New Menu at 55&5th, The Grill - St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi
There has been a lot of discussion around the issue of fine dining in a city that is not at the level of its sister emirate, Dubai, when it comes to setting trends and ensuring that they continue. A first glance at the new menu reveals a shift and also consolidation of sorts.The menu is certainly more inclusive and accessible, while at the same time leaving you in minimal doubt that the fine aspects will remain.
The tasting menu starts off with the Capelletti. This is a dish that shouts from the hilltops, Happiness. It is a balanced dish as the fontina cheese is offset by the wonderfully mildly sweet chestnut puree. It is quite a salty cheese, but beautifully held in check by the puree. Yellow, of course, is the colour that brings that element of joy to the dish. The chef uses truffle very judiciously, and these do not dominate the flavour.
Next up,the Foie gras au torchon is definitely one of the chef's, and has remained on the new menu, although with a variation. This is a dish where balance is really crucial. There is a tendency by chefs to over compensate for the fatty and subtle taste in foie gras by overwhelming it with a compote, for example. The foie gras tonight though, is all about balance. And I think the key to that is the portions of foie gras. It is very generous, so easy to foil the forest fruit, honey gastrique and the complex chicory marmalade. On a personal note, I will have pan seared foe gras nine out of ten times, this would be the only other time I would have it in this form. This as it is - a fantastic dish that has challenged me in my narrow world of preferences.
One of the standout aspects in this dish, as in his other dishes, is Chef de Cuisine Kreaton's attention to detail. I feel almost guilty that I am able to devour, albeit with respect and enjoyment, a dish in five minutes that would have taken him and his team so much care to prepare. Indeed a privilege. Although I am trying items featured on the new menu, I am thrilled to see that Chef has added a dish for the evening. I think restaurants often miss a trick when they strait jacket chefs to sticking too slavishly to a formula. It is his Sweetbreads & egg dish that allows me to see Chef step out of the confines of a menu and come up with a dish that wows. Unfortunately, the English language lets down the chef in the name of the dish, because it is not sweet and neither is it bread!
Sweetbreads are organ meats from the thymus and pancreas, usually from veal or lamb. Nice, soft texture, accentuated by the rest of the plate - quail egg, medium, so that you get a lot of the runny yolk. La ratte potato, known for its nutty taste and smooth consistency, is the highlight of the gnocchi that too finds itself on the plate. And of course, there are white truffles which brung an aromatic intensity to the dish. Individually the dish ingredients are good, but when I have a bit of all of them at once, I can appreciate how this dish is not just about individual parts in isolation from one another - they complement one another.
Chicken is one protein that does very little to excite me, and I tend to overlook it on a menu for probably similar reasons to those of you who do the same - it tends to be dry and overcooked. Chicken breast and chicken leg sausage are brought together by very creative black truffle chicken skin. A real pleasure for me is cutting through that breast to reveal a moist texture. Overall, a surprisingly homely dish imbued a lot of flavour.
As I move on to my next dish, the default with veal in most steakhouses is to offer a Dutch grass fed chop. Nothing wrong with that of course. However, in his Veal variation, Chef Kreaton shows his prowess by cooking the same protein three different ways -a real education for your average guest, and a continuation of a theme started with the Cornish yellow chicken. The sweetbreads, enjoyed earlier, served as a precursor to this, and feature again. The milk fed fillet and my favourite of the three, Crispy veal belly, are accompanied by celeriac and potato terrine, all held together by a truffle jus. It is a dish that overflows with flavour and texture.
There are no gimmicks here. Don't expect salt and mustard trolleys or Gin trolleys here. While there is a Champagne trolley, it seems almost an afterthought. There are of course logistical issues as the restaurant has levels and a terrace. These omissions buck the trend in a city where diners are constantly looking for something new and exciting to add value to their experience. Personally, I like these gimmicks as they present staff who would not normally engage guests, with a natural platform to interact with guests. It will be interesting to see how these figure in the restaurant's future plans.
Finally, for dessert, once more a new addition to the menu, and it promises to be a death by chocolate - the Chocolate vortex. It is a very sophisticated dessert that celebrates chocolate. This multi-layered valrhona-inspired dessert, with melted chocolate, truffles and mousse to tease you with just a few of the chocolate variations that make up this dessert is supremely rich. And for colour - and this is again a credit to Chef - green pistachio sponge which does not interfere with the chocolate, unlike numerous restaurants which will add red fruit to bring colour and sourness. Tonight's dessert is all about chocolate and retains its integrity.
The new menu at 55&5th, The Grill is quite a bold move forward and expresses faith in the concept at this restaurant. I am pleased that the menu reflects that movement towards reinforcing what the restaurant stands for which is finer dining in an elegant setting wth dishes to match. Of course, as I have pointed out in an earlier article, people in Abu Dhabi are becoming disillusioned with fine dining, and this is where the restaurant is able to tap into that need for something casual with a terrace that provides a totally different atmosphere to what is inside. Incidentally, the terrace was full on this occasion.
Is it less expensive than before? Yes it is. The addition of menu items like the Gourmet duck burger and significantly, the selling of signature beef cuts per 100g instead of a full 300g piece, means budget conscious diners can actually try the restaurant now.
Overall, the menu succeeds in showing that 55&5th, The Grill can be more than an occasion restaurant. Make no mistake, it all adds up when you factor in drinks, but the pricing is less intimidating than before. After tonight, it is not hard for them to see why this is one of my top two steakhouses in the city. Surely, you have been already, right?
55&5th, The Grill
St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort,