When I first heard that Camacho, a restaurant down by Abu Dhabi Corniche in Khalidiya, served both Japanese and Italian food, I was sceptical but nonetheless intrigued. Thankfully, it doesn’t attempt to fuse the two cuisines, instead offering two distinct menus.
In terms of decor, Camacho feels decidedly more European than Asian; the restaurant is quite small and the exposed brick walls, wooden tables and chairs and pleasingly ambient lighting give the room a homely, cosy feel, akin to an Alpine lodge.
Towards the back, chefs work diligently at the sushi counter. Behind them, a wood-fired pizza oven roars away. The combination of the two does seem a little odd at first, but in the end feels quirkily charming, rather than disconcerting.
When my friend and I visited the other night we decided that to avoid confusing ourselves and our palates entirely, she would go the Italian route and I would stick to the Japanese dishes. She began her meal with two nicely roasted mushrooms stuffed with ricotta, garlic and pesto, topped with a (scant) scattering of golden breadcrumbs and served with a handful of balsamic dressed salad leaves and two warm bread rolls. It was, by all accounts, a pleasant dish. However, ricotta is, by its very nature, a rather bland cheese and the filling would have benefited from being more ardently flavoured with garlic and pesto.
While she was tucking into her rustic plate of funghi, I was slipping tender, steaming hot edamame beans out of their pods and sipping on some really decent miso soup, which had plenty of background flavour, sliced mushrooms and finely chopped spring onions. Salmon nigiri featured nicely cooked rice draped with slices of buttery, rich fish, which lacked a little in the flavour department, but was certainly fresh. Six pieces of caterpillar maki provided an interesting layering of flavours and textures – soft, creamy avocado, sweet and crispy bonito flakes, crunchy, salty salmon skin and pieces of meaty shrimp, although it should be said that their tempura coating was quite soggy.
On the other side of the table, my friend was devouring her lamb chops with gusto and declared them well cooked, tasty and not too fatty. She took to picking the chops up and nibbling away at the remaining meat towards the end, which is always a good sign.
An accompanying fried polenta cake was crisp on the outside but critically under-seasoned. It was advertised on the menu as “soft polenta”, which suggested that it would be served traditionally, as a thick, mushy porridge-like accompaniment, rather than cooled, formed into a round and fried.
Camacho did let itself down a little when it came to desserts; the cheesecake, chocolate souffle, cake of the day and mini dessert selection were all unavailable, leaving only chocolate cake, tiramisu, fresh fruit and ice cream to choose from. We split a portion of classic tiramisu and really enjoyed it; the sponge was lovely and light, with a strong, lingering coffee flavour. The portion size was well judged.
The service at Camacho was charming throughout and as the restaurant began to fill up – by the time we left, every table was occupied – and the sound of happy chatter filled the room, I started to really like it. I wasn’t wowed by the food, but it was enjoyable. This place isn’t a special occasion destination, but if you’re looking for a neighbourhood restaurant that you can drop by midweek, receive a warm welcome and enjoy a decent enough dinner, then this place won’t disappoint.
A meal for two at Camacho, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Saif Building, Space 5, Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi Corniche, costs Dh278, including service charge. For reservations, call 02 650 5600. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito