Dining at the exquisite 55&5th, The Grill - St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

We live at a  time when things are in constant flux. Life is about changes. Moving fast. It means we often find ourselves yearning for things to slow down and and we crave comfort in something that remains the same. This is especially true of restaurants where concepts are changing quickly to appease a changing market. When I first tried 55 & 5th, The Grill at St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort about 4 years ago, I marveled at the high ceiling, the fine plating, the attention to detail; the fineness if you will. On my latest visit, I have the exact feeling as I walk in - there is something familiar about it. I sit down at the bar and have a glass of the restaurant's house champagne, Louis Roederer NV champagne - a champagne that is so symbolic as a choice of bubbly for this restaurant.

When my first course is served, I reflect on the fact that I have had dishes prepared by two chefs de cuisine and now a junior sous chef in the last 4 years and yet what is remarkable, is the consistency in attention to detail in the plating. The Red Prawn tartar is a case in point. Simply exquisite. Right at the start of mt evening the identity of the restaurant is once again driven home. Its fine approach to dining seems inescapable. But those Red Sicilian prawns - delicious!

Next up, the Burrata illustrates to me the comfort of things familiar remaining. While the sunchoke puree and truffle oil certainly shake things a bit, it is a very faithful dish - faithful to the restaurant's ethos. This can be interpreted as a weakness but I choose to view it as a strength. Some things must not change too quickly. Because the interior design and decor in 55&5th is integral to the restaurant, any dish on the menu should not move too far away from its vision. 

While Chef Antoine had prepared some dishes from the menu, I have always liked what they have done with foie gras, be that seared or terrine. He indulges me and obliges me by  serving me a half portion of the Foie gras mille feuille - I am glad I requested it because my guest and me believe this to be a dish that could only have been prepared this why by a French chef. His understanding and appreciation for foie gras is what allows him to create a beautiful balance of portions with pear panna cotta, cherry reduction and subtle use of duck powder. It could be argued that he was following the recipe but there was something indefinable about his dish. Highly recommended. 

In keeping with a tradition it started years ago, the restaurant's wine pairing remains impressive. The value of having had a culture of an in-house sommelier has crept into the psyche, if you allow me, of the restaurant, and regular guests can feel that. The Whispering Angel Rose 2015 is a beautiful wine and not that expensive but its success lie in the fact it was so carefully chosen by its wine team. Furthermore, with 14 by the glass wines, better than what you would find at most steakhouses and also some finer options thanks to Coravin, 55&5th probably has a top 3 wine offering among steakhouses. 

Next, we have the Grilled salmon. The elements on the plate seem in place with Celeriac puree, carrots, heirloom beetroot ans carrots. No issues here. However, the asparagus tagliatelle does not rise to the occasion. When I try it, I want to say without thinking, 'Mmmm asparagus'. However, I have to search for the asparagus flavour - just too subtle.

However, my meat course is a surprise. I had never rated the Black Onyx tenderloin before now, mainly because I always saw it pale in comparison to my go to 55&5th cut, the Tajima Wagyu. Tonight, I see it in its own light and love it. It is perfectly cooked in the Jasper oven which gives it that smokiness without overpowering it, while keeping it nice and moist. However, in addition to the gorgeous marbling, Chef Antoine has added black truffle to the centre of the tenderloin. Nice!!!! It is both the element of surprise ad resultant flavour that thrills. 

A palate cleanser and a wet towel serve to reinforce what has been pervasive all night. I can count on one hand restaurants that offer this. For restaurants eschewing  the label 'fine', it seems to be sitting very well with 55&5th. This is about catering to its strengths and identity. However, a flurry of reminders follow if this was missed on me - my napkin is changed and I am given a dessert napkin, smaller in size. Of course, says my guest, it is about keeping the sweet parts in the dessert pure. Finally, a pre-desert is served. Fine. Definitely fine. 

A Pre-dessert anyone?

As dinner ends with the classic 55&5th dessert, the Chocolate souffle, perfectly done by the way it dawns on me that I got it all wrong. The last couple years I felt it was necessary for the restaurant to lose its fine approach to dining because fine restaurants had dwindling numbers of guests as Abu Dhabi became more and more casual and conscious of price. While this has worked for other restaurants, I cannot see it working here. They cannot get away with charging 125AED for an entry level steak because it would be so in-congruent with the style of this restaurant. If you don't understand, just pop in when next you're at the hotel - you will see what I mean. The tag of 'occasion' restaurant is one I often used to describe 55&5th. I do not want to see this restaurant disappear by losing itself conceptually to become a footnote  a year down the line. Rather, focus on those occasions - a couple has an anniversary and two birthdays between them every year. An occasion does not have to mean once a year. 

Tonight, I felt a progression from my last visit. It was that of  a restaurant more at ease with what it stands for. Or is it resigned? I would like to think it is the former. There remain some basics though that I would like 55&5th to sort out - in all my visits I was never totally convinced that it had the staffing right. I feel an infusion of fresh faces to complement the staff already on the floor is a must. And as for the rest, more of the same, enticing tasting menus that are affordable without being cheap - there is a big difference. Restaurants like 55&5th, The Grill are a dying breed in the city but we need the. We need to be reminded that some things stay the same. Some things are beacons of constancy. 

55&5th, The Grill
St Regis Saadiyat Island,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 4988888

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I was invited to try 55&5th, The Grill courtesy of the hotel.