Torres Wine Dinner at 55&5th, The Grill - St Regis on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

I have written almost lyrically in the past about three restaurants in Abu Dhabi - 55&5th, The Grill at St Regis on Saadiyat Island is one of them. I have commented often on the opulent but stylish restaurant that vies year in and year out for the accolade of Best steakhouse in the city. A recent visit visit was different on numerous levels and left me with much to ponder. The restaurant hosted its first wine dinner of the season, and on this occasion they welcomed Salim Isler  from Torres. Several talking points emerged for me from the dinner.



1. 55&5th  is more than a steakhouse


As I walked in to the restaurant, again it dawned on me what a non-obvious steakhouse it is. The fineness of it is inescapable. Embarrassingly I borrow from an earlier piece I did on the restaurant, but I think it succinctly captures  what I want to say: "As I walk into 55&5th, I feel I am stepping into another world. It is breathtaking! While it is opulent, there is nothing ostentatious or gaudy about it. Simply elegant. A towering ceiling creates a surreal sense of space. Magnificent chandeliers create a truly gorgeous setting. As I stand there, I can picture Fitzgerald's Gatsby treating his friends to swanky dinners while jazz sounds blast through the speakers. Tastefully decadent. This is a restaurant, while part of a resort hotel, jumps at you and pleads 'Dress up' - a throwback to the days when people still did that." 





18 months on, I still feel this. Where steakhouses are traditionally labeled masculine, 55&5th eschews this. However, it is more than the style on display that challenges the notion that it is a steakhouse. The Chef de Cuisine donning the white hat ensures that. 


2. The Chef

Chef created a 4 course menu that, main excepted, you would be left in doubt as to the type of cuisine served at the restaurant. Herein lies one of the strengths of the restaurant. The dishes were created with a sensitivity that challenged its grill status. It is unfair, I feel, to label it a steakhouse based on the evidence of the dishes again put out tonight.



Langoustines

The starter, the Langoustine with apple, celeriac, turnip and dill could not be  a fine example of what I am conveying. It is a dish of delicate antitheses. The mild sweetness of the langoustine and the bitterness of the dill, for example show this. Then of course there is the liquorice powder sprinkled playfully on the plate to also add a further hint of sweetness to the dish. However, it is his use of liquorice that I find most interesting, reminding me of his use of popcorn in another of his langoustine dishes - liquorice, like popcorn, is a throwback to one's childhood, isn't it? Innocence, simplicity  and joy are all evoked. Finally, it is a dish of great maturity for it relies not so much on dazzling the eyes with its light tones, but in arresting the palate. 
Beef Carpaccio
As much as I laud Chef's creative angle and well thought-out plating with atypical steakhouse dishes,  make no mistake, when Chef has a piece of beef, he does wonders with it. It is what he does supremely well, notwithstanding his other virtues. In what I regard as his signature dish, his Mayura Station Wagyu Striploin 9+ did not disappoint. However, as good as it was, cooked perfectly to allow that glorious marbling to be both a visual and more importantly, a tasting feast, it was something else on the plate that brought a moment of delight to me and made me smile broadly. His pine nut purée mesmerised the brain. I love dishes or elements in a dish that challenge the brain. Visually it looked like a mushroom, but on trying it, I got the pine seed's crunch and the pine nut purée's smoothness. Memorable! 


The wagyu
The now familiar sensitive side of Chef Kreaton
3. A distributor and a sommelier

Wine dinners can be  a bore for people who may not be wine aficionados but are keen on a decent glass of wine. It is important that there is a balance between satisfying the cerebral needs of some guests while not alienating those who simply enjoy a good glass of wine removed form the academic side of wine.  Salim Isler from Torres and the new sommelier at St Regis Saadiyat, Steve Fernandes,  managed to do exactly that. Salim Isler brought to the evening a genuineness - you could see that he really believes in their product and would order it in a restaurant. Then there was Steve Fernandes who showed so much soul when he had us all reaching for a pen and paper to capture some of his words. At one point he said something to the effect that when you have a glass of wine, you are having more than a glass of wine. Instead you are tasting the people and the culture that created that wine! Nice. 


A distributor, sommelier and a chef. 
The wines were top class, starting in the 55&5th The Grill Bar with a refreshing and aromatic Torres Viña Esmeralda 2014, which while not part of the 4 course pairing, turned out to be a perfect way to start the evening, without breaking the Torres theme. Mildly sweet, a fitting aperitif. The rest of the evening is a build up in many ways. One always expects something special with the main course at these affairs, but the build up , if you will, is in itself an event. 




An interesting moment came when the fabulously original interpretation of the beef carpaccio was served. We tried the Torres Coronas Tempranillo, Catalunya 2012 and put it up against the Altos Ibericos Rioja Crianza 2012. And this is one of the things I like about wine dinners. People get to say which they prefer because what is a good wine after all? Surely it is the  one you want to have more of? The highlight was undoubtedly the Torres La Plana Penedes Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. This Burgundy style wine has all the elements to make it an exceptional choice with the wagyu - full and rich in dark fruit giving it an intense nose and palate. 

4. The future of fine dining

I was devastated when my favourite restaurant closed its doors a few months ago. In many ways, it epitomised fine dining in the city. There has been a lot of talk about the efficacy of fine dining in the market that is Abu Dhabi. I envision fine dining restaurants (and there are not many) needing to adapt to the market, and I think flexibility is a big requirement. I do not see 'two for ones' on The Entertainer as the solution. It is not sustainable in the long term. Once an Entertainer user, always an Entertainer user. It is about the concept. 


This is where fine dining restaurants will have to reinvent themselves, while still being true to their vision. We do not want all restaurants to allow flip flops and shorts! Gourmet burgers, 3 course meals for 3o0AED and collaborations with visiting chefs from within the same hotel group are all some of the creative ideas matched with good prices that residents might like. 

Verdict

I see evenings such as this, where a fabulous dinner of 4 courses with superb wine pairing all for 450AED as one of the other solutions. It is all about demythologising the fine dining concept which I believe intimidates guests, but at the same time ensuring that gorgeous places like 55&5th continue to offer allure as a unique experience in the city. 

The 55&5th The Grill and Torres wine dinner gave us many clues to where this fine restaurant is heading, and I am thrilled. It is said that passion alone cannot drive a concept forward, but I would rather have men of passion in a chef and sommelier than just a good idea. 

The  future of finer dining in Abu Dhabi looks great.


The Essentials


55&5th, The Grill
St Regis Saadiyat Island,
Abu Dhabi
02 4988888
Price: 450AED

Visit the restaurant's website to look for updates on when the next wine dinner will be. 
http://bit.ly/1s93Vub



Brandon Stoltenkamp
https://instagram.com/bmstoltenkamp/

Disclaimer: I was invited to the Torres Wine Dinner courtesy of the hotel.

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