Thursday, October 13, 2011

Abdel Wahab - Ordinary Lebanese Fare

When it comes to Lebanese cuisine in the capital, I don't bother straying from the trusted Lebanese Flower and Marroush. You can find the juciest grills and shwarmas, creamiest hummus and moutabel and the most filling mixed fruit mocktail in the city at prices you cannot beat. More fine-dining Lebanese options have cropped up recently in the form of Fairmont Bab Al Bahr's Cedar Lounge among others, but the former two still remain my go-to options. A recent work gathering, however, took me to a restaurant I wouldn't normally drop by given its location at Souk Qaryat al Beri. Online reviews would've also done little to cajole me to go there as they are filled with criticism of the service and quality of food. I have to admit, I did go with some preconceived notions about the place, but in a way, they worked to tame my expectations to such a degree that anything passable was welcomed.

The indoor seating area was smaller than I though it would be, although there was a large outdoor area with a view of the glorious Sheikh Zayed Mosque. I was surprised to see that they had a bar which stocked alcohol - not something that I'd associate with a restaurant in a (high-end) mall with a name like Abdel Wahab. But, what did I tell you about preconceived notions? Anyway, the menu had been picked beforehand, so we patiently waited for them to introduce every course on our table.

First came the cold mezzes in the form of tabouleh, fattoush, hummus and moutabel along with freshly baked pita bread. They were all quite good.

Next came the hot starters: kibbeh (rather dry), chicken wings (soggy skin due to being soaked in the strong lemon dressing/gravy, and the chicken was smelly), cocktail sausages (also predominantly sour due to a generous drizzle of lemon juice) and cubed potatoes sauteed in garlic and herbs (absolutely divine!). I was a little confused about why two of the meat offerings were so strongly flavored with lemon. Anyway, after a wait of about ten minutes, the main course was served, which was basically mixed grill on a platter. The grill was below average in my opinion, and the shish tawook actually looked under cooked. I helped myself to half a kofta before deciding to call it a night. Dessert was a selection of fresh fruits, so there's not much to review there.

Service was ordinary - slower than I would've liked, but not outright rude as I was expecting (from the reviews). At one point, my friend handed her camera to a waiter to capture a group shot, and his mortified reaction was quite out of place although he did oblige. I made a mental note of the name appearing on his nametag, but perhaps it would be unfair to share it here.

The restaurant is obviously on the pricey side given its location and alcohol license, and the set menu came to about 160 per person. Would I recommend it? No. Would I go back? Maybe if I'm in the mood for some outdoor shisha while enjoying a stunning view when I happen to have a car at my disposal...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jimmy's Killer(?) Prawns

Apologizing for the long and totally random intervals between my posts has become slightly redundant, so I am going to skip the formalities and get straight to my next review. Jimmy's Killer Prawns was one of the first dine-in options to open at my neighboring Mushrif Mall, and my friends and I decided to take one of our seafood appreciating (I won't say loving) friend there for her birthday.

We ordered three dishes that we shared amongst the five of us. The Jimmy's Original Prawns (spicy) came with 18 full prawns (head, eyes et al) and some finger-licking good, shallow gravy that I couldn't get enough of. The dish was AED 99, and while I enjoyed the little flesh I could salvage after throwing the shell, limbs and head off, this dish was a bit of a waste for me considering how much I discarded. Some of my friends happily sucked on the brains, but I wouldn't dare. It was also hard to not look past all the cholesterol on that plate. Our second dish was a prawn and ribs combo (AED 100+). The prawns were the same as the one in our previous dish, and I have had better ribs at the more humble Lebanese Flower. Our third pick of the evening was a steak dish. This was my first time having a medium cooked steak and I surprisingly enjoyed it. It was quite pink in the middle, but once I conjured up the courage to chew it, I found that it was more juicy and tender than its well-done counter part. Still, I'm not sure if I will be switching to medium cooked steaks permanently as I generally don't like my food resembling it's raw version.

My drink for the evening was my friend's rejected strawberry-mint mocktail which she switched with my Diet Pepsi. I particularly enjoyed the strong taste of both the key ingredients in the drink and I wasn't aware previously that strawberry and mint could go so well together!

The bill came up to almost 400 and it's definitly on the pricey side. While it was definitely a different exprience that I enjoyed (although company also played a big role in that), I don't think that I'll be going back there soon or ever. The prawns may be good, but they're not addictive.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: Jones the Grocer

Time to review another relatively new franchise that has made a splash in Abu Dhabi. My first impression of Jones the Grocer: they serve food on wooden boards! (referring to Tempo's cover shot some months back). I think that aspect of their presentation was what first attracted me to the place. I like businesses that make an effort to stand out. Back when I was a student, I could only admire such places from afar as any unique gesture would usually signal prices that would put a serious dent in my budget. But I guess those four years of deprivation paid off somewhat. Anyway, I was keen to try out their good-to-go gourmet m eals (popular spot for work lunches, and our CEO is a regular customer) and headed to their Khalidiyah branch soon after it opened.

My first impression of the interiors - sterile. That might be a strange thing to say for a place serving food, but the plain tables, open kitchen with steel finishing and black shelves lined along the walls made me feel like I was in a hospital canteen. I guess they went for the functional, modern feel, which did eventually grow on me. Word of advice: avoid intense or intimate conversation because there's a pretty good chance that the people sitting behind you can overhear everything. There's not much space between adjacent tables, and that was the only thing that bugged me. But keeping the concept of the place in mind, I guess I shouldn't expect any different. You'll have shoppers behind you stocking up on grocery supplies while you're eating, so it is not your regular diner.

Now on to the food. On my first visit, I went for the Wagyu Beef Pie and lemonade, and finished my extended meal with some hot chocolate and chocolate muffin. My friends had gone for the Macaroni and Cheese with Salmon, and Jones Chicken Burger. This was actually a few months back when I was not in the habit of carrying my camera around with me, so my BlackBerry captured shots are as fuzzy as my memory of that meal. I do remember enjoying the food, but the details escape me.

My first set of uninspiring photos.

On my more recent visit a few days ago, I opted for their renowned Wagyu Beef Burger (AED 62), and my, what a burger it was! Maybe it had to do with me being famished as it was a late lunch at 4 PM, but I don't think I've ever had a better burger. It was just the right size, juicy, with the right selection and amount of condiments. I didn't even mind the mayonnaise that I usually shun if given the option! The accompanying fries came with a slight taste of the olive oil that they were fried/baked in and the herbed ketchup was also received well. In short, if you ever want to introduce burgers to someone for the very first time (and I have no idea who that's going to be in today's time and age), this is IT.

After a short break, my dining partner and I went for the ADW recommended Apple Crumble Pie/Tart (AED 14). I thought the cinnamon flavor was too strong and in hindsight, I should've asked them to warm it up. Nothing I'd have a second time or particularly recommend. The coffee (AED 10) and tea (AED 15) that we ordered were pretty standard, but it was a pretty memorable meal either way thanks to the star of the show, the Wagyu Beef Burger.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ramadan Recap

This post is not going to be very helpful since Ramadan is long over, but it does work to reinforce some old opinions and provide some insight into what to avoid for future iftars.

Yas Hotel - Origins:

So my annual office iftar was at this place and at AED 175 per head, this was definitely one of the more expensive iftar buffets I had been to this year. But yet again, a 5-star hotel failed to deliver. The buffet spread was large, but not extensive. The food was not different from any of the 'regular' places I've been to. I don't know if the 5-star tag inflates one's expectations to the point that even the slightly above average fare seems downright dowdy, but I don't remember anything about the buffet that I liked. Even the roast potatoes that I normally devour were on the sweet side, making them hard to enjoy. They had a live shwarma station, but the one I was handed was soggy from all the tomatoes stuffed inside, and the chicken was smelly. One thing hotels do well is desserts. I suppose that's the only part of the buffet spread that makes an attempt to justify the price tag. The variety of desserts and the attention to detail given to all the individual servings is commendable. I did take away a wonderful memory from this experience: coffee at the balcony overlooking the F1 race track and the yachts harbored at the marina.

Royal Orchid:

This iftar was unsatisfactory on several levels. Thai for iftar is just something that my palate and stomach juices are not used to, so the first few bites did feel a little strange. Besides that, we could not hear the azaan at all inside and had to rely on a waiter to tell us when we could commence. Some of the appetizers were edible such as the vegetable spring roll, raw mango salad and chicken drumsticks, but the mains were a huge letdown. There were only a couple of options (4-5) and that would've been okay if the taste made up for it. But unfortunately, most of it was either under-salted or the quality of the ingredients was just not good enough. I had to fill up on the appetizers as a result. If the mains were a letdown, the desserts were worse. The 'exotic fruit selection' had been ploughed through by the time we got to it, and they did not refill the serving plate. The other dessert options included something that resembled sesame seed dusted fried wantons with honey/syrup, and a pink, coconut flavored milk with tasteless jelly beans swimming in it. At first, I was excited at the prospect of enjoying a buffet for AED 69 at a place where I usually end up spending more, but my visit confirmed that their offerings are getting progressively worse. If my second last visit was average, my last visit won't make me go back.
P.s. The only good thing about my meal was the strawberry mojito that I ordered (not included in the buffet), but that didn't come without its share of drama as it was embarrassingly titled 'Hot Lips'. Sigh.

I've tried other iftar spreads like Le Boulanger, Kingsgate Hotel, Moti Mahal and Ibrahimi, but I have come to the conclusion that I don't really have an appetite large enough to enjoy a buffet even after an entire day's fasting. My most enjoyable Iftar was actually at Chili's, where the larger than average individual portions filled me up considerably without making sleeping at night uncomfortable.

Review : Cafe Arabia

Gosh it has been a while since my last update, hasn't it? But this time I am back reviewing a city favorite. I call it a favorite as it has received positive reviews from several Abu Dhabi sources like TOA and Abu Dhabi Week, but again, I like to form my own opinion as I haven't always had the best experiences at places highly recommended by the aforementioned. So here goes!

The occasion was a school reunion of sorts as several of us happened to converge in Abu Dhabi from different parts of the world around Eid, and a leisurely afternoon and early dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up. Since we were a large group, we were on the lookout for a place that would be able to accommodate us for several hours without having to turn away other diners. Luckily for us, Cafe Arabia happened to be just that place. I was surprised at how empty it was on a Thursday evening. I was fully expecting it to be at least 60% occupied as the name seems to be on everyone's lips lately. However, when I went there, there were only two diners besides myself although a few others dropped by later in the evening. Anyway, I couldn't complain!

The interior is spacious (three floors including rooftop seating) and very tastefully decorated, giving off a very homely vibe. I loved the arts, lanterns (some of which were on sale), the couches and the interesting pieces dotting the space. There is even a bookshelf stocked with bestsellers which you can plop down with and read at your own pace. A great idea, but as I mentioned to my friend, I'd have to be unemployed to make time for that! There's a sign at the door saying that photography is not allowed, but we couldn't resist sneaking in a few (ok, lots!) and we weren't stopped by the waiter either.

These two pictures are courtesy of my friend Z.S.

Now on to the food. The menu comes in an interesting Emirati fan design, although the pages are printed straight off the computer, not that that matters in the greater scheme of things. We went for different types of coffee and milkshakes (AED 18 - 22) to keep the conversation flowing and were a little surprised to discover that all the drinks looked and tasted pretty much the same, although they had different names on the menu. I guess that's what we get for not trying their signature chai bil hail (cardamom milk tea)! Anyway, the caffeine did see us through for two more hours before we decided to revisit the menu and pick our dishes for the night. Having skimmed through the mains before, the Grilled Kofta (AED 45) had caught my eye and I was intent on having it. What also added to my enthusiasm for the dish was that it came with oven baked potatoes, and any one who knows me knows how much I adore that root vegetable. My friends went for the standard Chicken Fillet sandwich (AED 35), Grilled Chicken (AED 45)and Creamy Alfredo (AED 35).

The food arrived soon enough. I LOVED my Grilled Kofta. It looked great, was juicy and had everyone at the table eying it for a taste. The three grilled koftas came on a bed of whole wheat pita bread, accompanied by a small serving of hummus, THAT grilled potato and some cucumbers. I enjoyed every bite of it. I didn't get to taste the Chicken Fillet sandwich, but I did try my neighbour's Grilled Chicken, and it was pretty good.

Overall my experience was good enough to prompt me to come back the very next day to try their Friday brunch (more on that later). The ambiance was exactly what we wanted, although we were a little on the loud side given our number, and the emptiness made us sound all the louder. The interiors put you in the right mood and I can imagine it feeling so much different if they only had plastic chairs and glass tables. Kudos to the brains behind this venture because I don't think there's a second place in Abu Dhabi like Cafe Arabia.

Now onto the Friday brunch. It was a spontaneous decision as I don't tend to go back to a place the very next day. However, I quite enjoyed my 2 PM brunch there (ends at 3:30 PM). The spread included the standard eggs (something that I don't eat), beef bacon and sausages, and some lunch options like the absolutely divine grilled fish with lemon and lasagna. There was also a selection of cheese, mezzes and dips, sandwiches, saj, mini-pancakes and fresh juices. The dessert selection included Umm Ali, blueberry muffins, fresh fruits, brownies among others. I thought the sizes of all the items was appropriate, so you could try everything without feeling like you're going to burst at the seams. I ended my meal with a strong Americano coffee. The meal saw me through a very exciting day and I wasn't hungry till much, much later, which was a good thing! Brunch is AED 65 per adult.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Anar - Emirates Palace

Special occasions call for special meals, and when you live in Abu Dhabi, it doesn't get more special than Emirates Palace. July is my mother's birth month, and that called for a trip to the iconic Emirates Palace. However, as I have often observed in the past and confirmed with others who share my palate, an expensive menu and top-notch service does not necessarily translate to a plain ol' tasty and satisfying meal. When the best part of the meal is the complementary salad - solely because of the freshness and superior quality of the components and not because it required any mastery from the chef - you know you need to adjust your expectations.

That was my recent experience at Anar - Emirates Palace. I made reservations a day before, but I found out upon getting there that that was completely unnecessary as the place was deserted except for two occupied tables. The interiors were quite impressive and were probably the only thing justifying the bill there because the food left me speechless - and not in a good way. As a beef-lover, I didn't have to pour over the menu for long and quickly settled for 'Tikke Masti' (beef cube kebab), while my mom took her time to pick between 'Ghaliye Mahi' (Hamour fish in tamarind sauce) and 'Tahchin Ba Morgh' (a rice dish with chicken and nuts in a crispy shell) . In the end, she went with the latter and her choice proved to be quite the appetite killer.

Soon after placing our orders, we were presented with a fresh garden salad with walnuts and feta cheese, and some traditional tafton bread. That's one part of the meal that I usually skip but gladly didn't this time. Our mains arrived within 15 minutes, with the kebab and the rice dish making a familiar and an interesting entrance respectively. I would rate the kebab below average as it tasted run off the mill and was too salty even when consumed with the accompanying saffron rice. The serving size was also average. In the menu there was no indication that my mother's 'Tahchin Ba Morgh' was baked in an egg coating, so when the dish arrived with a heavy egg odor, we were quite disappointed. She tried to brave the dish by avoiding the coating but soon grew weary and abandoned it after consuming one half. At this point I began to regret bringing her there as I bet she would've enjoyed an old favorite in a familiar restaurant more. However, she did point out that it was about the ambiance and service rather than just the food, and she was right because we couldn't fault those.

My friend did warn me about the food at Anar, but I had countered with 'How bad can it be?'. Guess I found out.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Macaroon Mania

At Abu Dhabi Mall - AED 9 per macaroon.