The steaks are excellent and the cooking accomplished at this steakhouse in the Yas Island Rotana, but the staff need to stop taking themselves so seriously.
Restaurant Review: No blues for meat lovers at Blue Grill
Elegance precedes comfort at Blue Grill which, at first glance, doesn't look at all like your usual steakhouse: velvet banquettes and chairs, sleek, industrial lamps, pale wooden tables. The lighting is overly dim and the mood is so hush-hush, the table of four beside us were whispering to each other. The waiters linger like inspectors.
The succinct menu treads the usual turf. Take the starters, a selection of 10 that include crab cakes, calamari and oysters. The latter were phenomenal with the lemon-shallot vinaigrette and the spiced chilli dressing. Served in a dozen, they're presented on a platter lying on a stack of salt made to look like crushed ice. Alas, it's a contraption not nifty enough to justify the dish's Dh150 price tag.
The most exciting appetiser on the menu, foie gras and duck terrine (Dh95), disappointed with its flatness of flavour. It is served with blackberry jelly and walnut bread - a treat the kitchen should consider offering as a stand-alone dish.
Although nothing ambitious, there's hardly a false move among the salads, just four on offer. The tomato and buffalo mozzarella (Dh60), served with shreds of red onion, was fresh and subtle, but not extraordinary.
The experience markedly improved minutes later with the arrival of the steaks. Blue Grill offers Australian, American and Argentinian meat in seven preparations, including rib-eye, striploin and rump. The US Angus tenderloin (350g, Dh275) is a good bet; succulent and full of strong, beefy flavour, and we devoured it. A judicious use of the sauces and mustard platter allows the steak to obtain a richness and depth that go for the gut. The journey is cushioned by tomatoes fresh off the grill, with a slight char.
The side serving of cheddar mash is presented without complications (it is potatoes, in a bowl, no more). Whipped to creamy perfection, you feel like you have had this before, only not nearly as refined and pristine - further proof that the cooking in this restaurant is accomplished but not adventurous.
Blue Grill's menu structure lets you tailor your own experience - you can make it as low or high impact as you wish. That said, you'd be better off ordering as a group, sharing dishes.
The service, although friendly, seems stiff, but Blue Grill's space does feature an open kitchen, a cosmetic move to make themselves appear more approachable.
For non-meat lovers, there are seafood and vegetable bistro options such as shrimp and chips, butternut squash risotto and salmon. The standout is the pan-fried whole dover sole (Dh195), served with steamed potatoes and a leafy salad. It looks simple - an entire fish on a massive plate - but feels elegant. It's a dish that doesn't encourage mincing bites of measured portions - it exhorts you to dig in. And its cleanliness, in taste and presentation, speaks of the kitchen's skill.
What strikes me about the look of the dish and a lot of the others in this restaurant is how carefully put together they are, almost like the outfit of a well-dressed person going out for the night, someone who's into classic wear, not trends. (As a point of comparison, on the other side of town, at the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, gimmickry and gastronomy interplay to produce sensational, experimental dishes. However, my dining companion and I agreed the meats at Blue Grill are better). The desserts are unabashedly populist - a cheesecake, a black forest gateau, an apple tarte tatin - and the banoffee pie was delectable, but suffered from an over-the-top serving of whipped cream.
Dismissing our dining experience as straightforward with no surprises, we were jolted by the night's closing dish: a scoop of maple syrup ice cream, which see-sawed between heartiness and delicacy. It still lingers in my thought.
A nice shock, as desserts often get the short shrift in steakhouses. Far from dutiful, the dish tells you the chef's heart is in it. It announced the kitchen's promise.
Time and again during your meal at Blue Grill you will find yourself startled in the best sense by the quality of ingredients used and by the steadiness of the cooking. Now if only they would stop taking themselves so seriously.
Blue Grill at Yas Island Rotana is open daily from 7pm to midnight; closed on Sundays. A meal for two costs Dh917, including service charge and tax. For reservations, call 02 656 4000. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito.