Our alternative restaurant guide: Abu Dhabi favourites
When filling up on bread before the mains arrive sounds like a good idea: Prego, Beach Rotana
You've boosted your willpower to the point where you can usually ignore the bread basket, knowing for the most part that the rolls will be small, hard, cold and definitely not worth the calories and carbs. But you can never do this at the Beach Rotana's reliable Italian eatery Prego, and you should never do this at Prego, because there you are served a round loaf of bread that is fresh out of the oven, perfectly crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. It is with the accompaniments that this bread becomes a meal: olive tapenade, white bean spread or thick chucks carved from the massive Parmesan wheel inside, placed on top of a piece soaked in a tasty pool of oil and balsamic vinegar. Just dig in. You can always take the rest of your meal to go.
When a hot chocolate capable of soothing the soul is needed: The Chocolate Gallery, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
The hot chocolate served at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr's Chocolate Gallery takes this particular drink to a whole new level. Rather than being thin, weak and powdery, this version - made by whisking pieces of proper chocolate into hot milk - is rich, thick and feels almost grown up, until you decorate it with marshmallows that are served on the side, that is. An honourable mention must go to any cup of hot chocolate from a Galler or a La Brioche outlet.
When it's time for a casual dinner with friends on any day of the week: Le Beaujolais, Mercure Hotel
Le Beaujolais is something of an Abu Dhabi institution, serving classic French bistro-style dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant is always bustling, the food consistent and it's wallet-friendly to boot. Plus, the high ratio of French diners who always seem to be present is a good indication that the offerings here are the real thing.
When you just want to enjoy the bathrooms: Ornina, Al Bandar
If you've been in the female bathrooms at Ornina, then you've lingered at the vanity, wondering what it would be like to have something so lovely right in your home. The women's bathrooms at this restaurant face the Arabian Gulf, creating the illusion that you are standing on the water, far, far from the hectic streets of the city.
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When your carnivore dad comes for a visit: Chamas, InterContinental
Vegetarians can easily make the most of the vast salad bar here, but meat is very much the main event at this Brazilian churrascaria restaurant. The concept is simple: for a set price, you can eat as much as you like from the roasted meats on metal skewers that the waiters carry from table to table. Flip your coaster to green to indicate you would like some meat, and the waiters will slice it up on to your plate for you. Need a break? Flip your coaster to red and the staff will skip you. Make sure to try the refreshing roasted pineapple as well and the crisp, fried polenta.
When you need to impress a potential business partner with a steak: Rodeo Grill, Beach Rotana
Of all the steak houses in the city, Rodeo Grill is one of the most consistent in terms of quality, and the cooking is spot on. Be sure to request a table at the back of the dining room for a grown-up, dimly lit, masculine-feel vibe, as the outside tables spill into the hotel lobby and feel rather exposed. A nice touch is that you receive three kinds of sauce with each steak ordered and a choice of two vegetable dishes. The crispy onion rings are good, too.
When celebrating the end of your diet (or at least taking a day off from all that dieting): Döner Repulic, behind the Sedar Showroom on Electra Street
At first, we were going to say "any Friday brunch buffet" for those of you on a diet and desperate for a break, but then we stumbled across Döner Republic. Turkish food aficionados, rejoice; this one's for you as well. Order the Iskender platter, boasting succulent strips of meat atop freshly baked cubes of lavash-like bread, drowning in a rich tomato sauce and accompanied by some cold, tart yogurt. It's become our daily Friday lunch ritual, rounded off nicely with a cup of Turkish tea and a slice of freshly made kunafa. Skip dinner that evening; you'll be too full to entertain even the idea of another bite, and ready to tackle another week of dieting, no problem.
When a burger craving hits: Chameleon, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr & Beach Cafe, Abu Dhabi Corniche
We think Chameleon have got their burger just right, packing plenty of juicy patty into those buns and offering some delicious sides to go with it. For maximum enjoyment, eat in the outdoor seating area. The properly juicy burger at the Beach Cafe on the Corniche is also something of a hidden treasure.
When you want to people watch: Cafe Sante, Abu Dhabi Corniche
It's a favourite for breakfast, but honestly, any time of the day is prime people-watching time at Cafe Sante, as long as it's a weekend. The place is quieter during daytime hours on a weekday, but that just means you might catch a prime spot overlooking the shore. People of all ages and backgrounds flock to the Corniche; it's the best place to sit back and watch the world go by and as an added bonus, you can eat healthily here too - we particularly like the lentil muffin salad.
When you want to shop for Italian-made shoes, bags and suits while grabbing a delicious meal and buying gourmet products to boot: Italianissimo, Boutik Mall on Reem Island
If you haven't yet visited Italianissimo, then you obviously haven't yet sampled the best pizza, freshest gelato and most decadent canolis in the capital, not to mention their signature tiramisu. And you obviously have no idea that the authentic Italian eatery also boasts a gourmet deli and a fashion store. Whether you're shopping for fresh burrata and bresaola, or are on the lookout for San Marzano tomatoes to take home with some wild, dried mushrooms, Italianissimo is ready to sell. And for the fashion lovers looking for that unique pair of shoes, well-made handbag or high quality item of clothing, the clothing part of the restaurant is a shopper's paradise. This is definitely a hidden Abu Dhabi delight just waiting to be discovered
When it's time for a communal meal: Bonna Annee in the Tourist Club Area, behind the old blood bank
Ethiopian food is tailor made for making friends. For one thing, you sit together and share up to 10 curry dishes from one large pan. More dauntingly for some, there is no cutlery involved, other than your digits, which are best used for dunking injera - Ethiopian traditional bread renowned for it spongy texture - into the curry. For the shy individual, such a meal might see like a fraught experience, but in reality, it's a great confident booster. You will walk away with great memories shared and a full stomach.
When you want to eat alone and brood at the world: Russian Kitchen House Cafeteria, beside the Russian Embassy in Markaziyah
The Russian Kitchen House has all the qualities required for a decent brooding session. It is small, with only four tables, and the staff are efficient in both service and food delivery. The grub itself, from the delicious aubergine salad to the pickled dumplings, can be picked at as you plan the downfall of your enemies.
When you seek a romantic setting: Hakkasan, Emirates Palace
Start your evening the right way by entering from the separate entrance to the restaurant, rather than traipsing thorugh the hotel, and delicately winding your way up the walkway suspended over water. Then you can either decide to tuck yourself away in a booth or soak up the atmosphere on the outdoor terrace. Either way, we're pretty sure that before the first dim sum arrives, you'll be feeling suitably romantic and relaxed.
When you want to get interactive with your dinner: Sardinia, Abu Dhabi Country Club
If you like to get involved with your food preparation, but in an upmarket setting, the Mediterranean restaurant Sardinia is just the place. From injecting your tomato with basil oil using a syringe, to painting barbecue sauce on your ribs with a paintbrush, each course is a fine-dining experience with a bit of added fun.
When you’re in the mood for sushi: Sho Cho, Souk Qaryat Al Beri
With its modern, minimalist decor, ambient lighting and fantastic views of the Grand Mosque from the terrace, Sho Cho is the perfect spot for an alfresco meal and great for large groups and couples alike. We particularly recommend the salmon sashimi.
When you’re ready to stop for a big-portioned lunch in the middle of a day of shopping: Biella, Abu Dhabi Mall or Marina Mall
Seriously, we don’t know what’s going on with this restaurant’s portions. Whether an appetiser, a bowl of soup, a salad or a main meal, everything seems upsized. So if you’re super hungry in the middle of a day of shopping, and if you’re not alone, this is the place to dine. Their calamari is delicious and we’ve never been able to finish a portion of their spaghetti carbonara.
When planning a date with the husband but there’s no sitter for the baby: Frankie’s, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
It’s classy, romantic, elegant and boasts amazingly delicious food, and they’re OK with you bringing that stroller along. Their pianist serenades diners with live music, which is a perfect atmosphere for a baby with a propensity for song. It’s a bona fide date, without the need of booking a sitter in advance.
When you’re looking for Mexican-style comfort food: El Sombrero, Sheraton Abu Dhabi
For sizzling fajitas and top-notch guacamole prepared table-side, El Sombrero, with its colourful decor, cheerful atmosphere and live band, is a regular favourite for reasonably priced, non-fussy Mexican food.
When you want a fuss to be made on your birthday: The Meat Co., Souk Qaryat Al Beri
Firstly, make sure you bag a table outside, so that you can soak up the spectacular view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at night. Then sit back and enjoy the food, while anticipating the arrival of your birthday cake, which will be delivered by the entire staff at the end of the meal. Not only will you be serenaded with two Southern African songs – accompanied by traditional drumming – but you’ll also be presented with a lovely cake. What more could you ask for?
When you’re feeling decadent: Bord Eau, Shangri-La
When you’re in need of a little luxury, Bord Eau delivers on all levels; from the sumptuous setting, to the outstanding service, not forgetting the decadent French food. The truffle-mashed potato has legendary status in Abu Dhabi and we also recommend trying Chef de Cuisine Alexandre Pernetta’s blind tasting menu.
When you’re looking for a delicious breakfast that doesn't break the bank: Fauchon Le Café, Avenue at the Etihad Towers
It's the best deal in town: it starts with freshly baked breads, butter and preserves, and then, for Dh45, you get creamy yoghurt, a freshly baked croissant (cheese, thyme or plain, just choose), two eggs cooked to your liking with a side order of smoked salmon, freshly cut seasonal fruit and a cheese platter, accompanied with delicious coffee and a large glass of freshly squeezed juice (orange? carrot? pineapple? all available). For a cafe and patisserie chain that originated in Paris, it is remarkably affordable, chic and allows you to pocket change from a Dh50 note. Same goes for their English breakfast - the sausage, sauteed mushrooms and hash browns are delicious. It's the one thing we can afford at the luxury shopping destination and our weekend isn't complete without it.
For more of our favourite restaurants (for when you're feeling decadent, when you're in the mood for sushi, when you're looking for Mexican-style comfort food and more), visit www.thenational.ae/food
Compiled by Emily Shardlow, Ann Marie McQueen, Sarah Ferguson, Hala Khalaf, Felicity Campbell, Saeed Saeed, Laura Koot and Caline Malek
Follow us @LifeNationalUAE
Updated: February 27, 2013 04:00 AM