The revamped Teatro experience - Park Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Teatro. The name evokes something theatrical. A place where one can expect showmanship. A drama that unfolds. Having visited Teatro twice before, this was always missing. When they relaunched the restaurant a few weeks ago, this was one of the key aspects I was curious about. Would the new restaurant live up to its name? 

A revamped concept that works?

I wrote recently about the value of having  a restaurant that offers guests more than just a place to eat. Sometimes  a guest wants to have a drink in a  stylish setting without having the feeling of being in a restaurant. Then there are guests who want to have dinner, without feeling stifled by the usual table and chair set up. This is where a lounge can work wonders. Teatro has done two things to effect this. Firstly, the bar looks like a place to drop in for a  drink. While Teatro's sister bar, Cooper's remains one of the top bar destinations in the city, the ambience at Teatro will appeal to certain guests. The bar looks welcoming and inviting. Secondly, Teatro has converted part of the dining area to a lounge area that allows dining, but is more relaxed and feels like a lounge thanks to comfy seating options. I would, however, like to see the lounge as a non-smoking area. This is the direction that Abu Dhabi is moving anyway. 

Teatro, no longer just in name?

The name is finally realised, Teatro. This was the first visit in 3 where I could relate the name to the restaurant and I no longer felt a sense of disconnection. Of course the ornamental masks in the restaurant are the quintessential iconography that create a sense of theatre, as are the burgundy coloured curtains, but on this occasion, I saw and felt more theatre. Curtains now adorn the top part of the open kitchen - what is more dramatic than an open kitchen? The sushi counter plays its part too in enhancing the theatrical experience. The addition of a blow torch to Chef's arsenal brought more drama. However, it is the bar experience that really set the tone for me as far as theatre and drama goes. The new cocktail menu allows you to enjoy the bar as more than just a place to sit and have a drink. It now has visual appeal. While I did not have the smoke infused drinks, I could imagine the spectator appeal. Teatro, now the name of the restaurant makes sense!

The Menu

I was never enamoured of the multi cuisine menu at Teatro despite its popularity with many guests. However, tonight I tried to to take advantage of the bar-lounge-dining area concept to see if it was more convincing for me. I started at the bar with the fabulous Downtown Tokyo, a sake-based cocktail created by is barman Nilantha. Readers will know that I usually eschew cocktails for bubbles, but this made sense, being seated at the bar. It was fresh, light with a fantastic ginger taste that lasted long. 

We then moved to the sushi counter -  a 4 seat sushi bar that gives guests even more options. Why sit at a table having sushi when you can be at a sushi counter. Loved the idea. Also, the chance to interact with the chefs  I never turn down. Sushi Chef George and his team oversee what in my mind is a major draw to Teatro - the sushi and sashimi. 
The Passion Torch Roll, a tuna and salmon based maki that was torched, did not quite live up to my expectations. The anticipated texture did not materialise. A more generous flame please - the torch is there to bring smokiness and that crispiness.  On the other hand, the The Salmon Tiradito shows why they are so highly regarded in Teatro. A lot of spiciness is on that dish, punctuated by the amarillo sauce, with even the avocado getting a  sprinkling of black pepper, but the pickled cucumber provides some relief, or balance as I prefer to call it. 

For the rest of dinner, my guest and I continued to really explore Teatro as we moved to the main dining area. Regulars at Teatro will appreciate the move away from the tacky and kitschy battery operated 'candles' to the real thing which does so much to enhance the ambience. We opted for two starters which we shared. 

The Beef carpaccio was almost classically interpreted, except for a disconcerting horse radish sauce. My feeling is some dishes are classics for good reason - they are not tampered with. Sometimes simplicity of flavour works well. The carpaccio, parmesan crostini, rucola and shaved parmesan with a sprinkling of olive oil with a hint of balsamic would have been perfect!  

I had the same issue with the seared scallops. They were absolutely beautifully seared, with a lot of moisture underneath that perfect surface. Lying on a bed of celeriac purée, close to perfect. But then it was all overpowered by a ponzu and teriyaki sauce. Without the teriyaki sauce, this dish could have been a real winner! Scallops are so naturally delicately flavoured, that you want to retain that. I would like to try this dish again but with only a bit of ponzu. I am smiling just thinking about it. 

We had no such issues with the main courses. The Malaysian prawn laksa was just delicious. It was such a balanced dish, with lemongrass and the coconut milk complementing each other perfectly. Sweet. Spicy. And the final clincher was the fresh bean sprouts that were thrown on the dish - loved the crunch! Finally, the Australian lamb loin was everything I wished my starter was - all about the main ingredient, and in this case the lamb with no distractions on the plate. Cooked medium rare to my liking, a very good dish. And its success was found in its simplicity. 

The wine list will not let you down. With 23 decent by-the-glass options, you are bound to find something to your liking. Also, their wines are very well priced. 

For our dessert, we moved to the lounge area. It was a throwback to the days when dessert was a real surprise. You want to talk about theatre? The restaurant manager's words that dessert will be a bit of a surprise could not have been truer. It was a dessert that in many ways brought together the cuisine offered at Teatro: The fruit selection paid homage to South East Asia, with rambutans and dragon fruit on the stunning platter. A lemongrass creme brûlée brought together Europe and Asia. Mochi ice and  Matcha cake put Japan on the table. Also, there were  Banana wontons, with nicely crisped pastry. South China. Finally, a  more European inclusion again - chocolate truffles and coconut ice cream completed a fun and visually appealing dessert. 

In conclusion, there is a handful of restaurants with a fully developed bar, lounge and dining area concept, but this is generally under utilised. I still find too many of these restaurants not fully exploiting that. I think Teatro can ensure that guests make full use of the restaurant. Get guests to move around. Staff training will be vital in this. No longer are staff just up-selling food and drink, they are up-selling an experience to guests. Doable! On the night, I was able to come to terms with the varied menu, and I found that movement around the restaurant ensures  a very good evening. There is now something more natural about having these different cuisines on the menu. It is about creating an experience. A journey. And I would return again. 

The lowdown

Park Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi
02 657 3333

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I was invited to Teatro courtesy of the hotel.