Setting new standards in steakhouse dining - Butcher & Still, Four Seasons Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Having tried all the steakhouses in the city, I have pretty much come to understand the formula that some follow, while one or two others have broken away from that formula to come up with a fairly unique concept. So, when a new steakhouse comes to town, I am first in line to see what they have to offer and how they are offering it. Four Seasons Hotel has certainly breathed class into the hospitality industry, something done by only one other hotel in my time here in Abu Dhabi. Hence, when I was invited to try their steakhouse, Butcher & Still, I had lofty expectations. This 1920s Chicago-style steakhouse claims to bring something unique to Abu Dhabi. 

Lighting. This is the first thing that makes an impression on me as I walk in. It really creates  a steakhouse ambience. Perfectly dimmed. However, my musings on this are quickly interrupted as my eyes are arrested by the activity at the bar. But then I am distracted by the gorgeous terrace. However,  the bar pulls me right back. Bars are no longer just about filling glasses and taking care of guests and listening to their stories. They are integral to any dining experience nowadays. But over and above this, and here it comes...they are sexy. They are manned and womaned by people with charm, personality and world savviness! Bars are destinations in themselves. 

Restaurants I have visited know how much I espouse the idea of guests starting their dining experience at the bar. It does not always work but it would seem foolish to pass the bar without sitting down and having a drink before dining. The three personalities behind the bar each bring something to my experience this evening. Even as I write this, I don't remember the drink I had, but I remember their names. This is how one creates loyalty. Unwittingly they created a fan without seeking to do so. While at the bar, I try a cocktail so I can see the much hyped 'Imperial Shaker' - it is a conversation piece; something that I am likely to mention at the water cooler the next day. The thing is about bringing a  unique element to the steakhouse scene, and this is certainly one of those things. 

The Imperial Shaker
Anya, one of the trio behind the bar, reveals something that leaves me stunned - water at the bar is free, and I am not talking about  a filter at the back giving tap water. It is the usual branded water. The philosophy, so obvious, yet missing in Abu Dhabi up to now - water, she says, is an essential to drinking at the bar, so why should guests be charged? The unique elements are adding up. But I am here for more than a drink, so I make my way to the dining area.

As I am seated, I notice a Beech Ovens counter in the middle of the restaurant. Clever, I think to myself. Theatre. Drama unfolds as I watch two pastry chefs cut and plate pecan pie. It is  a little thing like the location of the ovens that is starting to set Butcher & Still apart from other steakhouses already - and I am yet to eat something. When bread is served, the hint of truffle as I bite into it mesmerises, especially at a  time when are moving into truffle season. But it is not over done. It is easy for chefs to be excessive in their use of truffle oil, but that is not evident as I take a second bite of that piping hot bread. 

My guest and I start with the Prime Angus steak tartar - there is only so much you can do with this classic dish. Chef has kept it simple, bar runny egg that is poured table side over the tartar for that moment of wonder. Drama again, as my guest and I stare, transfixed, as the egg is poured. 

For our second starter, we look no further than the New Orleans Oysters Rockefeller - this is, after all, an American steakhouse. At 65AED, it is the cheapest in the city and incidentally, on the menu I also see individual oysters at 10AED each! No, that is not a typo - 10AED. The presentation, getting back to the Oysters Rockefeller, grounds Butcher & Still - they are served on a used-looking silver tray. Not sure if this by design, but it adds that simplicity to the restaurant. Make no mistake, this is a fine looking restaurant in its attention to detail, but it is a moment like this that just relaxes any guest. It is such a contrast to the opulent leather and wood that permeates the restaurant. 

My wine, a Californian Napa Valley Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2015 brings me a toned down fruity experience compared to the Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, but with a more complexity and elegance. I am surprised by grapefruit - a real delight. 

Finally, we have the Signature baked petit escargot; .puffy, crispy and flaky pastry  and escargot are sat on a bed of cauliflower purée. The snails are perfectly balanced by the mild sweetness of the cauliflower, which on another note, has a divine texture. It is an exciting inclusion on the menu and goes beyond the staple offerings one has at a  steakhouse. It is a nice variation indeed as one becomes quite familiar with steakhouse starters in the city - breaking the mold again. 

No steakhouse is complete without a fine selection of wine and more importantly, a sommelier. Four Seasons' sommelier, Stevan Mitic, moves around the restaurant, dividing his time between guests and making recommendations. The restaurant's wine selection is succinct, with a great emphasis on quality labels  rather than number. The big strength in the sommelier is his ability to connect with a guest and make the guest feel it is ok to ask silly questions - there is nothing snobbish about his attitude towards wine and he privileges the guest's right to experience something. In a moment that celebrated life, he made it possible for a guest to experience his first ever bubbly sabrage - sabering in the old Napoleonic style. I am reminded of the power that people in F&B have , be it a waiter, bartender, manager or sommelier, and I feel that keenly this evening at Butcher & Still. 
Hotel sommelier, Stevan Mitic, a self-confessed old soul - spot on.
The main options are quite extensive, with 14 choices abounding. Signature Butcher & Still beef from Creekstone Kansas dominates, with entry level cuts at 200AED - so yes, it is not a  cheap dining experience. The most exciting aspect of the meat cuts, though, is the highly regarded Kagoshima wagyu, exclusive to Butcher&Still, available in three cuts. This grade 5 beef would be real treat to a beef connoisseur seeking a highly marbled piece of beef. Executive Chef, Marshall Roth, as down to earth as they come, speaks glowingly about the love and care that cows are shown to ensure that their beef has the highest possible level of marbling. He is just as passionate about putting out dishes that matter. 

For our main course, we are served the Porterhouse Oscar style - it is an immense piece of meat coming at 1kg! My guest and I manage to get through a few pieces, but it is really huge. I find it rich in marbling and is typical of my steak experiences, I resist sauce and have the meat as it is. It is full of flavour. To test it further, I have a piece that is cold, and it is still a worthy piece of meat - most worthy in fact. You must have it medium rare to do justice to this fine piece of meat. At 400AED, this is great value for 2 people. 

Stevan chooses a Beringer Founders' Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 - a wine that has a nice balance between price, depth and pairing with the porterhouse. Deep red and rich in berries, it is a decent option. 

In addition to the glorious beef, we also have Signature Dover sole, with a crispy golden brown skin. Generous capers and root vegetables bring a wonderful flavour variation, especially noteworthy is the sweetness of the carrots up against the sourness of the lemon in the sole and sourness of the capers. The sole is a must have if for some reason you are not a fan of meat! It is just so moist and tender. 

The wine paired with the sole, a gorgeous Oregon Earth Pinot Noir 2014, is superb. It is light, aromatic and silky smooth, an excellent recommendation. 

In addition to the glorious beef, we also have Signature Dover sole, with a crispy golden brown skin. Generous capers and root vegetables bring a wonderful flavour variation, especially noteworthy is the sweetness of the carrots up against the sourness of the lemon in the sole and sourness of the capers. The sole is a must have if for some reason you are not a fan of meat! It is just so moist. 

Dessert is a must. Having seen the Southern Pecan pie earlier as it was served to a guest, and not put off by how big it is, my guest and I share a piece as well as  a slice of New York style cheesecake. Personally, I think the dessert portions are too large - yes, I cannot believe I am saying that, but then I value eating with the eye as much as I do with the tongue. And yes, it is an American steakhouse, but we are also in a region where health concerns are common. So, I find the pecan a bit, pun intended, too nutty for me, although I understand it is one of their most popular desserts. The cheese cake though, not pictured, has that firmness of texture I want in a cheesecake, and it strikes the right note with me. 

Dessert is paired with the  sumptuous Justin Obtuse Dessert wine, rich in cherries and chocolate - a real high point with which to end dinner. 

I try my best to look for chinks in the proverbial armour of this new restaurant, but it is not so easy. It is as if they have been open for some time and have settled into a routine of excellent service. Of course, when a new restaurant is launched, there tends to be a lot of fanfare. This is manifested in the very high staff to guest ratio, the highest I have seen in a  restaurant of this size in Abu Dhabi. The result is that service is timely but hardly ever smothering. It is all about sustaining this level of staff and service, not easy in a market that is really struggling but based on the mix of clientele, the restaurant has already established loyalty. Finally, it is not a cheap restaurant, and  a night out will be costly, so they need to ensure that they are anything but an occasion restaurant. 

I for one am excited with the addition of Butcher & Still. It joins 3 other top steakhouses with varying concepts offering guests that special something, but it is hard not to single out this restaurant as the one that will head the awards next year when awards season rolls around. It has risen above gimmicks and trimmings with its emphasis on well-trained staff, and importantly, having the right people on the floor. It is about doing things differently. This is manifested, rather symbolically, in the restaurant general manager, Leila Cooper, who kitted out in  a green dress amidst dark colours, who brings a joyfulness to the table through her homeliness - she is one of the reasons you will not feel intimidated by a  visit to this restaurant. Real, warm and hearty. F&B is firstly about people, isn't it? True, but you cannot ignore the fine menu of meat and offer.

When my guest and I leave the restaurant, I dearly want to capture the memory and immortalise it. It has been one of those nights. Butcher & Still has so much soul that it transcends the dishes, wine and service. And just when you may think you have seen it all as far as steakhouses go in Abu Dhabi, you will be forced to revisit that notion.  


Butcher&Still at Four Seasons Hotel,
Al Maryah Island,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 3332600

Selected menu items

Prime Angus steak tartar 80AED
New Orleans Rockefeller oysters 65AED
Garlic roasted chicken 140AED
Dover sole 210AED
Cedar plank salmon 160AED
Sides 30-55AED
Kansas city strip 200AED

Brandon Stoltenkamp
Disclaimer: I was invited to try Butcher & Still courtesy of the hotel. All views are my own.