Hugo Berger checks out the capital's new dining options.
Flurry of brand-new hotels in Abu Dhabi means even more restaurants
While the city's petrol heads are rubbing their hands with glee at Formula One's return to Abu Dhabi, those without the slightest interest in motor sports don't have to feel left out from the clamour of excitement.
Because, to cope with the inevitable surge in visitor numbers in the capital over grand prix weekend, a flurry of new hotels will be flinging open their doors in time for the big race. And as new hotels mean new restaurants, foodies who have grown weary of Abu Dhabi's eating-out options should be drooling in anticipation at the further choices soon to be on offer.
With the likes of gourmet Italians, stylish sushi joints, contemporary Moroccan eateries and New York-style grill houses to be added to the scene, pretty much all tastes will be catered for. So loosen your belt, tuck in your napkin and prepare to chomp your way through the vast array of flavours from across the world as we preview what each of the new hotels has to offer.
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Dominating the skyline at the far end of the Corniche are the five giant skyscrapers that make up the Emirates Towers complex. One of these is now the home to the first foray into Abu Dhabi by Jumeirah Group, the luxury hotel chain that operates the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
It opened last week to great fanfare. Jumeirah at Etihad Towers stands some 66 storeys tall and will eventually house 12 restaurants, with many taking advantage of the structure's heights to furnish diners with some spectacular views over Abu Dhabi's picturesque bay. However, hungry punters won't have the whole dozen dining options to choose from this time round, as a few venues have been slated to open next year.
That said, the owners have assured would-be guests that come November, there will be a number of fully operational restaurants. The first will be at Li Beirut, an upmarket Lebanese restaurant where classic recipes are given a modern twist through the addition of unusual ingredients. Meanwhile, Quest is a contemporary pan-Asian eatery that could well be the most scenic dining spot in the capital, being situated way up on the hotel's 63rd floor.
Missing out on the deadline for a November opening are Brasserie Angelique, which promises a homely and unpretentious take on French cuisine, the beachside diner Scott's Seafood Restaurant and Tori No Su, a top-of-the-range Japanese that might well give Dubai's oh-so-trendy Nobu and Zuma restaurants a run for their money.
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Ras Al Akhdar (04 364 7188)
Rocco Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi
This curvaceous green-tinted glass, structure has been a familiar sight as you approach the city on Airport Road for a couple of years now. But after a number of false dawns, the hotel's finally been given a definite opening date; its first guests will begin checking in today. Hopefully, the owners have used the time to perfect their dining experience, meaning there are high hopes for the hotel's eateries.
Topping our list of expectations is Oro, which promises to be an exclusive, high-end Italian. Its decor has been designed by Martin Brudnizki, one of the most sought-after restaurant designers in the world, whose handiwork includes The Ivy in London and Le Caprice in New York, so at the very least its interior will be pleasing to the eye.
There's also Rouge, a Japanese/ Chinese fusion place that attempts to merge the best of Far Eastern cookery under one roof, specialising in dim sum, sushi and sashimi. To this list you can also add Oceana Grill, a speciality seafood restaurant, and Brown's Tea Lounge, an English-style tearoom that should satisfy Abu Dhabi's British contingent if they're yearning for a taste of their motherland.
Rocco Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi, Airport Road (02) 617 0000
St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
This will be the first of two luxury stopovers that the American hotel chain is opening in Abu Dhabi in coming years, and it's meant to welcome guests this week. Among the resort's eating-out options will be 55 & 5th, a grill house that takes its name from the address of the original St Regis Hotel in New York and is inspired by the Big Apple's meat-loving populace, featuring succulent and oversized cuts of prime beef. There is also Olea, a Mediterranean-influenced all-day diner, Turquioz, a romantic beachside seafood diner and The Drawing Room, a traditional teahouse.
Sontaya will offer Vietnamese, Thai and other south-east Asian delicacies in a sleek, glass-walled restaurant decked out with tranquil water features.
St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island (02) 498 8888
Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa
With the UAE's arid, sandy environment, the chances to stare out at vast expanses of greenery are few and far between. That's why restaurants that overlook any of the capital's lush, grassy golf courses make for such serene spots - with the Spanish-themed Barranca at Yas Links and Hawksbill at Saadiyat Beach golf courses being two such examples.
The new Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort, which opens today, borders Abu Dhabi Golf Course, so regardless of the standard of its culinary output, you'll be guaranteed some stunning vistas from terrace areas of the hotel's restaurants.
Of these, Agadir is definitely one to watch out for, as before now, Marakesh at the Millennium Hotel was the only high-end Moroccan eatery there was. Agadir's menu will feature the likes of tajines, harira soup, couscous and other north African classics which diners will be able to consume while slouching on traditional deep-cushioned loungers.
For those after a more eclectic meal, Fairways is your standard all-day international diner, while The Retreat is a relaxed sports bar that offers hearty pub meals for people who need some comfort food after they've worn themselves out hacking a dimpled white ball around the nearby course.
Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa, Sas Al Nakhl (02) 616 9999
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi
With both the Louvre and Guggenheim art galleries being no more than dusty building sites at present, Saadiyat Island's still finding its feet as a tourist destination. That all changed last week with the opening a swanky beachside hotel resort on the island, which will soon be followed by another one in the coming days. The first of these is the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, a sprawling collection of luxurious rooms, suites and villas and the first hotel to begin operating on Saadiyat Island.
The Park Bar & Grill is the hotel's signature dining spot and will be a spacious, airy two-storey restaurant with a meat-packed menu devised with the city's carnivores in mind. However, with the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr employing a similar theme, it's got some serious competition in its midst.
Meanwhile, The Cafe is the hotel's all-day diner, and although its owners obviously didn't wrack their brains over the venue's name, at least they've attempted a touch of originality with its menu, which promises dishes from a wood-fired oven and a leaning towards Arab cuisine. Also, anyone up for some poolside snacking can opt for The Beach House, while The Library is a trendy tea lounge, with its own barista to churn out the specialist coffees.
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island (02 407 1234)