When a restaurant is located a little out of the way, when you have to make an effort to reach it, the dining experience needs to justify the effort. Hawksbill at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is a 20-minute drive from the centre of Abu Dhabi and after a meal there last week, I am not entirely convinced that it was worth the trip.
As you would expect, the restaurant has a clubhouse feel to it, albeit a rather grown-up one. The views of the rolling greens of the golf course break things up a little and I daresay that in cooler weather, the atmosphere out on the terrace would be less muted. Inside, though, the mood matches the colour scheme: it's all a bit restrained.
The international-style menu is unnecessarily long. It features more than 60 dishes, including soups, sandwiches, pasta options, various appetisers, full main courses (with everything from fish and chips to curry) and a separate Arab menu. In short, there is just too much going on. A menu of this length clearly doesn't play to the strengths of the chef and makes one question how the kitchen could possibly find the time to prepare the dishes from scratch.
The 20 minutes or so that we spent deliberating over what we wanted to eat was in part due to the vast amount of choice, with the other reason being that soon after we were given a menu, the music stopped and the room was plunged into darkness. This happened twice more during the meal and each time we sat in uncomfortable silence while the problem was rectified. Despite the service being generally rather friendly and attentive, no one apologised for this inconvenience, nor attempted to offer an explanation. Odd.
My starter of Thai-style prawns consisted of seven small balls of deep-fried minced prawns with a breadcrumb shell and a dot of Thai curry paste in the centre. Had I been served this dish as a bar snack, I would have been relatively impressed: the prawn meat was succulent and the coating a crisp, golden brown. But as a starter in a vaguely upmarket restaurant, it wasn't quite good enough, particularly because the uniformity of the balls very much suggested that they had not been made in-house and the only accompaniment was a small pot of shop-bought sweet chilli sauce.
My friend, however, enjoyed her lentil soup very much. The smooth amber liquid was nicely spiced, with cumin undertones and a wholesome, healthy feel to it. What a shame, then, that the garlic croutons seemed stale and without any garlic flavour.
A main course of lamb shank with pumpkin risotto was as robust and rustic as it sounds. On the plus side, the rich, slow-cooked meat subsided from the bone into tender, succulent chunks filled with gamy flavour. The accompanying risotto was disappointing, though. It was watery, lacked depth and the rice, which is supposed to retain some of its bite, had been overcooked - the texture was mushy rather than tender. A few chunks of pumpkin failed to add much-needed oomph.
My cordon bleu chicken was served with a pile of nicely seasoned spinach and a smudge of cauliflower purée that looked and tasted past its best. The stuffed chicken was surrounded by a distinctly soggy, chewy breadcrumb batter and the meagre amount of taleggio cheese and crispy bresaola in the middle did very little to enhance the taste of the dry, bland meat. A side order of truffle mash glistened with grease, the potato had a gluey texture and the synthetic flavour of the truffle oil was overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the meal did not take an upward turn when it came to desserts. My friend's macerated strawberries were drowned in a strongly flavoured, very vinegary balsamic syrup. It was both unpleasantly astringent and too sweet - the poor strawberries didn't stand a chance. I, meanwhile, could not identify any caramel flavour in my crème caramel and the promised macaroons (the real reason I ordered the dish) were missing from the plate entirely.
I think that to succeed, those in charge at Hawksbill need to stop, take stock and decide whom they want to cater for. Is this a place for golfers to relax with a salad, sandwich or bowl of soup, or is it a fine-dining destination? At the moment they are trying to do it all and it's not working.
A meal for two at Hawksbill, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club costs Dh395 not including service. For reservations call 02 557 8000. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.
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