch and the squid ink calamari risotto just begs to be shared. For comforting, home-style Italian food like mamma used to make, there’s only one choice in town – La Mamma at Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort, another local legend. Equally good is Parmigiana at Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, which offers contemporary staples, such as bruschetta, pasta, pizza and, of course, parmigiana, in a casual setting overlooking the corniche.
“Pop-ups, food trucks and homegrown concepts are picking up speed”
Francophiles craving classic French fare can’t go wrong with a trip to Bord Eau at Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi. The interiors are reminiscent of a grand château, but the food is less intimidating. Try the gratinated onion soup and double up on mains with an impeccably executed Chateaubriand. French bistro food in a contemporary setting is to be had out at Bentley Bistro & Bar at The Galleria on Al Maryah Island. Steak tartare and beef Bourguignon are our picks, whatever the season. Another cuisine making waves in the UAE hails from the land of olives, oregano and all things Bacchanalian, Eat Greek Kouzina at The Galleria on Al Maryah Island is your pit-stop for a journey through culinary history. It’s about more than moussaka – soutzoukakia meatballs, octopus with eggplant mousse and kleftiko lamb are all must-tries.
We would be remiss if we didn’t dedicate some space to Arabic cuisine and naturally, Abu Dhabi has an option on every corner. If you’re desperate to try authentic Emirati cuisine, start with Al Fanar at The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal’s Venetian Village. Bring your appetite and feast on dishes including fish biryani, a hearty chicken thereed, where a flavourful stew is ladelled on top of thin Arabic bread, and save room for luqamat – an Emirati take on doughnuts, served with date syrup. The views are pretty photogenic too. We also recommend Meshwari, an Arabic street food-styled casual restaurant chain with several outlets across the city. Showcasing food from across the region, the short and sweet menu includes the bestselling kheshkhash shawarma kebab, cauliflower moutabal, falafel sandwiches and a super healthy freekeh salad.
If you’re in town for a weekend, then brunch has to be top of the to-eat list. For an exclusive experience, book Brunch in the Clouds at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, which invites 50 diners to the world’s highest suspended suite on the last Friday of each month. When the private elevator doors ping open, you’re free to devour the foodie delights in the rooms, from the cinema full of candy to the dedicated cheese and dessert room and caviar ice-bar. You can even head to the suite’s private spa for a shoulder massage. Iconic upscale Chinese brand, Hakkasan Abu Dhabi, at Emirates Palace, has also upped the Friday brunch ante with a bevy of star dishes, including the applewood-smoked Peking duck with caviar starter, foie gras and crab xia long bao, and an almost-too-pretty-to-eat chicken floss savoury triangle.
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