18° is housed high up in the leaning (18-degree) structure that is the Hyatt Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi. The views are certainly good, but they’re not quite spectacular enough to distract from the fact that the interior is pretty nondescript. Yes, it’s shiny, smart and modern-looking, but amid the wooden floors, shades of taupe and polished service stations, there’s nothing to really set this place apart.
Although billed as the hotel’s signature dining restaurant, 18° feels rather more like a functional all-day dining spot. There’s an open kitchen, a couple of live cooking stations and, in a move that baffles me completely, the desserts are displayed in a chiller cabinet. Is this to reassure you that rather than being cooked to order, they’re merely heated up?
The menu is long and varied – taking in at least six dishes each from five different Mediterranean countries: Turkey, Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Syria – but offers no clear distinction between starters and mains. We took the prices as our guide and selected accordingly.
My ordering skills were obviously having an off day, because my friend fared significantly better than I. Her starter of vitello tonnato was actually very good – a daintily presented version of an Italian classic. Very thin slices of chilled veal meat were tender, the tuna-spiked sauce was creamy and the capers provided the dual function of ramping up the mild flavour of the meat and cutting through the richness of the -dressing.
Across the table, I was picking away at my calamari with far less enthusiasm. The thick-cut cylinders of deep-fried squid were served without a dipping sauce or any greenery whatsoever. Bar a lemon half, there was nothing to break up the monotony of the batter or to add a bit of zing and interest. The portion was too large for a starter, the batter wasn’t crisp and the squid was -mediocre.
For her main course, my friend winged her way over to Greece. Scallops came topped with a tasty combination of crispy breadcrumbs, diced tomatoes and parsley. The scallops were nicely cooked – still translucent in the middle – but they were served in the shell, with the membrane still attached. I found this really bizarre; usually when scallops are served in their shells, both bivalve and shell are prepped and cleaned separately, before being reunited for presentation purposes. Serving them as they do at 18° makes for very fiddly eating.
Meanwhile, I had ordered the slow-cooked duck legs with spiced orange and walnut salad and had expected something far lighter than the hearty plate of comfort food that was placed in front of me. A rustic, cassoulet-style dish contained two duck legs, a spoonful of mashed potato, gravy glaze and a pile of braised cabbage, diced orange and walnut halves. Now had this all been delicious, I could have forgiven the vaguely misleading menu description. Alas, it really wasn’t: the duck meat was succulent but the skin was flabby and soft, the mash was smooth and buttery but hadn’t been seasoned properly and the jus was oily.
After our main course plates were cleared, my friend decided that she would like a cigarette. We informed two members of staff that we were stepping out on to the terrace for a couple of minutes, but would be back shortly. When we returned our table had been completely cleared, half-full water glasses included. Feeling bemused, we sat down and were then ignored for 10 minutes. It was only when we made pointed eye contact with a senior member of staff that we were asked if everything was all right. To her credit, she then quickly provided us with a dessert menu and a fresh bottle of water.
A chocolate fondant was passable, but far from the best of its kind. The molten filling was delicious, as liquid chocolate tends to be, but the cooked cake element was pretty tasteless and an accompanying piece of tuille was soft and tasted old. Lemon meringue pie was served straight from the aforementioned chiller and the meringue element was far from fresh and fluffy.
No element of our meal here was disastrous, but in terms of the both the food and the service, they could do much, much better.
A meal for two at 18° at the Hyatt Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi, costs Dh610, including service charge. For reservations, call 02 596 1440. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito