Grandiose decor and an upscale menu peppered with luxury ingredients do not make a successful restaurant. Exhibit A: 55&5th, The Grill at the St Regis.
For 55 & 5th, The Grill, to succeed, some issues need to be addressed
Sometimes when dining in the signature restaurant of an upscale hotel, there's the misplaced belief that if the place is decorated in a suitably grandiose fashion and the menu is tweaked to feature the requisite number of luxury ingredients, then the restaurant will succeed.
This, in fact, is far from true. An amuse bouche at the start of the meal, a few petit fours at the end and the chance to spend a huge amount of money on caviar (Dh1,100 for 50g of French Sturia d'Aquitaine at this week's restaurant) does not a great meal make.
At the St Regis hotel on Saadiyat Island, 55 & 5th, The Grill is housed in a stylish, classically decorated room with gleaming, oversized light fixtures dangling from the high ceilings, sumptuous leather seats, heavy white linen tablecloths and shiny black veneer floors. The menu, meanwhile, offers a selection of the aforementioned caviar and dishes featuring black truffles, oysters, turbot (the king of the sea) and Wagyu beef.
The service was certainly well meaning when we visited, but the overall effect was awkward: a waitress hovered behind my friend as she sipped her water, it jarred slightly when our orders were repeated back to us loudly (I understand the logic of this when a large order has been placed, but when it's just two desserts, it seems odd) and when we asked for the bill, we were first presented with the wrong one and then the right one took a good 10 minutes to arrive. In short, it felt as if something was missing - a bit of direction or assurance - and this feeling was echoed in the food.
My friend's starter was a prime example of this. Three scallops were served with "potato risotto" (creamy, textured mashed potatoes and leeks), a thin piece of crisp chicken skin and chicken jus (gravy). What sweet, mild scallops were doing among these robust, British Sunday lunch favours, I'm not quite sure; the individual components of the dish might have tasted perfectly nice, but they certainly didn't work together.
My layered Wagyu beef crudo wasn't a roaring success either. The wafer-thin slices of raw beef had been cut into neat squares and covered with a Parmesan and herb spread, which masked the flavour of the meat completely. This was a real shame, particularly given that when you order Wagyu beef, you really want to be able to taste it.
The restaurant prides itself on its "vintage beef from the ageing room" and, it must be said, my friend's 28-day aged Wagyu striploin was well cooked, with a charred, salty crust and a tender, rosy pink centre. A bowl of bearnaise sauce (her chosen accompaniment) was fine but the chips were disappointing; although crisp on the outside, they were dense rather than fluffy in the centre, which caused us to wonder if they had been cooked from frozen, rather than hand cut and fried fresh.
Once again, my main course just didn't feel like a well thought-out dish. For a start, it was small - more akin to a starter size dish than a main course - and as soon as I saw it, I wondered why our waiter hadn't flagged this and suggested that I order a side salad or portion of vegetables.
The centrepiece - a fillet of smoked salmon - was actually very nice with a soft, yielding texture and a smoky flavour that hung around in the background, rather than overwhelming the dish. However, the rest of the ingredients on the plate added very little, apart from a sense of confusion. Crispy shallot rings were unremarkable, little balls of avocado were so pale, hard and tasteless that I questioned what they were, I couldn't make out the flavour of the promised horseradish and was surprised by the addition of a spoonful of hollandaise sauce, which wasn't mentioned on the menu. A few dots of astringent bright yellow English mustard dotted around the edge of the plate further heightened the sense of disparity.
Despite my friend optimistically hoping otherwise, things didn't really improve when it came to dessert. I ordered the "wild berries honeycomb" because I happen to love honeycomb. I was disappointed, then, when the dessert that was presented to us was devoid of it. The berries (strawberries and blackberries) were there, as was the lemon cream and fromage blanc sorbet, but alas, no honeycomb, and a pretty mediocre pudding to boot.
Our other dessert, a coffee espuma, featured a substantial glass of very light, whipped coffee and orange mascarpone foam, with coffee ice cream beneath. It was fine, but nothing to shout about and we didn't finish it.
Both the service and the food at 55 & 5th feel slightly misguided at the moment and in order for the restaurant to flourish, I think there are several issues that could do with being addressed.
A meal for two at 55 & 5th, The Grill, St Regis hotel, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi costs Dh933.80, including service. For more information, call 02 498 8888. Reviews are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito