Lebanese at Sambusek - Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi

As I approach Sambusek, something catches my attention. I keep walking. I am  intrigued. I stand at the entrance, transfixed. The imposing door that recalls the door of a fort is on my left. It is heavy wood and has some Arabic symbols on it. In front of me is a sculpture - I  could just as well be at the Tate Modern. I am told it represents a tree. Whatever it is will be open to conjecture, but it cannot be ignored. Striking, attention grabbing, imposing.

The entrance to Sambusek.

Magnificent sculpture.

A common feature in Rosewood's glorious restaurants is the emphasis on natural light. This continues at Sambusek. Again, magnificent floor to ceiling windows allow you a  view of the water, and at night time it really is quite pretty as the lights of the island flicker away. Curtains are designed in a  way too that allows maximum natural light. Muted colours dominate, with greys and greens evident. Arabian touches are there, but very subtle. Everything is done very tastefully.

Arabian touch.
Very stylish and chic.
I am shown to my table, and have a great view of the island. Then, I am handed the menus, while the ambient music plays in the background. Good stuff. Not obvious at all. The restaurants is lively, with chatter flowing freely. Immediately I can see the appeal that this restaurant has.

Baba ganouj with a generous amount of pomegranate. 
The olives and pine nuts - yum.
Rather than go a la carte, I opt for one of the set menus, the Sannin set.  ma dining alone, so I know that I will miss out on one of the pleasures of Lebanese dining, sharing. I am offered their signature cocktails as an aperitif, and my waiter's description has me salivating, but curious about Lebanese wine, I go straight for a Lebanese wine and have a glass of Cuvee Musar Blanc 2011. Fragrant and crisp and easy on the palate. Nice without wowing.

Soon the cold mezze is brought. It is a substantial and colourful spread. For the uninitiated, the set menu is a perfect introduction to Lebanese  cuisine, and all the classics are there. lemon, the basis of a lot of the flavours in the cold mezze permeates the air. It is very aromatic. The parsley and mint smell make me feel I am in a garden. The freshness is intoxicating. The parsley and mint from the tablouleh fills the air. Fresh. The same applies to the hummus and the fatoush, Lebanese staples.

Cheese sanklish
The highlight for me is the mouhamara. There is a bit of bite to it with some chili and other spices while the pistachios bring a light crunchiness to it. But there are other stand outs too: The garlic labneh  checks all the boxes - smooth and creamy with just the right amount of garlic. The pomegranates in the moutabel and baba ganouj are crunchy, fresh and flavourful. As for the egg plant, both dishes have a beautiful consistency and texture.

Potatoes - part of the hot mezza
After a break, the hot mezze is served. The spinach fateyer is fantastic. The dough is light and the spinach, that word again, fresh.because I am starting to feel a bit full, so I forgo the rest of the hot mezze in anticipation of the grill.

The delicious mixed grill - flavours aplenty.

The grill is served and is  outstanding. Some people, this writer included,  usually joke about how meat is meat and that a grill is so uninteresting. What the chef did with the grill was wonderful; it was a real smorgasbord of tastes. The lamb was very good. I am all for locally sourced products if they are worthy, and the lamb showed that local can be excellent. There was no need for any sauce. The flavour of the grill was in abundance. Really enjoyed it. The shish taouk too was quite nice. Juicy and succulent - nothing dry about it. Finally, the kofta kebab was really special. I had two pieces, with contrasting tastes. The first piece had cherries inside, making it tangy and sweet, while the other had cheese and Arabic spices - Lebanese grill is not just a  grill. I know that now.

A beautiful Bordeaux.
My engaging waiter knows his wine, and I enjoy listening to him. He recommends the Pomerol Moueix 2011, which turns out to be  an outstanding recommendation.  It has  a deep colour with a hint of blackberry. It is the perfect accompaniment to my grill.

Dessert is a gorgeous and colourful affair. They are not sweet. A big plus for me. The halawa bi jibn is creamy, cheesy and fragrant with a gratifying crunch, again from pistachios. Next, I have the ashta with honey, which has the same base as my first dessert - the ashta cream. The two dishes are too similar, though, and on reflection, I think i should have got just the one. I also have a fruit platter, simply but elegantly presented. Natural sweetness. I love it..

The ashta cream motif in both meant two fairly similar desserts, albeit different textures. 
Fruit plate

After dessert, I take my coffee and move out on to the terrace and enjoy the view across the water.  It is not too hot. Just right. I reflect on my dining experience and I am left with a feeling that the food wowed, and then some. Kudos to the chef.

But as exceptional as the food was, I found the service underwhelming.There were just too many basics that the staff did not deliver on. Service was not as attentive as I expected and staff often just disappeared. At one point I had had no contact with waiting staff for 20 minutes. Those of you who have been following my blog will know how exceptional the service was at the other three principal Rosewood outlets - Aqua, Catalan, Spice Mela - and those experiences made the service here even more glaringly average. A definite area of potential growth here.

  As I head back inside, I am already looking forward to my next visit 6 months later to see if the service has become as slick and attentive as the other distinguished outlets at Rosewood, so that the Sambusek will be talked of with no 'howevers', so to speak. It will be a place where service levels meet the high quality of dishes produced in the kitchen. Rosewood Hotel is a marvelous dining venue with an obvious commitment to things exceptional. I know that 6 months later I will experience the Rosewood service touch at Sambusek.

The low down


Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi
02 813 5578

Sannin Set Menu 275 Dhs

(There are other set menus and a la carte available) 

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Follow me on twitter: @bmstoltenkamp