55&5th, The Grill - St. Regis Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

As I walk into 55&5th, The Grill, I am met by the restaurant manager who asks if I would like to proceed to the dining room, or if I would prefer to start the evening with a drink at the bar. It is a bit early at 19.30, so I decide to have a drink. The manager immediately sets the tone for me by her relaxed but professional way of engaging me - someone who sees the value of conversation. The bar is spacious, and looks like a lovely pre-drinks venue. Comfortable sofa seats, gorgeous art work and a piano in the corner make the choice of a pre-dinner drink all the more sensible. I meet the sommelier, Aurelie,  behind the bar. Humbly knowledgable. 

Popcorn at the bar
Luxurious comfort in the bar
The bar at an angle

An inexplicable trend in my pre-dinner drinks continues as I request a mildly sweet Riesling. Aurelie suggests a Robert Weil Rheingau Riesling 2011, a great year.  At the bar I enjoy the uptempo jazz music, reminding me that this is the signature St. Regis restaurant, based on the one in New York. As I chat to Aurelie, I learn that this is reflected in the wine list too where there are many American offerings. At the bar, I enjoy some chili popcorn and crisp. Simple. I like it. I also meet Chef de Cuisine Kreaton who serves a delectable plate of foie gras chunks pan fried leaving them with some crispy elements. Absolutely delicious, and eschews the traditional way this French piece of heaven is usually served. 

A snack-like interpretation of foie gras. 
Spectacular backdrop.

Palatial but warm. 
After drinks, I am guided to the dining area. The understated elegance of the bar leaves me politely gasping as I enter the restaurant proper and see what is before me. As I walk into 55&5th, I feel I am stepping into another world. It is breathtaking! While it is opulent, there is nothing ostentatious or gaudy about it. Simply elegant. A towering ceiling creates a surreal sense of space. Magnificent chandeliers create a truly gorgeous setting. As I stand there, I can picture Fitzgerald's Gatsby treating his friends to swanky dinners while jazz sounds blast through the speakers. Tastefully decadent. This is a restaurant, while part of a resort hotel, jumps at you and pleads 'Dress up' - a throwback to the days when people still did that. 

I decide this is going to be a long night. Chef Kreaton visits my table and we talk about the menu. He is very much a people person and when not too busy, makes a point of connecting with his guests. I request a  platter consisting of taste portions of a few appetizers. Chef is not going to let me get away with it. He prefers to send out one starter at a  time. I understand. When a chef has to produce  smaller portions of  an appetizer, it often clashes with  his philosophy and artistic hand in that dish. I await my 3 appetizers.

Amuse bouche for the night
While I wait for my amuse bouche, I meet Hira, my waiter for the night, a quietly confident Nepalese young man, who immediately shows a willingness to engage as he presents a selection of bread. 

My amuse bouche is served: the highlight being an open top egg shell filled with sweet corn custard, oyster and caviar and a bit of popcorn also makes its way onto the plate. It is playful and dare I say fun in presentation but complex in taste. The restaurant manager produces a narrative on the various parts of it that works so well in making you want to try it immediately. Theatre. I love it. It is paired with an Australian wine, a Yalumba unwooded Chardonnay 2013, a fresh and easy drinking option, low in complexity. 

The foie gras - highly recommended. 
Next, my first appetizer is served - preserved Foie Gras with truffle pearls, pickled rhubarb, compressed Natshi pear, Java pepper, honey and brioche. It is a glorious dish. The compressed Japanese pear is simply tantalizing, but the other pieces also complement the foie gras so perfectly. Aurelie's pairing with a Chilean Villard El Noble Botrytised Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is the perfect accompaniment. The sweet taste means there is no need for excessive sweetness on the plate, so the drops of honey are fine. The wine is also the right foil for the rhubarb. 
The Grill salad
My second appetizer, the 55&5th Grill Salad is placed in front of me. I see mesclun leaves, shaved baby fennel, rainbow carrots, compressed cucumber, pickled radish, heirloom tomatoes, edamame, charred ginger and lime dressing. The heirloom tomatoes, ginger and dressing really stand out for me. I enjoy my salad with an Australian Croft Chardonnay Henke 2012, which turns out to be quite complex with an intense palate. 

Scallops as you've unlikely to have had them.
With immaculate timing, this is followed up with the  Scallops - Tokyo turnip, anise hyssop, Granny Smith apple, puffed pearl barley, horseradish and salsify purée make this an immensely beautiful dish . The scallops are as I have never had them before. Very briefly exposed to a  blow torch, they retain their natural flavour. The creamy salsify puree is simply outstanding. In the end I break some bread and wipe the plate clean with it. What a dish! 
View from my slightly elevated table.
The mini pause, as I wait for my main course, allows me to take in the sumptuous restaurant once more. The aesthete in me revels in its sheer beauty. While 55&5th has terrace seating during the cooler months, I cannot see why anyone would want to sit there. Aphrodite herself would wish to dine here.
Forbidden rice and lobster

The main course starts of with a very exciting dish - Lobster and forbidden rice. Forbidden rice, so called, because in early times its rarity meant that only  emperors in China were allowed to have it. Its unique purple colour when cooked makes it look very impressive. Aurelie matches it with a wine that surprises me. Admittedly I am not a Pinot Noir  drinker, but her choice , an American  Cambria Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, works wonderfully well. Much fuller than I anticipated, but with all the subtlety of a Pinot Noir. A lovely wine. What I enjoy about the Aurelie is her ability to talk about the wine in a down to earth manner which encourages questions. Wonderful. Symbolically, it is during this course that "Unforgettable' by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole plays. I smile. How appropriate. 

The tenderloin and striploin
Onion rings in the foreground
Delicious fries
Chef, meanwhile, has talked me into trying the striploin, and he graciously decides on two small portions of two different cuts: The Wagyu beef tenderloin, Mayura station full blood from Australia and the highly prized Wagyu beef striploin, Tajima full blood from Japan. I am glad Chef talked me into trying both. The tenderloin with less fat of course and without a heavy beefy taste, but very tender. The striploin, in contrast, more fatty and beefy, and also firmer. This dish, the crowning glory of the evening does not disappoint. It is paired with a Bordeaux - loved the way Aurelie built up the tasting experience  from simple to more complex. The Jean Faure Chateau St Emilion Grand Cru 2008 is a very full and smooth way to enjoy that magnificent beef. 

Chocolate Souffle
As the evening draws to a close, I end it with a  seemingly simple dessert, a classic St Regis offering, the 55&5th Chocolate Souffle. The souffle is rich, chocolatey but not sweet. The other delights on my plate make this the best possible end to an incredible dinner - there is chocolate in various forms and textures, fruit and even a small meringue. A couple leaves of mint round it off perfectly. A fortified wine hits the right note again. I have an MA Mas Amiel 30 year aged fortified wine. Aurelie deservedly bows out after an evening of successful pairings. 

A fortified wine to end the evening.
Perhaps one of literature's greatest exponents of a pursuit of aestheticism, Oscar Wilde, said it best when he wrote: 

“Beauty is a form of Genius--is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in the dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.”

55&5th, The Grill is unashamedly a celebration of things beautiful, sensuous and soulful. This is a restaurant that has so much beauty as Wilde sees it, but the beauty is not the only thing that will ensure that you leave here feeling you have lived. Chef Kreaton was integral to the experience. Take him away. Take away the engaging service and you have beauty that can never  sustain guests for an evening. The chef ensures that it is a beauty that delves deep below the surface and he reveals a restaurant that has a lot of soul.

55&5th, The Grill is not cheap, but neither is a priceless memory. That is why there are bucket lists. Add this to yours. Visitors or expats will eventually bid farewell to Abu Dhabi, and it will be a shame if they do so without having dined here. Once. At least once. A special occasion like a birthday. An anniversary. That job promotion. The first time that you leave your baby with the baby sitter. That date that you believe can turn out to be a lifelong commitment. Or maybe you just want to appreciate the blessings you have. Make it a celebration of beauty and amazing food, as a chef,  manager,  sommelier and a waiter create a memory that will stay with you long after you have left the city... Beauty is indeed a thing of genius.

The Essentials

55&5th, The Grill
St Regis Saadiyat Island,
Abu Dhabi
02 4988888

Tasting menu 555 Dhs
Appetizers 75-135 Dhs
Mains 160-450 Dhs
Desserts 45-55 Dhs

Pictures thanks to Nokia Creative Studio on my Nokia 1520

Brandon Stoltenkamp