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HomeArts & CultureOur 10 favourite Abu Dhabi and Dubai restaurants in 2016

Our 10 favourite Abu Dhabi and Dubai restaurants in 2016

Stacie Overton Johnson and Adam Workman pick their favourite restaurants of the year, based on great decor and ambience as well as fabulous food.

Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito. Contact the restaurants as prices may have changed since our original reviews

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Abu Dhabi

Butcher & Still

Very few of us will ever be cool enough to recreate the Al Capone gangster era of 1940s Chicago, but you can at least bask in the reflected glory of the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi’s hip, period-faithful steakhouse — even if on our first visit, the food was a tad underwhelming. The world would be a better place if we all owned our mistakes, however, so here goes: we made some inadvisable menu choices while reviewing Butcher & Still, based on a slightly childish desire to attempt to live life like a character from Boardwalk Empire. So while the Dh315 grand seafood tower looked fabulous, we would have been better ordering one of the restaurant’s bang-on steaks. Either way, the decor is king here: there are bullet cases in the bathroom walls — what else do you need to know?

Our meal for two at Butcher & Still, Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, cost Dh1,146. For more information, call 02 333 2222 or visit www.fourseasons.com

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Abu Dhabi

Olives

It is a rare restaurant experience when you remember almost everything aside from the food, but Olives, at the standard-setting Venetian Village in the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, was one such example. That is not to say that everything we sampled on the Mediterranean restaurant’s menu was not absolutely lovely. It is just that the personable service, full of pleasant conversation and knowledgeable menu guidance, and the delightful terrace area meant that they could have served fast food and there would have been few complaints. It is another top-class outlet in a mini culinary district that is just about unrivalled in Abu Dhabi — and when a restaurant boasts a celebrity chef (Todd English) and you’re having such a nice time that you don’t give that fact a second thought during dinner, it is a good mark of a total lack of superficiality.

Our meal for two at Olives, at the Venetian Village within the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, cost Dh720. For more information, call 02 404 1941 or visit www.venetianvillage.ae

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Abu Dhabi

Roberto’s

We have so far only sampled Roberto’s at the Rosewood on Al Maryah Island during a swish Formula One dinner — a set menu presented to the table by a server who mumbled through explanations of dishes at such inaudible volumes that it became something of a culinary guessing game. Despite that, it was one of our best meals of the year, with large helpings of flair fused with classic Italian cookery nous. The secondo piatto on that evening — warm Wagyu carpaccio with raspberry sauce, a paste of Pantelleria capers and beef jus — was a real work of art, and the general ambience possessed a je né Sais quoi of class you won’t often find in the capital.

For details and pricing for Roberto’s, Rosewood hotel, Al Maryah Island, call 04 386 0066 or visit www.robertos.ae

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Abu Dhabi

Tamba

While reviewing this Indian-inspired fusion restaurant at The Hub at World Trade Centre mall, we endured a rather irritating customer-service experience. But having returned a couple of months later, we can confirm this was merely an unfortunate blip — and Tamba actually has some of the capital’s finer serving staff. What was never in doubt, though, was the food, which at its best was genuinely memorable. The Bride, part of a love story-themed dessert menu, which comprised chilli meringue, Chantilly cream, raw mango and coconut sorbet, looked dreadful but tasted incredible. When its innovation works, Tamba is a conversation piece for all the right reasons.

Our meal for two at Tamba, The Hub at The Mall, World Trade Center, Abu Dhabi, cost Dh649 or visit www.tambarestaurant.com

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Abu Dhabi

The Shack

Seafood restaurant The Shack is one of a clutch of new casual venues that have sprung up recently in the unpretentious district of Abu Dhabi behind the Holiday Inn on Dhafeer Street (31st Street). Possibly the pick of the lot, its attempts to recreate American harbour-town chic, with a stack of marine memorabilia from seaside state Maine. Lobster is a speciality, and while that elevates The Shack above the average casual-dining prices, the quality and presentation more than compensate. The Shacky thermidor (Dh235) was smartly but simply laid out on a chopping board; the tail had just the right ratio of lobster meat to baked Gruyère cheese, while lobster crackers were provided to break open the hefty claw. The Shack is a good kilometre inland, but you might be fooled into smelling salty sea air nevertheless.

Our meal for two at The Shack, Guardian Towers, near Holiday Inn, off Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi, cost Dh458. For more information, call 02 449 1114 or visit www.facebook.com/shackseafoodrestaurant

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Dubai

Carnival by Tresind

This Indian restaurant in DIFC comes from the same group that brought Tresind to the emirate (hence that name) and serves up Indian food like you’ve never had it before. The dishes are exciting, original and creative, with flavours you’ll be talking about long after you have settled the bill. The 15-course degustation menu (Dh350 for vegetarian; Dh375 with meat) serves up surprising combinations such as the sweet and savoury jalebi chaat with yogurt mousse, potatoes and chickpeas; a yellow lentil cappuccino served with a phulka cookie; mock butter chicken made with soya; and one course that’s prepared at your table by a chef in a hard hat. The carnival theme is well done without going overboard. Guests are welcomed with a flurry of bubbles from a bubble machine on arrival and the fun theatrics that accompany some of the dishes seem as though they are designed solely for Instagram stardom. This is one restaurant you have to see for yourself.

Our meal of the 15-course degustation menu cost Dh350 for vegetarian and Dh375 with meat). For details and pricing at Carnival by Tresind, DIFC, call 04 421 8665 or visit www.carnivalbytresind.com

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Dubai

Ting Irie

Brought to Dubai by Toronto chef Craig Wong, Ting Irie in Dubai’s Souk Al Manzil is the UAE’s first Jamaican restaurant. This modern venue is playful, colourful and bright, with a decidedly Caribbean vibe. Pictures depicting life in Jamaica are spread across the walls and the Caribbean music adds to the vibe. There are plenty of standouts on the menu, but do not miss the signature dish of three oxtail cocobread sandwiches, filled with tender, slow-cooked oxtail meat. Diners here will get a taste of Jamaica from a concise menu that focuses on authentic, quality dishes that will leave them hungry for more. And the recently-launched Friday brunch is a steal, with an unlimited taste of nearly everything on the menu for just Dh195.

Our meal for two at Ting Irie, Souk Al Manzil, Dubai cost Dh549. For more information, call 04 557 5601 or visit www.tingirie.com

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Dubai

Play

Chef Reif Othman opened Play on the 36th floor of The H Hotel in Dubai at the start of the year. This is Othman’s first solo stint after leaving a successful position as the regional executive chef of Zuma restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul. The ‘Mediterasian’ cuisine, as it is called, is a blending of Mediterranean flavours and Othman’s Japanese background. The food here surprises and the flavours will leave you wanting more — do not miss the juicy 76-hour braised bone-in prime beef ribs. The restaurant is roomy with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer beautiful views of the city.

Our meal for two at Play, The H Hotel, cost Dh705. Call 04 336 4444 or visit www.playrestaurants.com

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Dubai

Ruya

Ruya, in Dubai Marina’s Grosvenor House hotel, deserves all the buzz it is getting. The kitchen is run by formidable chef Colin Clague, who previously helmed the kitchens of Zuma Dubai, Qbara and Jean-Georges. Clague’s innovative take on Anatolian dishes brings a fresh interpretation to this usually traditional cuisine. There is an authenticity to the flavours in every dish, but each is served with a contemporary twist — such as Clague’s kibbeh, packed with duck leg meat, or the saffron French toast with a crispy caramelised topping for dessert. The venue itself is chic and modern and the terrace boasts impressive views of the marina. The service is efficient and friendly and the price will not drain your bank account.

Our meal for two at Ruya, The Grosvenor House hotel, cost Dh459. Call 04 399 9123 or visit www.ruyadubai.com

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Dubai

Miss Lily’s

Miss Lily’s, the second Jamaican eatery to opens in Dubai, also makes our list — and not only because we’ve got a thing for Jamaican food. This concept comes from New York City and is tucked away on the fifth floor of the Sheraton Grand Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. It has a funky, modish vibe that instantly ups your cool factor. The menu has a list of tasty small plates to share, as well as a handful of mains from the jerk grill that will fire up all your senses. The colourful, flavour-packed dishes have just the right amount of Jamaican spice to transport you to the Caribbean. The food delivers, but it is the funky, urban atmosphere that will bring you back. One of Dubai’s best hidden gems.

Our meal for two at Miss Lily’s, the Sheraton Grand Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, cost Dh504. Call 04 354 4074 or visit www.misslilys.com

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