Hotel stay - Southern Sun Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Since its opening a year ago, Southern Sun, the Tsogo Sun Group's first foray into the Abu Dhabi market, has consistently received rave reviews from guests. In that time it has challenged people's perceptions of what makes a 4* and a 5* hotel. I needed to find out for myself. 


While situated near the corniche towards the Mina area, it is not plagued by traffic congestion. It is more on the outskirts of downtown. There is an Adnoc just outside the hotel, making it easy to get something from the convenience store. I live close to the airport, and it took me around 22 minutes to get to the hotel. Not bad at all. 


I had a very smooth check-in. An initial strength of the hotel was shown by the way staff deal with my checking in. Efficient, in good time and with heart. My room, a  suite on a  high floor as per my request, was gorgeous. A separate living room gave it added space. I liked  that space was not wasted and used very smartly. I think sometimes  a big room is just big for the sake of it. That was not the case here. It was spacious but without it being over the top  and cavernous. 

Oddly though, there were two telephones in my bedroom but no phone in the living room. 

Turn down service 


Hytes Bar

I stopped by around 8pm and just missed the Happy Hour. In fairness I just wanted to have a look as I had dinner reserved at one of the other restaurants. Not a large bar, but intimate and cosy. Well priced drinks make this a better alternative than some over priced options in downtown the area. Of course the views from the top gives one added reason to visit the bar. The next day I had  a light meal before checking out. Views of the pool and the city in the day time offer another kind of appreciation. 

Hytes in the day time


For dinner I visited Kahraman, the hotel's Arabic restaurant. It has won over many guests with its modern interpretation of Arabic cuisine. This was my second visit to the restaurant, and while I have not yet warmed to its inclusion of a Japanese menu ( a very clever commercial decision to include sushi and sashimi), I rate the Arabic dishes very highly. Moutabel prepared three ways is a dish to try - a bed of grilled egg plant, topped with egg plant mousse and a crispy cut of fried egg plant. Of course. Nice!

The Lobster kibbeh was again as good as it was the first time I had it. The moisture of the chopped up lobster ensconced in that crispy cracked wheat was a wonderful contrast. I squeezed a bit of lemon on it - made it even more delicious. 

The Safron marinated lobster was another excellent dish. The subtle manner in which Kahraman made it an Arabic dish was so clever. I fell in love with the dish as it was brought to the table - the colour of that saffron and then the aroma left me salivating. Again it was the moisture that won me over - something I often with Arabic dishes is the tendency to over cook ingredients. 

Finally, my dish of the night, the Char grilled Veal Chops, was superbly cooked. The zaatar butter and French mustard transformed the veal into an Arabic delight. The presentation, with the use of a black stone plate, made this a very contemporary interpretation. 
Executive Sous Chef Venu has joined an already powerful culinary team. 
The veal and the Moutabel cooked three ways served as a micrococm for what Kahraman stands for - respect for tradition but with an eye on the present. The success for me lay in the delicate manner in which Kahraman Head Chef Ahmed and his team have bridged the gap between the two worlds of Western and Arabic cuisine. It would have been easy to add obvious ingredients and to do so excessively, but that would betray that respect for tradition I referred to above. 

The Foundry 

The Foundry has been one of the top 10 restaurants in the city since the hotel opened, and having tried it for dinner on several occasions, I could understand why at one point it was even rated number 1. But this was the first time I tried it for breakfast, and going for breakfast really gave me a different perspective on this restaurant. This all day dining restaurant is different from the run of the mill competitors. Firstly, the restaurant is small compared to most all day dining, making for an intimate breakfast experience. The buffet area, then, is in keeping with the size of the restaurant. I appreciated this - everything and more, though, that you would want from breakfast was here. So it begs the question: Why are so many hotels not trying to be more sustainable like this? 

The hotel's strength comes through in its F&B again - people. Chef Allan went around offering guest's a taste of his dish of the day, making for  a natural engagement. This is what makes the Foundry  a great place to have a meal. The Foundry is more than the fresh smoothies that are served or the variety of egg dishes creatively presented - by the way, you must try the Shakshuka and Eggs benedict. It is balance between a team of chefs who really want to give guests a memorable dining experience and waiting staff who genuinely seek to connect with guests. 


A swimming pool with  a fabulous view of the city met me as I walked out of Hytes Bar. There is also a gym that offers equally fantastic views. Working out with that view of Abu Dhabi - priceless. It is a beautiful gym that has the same dark wood finishing that is a motif throughout the hotel. 


Essentially a business hotel, but you will be surprised by the warmth and character of the hotel. 

The South African-ness of this hotel goes beyond typical iconography. It would have been so easy for them to have zebra skins on the floors, Ndebele dolls in rooms and paintings depicting the South African landscape. Instead, they have chosen to have staff convey some essential South African qualities. But if that is too abstract for you, the colours in the rooms - warm and bright which reminded me of the South African summers. 

The hotel is more than a 4 star hotel. It is modern and stylish, breaking the mold of the typical 4 star branded hotel in the city. In The Foundry and Kahraman, it boasts two of the top restaurants in the city, an accolade that not even many 5 star hotels can claim. But ultimately, the people reflect the warmth that is Africa and this is what makes the hotel succeed. Bricks and mortar you can find everywhere in the city, but soul is hard to find. Here at Southern Sun, I believe it will be found. 

The low down

Southern Sun Hotel.
Al Mina Street,
Tourist Club
Abu Dhabi
971 2 818 4888

353 rooms over 27 floors
Rates are seasonal
On my stay  a standard room was available for about 300AED. 

Disclaimer: I visit restaurants and hotels in an attempt to look at the entire product to take service levels to where they should be. I visited Southern Sun courtesy of the hotel.