Asian fusion Brunch at Sontaya - The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

I am becoming more and more grateful for Saturday brunches. With hotels generally offering a typical big brunch on a Friday, it frees them to be very creative on a Saturday. Having said that, there are still hotels offering  a brunch with a similar concept to what they are doing on a Friday - it is just a scaled down version. Sontaya's Asian fusion brunch, on the other hand, seeks to continue the growing trend of a Saturday brunch that is high on food quality while offering a balance between price and personalised service. 

You cannot visit Sontaya without mentioning the location. As you arrive at Sontaya, you notice the earthiness of the restaurant. The elements. On this occasion, its wood and water that really grab me. The little walkway with water on either side is soothing and calming, something that will remain with you throughout your stay at the brunch. Where many restaurants who boast a terrace will be severely hurt when Summer comes, Sontaya has the benefit of having an exquisite indoor seating area as well, but today I am on the terrace. Views of the turquoise coloured sea, with foamy waves providing a stunning juxtaposition while  a gentle breeze carries the smell of the sea to me, makes this one of the 10 must try restaurants in Abu Dhabi, just for the view alone.

The brunch is a table brunch, with a  set menu featuring  a variety of South-east Asian dishes. We start off with  a selection of South-east Asian salads. Tuna tartar, Grilled beef salad, Seafood salad and Banana blossom salad are served. While the tuna tartar stands out, it is the Banana blossom salad that takes all the attention. The restaurant's Sous chef Minh visits every table and prepares the salad live. I love it. It is an engaging moment as Chef talks us through the preparation, always a natural way to connect the guest and the restaurant.

In a moment, Chef illustrates the virtue of  a set menu as opposed to a buffet - he is able to make two salads, one spicy for me, and the other less spicy for my guest. Also, I think it so clever that this comes right at the start of the brunch because it sets the tone. First impressions. As for the salad - you will like the texture of this salad as well as the Thai spices. I end up having another serving.

One of the many reasons that the hotel's Friday brunch is the best in Abu Dhabi is its carefully thought-out drinks selection, the best in the city. The hotel sommelier, Steve Fernandes, brings this to the Sontaya brunch as well. South-east Asian cuisine really lends itself to beer pairing, and I see quite a few guests opening up Singha beer. For those who prefer wine, they will be immensely pleased. A South African wine, the 2014 Kanonkop Kadette and a 2014 Vina Esmerelda from the Torres label, are wines I have not seen at a brunch anywhere in the city. I feel if hotels would just think about their options rather than choosing the best priced Chilean wines, they could offer guests so much more in terms of wine.

The hot starters, meanwhile are served, along with the soup of the day, the Tom Yam Goong. A platter of Homemade spicy duck spring rolls, Vegetable fritters, Sontaya Chili wings and Green curry beef skewers are, like everything up to now, beautifully presented. It is a platter with as much variety in flavours as textures. Highlights for me are the Vegetable fritter for its simplicity of flavour and crispy-crunchy texture and the Green curry beef skewer because of the inventive use of green curry, a Thai staple.

For the main courses, we are treated again to a bit of theatre as the Carving Trolley visits our table and from we are served the Roasted salmon. Our waitress, Andrea, possesses all the elements you want in Asian hospitality - gentleness, a warm smile and an ability to think quickly. Good stuff. 

There are four additional dishes that form part of the main - Pad thai, Wok fried seafood, Stir fried chicken and the Braised beef brisket. It is a substantial course in terms of variety, but what I would like to see though is a vegetable offering, like a stir-fried vegetable dish just to balance the selection. It is the only thing missing in another wise superb selection.

Finally, dessert is a glorious one. Well, it is actually a selection of treats, but has the best presentation you are likely to have at a south East Asian restaurant in the city. The Sontaya Paradise, despite the cliched name, captivates us, the moment it is placed on my table. White chocolate with orange, Coconut gel cookies, Flower sorbet, Mango cheesecake and Tropical fruit are again really nicely plated, and we are treated to something that sadly missing in Abu Dhabi, a bit of science meeting food. Chef pours water into the large bowl and the effect created by dry ice in the bowl is quite a spectacle!

Having a show is one thing, but how do the dessert items stack up? The Cheesecake's texture has that melt-away-in-your mouth quality, while the White chocolate, with mandarin orange and topped with orange foam, is just a  delight. Finally, the other stand out item is the Flower sorbet which tastes like, well, a flower. It is really balanced. Were I to do a  Top 10 desserts in Abu Dhabi review, this would definitely be there!

Overall, Sontaya's Asian fusion Brunch is, firstly, the perfect Saturday brunch. The quintessential aspects of a brunch the day before work is that it is laid back, intimate but also different from the Friday brunches. This brunch checks all the columns. But to regard it as a good 'Saturday' brunch would be unfair because I think it is a good brunch all round. There is just so much thought that has gone into this brunch, that it as to be commended. 

The location is of course always going to be an advantage, but then there needs to be more to sustain the brunch. And there is. The menu also reflects  a very balanced approach to the brunch, with the portions spot on, while the idea of sharing, so fashionable these days, rooted in the brunch. The wine  pairing, of course, is a winner. This was the first brunch I have been to where I felt Bubbly would actually be a distraction, and they should resist serving it because the Vina Esmeralda, for example, is just excellent as an accompaniment to the dishes. There is no need for bubbles. 

Saturday brunch has given Sontaya a chance to break the brunch mould, and they have achieved this.

The Essentials

St Regis Saadiyat Island,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 4988888
12.30-4.00pm every Saturday

AED 229++ incl soft drinks

AED 299++ paired with wine & beers

Brandon Stoltenkamp