The Fishermen's Wharf at Safina - Saadiyat Beach Club, Abu Dhabi
To start the evening, I have a glass of NV Moet Chandon. By the glass, it is one of the cheapest offers for this modern day classic Champagne in Abu Dhabi. Sitting outside, it is a beautiful evening with a gentle breeze that permits me to appreciate the Spring evening even more.
The appetisers scream out, 'Share me' and Chef obliges by preparing a tasting platter of a few dishes. Crab crackin', is served two ways, chilled and warm, as are the Oysters on the half shell, on ice and baked. There is no skimping on sourcing here with Atlantic crab and Fine de Claire 2 oysters on the platter. Being very traditional when it comes to my seafood, I am happy with a slice of lemon, but I am interested in trying something different tonight. What I like about each dish is that I am still tasting either the crab or the oyster. None of the added ingredients overwhelm the essential elements, so when I have the tamarind aioli with garlic salt and pickled shallots with an oyster, I still taste the oyster. The oysters, by the way, have been perfectly shucked so that there is no need for oyster forks. They effortlessly slide out of the shell. The tomberries in the cold oysters are simply delightful. Overall, very clever use of flavours. Even the baked oysters with hollandaise source, made Chef's secret way, retain the moisture and flavour of the sea.
As for the presentation, I am doubly pleased I have gone with a customised platter. It brings out Chef's creativity as he plates a warm and cold dish on the same plate. Impressed.
Next up, I am served two appetisers: Crunchy popcorn shrimps and Black Mussel Au Marinara. The shrimps, served with a Korean spicy paste is very spicy - deliciously so, but not for the fainthearted. I love the added black sesame because it brings texture to the dish. As for the mussels, they excite my taste buds with the combination of the marinara sauce. It is a very flavourful dish with Thai basil and garlic oil just some of the flavours coming through. The sauce itself made from heirloom tomatoes has a beautiful consistency. The mussels are cooked just right and offer a balance between having that marinara flavour and its own natural flavour. I finish the dish, breaking off a piece of garlic baguette served on the side, to clean my plate. A super dish.
While I wait for my final appetisers, I have time to reflect on the service. The waiters I encounter have been put in Safina for a number of reasons: they understand the importance of balance in engaging the guest and letting the guest just be, there is an honesty about them when the guest asks a challenging question and they try to anticipate guests' needs.
To end my starters, I try the Lobster cocktail and Tempura white bait. The cocktail could not have been done better. It is fresh - I can still hear the crunch of that baby iceberg in my mouth as I write this. The lobster is generous - how it should be. It is after all, a lobster cocktail. To top it all off, a lobster tail perches on top. Finally, the tempura white bait, sardines in tempura style batter make for a very light and fun appetiser. I like the casual presentation. Served simply with fresh lemon and old bay aioli - a very worthy starter in spite of it being in the company of some other more obvious choices of appetisers.
Also on the menu is a choice of soups - tonight I will try both a hot and cold soup - Hot clam chowder and Cold seafood gazpacho. The latter is quite a dramatic dish (not pictured here). A mix of avocado, heirloom tomatoes, basil and naturally crab meat sits in the centre of a soup plate. The drama unfolds as I pour the tomato based soup into the bowl, surrounding the avocado mix and bit of cucumber, and eventually covering it. The pickled cucumber adds a sweet sourness to the dish, but quite delicately. The end result is a gorgeous cold soup. I can imagine how popular this will be in the coming hot months of Summer.
Next, I have the Hot clam chowder. The presentation is well thought out. Coriander oil has been dribbled on the saffron roille, making a lovely green join-the-dots scene. On the side of the bowl are clams, romanesco broccoli and taro chips. I like this; as a guest I get to decide which I will have first. I also get to decide the degree of moisture I want to add to my side ingredients. A very engaging dish. As for the taste, well the taste - an explosion of subtle flavours on my tongue makes this my favourite of the night up to this point. Also, smooth and silky. My senses are all connected to this dish.
Believe it or not, thanks to Chef's sensible portions, I am not intimidated by the main courses which are about to be served. Lobster linguine, Filled and gratinated crab and Canadian lobster cooked to my choice are about to be served.
The linguine is outstanding. It is cooked al dente, and again with generous lobster pieces and perfectly portioned tomatoes. Then I have the gratinated crab and I am blown away by the textures. The top is so crunchy and crumby, while the bottom is creamy - a profound contradiction. I enjoy the saltiness that comes from the pecorino while the couscous brings another dimension of texture. Finally, the lobster. The menu offers a choice of preparation and I go with lobster cooked tandoori style. I am thrilled with my choice. As it is placed in front of me, the tandoori aroma wafts up. Chef has got the spiciness right - not easy to do because it is all so relative. If it is true that we eat with our eyes and nose, then this is evidence for that dictum - A supremely balanced dish with all the right flavours.
With that sensual climax that was the Canadian tandoori lobster, dessert seemed criminal. I was quite content to leave on that note, but not before gathering my thoughts.
It would have been so easy for Safina to follow the route of many other hotel restaurants and offer a 'Seafood night' as a buffet. They certainly have the experience of buffets as they do a Friday brunch. Instead they have backed Chef Peeush to create something unique that will appeal to a broad spectrum of seafood lovers. I think it is a bold menu that eschews traditional seafood night staples and makes clever use of key ingredients like Canadian lobster and Atlantic crab. I liked that the menu is compact and succinct, showing again that less is more. I for one am concerned with all the wastage that goes on in restaurants, all in the name of being able to boast extensive menus. I commend Chef and his team on the menu. Backed up by a very good wine list, this will be a fabulous Friday evening out. Moreover, the service is an added reason to make the trip to Saadiyat Beach Club. Engaging, intelligent and very balanced.
Overall, The Fishermen's Wharf shows a lot of thought that has gone into creating a menu that offers tremendous quality and respect for the sea. Dining there may move you to think about the sea the way I did, as I finished dinner and reflected on the location and the dishes - my thoughts drifted to Flaubert:
“Doesn't it seem to you," asked Madame Bovary, "that the mind moves more freely in the presence of that boundless expanse, that the sight of it elevates the soul and gives rise to thoughts of the infinite and the ideal?”
I could not agree more.
Fishermen's Wharf at Safina,
Saadiyat Beach Club,
Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.