A Friday brunch rich with that show stopping element - The Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi

The lobby which leads downstairs to brunch
The Ritz-Carlton in Abu Dhabi is well  known for doing everything on a grand scale. It is a brand that is associated with a high level of refinement, be it a cup of tea served with a scone or  a glass of Cognac served in a  heated glass without prompting. Its brunch is no different and is incidentally the biggest brunch in the city because no other brunch can cater for more guests. At the same time, I had also been one of those guests who marvelled at the way they have tried to personalise the brunch experience despite its size.

It had been a year since my last visit, so I was, of course, curious to see to what extent, if any, the brunch had evolved. Incidentally, onthe day that I visited, they had 420 diners! 

Scallops' presentation to whet your sensual appetite. 
The Ritz can be intimidating at the best of times, with its opulent entrance, high ceilings, marble pillars, luxurious chandeliers and exquisitely dressed floor staff. The walk down the steps to Giornotte, which plays host to a brunch that has come to take on a mythical quality, is filled with both excitement and trepidation as I watch ladies in their finest heels negotiate the steps. If it is the Ritz, you never ask what the dress code is. 

While the line to get into the brunch is quite long, there are enough hostesses on hand to ensure a smooth passage to one's table. I am seated in the corridor where all the action is - the Ritz's 'signature' stations are all lined here. 

In a previous review, I mentioned one of the major strengths of the Ritz brunch - its chefs. This remains true. Gone are the days when waiting staff, valuable as they are, were the connection between the guest and the restaurant. Here it is the chefs. It gives me undeniable pleasure watching the cooperation between them - if ever you wanted an advertisement for F&B teamwork, this brunch is it. The care with which dishes are plated while the chef sears the foie gras or scallops or serves the burrata ... take a break from eating and just observe. 

So what about the dishes? Just how good are they? maybe I am not the best judge, because in total I end up trying around only 10 dishes, most of them from the live stations. In truth, there are usually a few principle stations that I use to judge a brunch. Besides, my favourite line always applies - how much food do you actually need to  eat at a  brunch? 

Firstly, as always, I start with the oysters. A choice of 6 oysters, I believe the largest selection in the city. Of course, I have my favourites, and the Irish Kelly oysters and Prat-Ar-Coum edge the other French and Scottish oysters on the day. While I have one or two that have a bit of sediment in the oyster liquor, they are generally well shucked. 

Next up, the Salmon station, with 5 interpretations of salmon looks inviting, but I decide to try it later. Sadly, I would never get around to it. One dish that I do not leave for later, though, is the Burrata. Forget conservative, traditional presentations involving olive oil, tomato and rucola. Instead, heirloom and semi sundried tomatoes, balsamic reduction, fresh basil, garlic and amongst other ingredients, make this the most intensely flavourful burrata you will find at a brunch in the capital.

The Foie gras, exquisitely presented (I asked Chef to serve a foie gras dish for two and not for one) In the end, it wows and wows. Looking at the end result, it dawns on me that the self-effacing and humble Chef de cuisine, Christian Antoine, has clearly instilled in his team a desire for excellence, and in most cases, you can be assured of a dish that will be presented as if it just emerged from the kitchen - fitting of any a la carte menu in the city! 

The perfectly seared foie gras takes centre stage - Mango ganache, apple, pear and zucchini are smartly used to make sure that each piece of foie gras does something different to the palate. Pumpkin chutney brings part of the sweet and sour elements, parmesan crisp and blueberry crumble that is playfully thrown on the plate to diversify the tasting and textural journey, show that with creative energy there is no limit. Pushing the boundaries. While a standard foie gras dish would not be as elaborate, I have tried the other interpretation of the foie gras, and it is probably now the best foie gras dish I have had at a  brunch. 

However,a  dish I would like to see given more boldness is the scallops. Sear that surface. Be daring. Give it texture and more colour!

However, in terms of drinks, the Ritz brunch shows its Achilles. It is always nice to have a choice of reds and whites - I can never understand how a brunch can offer only one of each, especially when you consider for example how different a Chardonnay is from a Sauvignon Blanc. However, in the absence of champagne, again I was expecting some wines which match the very high level of dishes created. As for champagne, would I like to see it back? Of course - it is one of the subcultural elements of brunch in the UAE. Nonetheless, I do have issues with guests who show no respect for this most wonderful drink. Solution: place a cap on it. A bottle per couple, or something similar. 

Black cod

Even though a lot of the dishes I have written about so far have that 'gourmet' element about them, there are many dishes with a homely ring to them. The laksa is one of them. It is all about the flavours. Nothing flashy. Beautiful stuff. 

A new addition to brunch relative to my last visit is the Veal that uses a Peruvian style BBQ grill that looks like a drum that covers the veal and traps all that flavour and imbues it with  a wonderful smokiness. The pic below shows how juicy it is. As for the skin - you will love the marinade! There is, obviously, the much-loved, slow-cooked wagyu leg at a nearby station, but this was my meaty pleasure for the day. 

In keeping with the grand nature of the brunch, the dessert offerings are no less impressive! By now you are familiar with the famed Cheese and port room, a superb dessert venue for those with a mature dessert palate.

The Ritz Carlton brunch is huge, boasting the biggest numbers of any brunch in the city, and that can be  a strength and weakness. Incidentally, as I wrote this review, I checked with the hotel and they had bookings for 650! For the traditional bruncher, it is without equal in terms of the visual wow factor. The brunch culture here is pretty much characterised by decadence and feasting with the eyes. However, it can be daunting rubbing shoulders with all those guests. But thankfully, the space is huge and well used. Furthermore, a high staff to guest ratio makes it quite a personal experience notwithstanding the numbers.  Having said all of this, I think the old maps they used to hand out, are a good idea as they help you focus on the dishes you really want to try.

For those with the child very much alive inside, though, Executive Pastry Chef Laurent Allereau has transformed Dolce, the hotel's cafe that specialises in fine ice cream, into a dessert room with self-indulgence and then some. He is on hand to keep the consistency among the chefs who connect with and guide guests. Again, such a pleasure to be given a recommendation by the Chef himself. My favourites on the day? The bread pudding and trifle.

Overall, the brunch at The Ritz-Carlton is impressive. It is marked by consistency - and that is something that is often overlooked.  Operationally, I take my hat off to the team who sets up the biggest brunch week in and week and out. As guests, we arrive and see the finished product, unaware of the preparation that is done behind the scenes. Yes, every brunch goes through this, but the scale here is unparalleled. The food, what I tried, is of a high standard. The incredible thing though is that this brunch can still get better. I can imagine that when they launch the new brunch next season (around late August / September) there will be new dishes and stations that will tantalise and excite even more, but I am also hoping to see a drinks selection that will bring more balance to the brunch. There is one brunch, maybe three, that the Ritz will vie for as best brunch in Abu Dhabi when the awards roll around next season - it is well within its power to grab back the title it lost last year. Will it be bold enough to seize it?

The bottom line

Friday Brunch
Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi
+971 2 818 8282

AED 410++ House beverages incl wine and cocktails 

AED310++ Soft drinks