A foodie weekend in Abu Dhabi
How does Abu Dhabi compare to Dubai? Given my home for the last 15 years has been Dubai, I am slightly biased, so I asked a pair of ardent travellers, my sister and brother-in-law, who visited both cities earlier this month (and on many other trips) to pen their thoughts on the differences. And read on for FooDiva’s round-up of restaurants, cafés and bars over a weekend in Abu Dhabi.
“A short trip of just over an hour between the cities, but what a clear contrast. For a capital of such a prosperous country, Abu Dhabi is not small by any means but comparing it to Dubai, the difference is remarkable. On a Saturday (and Friday), the main avenues in Abu Dhabi were almost empty, something that you could never fathom in Dubai. The fact that the bright new Galleria mall, with all its glitz and glamour, was practically deserted – the only exception Magnolia Bakery, drawing in the few mall visitors for afternoon tea and cake.
Dubai has the world’s tallest building and one of the most impressive skylines of any global city, whilst Abu Dhabi has one that is getting there, though likely to take another decade or two. Although Dubai is well known for its superlatives, Abu Dhabi has one thing greater – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. What a marvelous composition of architectural symmetry, elegance and religious aesthetics – a monument worthy of UNESCO World Heritage listing. In comparison to Dubai, the restaurant scene was dominated by Emirati clientele which was very welcoming and offered a real view to us (as visitors) on how locals enjoy themselves.
If we had to choose between the two cities, our vote would, without a doubt go to Dubai. The city lights and the vibe indicate a regional metropolis, whilst Abu Dhabi appears as a small (albeit high) city, charming, a little more authentic, but not as energetic or appealing to a visitor as Dubai.”
So where did we dine and drink in the capital?
- Zuma – its second UAE restaurant is now open on Al Maryah Island – Abu Dhabi’s business district. Unlike Dubai, the bar, restaurant, sushi bar and robata grill are all on one level – in fact the elevator shoots you down one storey. It’s also a much more intimate space with an upbeat vibe. The Japanese menu is identical to Dubai, bar the addition of a special ‘Daikoku’ (god of the kitchen) dinner tasting menu in Abu Dhabi. I love that the wasabi is freshly grated at the table. Open throughout Ramadan for lunch and dinner.
- Scott’s – the British Caprice seafood import (same company as Rivington Grill and The Ivy) sits on its own little island at Jumeirah Etihad Towers. Fully glass-fronted, I recommend eating here for lunch to fully appreciate the natural light streaming in. Having said that, this spot is not just closed over Ramadan, but open for dinner only in August – so you’ll have to wait until September. Dishes to order – fried tempura oysters on a bed of curried mango, sautéed razor clams with herb, lemon and garlic breadcrumbs and a ceviche trio with avocado tartare.
- Avasa – tucked away in the courtyard that makes up The Collection, opposite St Regis on Saadiyat Island sits an unassuming but delicious Indian restaurant focusing primarily on northern cuisine. The spicy lamb chops marinated in sour pomegranate, and of course the butter chicken are must orders.
- Café d’Alsace – needless to say given the name, the cuisine here is Alsatian inspired. A rustic licensed café and bakery overlooking Yas Marina. The speciality? Flammkuchen – with a sliver thin crispy base, otherwise known as poor man’s pizza. The four choices all come with toppings of sour cream and onions – which you can then add to with a number of other ingredients. The gruyere cheese with turkey bacon (in the absence of real lardons), and smoked salmon with horseradish get my two votes. And for cheesaholics, there’s a Swiss cheese fondue.
- Magnolia Bakery – I think I am over the cup cake craze, but my sister clearly isn’t. And if you want a sweet stop whilst shopping in The Galleria (mostly designer glitz though so credit cards beware), you can’t go wrong with their red velvet number topped with cream cheese icing of course. Savoury dishes also on tap. Closed for daytime dining over Ramadan.
- Ray’s Bar – a bar on the 62nd floor of Etihad Towers boasts private pods and one helluva skyline view, comparing favourably to Dubai’s rooftop bars. Oh and a ten-page cocktail list with historical explanations of traditional tipples, like my classic champagne cocktail. Isn’t the long-stemmed flute above a beauty? Closed throughout the holy month.
- Observation Deck – did you know Abu Dhabi has an observation deck (and the capital’s highest vantage point) with panoramic views, not quite 360 degrees but nearly there? Well it’s on the 74th floor of the second skyscraper that makes up Jumeirah’s Etihad Towers podium of five buildings. Pick a clear day and head there for morning coffee and croissant overlooking the spectacular new Presidential Palace and Emirates Palace. If you’re feeling adventurous I can highly recommend the camelcinno, with its slightly salty taste. Or else there’s the capital’s highest ‘high’ tea. Entrance is free for hotel guests or else AED75 for visitors, with AED50 redeemable against food and drink. Atmosphere, take note of the affordability here. Open daily 10am – 6pm including Ramadan.
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – you cannot visit the capital without soaking up the breathtaking beauty of Sheikh Zayed mosque. It’s as impressive, if not more so, than the Taj Mahal. Women have to don abayas from the cloakroom in the basement car park, but men can saunter through in shorts and T-shirts. Ironically Emirates Palace does not permit men in shorts, but women are fine. Oh and there’s no food. Luckily this landmark has not yet been commercialised with food and souvenir stalls.
A few other tried and tasted FooDiva recommendations from myself and guest reviewer Liesl:
- Brasserie Angelique at Etihad Towers.
- Progressive dinners, with special mention to Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi.
- Rhodes 44 at St Regis Abu Dhabi.
- Catalan at Rosewood Abu Dhabi.
SLEEP: In case you hadn’t guessed from my social media snaps, we overnighted at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers with its mammoth guest rooms and wall-to-wall windows. Deluxe room rates over the summer start at AED560 plus 16% on advance purchase. Note, I was on a media rate, with no obligation to blog. I paid for all meals and drinks. I also stayed at the Anantara Eastern Mangroves earlier this year whilst Gourmet Abu Dhabi judging. Away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, the serene views across the mangroves will draw you in.
Dubai residents – how do you feel about Abu Dhabi? And those in the capital, do you enjoy life there, or do you have Dubai envy? And UAE visitors, any preferences?