A brunch where the experience supersedes all else - Zaya Nurai Island Brunch, Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has many 'islands' but they are oddly connected by a road or two. For me, an island is a place I can either get to by swimming, flying or taking a boat. Zaya Nurai island is one of these places. There is no other way to get there from the Abu Dhabi mainland. The thought of going somewhere remote, away from bricks and mortar, removed from cranes and steel is indeed an enticing one, but cost often prohibits it. And if one does manage to get away, one has to factor in all the other costs like food and drinks. If only one place could create a day where all of these things could be put together in an affordable package . I recently went back to an island that in the past  did all these things for an all inclusive price and on this occasion I was curious to see how it was getting along since my last visit a year ago. I am of course talking about Zaya Nurai Island. 




The Nurai Island Brunch experience starts as I arrive at the Welcome Centre on Saadiyat Island. A Veuve Clicquot cash bar ensures that the bubbly times start even before I leave on a speedboat for Nurai Island; the idyllic setting for Friday brunch. It is a busy day today, resulting on another boat being charted to ferry people on the 15-minute journey. By the time the two boats leave, the Welcome Centre settles down, and is rather peaceful. Not a bad time to have a glass of Veuve Cliquot NV. from the cash bar. There is indeed a rather decadent almost hedonistic thrill about having bubbly this early. 

I notice that staff are a bit overwhelmed by the number of guests going to Nurai, meaning some of us have to wait for another boat. Solution? They quickly charter another boat and 15 minutes later we are gone. Crises happen, but it is how staff deal with it. Excellent. 




The boat ride is just long enough to allow for a bit of reflection. One of the brilliant aspects of the boat ride is that feeling of freedom and even for this unmanly city boy, a sense of adventure. There is something about the sound of the waves and the spray of the sea as the boat ploughs through the water that I know is an element that already sets this brunch experience apart from the rest. 

On our arrival at Nurai Island, we are taken to Frangipani, where Friday brunch takes place. It is an early disappointment because I feel a bit of confusion as we stand around waiting for directions. One needs a strong, charismatic person to welcome guests. First impressions! 

As we eventually make our way to brunch, I can't help but notice how the greenery has grown in. It is hard to believe that the hotel is around 3 years old. One really needs time to appreciate the island  - I suggest taking the earliest boat you can and arriving around 9 to really experience what the island has to offer - it is really more than just brunch. However, as we took the late boat, we head straight to brunch where it is a full terrace. This is hardly surprising as it is a gorgeous day. 



The brunch caters for around 150 guests, so do not expect an oversized and wasteful buffet. There is something about Nurai Island that makes me want to indulge in what I believe to be one of their biggest brunch selling points - the salads and mezze station. Don't get me wrong - there are enough carb heavy options including a generous bread station as well as a Pasta station, but there is something inviting about the salads. 

Of course, one does not come to an island and not indulge in seafood, Sitting on the terrace with the salt of the sea filling the air makes for a perfect moment to enjoy Fine de Claire oysters. I enjoy them even more because they are nicely shucked. 

A glass of Veuve Cliquot NV continues the indulgence started at the Welcome Centre and with the oysters, make for a sensuous start to brunch. This for me is a microcosm of why I like it out here - oysters at the beach, tasting the sea with every oyster, smelling the sea as the wind carries its scent, hearing the waves break against the rocks, seeing the surge in power of the waves - all my senses are engaged.  






I recommend the salad station. The venue lends itself to having light food. I don't know, there is something about Nurai Island that makes me want to eat light dishes. It has an unspoken call to eat healthy. However, as was the case last year, the culinary highlight for is the tandoor, where my guest and I have a mixed platter. This is my recommendation. It works especially well for  groups of 4 or more. Have a bit of everything. But if all you have is the lamb, then you will have done well! Follow Chef's recommended temperature - the result will be tender and succulent. 

As was the case on my last visit, the Kids' station catches my eye. I really think they have done a good job with the kids' offering - expect much more than processed chicken nuggets. Make sure your kids have the vegetable sticks with dip! 


I recommend the salad station. The venue lends itself to having light food. I don't know, there is something about Nurai Island that makes me want to eat light dishes. It has an unspoken call to eat healthy. However, as was the case last year, the culinary highlight for me is the tandoor, where my guest and I have a mixed platter. This is my recommendation. It works especially well for groups of 4 or more. Have a bit of everything. But if all you have is the lamb, then you will have done well! Follow Chef's recommended temperature - the result will be tender and succulent. 

As was the case on my last visit, the Kids' station catches my eye. I really think they have done a good job with the kids' offering - expect much more than processed chicken nuggets. Make sure your kids have the vegetable sticks with dip!  












Make sure you get up and walk around the brunch area. How many brunches have you been to where you can feel the sand between your toes while sipping on a glass of bubbly? And if you look around, you will see green and blue - trees and ocean. To another side you will see the resident DJ spinning tunes. There is such a party atmosphere at the pool, making the brunch ideal for families and young couples in the fun time of their lives. 

The poolside bar, Ginger Mermaid, is the focal point for drinks at the brunch, so while you can sit at your table and order from the waiter, you can also take a walk over to the bar and get a drink. Incidentally, the brunch offers two red and two white wines if you prefer not to have cocktails. 




A walk away from the Ginger Mermaid reveals a spot where 10-15 minute upper back massages are given.  Value added is again a  concept that makes its way into my mind. As one of only two brunches giving guests this experience,this is pampering and certainly something you will not forget.



Post-brunch has a few options – the funky-named Smokin Pineapple  - where families continue brunch afterwards by relaxing on the beach, having a few drinks and taking some photographs that make you the most popular at the water cooler the next day – very picturesque around here. The set-up gives it a real rustic, natural beach feel. For a more adult experience, I recommend Dusk, the hotel's Mexican restaurant with sumptuous views of the ocean.  Meet one of the nicest restaurant managers in Lindo you are likely to meet and walk away energized. Margaritas at sunset? Yes, there is more to life than bubbly. What is missing for me though, is a happy hour concept that will entice post-brunchers to stay longer. 





On the face of it, 750AED++ for the top package seems excessive, but if you break it down, the value for money aspect has emphasized. Also, not every guest chooses the bubbly or even wine package, so suddenly 550AED++ looks even more attractive. With so many brunches vying for guests' wallets, there must be something that allows a brunch to rise above the others. I want to call that 'value added experiences'. There is one other brunch in the city that has reached a point where I can say they offer that and much more. How do you put a price on nature? 

Zaya Nurai Island is the other. Brunch here is about more than the food. It is a chance to reconnect with nature - we live in a fast growing city of steel and glass and we almost forget that greenery and blue waters are here. There is something so pure about the Nurai brunch experience, something primal, a return to innocence. If the hurly burly of the city with less than clean air, impatient drivers with the sounding of horns and crowded roads are weighing you down, escape. Respond to the call of nature, a mere twenty minutes outside the city and reconnect with your soul. Show your children that  a face to face experience with the sea is better than any stock picture they can find on google. Life is real. 

The low down

Zaya Nurai island, Abu Dhabi
The Terrace Brunch
971 2 506 6222

AED550 soft drinks
AED650 wine
AED750 bubbly



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