Hoi An - Shangri-la, Abu Dhabi

When you really like a place, the halo effect suggests you will wax lyrically about everything associated with it. It follows then that because I like Shangri-La as a brand and hotel in Abu Dhabi, I will not be objective about Hoi An, its Vietnamese restaurant that I recently visited. Well, you are mistaken. Whatever praise I heap on Hoi An, oops, you know where this is going, is deserved.


Hoi An is a paradox to everything Shangri-La which is on a grand scale. It is tucked away next to Sofra and not many people know about it. In fact, many people wrongly associate some of the restaurants at The Souk with Shangri-La, before they associate Hoi An with it because the latter is very low key, but as I have stated in a previous entry, it is a jewel in the crown of Shangri-La. Hoi An gets its name from a city in Vietnam which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The restaurant is certainly a worthy carrier of that name.

On this occasion, Rashida, the charismatic restaurant manager from Singapore, was off duty, but left us in the capable hands of a fantastic team lead by Soe and Thant with a wonderful supporting cast on the night. They ensured that Shangri-La's trademark service from the heart was in evidence. Because of Ramadan timings, we missed out on the Sunset menu, which at  Dhs145 net for a 3 course set menu of chef's recommendations is out of this world value. However, the a la carte menu offers a wide range of choices under Signature Dishes, Starters, Salads, Soups, Sea, Land, Side Dishes, Desserts and Vegetarian. It really is quite comprehensive.

For starters we ordered the tasting platter which comprised satay, papaya salad and spring rolls to name a few. This was quite a hearty starter but with perfectly proportioned amounts. For mains we ordered two dishes: The steamed sea bass in banana leaf with shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass and lime leaves in white miso and spicy soy sauce. While I did not try it, the presentation alone screamed 'Eat me'. I ordered the Wok seared Cognac beef which was sautéed beef tenderloin with sweet onion, mushroom and black pepper sauce. This has to be the tenderest, for want of a better word, tenderloin I have had. I kept asking, 'How do they get it it so tender?'Now I can hear someone saying that it is supposed to be tender. From the name! Well I am sorry. I have seen tenderloin butchered in my time, pun intended.

Being on a bit of a budget, I ordered the Australian Wolfblass, a decent Merlot at Dhs35. The wine list, by the way, is similar, with a few variations, to what you can get elsewhere in the hotel. Dessert. This was a tough one. Having had and loved the mango soup before, I fought instinct to order it again and instead went with the Roasted banana with passion fruit sauce, vanilla ice cream and cashew nuts. While not as mind blowing as the mango soup, this was nonetheless a worthy way to end the evening.

This was my third visit to Hoi An, and I don't what it is: the sensitivity with which they approach everything (they brought beautiful child size cutlery for my daughter), the palate cleanser of subtly green tea flavoured sorbet after the starter, the warm and unpretentious service, the presentation of dishes, the perfectly timed delivery of courses, or maybe it is everything, but simply, I love Hoi An.

Perhaps it is a good thing that it is not as well known as the other restaurants at Shangri-La. Maybe this will allow it to retain that non-commercial charm that you look for as a tourist as you discover some cafe off the beaten track. But that would be selfish because the more people who discover this charming restaurant, the more people will fall in love with it!