Market Kitchen - Le Royal Meridien, Abu Dhabi

The two seminal art pieces that greet one as one enters Le Royal Meridien is, beyond the symbolism of the lobby lounge bringing together cultures from all over the world, a metaphor for the hotel since its relaunch: cutting edge, thought provoking and dining options that excite and provoke a desire to go into the kitchens and see what the chefs are doing. Exciting.

Simple elegance.

Market Kitchen, recently launched, embodies the new spirit of the hotel. It occupies an enviable location in the hotel - a corner that gives it great views of two intersecting roads. The concept is inspired by celebrity chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, whose menus are an integral part of the restaurant. The restaurant is designed to evoke New York, with a lofted level, ideal but not exclusively for drinks and the lower level for dining. The warehouse feel adds to the New York vibe. Finally, the menu is described as modern American dining, and reveals some eclectic and creative dishes. The menu promises to surprise you, while some of the menu combinations are all about experiences you have had before. Those of you who read my Amalfi review, will recall some of the ideas of Executive chef Justin Galea about selling emotions and not food.

Isn't that just splendid?
The Market carries on with this idea. Finally, because the menu is based on what is available on the market, hence the name, you can expect regular menu changes. Innovation. A quick glance at the menu reveals an interesting addition to the traditional menu. There are some choices  from a Simply Raw option, which as you guessed, has uncooked fish. I had tasting portions of the salmon tartar, hamachi sashimi and crispy sushi. While I loved all of them, the sushi was simply heavenly. I am all about traditional sushi, but the tastes Deep fried sushi rice serves as a bed for chipotle mayonnaise and tuna sashimi with a bit of mint. This you have to try! Surprises.

Another Jean-Georges classic - black truffle and fontina pizza.
Crispy sushi. 
Hamachi sashimi.
One of the mains I ordered was the red snapper crusted with nuts and seeds. Red snapper, a lovely fish, is a firm textured fish, and I was excited to see it  on the menu. Cooked perfectly it retains a delicate taste and moisture. The vegetables which accompanied it spoke of naturalness - they were firm, crunchy and chewy. I loved the bean in particular. Beautiful. While the fish was slightly overcooked, robbing it of that moisture, overall I liked the dish. The next dish I tried, the grilled New York strip steak with shiitake mushrooms on a bed of asparagus was two minutes away from being an exceptional dish. Of course meat temperature is a relative thing, so it is simple: ask how the guest likes it. It lacked the pink colour and moisture I usually look for in my beef. Don't forget though that Market Kitchen has been open for a very short time, so there are bound to be a few issues as it finds its feet. I look forward to my next visit to try their John Stone Farm Filet of Beef!

The red snapper.
New York strip steak.
Despite the fact that  the restaurant is genuinely cool and stylish, there is nothing pretentious about the service. It is grounded, timely and very warm and professional.

Finally, while the mains were a bit disappointing, dessert was an absolute delight. For dessert, again I had tasting portions. It was here that Galea's vision of putting an emotion on the plate was emphatically realised - Warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, a Jean-Georges signature dessert, salted caramel ice cream sundae  and passion fruit pavlova. The warm chocolate cake was decadent, rich and creamy. Not too sweet, beautifully balanced in temperature and taste by the vanilla ice cream.
Warm chocolate cake.
Colours and taste.
Secondly, the salted caramel ice cream sundae was just delicious. The menu is about surprising you, and this dish did just that. The popcorn on the plate are all about childhood, an earlier experience. The nuts, too, are about that caramelised nuts you had as a child. In the end, you know you are having salted caramel, but your taste buds are so confused when you have a scoop because ice cream is supposed to be sweet, but it is salty. Brilliant. The only oddity in this dish was the chocolate fudge sauce. This is about caramel, not chocolate - it and made it too sweet. However, still an outstanding dessert. As for the final dessert, the passion fruit pavlova is all about contrasts: the crisp white of the pavlova is off-set by the gorgeous yellow and black of the passion fruit. There is the sweet and the sour of course. It really is quite exquisite just looking at it.
Salted caramel
Market Kitchen is more than the individual parts that make it such an exciting destination. It is more than the evocative New York style setting. I think it is more than the carefully thought-out combinations that make their way onto the plate. I think you need to see it as part of  a greater vision by Chef Justin. to make the principle restaurants at Le Royal Meridien  a place where emphasis on ingredients is paramount and that emotion and food more than ever, go hand in hand.

The low down

Market Kitchen
Le Royal Meridien, Khalifa Street,
Abu Dhabi
02 674 2552
Starters 15-110 Dhs
Mains 65-210 Dhs
Desserts 30-40

Brandon Stoltenkamp