Pearls & Caviar Brunch - Shangri-la, Abu Dhabi

Despite having dined at Pearls & Caviar on a  few occasions, I was thrilled to attend their brunch, or brunner as they call it.  Brunches have completely different vibe to a dinner. There is generally an air of relaxation that just settles on staff and guests and for 3 hours, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow.

The iconic pearl sculpture outside Pearls & Caviar
Pearls & Caviar is a perfect venue for an intimate uber cool brunch. Black, silver and grey predominate this venue. It accommodates around 90 diners. This rises in the cooler months when the terrace offers unobscured views of the canal and Sheikh Zayed Mosque. But 90, for me, is perfect. It is a no-children brunch, and as a father who dotes on his daughter (the inspiration for my blog - Mitsuki Emma) I must say I think it a great idea. There should be a space where adults can go and relax and just be free of children, notwithstanding that she is well behaved.

This is what you see as you walk in.
Pre-brunch drinks.
Denson getting the arrival drinks ready.
As you enter, you are greeted at the bar and offered a cocktail to get the afternoon going. It is the kind of place where Carrie and the 'Sex and the City' gals would not feel out of place. Cosmopolitans and Orange blossoms move quickly. The music is a nice mix, which I find interesting. I hear the DJ playing Chaka Khan followed by Pharell. It is such that anyone in their 40s will be at home while someone in  their late 20s will feel equally at ease. So, what connects this seemingly wide age group - sophisticated but not ostentatious, well dressed and appreciative of a brunch with an edge.

Shrimp centre stage.

It is not a large brunch, and this excites me. It means a couple of things: less wastage, less time thinking what to over-indulge in next and higher quality of dishes. How can there be a higher quality of dishes you might wonder? Well, your margin for error is slimmer. Because you have fewer dishes, a bad dish becomes memorable for the wrong reasons. Pearls & Caviar is one of few brunches in the city where the focus is on presenting fewer dishes, but making sure they are of a high standard. I am talking here of brunches that cater for less than a 100 guests.

Absolute pleasure being waited on by Rafy.
I am enticed to try one of the cocktails, a vodka based 'Orange blossom'. I have a few sips, but I realise again why I am not a vodka drinker - it stirs nothing in me. I switch to the Champagne on offer, Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Brut. Just watching it being poured tells me what a wonderful choice it is. Lovely mousse and tiny beads. On tasting it, complex, round and refreshing.

First stop, oysters. You would expect a restaurant famed for its Mediterranean approach to seafood would have oysters that do it justice. The oysters, two types, do not disappoint. Both types make their way onto my plate - twice!

Next up I try the clams. Big and beautiful in appearance, chef has added a bit of coriander. The latter, in small amounts, combines well with the lemon. I have two servings. I also try a bit of sashimi and have a word with Executive Chef Paul Doyle, who is also doing his bit in making this a very interactive brunch.

My guest, meanwhile, is vegetarian, and Young Chef of The Year finalist, Sous Chef Dinesh Perera is in earshot. He listens and then offers to make a risotto. I like it the idea. Vegetarians, I am sure, have a tough time at more intimate brunches because there are fewer dishes, but this kind of gesture is what can keep a vegetarian coming back.

Simple clams
Avuga caviar
The chefs are on the blue interacting with guests. I bump into the Head Chef, Ricky,  and I discover, sadly, that scallops are not on the menu this day, but he offers to pan sear a few scallops for me. In an hour I have encountered a waiter and two chefs who are happy to ensure the guest's comfort - 'if it is possible, we will do it', seems to be the underlying, unspoken philosophy.

A very creative station for me is the Indonesian noodles. So, what are noodles doing at Mediterranean seafood restaurant - the chef uses tuna. I tried it. What she does so well is get the tuna just right. It is so easy to over cook the tuna, but she does not. I break it with my chopsticks and see a gorgeous pinkish colour. Cooked just right.

Indonesian noodles with tuna. 
Sea bass and risotto
I feel I am one dish away from being satisfied, and it could not have been a better way to end the afternoon: Chef Ricky asks if there is anything I would like. I hesitate, and he senses this. He offers to do a sea bass and risotto. Memories are suddenly evoked. It was at Pearls & caviar, months ago, that I had a glorious Mediterranean sea bass "a la plancha" (pan fried) with creamy seafood risotto. It was a dish that changed the pea for me, forever. When he mentioned sea bass and risotto in the same sentence, I am sure you can understand my sense of anticipation. Again, the sea bass is perfect, the risotto with the right texture and the peas...ah the peas! Finally, the lobster tail in the risotto too had just the right texture.

Locally produced burrata - a lovely surprise. 
On my way to the dessert station, I spot a mozzarella and tomato salad. In passing, I mention to the assistant manager Othman, what a pity it is that there is no burrata. I go back to my seat and within minutes I am presented with some locally sourced burrata. Again, I am overwhelmed by staff who really try and make it an unforgettable experience in terms of service. 

The service, if there is any doubt after reading this, is pitched at the right level for this brunch crowd. It is a team of seasoned waiters and waitresses who know exactly what is expected, and they execute it soulfully perfect - my words! 

Any major negative issues - yes, that it had to end!

Pearls & Caviar is a superb brunch, easily making it into my top 5 in the city, and I was able to see why it is so highly rated by Timeout Abu Dhabi - reigning Best Brunch in the city. The service was slick, engaging and professional but friendly. I think with some tweaking, though, it could be exceptional. In the year since it has won the award, there have been other brunches in the city that have since sprung up, so it needs to see what else it can do to make sure it stays ahead. Of course, in the cooler months, the roof top Pearls Bar opens (October) and that is a real x factor as people move upstairs to continue the drinks and music. 

The essentials

Pearls & Caviar
Shangri-la, between the bridges
Abu Dhabi
02 5098777

Soft drinks option 290 Dhs net
Wine option 331 Dhs net
Champagne option 476 Dhs net

Brandon Stoltenkamp