Asia de Cuba, Nation Riviera Beach Club Corniche - Abu Dhabi

It is always with mixed emotions that one tries a restaurant that has only just opened. You expect operational issues to still arise, for example, and there is a temptation rather to visit once a restaurant has settled. However, after my visit to Asia de Cuba, newly opened in January 2015, I could see that this was no ordinary restaurant and would not be subject to those traditional 'we are still a work in progress' lines that plague new restaurants, more often than not. 

The lounging area on the deck.

1. Concept
Unique. And bringing a fresh perspective to the dining scene in Abu Dhabi. While the Lounge-Bar-Restaurant concept is certainly growing in popularity, these three elements, merge so effortlessly and naturally at Asia de Cuba. In serving Latin American and Asian fusion dishes, they are giving diners in the capital something that is innovative. They are not inventing fusion of these two cuisines, simply sharing it with Abu Dhabi. Finally, while I will be curious to see how they do in warmer months when they lose the obvious draw of the outside deck with views of the Gulf, for now it is something to lap up. 

Indoor dining

2. Dishes
The concept is manifested in its menu where a selection of ceviches, small plates, salads and mains, especially with the former 3, perfect for sharing. I love the sharing concept. Asian dishes are quite light, especially North east Asian, so the sharing concept means you can try quite a few without feeling you have over indulged.

The Hamachi sashimi is a winner. When you have super fresh ingredients, it is hard to mess up a  dish. That yellow tail is exceptionally fresh. Shiso and miso are beautifully balanced by the sweetness of the mango salad. 

The Scallop Cerviche aji panca allows me to taste the scallops even through the citrusy mix of the grapefruit and lime on the plate. A bit of zip though, is provided by aji planca, a chili commonly found in Peru. But that chili does not overpower the scallops. Nor does the ginger that is used in very small quantities. Recommended.

I also have the Tuna & seared foie gras ceviche. Alluring presentation. Delicious taste. That tuna is done to perfection, with a lot of moisture and colour still visible. Texturally a beautiful dish. Malanga chips, a Puerto Rican and Cuban speciality, are crispy; the rock salt on the plate a bit grainy and the Chinese pear, or Asian pear as it is named on the menu, has that almost grainy texture too as you bite on it. Finally, there is orange on the plate that gives added moisture to the dish. Now imagine all of these at once in your mouth. Mmmm. A must-order. 

Finally, I must mention the Wagyu 'ropa vieja' empanada. The ropa vieja is a Cuban dish that is essentially shredded beef. The wagyu works superbly because it is such a fine piece of beef to begin with. The beef is then stuffed into the empanada, a pastry. The roccotto sweet and sour sauce rounds out the dish. 
Foie gras sushi
Superb desserts

3. Staff
A very strong aspect of Asia de Cuba. Staff are well chosen and it is evident that training is something that is privileged. My waiters, Joe and Ashbee, epitomised that. Self assured, knowledgeable and with that 'cool' factor that goes so well in a  restaurant like this. At the top end of all of this is the General manager with his visible presence, at times clearing plates. With vast experience in pre-opening with Hakkasan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on his resumé, it is not hard to see how his approach to customer service filters down.

4. Ambience
Sitting outside on the deck is one of the reasons that Asia de Cuba has a fantastic atmosphere. The crowd is quite a wide spectrum with your ultra chic young crowd clearly recognising it is 'the' place to be seen right now; there is the power office crowd who predictably talk about the latest profit warning from this company or that and then there is also a more mature crowd out for a relaxing evening, while listening to the finer Cuban rhythms that can be heard at the restaurant. So, all in all, a place for everyone. 

Asia de Cuba is going to be one of the must visit places of 2015. In a city obsessed with the next big thing, diners need look no further. Asia de Cuba brings something truly unique and authentic to the city. With Chef de Cuisine Phillip Harbin on hand to ensure that dishes do justice to the menu created by Cuban born executive chef Luis Pous, you can be assured that you will not be disappointed. Coupled to this, the highly professional staff will warmly let you go about your evening while ensuring that service is top notch.

Cuba de Asia will be what you want it to be as it successfully combines various concepts into one. One to watch this year!

The low down
Asia de Cuba
(on the corniche opposite St Regis, Abu Dhabi)
02 699 3333

Ceviche bar 40AED-105AED
Small plates 40AED-75AED
Salads 75AED-90AED
Mains 80AED-280AED
Desserts 30AED-50AED

Brandon Stoltenkamp