3 Dishes and a Chef at 55&5th, The Grill - St Regis on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

In anticipation of my first wine dinner at 55&5th, The Grill at St Regis on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi  that is coming up soon, I reflected on my last dinner there and felt inspired to write about three dishes which reveal so much about Chef. 55&5th, one of my top 2 steakhouses in the city, is now, more than ever, an important restaurant in Abu Dhabi. With Catalan, my favourite restaurant in Abu Dhabi, having closed its doors, 55&5th is one of few fine dining options remaining. It is remarkable that it continues to thrive considering claims that 'occasion' restaurants in Abu Dhabi are doomed. Could it be that its success lies in the fact that it is not just an occasion restaurant? Or that they have a chef at the helm producing great dish after great dish? 

The restaurant is, by Abu Dhabi's standards, in the fine category, catering for 60 indoor guests. In the cooler months, the terrace adds another 35. I have written before about the magnificent interior at 55&5th. How it manages to be opulent without being gaudy and ostentatious is remarkable. Decadent, tasteful and stylish. This night I find myself in the private dining room, but it affords me views of what is happening outside. 

Chef has tailored another a fine menu. For this piece, I challenge myself to find three dishes, only three, that can serve as profile pics for Chef, each metaphorical about him in some way.  

For the first dish I choose the Pea, Ham and Potato, and here I forego a focus on the consomme. This is such a simple dish if one considers the elements. Potato anglaise, rich, smooth and creamy, is topped with duck ham and edible flowers. It is a dish that belies a strong masculine personality in Chef - this is probably one of his prettiest and most feminine dishes. Finally, pea powder has rained down on the plate, to make it an absolutely sensuous  dish. It is what I imagine the angels eat - it is soft, smooth and silky with tremendous subtlety.

The next dish is more complex. Langoustines cooked to perfection, with a delicious moisture inside, are the main attraction, but it is the accompanying ingredients that could make this dish a  fitting profile pic for Chef. It is dish of connections. His, dare I say, signature happy ingredient, popcorn holds it all together. A bed of popcorn purée forms the base, topped fresh popcorn on top of three pieces of buttery and creamy langoustines. The butteriness connects it to the popcorn. But that is just the beginning. The former is almost granola like, coated with a bit of honey, resulting in a  bit of sweetness that connects it to the langoustines and resulting in a lot of crunch!  While the popcorn threatens to change the texture, the quinoa does it to the nth degree. Then, as if that is not enough, hibiscus gel adds a lemony berriness to the dish. It is that light lemon aspect of the hibiscus that connects to the langoustine. A perfect dish of connections.  

55&5th is of course primarily a steakhouse, but it would be too obvious and clichéd to write about the wagyu that Chef put out that night. On a  side note, thankfully Chef has not given in to the bizarre demand of having a surf and turf on the menu. There is something very unnatural about having these two elements on the same plate. There is a reason fish do not swim on land. He keeps land and sea apart.

My second dish is another serving from the sea. Halibut with smoked langoustine. While the first langoustine dish was about connections, this one is about balance.  The latter simply falls apart in a  very structured manner, if that make sense. To say it falls apart would do it a disservice, but I think you get the meaning. Maybe I should say it breaks apart? I love the contrast. Even looking at the langoustine on the halibut reveals a juxtaposition, something that is carried through in the taste. The langoustine, smoked, perches on a naturally tasting halibut. Burnt cucumber adds texture to the dish, the water cress oil brings a lovely green to the dish while the truffle purée adds a flavourful intensity. Key side elements again make this  a fabulously sophisticated dish!

So 3 dishes which each reveal a distinctive aspect of Chef - an expression of a sense of sensitivity, a flare for connecting seemingly unrelated ingredients and a deft hand at balancing ingredients. 

As  I finish this piece my mind is looking ahead to the wine dinner. These special events bring out even more creativity in Chef. I still cannot quite place my admiration for him on any specific part - the sensitive plating? Beef cooked to the right temperature without fail? The generous use of ingredients like quinoa and popcorn? Whatever it is, I know I am in for another memorable evening. And what about 55&5th? It continues to confound by putting bums on the seats. I am encouraged that things fine can still stand their ground while everything else becomes casual. 

The Essentials

55&5th, The Grill
St Regis Saadiyat Island,
Abu Dhabi
02 4988888

Wine dinners are seasonal and held every month. The first is on 15 September 2015. 

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I was invited to try Chef's menu courtesy of the hotel.