Cantonese and mainland Chinese Cuisine at Dai Pai Dong - Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi
It is a gorgeous restaurant. The usual iconography that one associates with Chinese restaurants, like red lanterns, are no where to be seen. In fact, apart from the menus, you will be hard pressed to find red in the restaurant. There are two dominating Chinese symbols that catch my eye as I am seated - the dragon and phoenix. These two icons, depicted in some engaging art work in blacks greys and whites, represent power and that which is regal and beautiful in Chinese culture. On being seated I look up to the ceiling and I cant help noticing a sculpture that offers a modern interpretation of a dragon. Dai Pai Dong derives its name from a dying breed of casual street food stalls in Hong Kong - this is the inspiration for the restaurant, and I get the first sense of this when I look to the open kitchen. It is this that catapults me back to Hong Hong, the streets of Kaohsiung and Nanyang in central China - steam rises up as chefs prepare dishes. Only if you have you ben to these parts of the world can you appreciate this image.
While I wait for the menu, I can't resist checking out the bar. As I walk in, it dawns on me that this bar is a destination in itself. The lighting is key, and they have got it just right. It is the intimacy that ultimately nails it for me. Very stylish and basking in chic.
On returning to our table, we order from the dim sum to get things started and I can't help notice that all items are priced between 30 AED and 35 AED. On a side note, in addition to the dinner menu, we can also order from the dim sum menu. I am impressed. These prices under cut its 3 main competitors. We order the Beef short ribs, Braised chicken buns and Cantonese staple, Congee.
The congee is as good as I have had anywhere, and while I try both the Pork and Shredded chicken; the pork wins by a whisker. Both are subtle as congee should be, but the pork congee has just that little extra flavour.
From the main menu, I try the Chilled tofu with preserved egg and Sichuan sauce which is quite superb. I am thrilled that they have not 'localised it' by making it more 'accessible'. The preserved egg, or Pi dan takes me takes me back to 2002 in Nanyang. I remember buying this at corner shops, and seeing it on a mainstream restaurant tonight - well, hard to explain the emotion. The combination of flavours and textures works so well. Tofu has no flavour, but it has a gorgeous, break-in-your-spoon texture and together with the mildly spicy Szechuan sauce and saltiness from the egg, you have a great dish.
So how is the duck? While I miss the crispiness that is typical of Beijing duck, underneath it is really tender. If the duck misses the spot in terms of crispiness, the Pork belly is heavenly. There is no dryness and that texture is just so crispy.
As I prepare for my dessert, a difficult customer adjacent to me tests the young staff that Dai Pai Dong has assembled. With the exception of one or staff, it is an all Chinese staff, something that will make Dai Pai Dong the envy of many a top tier Chinese restaurant in the city. Jojo, one of the senior staff members but barely 6 months in Abu Dhabi easily deals with the customer. This will be one of the strengths at Dai Pai Dong - their staff. Experience has told me that it is quite tough for Chinese staff to adapt to hospitality in Abu Dhabi, but the effortless manner in which Jojo deals with the guest as well as the way other waiting staff go about their service, tells me they are going to be more than fine.
Finally, for dessert, we opt for a platter of desserts, that again offers incredible value. The Sesame ball filled with red bean paste becomes an immediate favourite, but it is the Spice apple spring roll that draws the biggest mmmmmm and ahhhh from the table. Highly recommended.
By 8pm the restaurant is full. Some guests have left but their tables have been cleared and rest for others who have taken their place. As we walk out around 8.30pm the night is still young. Dai Pai Dong is not typical of the hotels restaurants. It is a lot more laid back and casual, but the quintessential Rosewood Abu Dhabi trademarks are still there - well trained staff, decor that creates the perfect ambience, a restaurant that that bears the hotel's sommelier finger prints, and so much more. Dai Pai Dong shares its location with the Galleria Mall, making it very accessible to people. It removes the 5* hotel fear factor that can be intimidating to people. However, I would like to see a less cavernous area that greets one as one exits the lift from the hotel. It feels too cold; nothing that a Rosewood Art Gallery could not fix!
If Americanised Chinese food is what you are after, Dai Pai Dong is not for you. I find it interesting how people who stuff themselves on this type of Chinese food think they are an authority on what is authentic. Having lived across China and Taiwan for 5 years with frequent Hong Kong visits I cannot fault the authenticity of the Dai Pai Dong experience, and neither will you.
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