Chinese New Year special a la carte menu at Teatro - Park Rotana, Abu Dhabi

My most recent visit to Teatro had me raving about how the concept of bar, lounge, sushi counter and dining area gives the restaurant an edge in offering  complete, affordable it must be said, evening out. ( ) Since then, I have seen Teatro walk off with the very prestigious Best International Restaurant at the Timeout Abu Dhabi Awards. I guess people are loving them.

To celebrate Chinese new year, the restaurant launched a special a la carte menu for the occasion, and I seized the opportunity to have a look in – in my mind it is their Far Eastern offerings which are the restaurant’s real strengths.

As I walk in though, my mind drifts back to a few weeks ago when I visited a Cantonese/mainland Chinese restaurant at a hotel in the city, and it lead me to question the issue of ‘authenticity’. Followers of my site will know that Chinese cuisine is a glaring omission from it. In fact, I have written about 5 posts about Chinese dining from about 300. It is simple: Unless I am in China, I avoid it because of the question of authenticity. But I love the significance of Chinese New Year, and in this Year of the Monkey, I want to be part of something special. How authentic would it be?

A hostess is worth her weight in gold, if she is able to carry herself like Audrey Hepburn, make intelligent conversation and make the guest feel that his or her dining experience began the moment he/she walked in. Our hostess does exactly that. The moment she greets us, I feel I have arrived.

I start again at the bar with a Tokyo Downtown, one of their signature cocktails. I feel the ginger overtones would be a perfect aperitif for the Chinese menu that awaited me. While at the bar I notice quite a few people enjoying a drink. That is quite a statement for Teatro considering what a  powerhouse the hotel’s bar, Cooper’s, is.

Chef Antonio, is so at ease with his menu that it instills a sense of confidence in me immediately after talking to him, serves tasting portions of three starters, namely Crystal Skin Shrimp Dumpling,  Crispy Bean Curd Rol and Five Spiced Crispy Squid. Three worthy starters indeed, but it is the last two in particular that I enjoy immensely. Chef's pastry in the bean curd rolls is absolutely perfect. Then, the Five Spiced Crispy Squid  shows Chef's intelligent use of five spices, ensuring there is no bitterness, just a balance of flavours. It is this exact moment that I feel 'authenticity'. Five spices is such a typical Chinese spice, but it is not easy to get the amount just right. Tonight, Chef has produced a  simple but symbolic dish. 

Just before our main course, we have the fish - the Hunan steamed fish with tofu in tou ban jan sauce. My guest immediately comments on how spicy it is. He has a point, but if I look at the rest of the dish, I encourage him to try all the elements together - especially the firm tofu, Chinese cabbage and black beans. This eases the spiciness and creates a greater sense of balance. 

For our final course, my guest and I try  a trio of dishes, all in manageable portions:
Beef with ginger and spring onion in oyster sauce marinated beefLobster chow mein yellow noodle, and Crispy aromatic duck with green beans in ginger sauce. Thie latter stands out for three reasons. The vegetables are crunchy and the duck moist. You could not ask for more. And of course, the ginger. An obvious highlight is the Lobster Chow mein, or lobster fried noodles. Something you are unlikely to have in  the countryside in China, it is a nice twist on a classic Chinese dish. In addition to the stir fried lobster, there are also a few extra pieces of lobster added - cooked separately and there to add a visual contrast. However, there is unevenness in the saltiness in the different pieces of lobster, something I point out to Chef and which he is able to appreciate. Nonetheless, enjoyable.

Something I have highlighted before and I never get tired of, is remarking on the number of wine by the glass options at Rotana Hotels, and Teatro is no different of course. Through the night, my guest and I had the pleasure of the 2013 Panamera Chardonnay and the 2013 Joseph Drouhin Merlot - two good wines at a very affordable price. 

Service wise, Teatro has taken it up a notch since my first visit about 18 months ago. It is clear that a lot of time has been spent training staff and encouraging them to have a sense of pride in the way they carry themselves and engage with guests. This was in evidence as I moved from the bar to my table and had  a chance to interact with a number numerous staff. It was a particularly nice touch when Crisantha, my waitress for the evening, recalled what I drank on my last visit. These are the little things that go a  long way towards making an evening memorable. 

I am warming more and more to Teatro with its varied menu. While I have always sung its praises with regards to its Japanese dishes, I am happy to add Chinese to that. Was the menu an authentic one?  I think the menu combined authentic dishes with dishes that might appeal to a typical foreigner's palate. All in all a perfect balance between the two. Well done to Chef for creating this balance between meeting the tastes of some guests while trying to remain faithful to a cuisine. 

 The lowdown

Park Rotana Hotel, 

Abu Dhabi
+971 2 657 3333

Until 12 February 2016
Disclaimer: I visited Teatro as a guest of the hotel.