Friday brunch at Aqua - Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi

How do you describe a brunch that in many ways goes against the stream? Are there any words left to express one's impressions of a brunch that in an understated manner, is able to leave you in no doubt that you are experiencing a brunch that really deserves more credit than it is given; a brunch where food, flavorsome as it is, is eclipsed by a restaurant's most important resource, its people?

A water view - aqua. 

Followers of my bog will know about a deep admiration I have for a property like Rosewood, and even moreso, for its F&B outlets. For me, there is something unique about the property. While there there are many hotels in the city where fuss is made of its brand and cheap appeals are made to undiscerning guests' need for recognition, at Rosewood it is a different sort of reality; a sense of knowing. As a guest you know you are in a hotel that defines luxury, but it is not showy.
Terrace seating
View from the terrace
Aqua, the venue for brunch today, is many ways a microcosm of the hotel's philosophy. There is nothing over-the-top about the venue. On this my 4th visit to Aqua, there is something very familiar. I am reminded of an 80s American comedy called Cheers (giving away my age here) . The theme song is about  a place you go to ' where everybody knows your name and you're always glad you came'. Aqua, with its indoor capacity of around 80, is perfectly conducive to this because of the obvious intimacy.

As I am seated, I look around the restaurant. Notwithstanding the fact that I have been here before, I cannot avoid reflecting on how beautiful the restaurant is. The water motif is evident on the carpets in the blues that make a pattern. Then, there is the ceiling with wavy designs in the chandeliers. Finally, as you look out the floor to ceiling windows you see...water. Aqua.
Irish oysters
I start with the Irish oysters which turn out to be excellent. Not as salty as the Fine de claire oysters and still fleshy and substantial. Along with their choice of Champagne, NV Veuve Cliquot Brut 'Yellow label', a perfect combination.  I like the choice of Veuve Cliquot. Its persistent fine bubbles and golden straw colour  can really be appreciated in the natural light that the restaurant affords. Beautiful. Next, I try the Sashimi, and the tuna in particular, sourced from the Seychelles, is outstanding. Without even trying it I can see its freshness. The colour is defined and sharp. When I try it, all is confirmed.

Staff, staff, staff - 
When you have two multi-award restaurants who have made a tremendous concentrated impact on the dining scene, you need to showcase them. Two bold signs indicating 'Catalan' and 'Spice Mela' invite guests to sample their dishes. I don't need another invitation. Over at the Catalan station I try the Watermelon Salmorejo with green grapes, a tomato based cold soup that dazzles. Yes, a cold soup that dazzles. This super smooth soup packs a lot of flavour, punctuated by a couple of sprinkles of mint oil. This is followed by some  ham cold cuts, inventively served on stone rectangular slate-like plates, reinforcing the Catalan theme. Meanwhile, Sambusek, the hotel's Lebanese offering, has the grills going outside on the terrace. Nice.

On my last visit, I had the Wagyu and foie gras sliders, but on this occasion, I am surprised by Chef Bouchta who presents me with Seared foie gras on endives.  In my element. A credit to his creativity that he foregoes the use of a puree or caramelized fruit to bring sweetness to bear on the foie gras. Chef uses endives, an unusual choice because this vegetable has  a natural bitterness to it, but he cooks it in a way that really brings out the sweetness. The end result - a sweetness that does not overpower the foie gras. In the course of the afternoon I will have another two servings.

The waiting staff are just, to use a cliche that is nonetheless true,  cut from a different cloth. I have encountered this calibre at only two other brunches in the city - very well trained, refined, knowledgable beyond the training manual but I give them the edge over the other two because they are also high on sincerity. I don't know how they do it. Of course people in the service industry learn to fake those smiles, but not here. A more balanced group of waiters and waitresses I am yet to encounter.

As I finish these reflections, I meet Chef Siddharth, and waste no time on congratulating him on Spice Mela's recent win as Best Indian Restaurant at the What's On awards. He brings the same enthusiasm and passion to the brunch that I had the pleasure of encountering at his restaurant. While I do not try anything from Spice Mela today, he highlights the value of having top class chefs on the floor. Incidentally, as I write this, I can tell you that Spice Mela also picked up the same award courtesy of Timeout Abu Dhabi in recent days, the Oscars of restaurant awards in Abu Dhabi.

Soon after, I cannot resist but ask Chef Harris, the Chef de Cuisine at Aqua, if he can make anything special. Of course I am aware that it is truffle season, so I am quietly hoping that his idea of special matches mine! What I hear is a symphony to my years. He talks about making  Wagyu raviloli with truffles. Thrilled. While he prepares it, I go off to Rosebuds, the dedicated kids' brunch room. When I get there I notice my daughter watching a movie, while there is a plate of pasta, one of four dishes for children,  in front of her. In an adjacent room  I see some kids who are being read to. I leave quietly, not wanting to disturb her.

Little chefs kit for the Rosebuds
Not long after, Chef Harris brings my dish. Now being one for theatre meeting food at the table, I am excited when he shaves some truffle onto my ravioli. Before even trying it, I am in a good space. This is the benefit of having a brunch the size of Aqua - it is personalised. Chef has created a happy mood before I even try my dish. As for the taste, well, you should have been here. The truffles are an absolute highlight, but  the success is in the ravioli texture and the way the beef is cooked. Suffice to say it is a dish I would gladly order from their a la carte menu!

Finally, for dessert I have no choice but to try their Chocolate Corner, an innovation as far as the Abu Dhabi brunch scene is concerned. A great selection of sinfully decadent chocolate treats. The only thing missing is a dessert wine!

Brunches are highly competitive in the city, all competing for guest's culinary souls. Well, actually dirhams. In Abu Dhabi it is all about big brunches and massive spreads with more stations than you can realistically try. I have been to brunches with more than 400 people. That is brunch in Abu Dhabi - opulent, decadent, with the look of luxury. If this is your kind of brunch then Aqua will not appeal to you.

Aqua is part of a very select few brunches where service is intimate and by the end you remember so many names of staff. Apart from the accessible chefs, staff like Olena and Supriya, Nemo and Dillin and Brassel made impressions. I was able to have  meaningful moments with each of these waiters/waitresses. If you place a premium on human relationships in a  world of superficiality, this is a great brunch. How many people can tell me exactly what they had at their favourite dining restaurant? I am sure they can tell me about the waiter though!

The food, too, and don't get me wrong, is nothing to scoff at either. I had some fabulous and memorable dishes too. After all, guests are not paying 250-500 Dhs to bond with staff! I was able to enjoy my brunch knowing my daughter was in safe hands, enjoying a balance between wholesome and fun foods. Excellent food, real people with great service, knowledgeable but humble chefs in a gorgeous setting, a haven for families - that was my Aqua brunch experience.

Staff, staff, staff.
The low down

Rosewood Hotel,
Abu Dhabi
02 813 5550

Gourmet Food and soft drinks                 250Dhs++               
Connoisseur - Food and bubbly               350Dhs++
Gastronome - Food and French Bubbly  500Dhs++
Rosebuds Kids Brunch                            125Dhs++

                                                                       Pictures thanks to Nokia Creative Studio on my Nokia 1520
Brandon Stoltenkamp