Ever heard of a salt sommelier?

Anantara Desert Islands Resort & SpaAbu Dhabi; Have you ever heard of a salt sommelier? Well FooDiva hadn’t until an email landed in my inbox one day. I can smell a good publicity stunt from sand dunes afar, but nevertheless I was intrigued. So the nature reserve that makes up Sir Bani Yas Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi houses the Thai Desert Islands Anantara resort, as well as a certain individual by the name of Dams Dato-On, the in-house ‘Salt Guru’.

Salt SommelierAnd so FooDiva found herself dining at the resort’s beachfront seafood restaurant, Samak, last weekend. With a trolley full of salts, Dams explains the restaurant’s concept of pairing the right salt with each dish to bring out the flavour of ingredients, both during the cooking process and after as a sprinkling. All seven salts served are natural and unrefined, mostly from sea water, plus one from a Peruvian spring. Bizarrely, the island has its very own salt dome, a vertical cylinder of salt created by the evaporation of salt water, but for now it’s simply a sightseeing stop. Salts

We are all preached to limit our salt intake to avoid rising blood pressure, but most chefs, Samak’s included, see salt as an essential seasoning ingredient. Given FooDiva dines out so much, at home I rarely cook with salt. It’s all about moderation.

At Samak you can select your seafood from a display, choose your cooking method and accompanying sauce. Good news for supporters of sustainable fishing, Samak’s market display brought up a local two bar sea bream or ‘faskar’ in Arabic which is aplenty in U.A.E waters. More on fish sustainability in a forthcoming post. All fish is purchased from local fish markets in neighbouring Ruwais and Abu Dhabi.

Fish on iceFrom the dishes we ordered, the sea bream, filleted and steamed Thai-style with a chilli, lime and lemongrass sauce stood out. Served with a simple portion of steamed rice and veggies. The fish alone was so silky and flaky, just bursting with flavour, but oh my when I drizzled the piquant and zesty sauce (always ask for sauce on the side), I couldn’t finish my plate quick enough. Simply heavenly. The flavours reminded me of The Ivy’s signature Thai-baked sea bass. Paired with ‘Sel Gris Gray’; a coarse and organic French sea salt that probably did go some way to enhancing those sublime flavours, but am pretty sure the Thai sauce could have done it alone.

Thai steamed sea breamWe also sampled a ‘Fumee de Sel’; a French sea salt smoked from oakwood wine barrels. Served with a tuna carpaccio, sliced a tad too thickly it bordered on a tuna sashimi. If you’re looking for a salt with a difference, then it’s the Durango Hickory Smoked; Pacific Sea salts naturally smoked over premium Hickory hardwood. With an intense smokey flavour you only need a teeny bit, but quite divine sprinkled on the home-made focaccia.

Salt sommelier aside, the wine sommelier and his list impress with a staggering selection of rosé vinos, quite unusual for this country, let alone an island way off the beaten track.

Talking of which, allow a 4 ½ hour drive door to door from new Dubai, or slightly less from Abu Dhabi corniche. Once you arrive at the jetty close to Jebel Dhanna, ferries departing every hour will whisk you to the island in twenty minutes, followed by another so many minutes in an electric powered mini-bus to the resort.

Desert Islands Resort & Spa by AnantaraSamakDesert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara - The Library

Originally built as a guest house for the late ruler, His Highness Sheikh Zayed’s visitors, the building was converted into a 64-room Anantara resort three years ago. It may be a Thai boutique hotel chain, but the feel is more African colonial; the library in particular is well worth a nightcap with the odd highly prized antique on display. And of course the reason you travel so far is not food alone, but for a guided jeep safari to peek at the wildlife from giraffes and gazelles to oryxes and ostriches, plus a herd of antelope and the odd cheetah or two. Yes right on our U.A.E doorstep.

GiraffesArabian OryxAntelope

Publicity stunt or not, FooDiva’s all for injecting innovation into this country’s F&B (industry lingo for food & beverage), so you may take the salt sommelier with a pinch of salt, but am pretty sure I’ll return.

Is salt an essential ingredient in your diet? Why? Do you have a favourite one?

Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara has a number of special packages including a two night Dine & Discovery escape. Click here for rates. E; dirs@anantara.com T; +971 2 8015400.

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

  • Posted under
    Abu Dhabi, Culinary Travel, Fish, Hotels, Licensed, Restaurants, Seafood

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12 Responses to “Ever heard of a salt sommelier?”

  1. Keren September 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I saw the press release for the salt sommelier and almost cried with laughter! Recession? What recession?

  2. sarah September 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    After training for 4 years to become a wine sommelier, I’m not convinced the words “salt” and “sommelier” should really go together. Saying that, I do appreciate the subtle differences in salts (love pink Murray River salt!) due to different mineral components and “terrior”, and of course the treatments – I guess maybe it is a little like wine! Although maybe not so much fun. Just don’t tell me they have good and bad vintages.

    Love your photos of the resort – can’t wait to go there!

  3. I Live in a Frying Pan September 23, 2011 at 3:35 am

    huge fan of salt = ME! Especially the flavored/herbed ones…I’d love to go try this.

  4. Adam September 25, 2011 at 1:55 am

    That’s amazing — I don’t remember a salt guru from my time at bani yas! Though I found some “Himalayan Salt” at spinneys which seems to make everything (even plain-jane down homey american baked beans) extra delicious.

  5. FooDiva September 25, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Hi Adam. Spinneys also sells a smoked Maldon sea salt which can become a little addictive, even as I try to avoid salt at home :)

  6. Alon September 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    T’was the Westin in Dubai who first started this gimmick few month after opening and it did not catch on.

  7. Katie Foster October 1, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Thank you so much for this overview of Bani Yas . . we have it scheduled for a December weekend trip and you have just “sealed the deal.” Sounds absolutely wonderful and our kind of place. Will definitely seek out the salt guru.

    • FooDiva October 1, 2011 at 8:30 pm

      Glad FooDiva’s helping with the decision making Katie :) Perfect weather by then. Would love to hear your feedback – enjoy.

  8. IshitaUnblogged February 5, 2013 at 8:54 am

    Oh loved Desert Islands… we cooked some fabulous prawns and ate them for dinner as well! The staff was so warm. And you’ve rightly said about the wine list and the African colonial feel. I hopped onto this article only today – will update my post with the link. Lovely evening shot of the resort:)

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