A review of The Foundry's new menu - Southern Sun Hotel, Abu Dhabi

The story of The Foundry has been quite phenomenal. It is a restaurant that has had to overcome quite a lot of challenges in terms of fighting people's perceptions in a  city where, erroneously, quality is mostly associated with 5-star hotels where restaurants are often priced out of the reach of most people living here. Since coming on the scene, The Foundry, has swept all the awards, and as the current Best Steakhouse* in the city, it knew that it could not rest on its laurels. 

I tried the new menu when it launched a couple months back but this occasion though allowed me to write about the experience in more detail than the last one: New Menu Launch

I start with a glass of Laurent Perrier NV, itself part of a new wine list that sees the list culled to  a more manageable amount of labels which places greater emphasis on quality and affordability. 

The new menu has some interesting changes and additions which in many ways, announce The Foundry as a restaurant not taking its past successes for granted. However, it is good to see that something of the old is still there - The Butter trolley remains an exciting way to start dinner at The Foundry. In a very competitive sector, steakhouses need to find ways to entice guests. For want of a better word, people want to see gimmicks. And what a great extra this is: Black olives, cajun spices, garlic and herbs, sundried tomatoes, smoked turkey bacon and curry are the choices. As I am there with a guest, we try all 6 between us. My favourite - the sundried tomatoes!

As is customary, we are served an amuse bouche comprising three 'dishes' - Crab salad on orange jelly, black caviar on sour cream and tomato and parsley salsa. Balsamic glaze streaks across the plate. I am lukewarm on this. While the plate looks inviting in that there is such variety, I find it a somewhat discordant dish, with nothing holding it all together. 

Soon after, I have a starter that enthralls the moment it is placed in front of me - the Yasa caviar. The caviar is exquisitely presented on a block of ice. At 20g, the caviar is a smartly sized option. A separate black slate with blinis served in a little pan,  cream and chives and a vodkatini completes the presentation of this starter. Don't you get excited when you find the presentation of a dish is what allures you to it in the first place? This is a richly symbolic new entry on the menu - the strength of The Foundry is its inclusivity and accessibility. However, if you crave a bit of luxury, this dish is just for you. Having said that, at 140AED, it is  a very competitive price. 

The Foundry, housed in Southern Sun Hotel and part of the South African Tsogo Sun group, reflects its roots with a wine list that brings quite South African wines to guests. There is a heavy new world presence on the wine list, with by-the-glass options aplenty. Great for the guest of course with around 20 options. We order the 2009 Meerlust Rubicon Rubicon, a gorgeous full bodied wine awarded 91 points by The Wine Spectator, an old favourite of mine and an appropriate choice for an evening of beef. I ask my waiter to decant it for about 30 minutes. 

The most interesting dish I had at the menu launch was the Wagyu beef carpaccio, and I order it again because I want to appreciate it once more. First, the beef is beautiful with a natural beef flavour. Another wow factor comes in the form of a waiter who comes around with Himalayan rock salt and grinds some salt over my beef - they have a Salt master if you will. Nice touch.  Parsnip air, more like a puree on arugula and Dutch asparagus are worthy added elements, but it is the Veal sweetbreads that take this dish to another level. Sweetbreads, not actually bread and not sweet, are from the thymus gland and pancreas. Tastewise, they will remind you of tender chicken, but they are much tastier. They provide a wonderful contrast to the beef, and infuse it with a lot of flavour, while allowing the beef to retain its purity. How do you eat this? Get a bit of everything on your fork.  A super dish.  Not many people get sweetbreads, but the ones who do will appreciate this on the menu. A chef's dish this!

The wine meanwhile is superb. Deep ruby red and well balanced with tannins nicely checked and berries and coffee on the palate, a wonderful wine. There are two wines on the list that I recommend highly: this and then The Chocolate Block. You would do well with any of these actually. 

For my main, I opt for a simple Blackmore striploin. Well, this fine piece of beef is hardly simple, boasting Grade 9+ marbling. Outside of Japan, you are unlikely to encounter a finer piece of wagyu beef than this 100% bred wagyu from Australia. I like that it is available as a tasting portion, allowing one to experience one of the best pieces of beef in the city at a fraction of the full price. Incidentally, the Blackmore at the Foundry is the best priced in the city. By simple I mean I choose to have it without sauces. It is about the meat after all. I am disappointed, though, to see nothing else on the plate except my Blackmore. It looks rather bare and sad. I would have fancied some creative plating I must say. As for the Blackmore? It is cooked in a  way that brings out the marbling. Interesting note though is that you should not expect the usual deep pink you get when you have a piece of beef cooked medium rare. The Blackmore has a signature darker colour even when done at this temperature. 

As for my guest, she has gone with the Pan-seared Barramundi, and while I do not try it, I look at my guest and nod - looks fantastic. Presentation, aroma, and ingredients on the plate. She, a foodie, tries it and gives me a big thumbs up. I must say I am pleased with the concept. Kudos to Executive Chef Manish for its inclusion on the menu.

A short chat with new Chef de Cuisine Shaunne Cordier reveals a reason The Foundry should be optimistic about the year ahead. He is young, hungry and passionate about what he does, and while he settles in, it will only be a short time before he expresses himself on the plates. 

For dessert, it is a no brainer as I opt for the Warm chocolate fondant. There are some lovely elements in the dessert. The contrasts I like in a dessert are here. The warmth of the chocolate fondant vs the cold of the vanilla ice cream. The sweet and sour brought by the fresh fruit and coulis too. Classic. Anything missing - I want that Valrhona chocolate to ooze out when I break the fondant with my folk. Nonetheless, a delicious dessert.

My dessert called for a  dessert wine to accompany it. The problem with dessert wines is that they are either not offered or they are available only as a bottle. So, in the case of the latter, unless you are in a big group, it makes no sense forking out 1500AED for a dessert wine. However, one of the finest dessert wines I have had the pleasure of having, the Klein Constantia Vin De Constance 2009 is in fact on offer by the glass;  unprecedented. This is probably your best chance to try it in a  steakhouse then. It is worth it. Incidentally, The Wine Spectator placed it #10 in its annual ist of top 100 wines in 2015. Heaven in a bottle. 

As my evening suggests, there is still more that can be done to make a great dining experience even better. Overall though, The Foundry with its new menu and tweaked wine list is in an even better space now to continue its reign as the best steakhouse in Abu Dhabi. With steaks coming in at around 135AED and a glass of wine at 30AED, their biggest strength is again brought home. It is able to provide someone on a  tight budget but with  a hankering for a nice piece of beef  in a  stylish setting an experience at 200AED. That is a great deal. Then, for the beef and wine aficionado, there are also menu items to satisfy that craving. It is the addition of a few dishes that make the Foundry a genuine force on the steakhouse front. 

The Essentials

The Foundry, 
Southern Sun Hotel, 
Abu Dhabi  
+971 2 8184888

Selected menu items

Wagyu beef carpaccio 75AED
Half a dozen Kelly oysters 95AED
Karan Beef Tenderloin 135AED 200gm
Tajima cross bred wagyu 255AED 250gm
Simonsig Shiraz/Cabernet 30AED

* According to FACT, Timeout and What's On magazines

Stolt Brandon Camp