The Foundry - Southern Sun Hotel, Abu Dhabi

An all day dining restaurant that metamorphoses into a steakhouse at night. An all day dining restaurant that has a bit of soul when this transformation has been effected. An all day dining restaurant that scooped the What's On Award for Best Steakhouse 2014. That is quite a lot to absorb in one night as I arrive at Southern Sun, the South African branded hotel that is part of the Tsogo Sun group, which oversees more than 90 properties in Africa. I walk through the lobby and make my way to The Foundry, the restaurant that is turning the all day dining concept on its head - so I have heard, up to this point. 

On my way to The Foundry

As I approach it, I can see why the name has been chosen - metal finishing, including exquisite metallic case seats outside. Through the windows I can see the warmth that is exuded in the restaurant. Much like a foundry where metal castings are produced in the presence of high temperature flames, the restaurant basks in orange light which does not in any way overwhelm. Warm. So, after being greeted and led to my seat, the warmth of the restaurant is driven home further by the lamps on each table. Warm. Gone are the place mats that adorn the restaurant tables in the day time. White crisp table cloths. We choose booth style seating with an added attraction. Imagine revolving half moon copper sliding doors which enclose you, giving privacy but without making you feel entrapped and you have the idea. Unique. A concept that works culturally as well as romantically. Warm. 

Tonight I am in the mood for something creative, rather than the usual starer, main and dessert. I meet Chef Stephano and respectfully share my feeling. He is open to this and I leave myself in his hands. He will prepare a series of small starters, a degustation if you will. 

I like the menu. Nicely bound and contains everything I need. No separate wine list or dessert menu. Sensible. The food menu has one of the typical  elements of a  steakhouse - the food selection is focused. It is all about the beef of course. Having said that, I am excited about some of the appetisers Chef will be sending my way. 

To get the evening started, I have a glass of Valdobbiadene Spumante, lightly bubbly Prosecco that I find very elegant. Soon after, I see something unique at a dining establishment in the city - a butter trolley. Nice. A selection of home made butter: Smoked beef bacon, curry, black olive, sundried tomato, garlic and herb and spiced cajun. My daughter loves the novelty of the trolley, and soon identifies the sundried tomato as her favourite. Theatre. A conversation piece. I like it.
Foie gras créme brûlée
I start off with an amuse bouche of the menu creation, the  Foie gras créme brûlée. Pretty presentation highlighted by the airy white foam. Perfect sweetness which does not usurp the foie gras at all. A nicely balanced dish. 

Beef tartar
Of the starters, there are three which really stand out. The handcut Angus beef tartare with dijon ice cream works well because there are no overwhelming ingredients in the tartar. A tiny scoop of ice cream after each bit of tartar brings out the dijon in the ice cream. Finally, the ice cream is fantastic because it too is beautifully balanced. A shame that the trolley was not available to prepare it table side. 
I adore the Sea diver scallops which, with its presentation, reveals Chef Stephano's creative and sensitive side. It is a smoked dish. Presented under a dome shaped lid, it looks a science experiment as it is placed before me. The waiter lifts the lid to allow smoke to escape and fill the air - chef has smoked the scallops dish. Pee puree and chili mango salsa complete a memorable dish.That smokiness really changes the dish in a wonderfully surprising manner. 

Finally, the Forest mushroom is a very aromatic and intense soup. It has a heavy colour, but you will get truffle oil and mushrooms which tempt the olfactory senses. Poured at the table, again, I am in like with the theatre at The Foundry!

My daughter, meanwhile, asks the waiter to shift the semi-circular sliding door, purely out of curiosity. After a few seconds, it is done. I love it. I can see how these tables prove popular because of that fee;ing of intimacy and seclusion it affords.

For my main course, I scan the menu again, and, notwithstanding my preference for grass fed beef, I decide to try the Blackmore Pure bred Wagyu 9+ striploin. While the wine list features a spread of the usual wines from the usual places, it is the South African labels that I find most alluring. The second point of interest is the vast choice of by-the-glass wines: including sparkling and dessert wines, 27 in total. There are moments like these when you would be forgiven for thinking you are in a 5 star hotel. But wait, that is a wider selection than most 5 star hotels! Accordingly, I order a glass of the Graham Beck Game Reserve Shiraz 2012. An excellent choice.

As is customary these days at a number of high end steakhouses, I am offered a choice of steak knives. My daughter chooses the rosewood handle for me. There is something very aesthetic about these handles. The beef meets my expectations. With Grade 9+ you don't want to over do it because then you rob the cut of its inherent strength - the marbling. Chef has done it justice. 

The service has an Africanness about it - warm and sincere. I am particularly pleased about this because the hotel is an African brand. On this visit my waiter, Wayan, was added to my short list of waiting staff who were just so natural at it, blessed with an ability to balance knowledge, conversation, sincerity and timeliness. An absolute pleasure.

The deconstructed cheesecake next to the strawberry. Don't worry. The full one is much more substantial. 
For dessert, I ask Chef to serve a very small portion again. I am always aware of the compromise chefs make to satisfy guests, so I appreciate it. He makes a Warm chocolate cake and also the highly rated Deconstructed cheese cake. It is the latter that mesmerises. It has a gorgeous velvety consistency, almost marshmallow-like. You have to try this. 

The Foundry really surprised me. When What's On announced it had won the award, I was more than surprised, even shocked. Having tried it now, I can understand why it is highly rated. I think it foolhardy to look at only at the menu, the delivery of the dishes and the way in which the senses receive it. You have to look at how they have basically created a restaurant that has two faces - a relaxed and bright restaurant in the day time and a restaurant with emotion and atmosphere at night. They have answered the question posed by F&B directors,  'What can we do to our restaurant to attract guests at night?' with aplomb. How about the food? The menu has an impressive array of steaks that would make the menu at any steakhouse in the city. Also, a creative team in the kitchen who are willing to go beyond the usual will ensure that food matches the hype of this transforming restaurant. When will you go?

The essentials

The Foundry,
Southern Sun Hotel,
Abu Dhabi 
+971 8184888

Starters and soups 50 AED-110AED
Mains 150-435 AED
Desserts 50AED-55AED

Brandon Stoltenkamp