Friday Brunch at Aqua - Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Remember the days when you were so enchanted by that tiny Swarovski ornament that you proudly displayed on your chest of drawers? Or the 10-room ryokan that you stumbled across as you were walking the narrow streets of Kyoto? How about that small dim sum restaurant that you tried on Nathan Road a few years ago in Hong Kong? Maybe you discovered a non-descript record store in Notting hill where you sifted through a pile of vinyl records? Remember when you went to university and worked part time so you could buy that second hand VW Beetle?  When did we lose our fascination with the smaller pleasures that life has to offer? Have we been so brainwashed by society into thinking that we can only value something when it is the biggest, or most expensive or most popular? Granted, it is not easy as we live in a time of superlatives.

However, my recent visit to a brunch gave me that feeling described above. A return to something small and  intimate but with so much heart; so much substance and quality. It was Friday brunch at Aqua in the exquisite Rosewood Hotel.

1. Concept
Aqua goes against the prevailing tide which is to have a big brunch in terms of guests. It is of course, it must be said, born out of necessity. A hotel that has 189 rooms and suites does not need a huge all- day dining restaurant. Indoors Aqua can do about 80. On this occasion the terrace was not officially open. That apparent weakness of having a small restaurant works in favour of their brunch which is a very homely affair that is high on intimacy. It is no coincidence that most of the brunch goers are regulars, and guests who have seen it all in terms of brunches and have eschewed the stadium-like capacity of some brunches. A very discerning guest.

The buffet is not large at all, but the dishes on display are of undeniably high quality. Quality control is so much easier when you have to cover a  small area. So, while the concept of a buffet does not scream out x factor, it becomes exactly that - an element upon which the brunch hinges, size.

2. The food

A friend commented on the fact that the seafood selection was quite limited, to which I countered that I have been to many brunches where this monument to seafood is created but I ended up having maybe the scallops and oysters. I prefer a few dishes done brilliantly. In fact, on a recent brunch outing, I had only 6 dishes and they were all superb.

I loved the fantastic sandwiches on offer. I avoid carbs at a  brunch, but I could not resist some of the bready creations. The Sun dried tomato ciabatta with grilled pesto chicken, mozarella and artichokes is a case in point. I ended up going back for another. This however, was topped by the Caramelised onion and brie tart. So indulgent! Finally, from the same station, I had my first quiche at a  brunch - Quiche with pan fried foie gras& caramelised apple and smoked duck breast. I would imagine the dishes in the spread will be changed now and then to keep the season fresh - but this has to stay!

While foie gras was served as part of a wagyu slider, due to popular demand, I saw chef sending out a few pan seared foie gras dishes. The foie gras was seared heavier than I am accustomed, giving it a gorgeous dark colour and crispy texture. There were also dishes from Rosewood's Lebanese and Indian restaurants. However, it was the Pork station that had me delaying my foray into dessert. Not many brunches offer this; a genuine treat.

3. Dedicated Kids' brunch - Rosebuds

Not many hotels can claim to have a genuine kids' brunch. My daughter reckons the Rosebuds brunch for kids is one of her two favourite brunches in the city. A room specially created for kids that gives children so much more than the usual clown, face painting and processed dishes. 4 dishes, including Penne pomodoro and Wagyu sliders, Baskin Robbins ice cream and of course candy provide kids with enough reason to enjoy their own brunch, leaving mum and dad to have some fun of their own. The kids' brunch, though, is more than just giving parents a chance to enjoy themselves knowing that their children are enjoying themselves. It is about empowering kids to make their own choices, to forge a bit of independence, albeit for only 4 hours.

4. Staff

Aqua boasts probably the highest staff to guest ratio at a  brunch. Top admin staff in Food & Beverage, an executive sous chef, chef de cuisine, sommelier and waiting staff create the feeling that you are really important as a guest. Can you recall the first time you flew business class and experienced a higher level of personalised service? That is pretty much the experience with staff here - that transition from a huge brunch to the smaller Rosewood brunch. Again, a strength that flows from the size of the brunch. It means service that is memorable. I mentioned this before about  a visit to Aqua. There is only one other brunch, maybe another two,  with the calibre of staff you will find at Aqua - eclectic, intelligent, generally well-spoken and quick thinking. By the time you leave the brunch you will remember not only the faces of staff, but names and stories


The brunch at Aqua showed that  you can stick to the traditional brunch formula of  a buffet with live cooking stations and make it a success. Too many brunches have morphed into one another, to the point where one looks back over a month of Fridays, and realise that many are forgettable. Aqua is memorable.

When you want to hearken back to the days of the snug ryokan, the hole in the wall dim sum restaurant or the hidden record store in Notting hill, Rosewood's brunch metaphorically gives you just that - a simpler time of privileging the things that really matter in life; removing the fluff and elevating the essential. It is when you realise all the things that you can leave behind.

Rosewood Hotel's Aqua, offering a  brunch where small and intimate are the new big.

The Essentials 

Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi
+971 2 813 5550

Gourmet | Food & Soft drinks      250 Dhs++                       
Connoisseur | Food, Wine & Bubbly       350 Dhs++               
Gastronome | Food, Wine & French Bubbly      500Dhs++
Rosebuds Brunch | 6-12 years      125 Dhs++

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I was invited to the Aqua's brunch courtesy of the hotel.