Sofra Bld, Shangri-La Abu Dhabi

Sofra Bld. It does not role off the tongue, I know. Forget the name. Call it Shangri-la if you want. Call it Sofra if you want. Still a great place. Shangri-La. What is it?

Shan·gri-la  (shnggr-lä)
1. An imaginary remote paradise on earth; utopia.
2. A distant and secluded hideaway, usually of great beauty and peacefulness.

This my experience time and again. The name alone evokes something that is out of this world. Just say it. Does not sound normal does it? Well, neither are the restaurants. There is the Abu Dhabi Timeout Restaurant of the Year in Bord Eau, The Best Brunch in Abu Dhabi at Pearls and Caviar, the truly magnificent and my fave in the city, Hoi An, and of course the under rated Shang Palace. Then there is  the consistently highly rated Sofra Bld. It was here that some colleagues and my family visited today. We just never get tired of coming here. Why would you when the dishes remain of an outstanding standard? Why would you tire of a place where service is exceptional? Why would you tire of home?

I have had the pleasure of experiencing the Friday brunch which is quite a fabulous affair, but today was all about their Saturday Global brunch. Their promotional booklet says:

On Saturdays, feast on a rich international buffet with exquisite Chinese and Vietnamese specialties from 12.30pm to 4pm. Priced at AED 149 for food only or AED 190 per person including free-flowing selected beverages.

Sofra is grand. As you walk down the steps you are not fully prepared for the spread that awaits you. However, the number of tables should be an indication that this is an immensely popular brunch. In fact, so popular that Hoi An, usually open for daily dinner, is opened at brunch time to accommodate patrons. On arrival you will be see immediately why this is a special place: a warm welcome by your host or hostess for the day. In truth, I am yet to meet an unfriendly staff member at Shangri-la.

On this day we had a mixed group that included two children. Not to worry. Sofra caters for everyone. There were  a few empty tables and this was a good thing. In a previous post I wrote about the spaciousness at Cuiscene at The Fairmont. Sofra simply has too many tables in there, but today that was not an issue. I saw immediately the potential of having fewer tables. Yes, poorer bottom line for the restaurant, but more space for guests and also a sense of exclusivity. A nice problem for a restaurant to have is to say, "Sorry. We are fully booked". It creates buzz.

Cooking stations

Sofra offers the usual live cooking stations. They boast Indian, Moroccan, Salad, Cheese, Arabic, Roast and their Saturday specialities, Chinese and Vietnamese stations. The Roast station has amazingly tender lamb and beef tenderloin with an array of sauces.  The mint sauce is simply to die for. Let's put it this way: you could put the mint sauce on a piece of wood and you would love that wood! Today the sushi was great. I find it hit and miss, but the rice today was just right. Maybe it is about freshness. It was as if the rice had been made an hour before! Finally, they have a dedicated Kids' Station which I laud. While many brunches claim to be child friendly, it is no place more evident than here. Did I mention the dessert station? More about that later.

Service with a smile, a sincere smile

The service. Oh the service. Great service. What does that abstract concept even mean? Let's try and explain it. My daughter wanted an alternative to green apple juice and we asked if they could make some juice using red apples. No problem. My colleague's husband wanted watermelon juice which was not on the drinks list. No problem. Freshly made. My daughter's friend wanted chicken nuggets. It was then specially prepared. If it can be done, Sofra will do it. The service is not forced. It is not robotic. On the contrary, it is sincere and relaxed.

The dessert station has to be the best in Abu Dhabi. The centre piece, three chocolate fountains, is something to behold. And no, you do not have to be a child to stand in awe of it. It is not just variety. It is the quality of what is on display. Pancakes, crepes, fresh fruit, Arabic sweets, varieties of cheese cake, creme brûlée (my favourite), ice cream...the list goes on. The old cliche that there is something for everyone, must have been coined here, for there is.

Sofra, despite being around for over 5 years, is a firm favourite in the city. In  a very competitive area that is the Food and Beverage industry at high end hotels, this is quite an achievement. It is a brunch that promises wonderful  and tasty food options in a light and airy setting, where you and your kids can feel at home. Shangri-la? yes, it is; a little paradise on earth.

The finer details

Shangri-la at Qaryat Al Beri,
Between the bridges,
Abu Dhabi
02 509 8888