x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Flooka serves mainly fish, not fowl

Flooka at Eastern Mangroves offers an inspired, fishy spin on Levant-style cuisine.

Flooka features a silvery fish ornament suspended from the ceiling, Courtesy Flooka
Flooka features a silvery fish ornament suspended from the ceiling, Courtesy Flooka

A few months ago, Flooka’s opening event gave an insight into its attention-grabbing flair for putting an inspired, fishy spin on Levant-style cuisine. Plates of finger food circulated, showcasing bite-sized delights such as shawarma and kibbeh, but substituting the usual meat-based fillings with seafood. It was certainly intriguing enough to warrant a full revisiting once the restaurant had settled into its inviting premises.

Flooka’s location is near idyllic: its terrace sits above the waterfront, set to one side of Anantara’s Eastern Mangroves Hotel. The aroma of saltwater and the views across the lush green mangroves are a perfect backdrop for a seafood spot. The indoor areas are easy on the eye, too, decorated by a sparkling shoal of silvery fish suspended from the ceiling.

Mindful of Flooka’s aforementioned gastronomical innovation, we skipped the cold mezze, which covers the (over)familiar tabbouleh, fattoush, hummus, et al – in favour of the seafood mezze menu.

Traditionally, mezze means modest-sized plates, so we opted for a selection of four and received both quality and quantity. The sojok samak harked back to our initial tasters of Flooka: we’d challenge any foodie to blindfold-sample these Lebanese fish sausages, sautéed in chunky tomato sauce, and conclusively identify the lack of red meat. It’s almost seafood sorcery. Likewise for the kafta samak meshwi (charcoal-grilled minced fish skewers with parsley and onions). The samke harra (fish ratatouille with tomato, hot green and red peppers, onion and coriander) maintained the streak, although the heat level was barely noticeable. Meanwhile, the kraydes (deep-fried prawns in seasoned breadcrumbs) were ordered as something of a placebo effect, but were satisfyingly crunchy with a garlicky dip.

Comparatively, most of the mains leaned nearer to regular Middle Eastern seafood restaurant fare. In an effort to avoid that, we considered the fish stroganoff but opted for the seafood ravioli in pomodoro sauce, instead. In the half-light of the terrace, it was difficult to tell if the ravioli, which was darker on one side, had been slightly singed or the effect was intentional.

It also pushed forward the one major criticism of Flooka: more emphasis could be given to specifics on a menu prone to catch-all terms such as “seafood” and “fish”. Faced with such vagueness, it’s easy to imagine that you’re being fed a mishmash of sea life, even though that conceivably may not be the case.

There was no mistaking what was on the table with the moules mariniére, however. The sizeable mussels, cooked with mushrooms, garlic and cream, were at least the equals of any similar shelled delights elsewhere in Abu Dhabi.

After such a breadth of choice, the dessert scope was a tad disappointing: only four spots are reserved for afters. The mixed helou (Arabic sweets) didn’t detail its three components, starring some slightly chewy Turkish delight and an unidentified dish that we can best describe as a raspberry sorbet – which isn’t especially Arabic, to our knowledge. The wackily titled ice-cream selection (dabbouza and funky monkey, anybody?) proved a redeemer, with a chocolatey-banana concoction among the gourmet scoops.

The service was rather up and down – staff, by turns, intuitively pre-empting requests and disappearing completely. But that aside, for seafood connoisseurs seeking a bit more than a whole fish staring back at them – or even for those who can’t stand the taste, frankly – Flooka offers a distinct, dexterous alternative.

• A meal for two at Flooka, Eastern Mangroves Promenade, Abu Dhabi, costs Dh516. For more information, call 02 441 8244. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito

aworkman@thenational.ae