Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

Iftar review: Enjoy mezze, meat and more at Rixos Saadiyat Island

For its first Iftar offering, Rixos Saadiyat Island creates a Turkish and Arabic fusion

Rixos Saadiyat Island opened its doors last October, joining the growing cluster of luxury hotels nestled on this Abu Dhabi island. To mark its first Ramadan, Rixos is offering a buffet at Turquoise, its all-day dining restaurant.

Where to sit and what to expect

The tables in the vast dining room at Turquoise are laid with traditional Arabic runners and a bowlful of dates as a centrepiece. The expansive space allows plenty of room to navigate the numerous buffet stations without feeling overcrowded. However, Rixos operates on an all-inclusive basis for its guests, so when we arrive shortly before 7pm, there are already plenty of people in the licensed restaurant taking advantage of the buffet, and tucking into food and drinks in plain view of those who are fasting.

A separate area for the two types of diners would not go amiss. That said, there are plenty of seating options away from the counters, giving diners a little more privacy. Oud players arrive a little later into the evening, setting the mood with traditional Arabic music.

The menu

The choice of dishes on offer is almost overwhelming. It takes me a good three goes of circling the buffet options before committing to what I want to try. The iftar is marketed as a fusion of Turkish and Arabic dishes, coupled with live cooking stations. As we are shown to our seats, we are told that the buffet has an international theme, with sushi being the special of the day.

Still, the international flavours don’t take away from the Middle Eastern dishes on offer. After kicking things off in the traditional way, with a date and a glass of fruit juice, I head straight for one of the (three) salad counters to stock up on tabbouleh, hummus, tangy moutabal, crunchy pickles and sweet, stuffed bell peppers. It would have been easy to keep filling my plate with mezze, but after catching a glimpse of the hot buffet options, I decide to stop there to save room.

The main course offering is meat-heavy, with plenty of hearty lamb and beef dishes, as well as a live grilling station to fill you up after a day of fasting. The Ali nazik – a minced beef dish served with aubergine yoghurt – is seasoned with warming spices, which perfectly offset the rich, creamy yoghurt at its centre, while the beef short ribs are deliciously tender, served on a bed of crispy, roasted vegetables.

Away from the traditional iftar foods, there are Indian and Italian dishes on offer, and I can’t resist a spoonful of the irresistibly cheesy and incredibly rich spinach risotto, which is prepared and served in a large wheel of Parmesan.

On to the desserts, and Rixos has four tables to offer. From traditional Turkish delight and mountains of dates, to a chocolate fountain and crepe station, Turquoise excels when it comes to sweet options. For me, the standout is the piping hot and creamy Umm Ali, which comes stacked full of crunchy nuts and plump, juicy raisins.

I was hoping to round off my evening with a visit to the well-stocked cheese table, but I was forced to admit defeat after the third course.

Standout dish

The depth of flavour in the kuzu mutancana – a stewed lamb dish served with dried fruits – makes this the most memorable dish for me. The deliciously rich cinnamon-spiced sauce, laced with dates and apricots, perfectly complements the tender chunks of pink, juicy lamb, and leaves me wishing I had gone for another spoonful.

A chat with the chef

The head chef at Turquoise is Atilla Cetiner, a Turkish native. Cetiner has been with Rixos Saadiyat Island for three months, but with the Rixos group for more than 10 years. He says he created the menu by fusing traditional Turkish dishes with Middle Eastern flavours, with the aim of offering a festive menu to Ramadan diners.

He recommends trying the hunkar begendi – a pureed aubergine dish served with beef stew, grilled tomatoes and green pepper.

Value for money and contact information

The iftar offering, along with Rixos Saadiyat Island’s Friday brunch, are the only way diners who are not guests of the hotel can enjoy its food offering. The all-inclusive iftar buffet costs Dh195 per person, with a 50 per cent discount for children between the ages of six and 11, while children under six dine for free.

The price is in line with other luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi, and you ­certainly won’t be leaving hungry. Value for money will vary depending on each diner’s appetite, but every dish I sampled was high in quality and full of flavour, and would not have tasted out of place on an a la carte menu.

Contact Rixos Saadiyat Island on 02 492 2222 to make a reservation, or visit www.saadiyatisland.rixos.com.

This iftar was reviewed at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: May 18, 2019 05:16 PM