Our undercover gourmet finds that Finz lives up to its seafood reputation.
Finz: Oyster bliss at the Beach Rotana
A yearning for oysters, preferably consumed by the dozen in a waterfront setting, had been niggling at me for months. They're just about my favourite food and I'd heard on the culinary grapevine that Finz, at the Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi, served an excellent oyster. I'd also heard it was one of the finest seafood restaurants in this part of the world, and that it was not somewhere for the faint of wallet.
Which is why a fellow oyster-deprived seafood-lover and myself found ourselves lunching at Finz the other day. The game plan was simple: we'd get our craving for oysters out of the way, sample some of the restaurant's other offerings in the course of a leisurely meal on its elegant veranda right on the water, and, this being lunch, we wouldn't have to swim for it when the bill arrived. It worked - sort of. The oysters were, indeed, excellent. So was just about everything else we sampled. But if we hadn't been full to bursting point when it came to the settling of accounts we'd probably have been over the side and striking out for deep water in the hope there were no Olympic swimmers among Finz's staff.
Finz, you see, doesn't have a lunch menu. To be more precise, it has a lunch menu, but it's the same menu - and the same prices - as dinner. Once we'd established that, and having put in our order for an emergency platter of oysters, we threw caution to the breeze wafting in from the Gulf. The menu looked enticing, the waves were lapping on the beach a few feet away, it was one of the last chances we'd have for outdoor dining before the onset of summer- and hey, the oysters were on their way. All the way, in fact, from France, and there they were just a few feet from our table and approaching rapidly.
Instant bliss. They were medium-sized, and, our waiter told us, Fines de Claire #2s - which means, essentially, that they're not the biggest and best that France has to offer, but they still tasted awfully good. They were circled around a small bowl of sauce mignonette - red grape vinegar and finely chopped shallots - but they were at their best, slightly briny, delicate and utterly delicious, when consumed au naturel. That's how the French prefer them, and they know a thing or two about oysters.
Time to navigate the rest of the menu. For post-oyster starters, we settled on the three kinds of salmon and the lobster ravioli. Both were excellent. The enticing cubes of salmon - smoked, marinated and minced raw Japanese-style - were perfect in texture and delicate in flavour, and needed no embellishment, although the scattering of salmon roe on the elegant platter added a pleasant contrast in taste and texture.
The ravioli, home-made and stuffed with morsels of lobster, was equally good, although it was served, oddly and less than successfully we agreed, with a few rather tasteless strips of braised veal shank. For his main course my friend went for one of the house specialities, the seafood Cataplana - a veritable smorgasbord of lobster tail, prawns, calamari, mussels and hammour, along with peppers, onion, mushrooms and courgette, cooked in a downright spectacular saffron and fennel-flavoured broth and served in a huge copper bowl, along with lashings of excellent wild jasmine rice.
The broth was so good I found myself, lacking an appropriate spoon, scooping it up with a just-vacated mussel half shell. The only component that could be faulted was the lobster tail, which was overcooked to the point of chewiness. A pity, but a helping of plump and succulent prawns were superb and, next to the curtain-raising oysters, the highlight of the entire meal. I settled for hammour fresh off the grill. Two medium-sized fillets arrived balanced on a mound of rather good curried rice and accompanied by a dozen or so small shimeji mushrooms, which were so full of flavour they almost took star billing from the juicy and grilled-just-so fish.
Reluctant to tear ourselves away from the veranda and the Gulf breeze - had they been playing a little jazz, blues or reggae we might still be there - we lingered over a delicate orange crème brûlée: an excellent wrap to a very, very good lunch. Finz, Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi, 02 697 9000. Our reviewer's meal for two cost Dh786 without beverages. Restaurants are reviewed incognito and the meals are paid for by The National.