Honestly, I’m not sure where to start. I’m just back from a 5 night trip to Abu Dhabi and I am buzzing. The food, the experiences, and most importantly the memories I made, will last me a lifetime. I laughed hard and long on this trip. It was pure therapy.
So, where to start? I think I’ll stick with the “top five” format, otherwise this could be a VERY long post! Not surprisingly most of it is food based, with the exception of number one spot. Which I reserved for a very special experience.
This place takes cinema to another level. It is cinema on steroids. Basically Gary Rhodes has teamed up with with Vox cinemas, to provide a dining and viewing experience like no other. Michelin starred chef Gary, has put together a menu that is served to you during your film of choice. In a recliner chair. With a pillow. And a blanket… yes, I’m serious. It is indulgent comfort on another level.
There are three course sections to the menu plus a nibbles bit, which includes a variety of posh popcorn. I have to say though, my maple pecan popcorn wasn’t the best. Way way to cloying. It isn’t cheap either. But then again, everything is 5*. Even the toilets are a sight to see…nothing like the local Odeon!
The food was really good but if I’m honest, I think it’s the indulgence of it that secured it’s spot on the list. The lobster and chicken caesar tacos and knickerbocker glory aside, it is still just a cinema. But add those handsome morsels back in and honestly, it was a challenge to leave at the end of the film. For more reasons than one.
4. Leopolds of London, Nation Towers
I’m not exactly a devout health foodie but the juice in this place was like drinking sunshine! It was even called “Wake up call”. A mixture of freshly pressed pineapple, orange and strawberries may not be that exceptional, but what is is the added sago pearls. Little bubbles of juice that pop with extra flavour. It’s like a kids drink for adults! So refreshing.
Pretty much everything here was phenomenal. The patisserie counter was a thing of beauty, with huge meringues and delicate macarons through to massive slices of indulgent chocolate cake. It’s a great option for breakfast, brunch, lunch or just coffee. (The array of teas and coffees required a cuppa just to peruse!) I had the Tunisian Eggs for breakfast; eggs cooked in a rich, very mildly spicy chickpea and tomato sauce, topped with greek yoghurt, pistachio nuts and sumac. So flavoursome.
3. Café Arabia
Now this is my kind of place. Somewhere I could quite easily lose a few hours and more than a few quid! It’s a quirky café where East meets West. Chic and elegant in one section, bright and vibrant in another, the interior design is a mish mash of all that is beautiful. The warmth and colour of the ceiling lanterns and wood tables against the cool walls and fabric seating, make for quite the cosy coffee stop. The walls are lined with books and there are plenty of wares for sale, including some of those lanterns and some gorgeous plates (hence being slighter poorer on exit!).
The food is also a mixture of East and West. Me being me, I wanted to eat as authentically as possible and try something new, so I had the Emirati Shakshouka; scrambled eggs with onion, chilli paste, tomatoes and mozzarella. Served with traditional bread which is soft like a thick tortilla but similar flavour wise, to a pitta. Really, really good.
I had a bit of a “moment” when I entered Origins. Mecca may have been geographically closer to me than ever before, but for me – in that moment, in that restaurant – I’d just found my very own version. This brunch is truly a feast for the eyes, the belly and the soul. You name it, they have it. The 5* version.
I don’t know how I can relay what this buffet brunch was like in just a few paragraphs. I was genuinely quite overcome. Sad, some might say, but when you love food like I do, it was just joyful. You might think “she sounds crazy” but I’ve never seen food like this. I literally wandered around looking at everything for a good 10 minutes before deciding my best form of attack would be to start at the entrance and work the room clockwise. That was when I encountered Chef Rufino. I think he could tell I was somewhat dazed. He directed me to the Hawaiian Poke Fish station and talked me through the dish preparation. Similar to ceviche, this raw fish salad had so much flavour and the texture was another level. Crunchy caviar, beansprouts and tiny onions along with the freshest, softest tuna and salmon. Plenty of sesame and a slight spice, it was sheer heaven. Easily my favourite dish of the whole trip.
After this, I browsed (and sampled) the sushi section (California rolls + sashimi), fresh pasta bar (prawn parcels with lemon butter sauce), cold seafood (king crab legs, prawns and green lipped mussels), hot seafood (seafood thermidor), roast meat (beef wellington), fried foods (crispy prawns), chicken schwarma and the curry section. Big shout out to Chef Puna Gharti at the curry section, who spent time chatting to me about the incredible butter chicken dish and even bought freshly made naan bread to our table…a genius and a gent in my eyes.
You get 4 hours in the brunch. 4 hours later and I still didn’t feel like I’d sampled enough (although my tummy was telling me different!). I didn’t even touch the bread, oyster bar, pizza, cheese and huge barbecue that was outside. Honestly, when I list it like that, it was slightly ridiculous!
The bottomless bubbles could be a little dangerous, but to be honest I was so busy eating that I didn’t pay that much attention to them. And when we needed a breather from all the food, we stepped outside to take in the views of the marina and F1 race circuit. If you go to Abu Dhabi and even just “like” food, please, please go. Chef Rufino and his team are incredible and their food is incomprehensible.
So, how could I possibly beat that brunch? I didn’t think it was possible either BUT my desert safari simply blew me away. I knew this was on the itinerary and before going, I was more than apprehensive. As kids we have no inhibitions, no fears. But as an adult, all I could think about was being in the middle of the desert with no road, no water and no escape. Basically anxiety. But what I felt in the desert could not have been more the opposite.
The safari started with dune bashing and – make no doubt – bashing was what we did. The highly skilled driver (Ashraf) adeptly slid us along dunes, throwing us up and over them like rag dolls. The sand was so smooth at some points we literally glided. Yet at others, it was roller coaster style exhilaration, particularly when we dropped over the edge of some of the highest dunes.
When we arrived at camp, there were activities on offer (henna tattoos, camel riding, sheesha, sand boarding, quad biking) but the highlight for me was just watching the sun set. I don’t think I will forget that as long as I live. It was the most calm and peaceful I have felt in a very long time. And yet I laughed so hard that day, my face hurt. After sunset there was a show of exotic dancers and a barbecue buffet, which was of an excellent quality considering we were in the middle of the desert. But nothing will beat that feeling of complete calm, which is amazing considering the thrashing we’d just given those sand dunes! I cannot recommend it enough. If you ever go to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, please go. It is something you’ll never ever forget.