Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy T-bone. Abu Dhabi has a brand new steakhouse in a brand new boutique hotel, and it's causing a buzz. In a city that's crying out for stylish, trendy, understated accommodation and restaurant options, The Village by One to One hotels is as welcome as a pay rise. It seems that everybody is talking about the cool little place that appears to have sprung up in Al Salam street like a mirage in the desert. But it's real. We touched the walls, met the staff and tasted the food at 18oz.
A lift brought us to the entrance, from which we saw leather-effect turquoise wall padding and shimmering steel blue curtains. There were old-school Chesterfield-style leather chairs beside flock patterned seats on dark wooden floors. But the place was so brightly lit it made us want to go home, fetch a toolbox and install a dimmer switch. Then there was the music - what sounded like 1920s ragtime jazz seemed a world apart from this distinctly modern backdrop. Seemingly everything in the restaurant clashed. And then there was the beef theme...
A giant cowskin rug adorned the entrance of a restaurant that, elsewhere at least, was desperately trying to come across as stylish and contemporary. And the menus were pasted onto grossly enlarged "real leather" swatches, similar to the tags one might find on a new pair of shoes. Yes, we know it's a steak restaurant. There's no need to beat us over the head with a rib eye to prove the point. We finally got around to ordering some food, and aimed for what we hoped this restaurant would do best - steak. But not before some surprisingly good starters. We made light work of some rich and smooth lobster bisque with silky Armagnac cream, which was full of intense seafood flavours. Then we deconstructed a warm green salad of crunchy asparagus, crisp lettuce, fresh spinach, pert avocado and soft chicken livers in a mildly fruity pomegranate sauce.
And so for the main event. The 8oz Angus tenderloin was expertly cooked, as soft as a whisper and packed with torrents of juicy, bloody flavour. It arrived with a fine baked potato, crisp on the outside and fluffy within, and two toothsome sauces of green peppercorn and morel mushrooms. The 12oz striploin was perhaps understandably less moist than the tenderloin, but it was suitably rare and very tasty slathered in the herb butter and veal jus sauce. It came with a side order of velvety creamed potato that more than made up for the dryness of the steak.
While the surroundings might have been a little confused, the starters and mains were spot on. The same went for the service, which was impeccable throughout. Unfortunately, the execution of the desserts didn't quite match the expertise of the previous courses. The apple crumble with vanilla sauce was stodgy rather than crumbly and looked like it had been left in a refrigerator overnight. Likewise, the baked cheesecake with blueberries and blackcurrants was a little tired and jaded, with its soggy base and lacklustre texture.
It wasn't the best note to end on, but 18oz had tried so hard it was endearing, charming, even. Since there are precious few steakhouses in Abu Dhabi - and even fewer steakhouses in boutique hotels - anybody contemplating a bit of beef in one of the capital's chain-hotel restaurants should think again. To further paraphrase W H Auden, let aeroplanes circle beaming overhead, scribbling on the sky the message - "visit 18oz instead".
One To One Hotels,
Al Salam Street, Abu Dhabi (02 495 2000).
Average price of a meal for two people Dh500-600.