New drinks and staff funking up Market Kitchen - Le Royal Meridien Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Market Kitchen, so long one of my 10 favourite restaurants in the city, has gone through a bit of a change in its personnel, but the soul remains. They recently appointed a new manager, Leuel, who arrived from Market Kitchen Doha. His arrival has coincided with the fairly recent appointment of a new Executive Chef and a new F&B Director - the latter is actually very new. It is a thing of a lot of new brooms at the hotel, to use a metaphor. It means therefore that a new menu at Market Kitchen is on the list, but will not be revealed until after Ramadan at least or realistically, the Autumn. However, I have reason to be excited because I am here tonight to try some drinks that are part of their new approach to beverages. 

The new drinks use hydrosol, defined as ' the aromatic water that remains after steam-distilling or hydro-distilling botanical material such as lavender.' A little is added to whatever you use to make the mocktail or cocktail. When it is served, the air around me is infused with a bit of that hydrosol, so I get to 'taste' the drink through the nose long before I have a sip. This takes the whole drink experience in another direction.

Mixologists have been changing the way we drink for some time now and I am pleased that Market Kitchen is on board as well. It really is quite theatrical watching the drink brought to the table as  a bit of hydrosol is sprayed around the glass. 

This evening I opt to sit upstairs, the lofted area that gives this restaurant something that not many restaurants have. Because I am here to try the new additions to the drinks menu, it makes sense. The bar, upstairs, is small and intimate. On the night I try 4 different drinks. I start off with the Seed to Glass - a mocktail that brings coriander, sage, bay leaf to the nose and palate. It is fresh and crisp and as someone who avoids mocktails because they are often sweet unless I specify in advance, this is something I could drink. Also, with its presentation, the mind is tricked into believing the drink has alcohol in it, but just a light amount. It is the second one that really thrills me. I have been surprised at the lack of wine cocktails on menus. And no I am not referring to sangria, a drink I absolutely cannot endure. The Market Garden Feast, again continuing the nature motif brings to tarragon and rosemary to the fore, but the added twist is the use of white wine. What is my dish? The ultimate market classic, Tuna sashimi
Market Garden Feast
The third one is dear to my heart - it is champagne based. Truffle infused vodka and rose hydrosol are topped up with Taittinger champagne. A single rose petal is used to garnish this drink but this is not just there for aesthetic purposes. It is a visual reminder of the rose hydrosol. Then, of course, hydrosol is sprayed as the drink is served. It is like sitting in a rose garden having a glass of bubbly. As for the truffle, it wafts up to the nose as the glass is raised but is nowhere in the taste, ensuring its own intense flavour does not detract freshness from the champagne. 

Incidentally, I have it with Oysters and the Tuna carpaccio. From the menu, this would be my preferred pairing. The oysters, notwithstanding they are a bit small, are quite flavoursome and smack of the sea. The real surprise for me is the Tuna carpaccio. Get past the fact that it is more like mini tuna steaks - it is the simplicity of this dish that gets me. Lemon and black pepper. I cannot believe it is the first time I have tried this. 

Chamara, the new bartender 
Key to the new drinks experience at Market Kitchen will be training of staff to ensure a consistent drink in terms of taste, deliver and presentation. On busy nights, it will be a challenge for the new bartender to ensure this. His support staff will have to come into their own. Chamara, the new bartender, recently arrived from Bu! has personality for this. I look forward to seeing him carving ice cubes behind the bar. I also want to see him kitted out in a uniform that is expressive of these drinks and indeed the youthfulness that should be Market Kitchen. Bring the funk back to the drinks experience! Market Kitchen is not an old man's restaurant. There is a 20 something year old market out there that is sophisticated, appreciates good food. Bring them in! This is where the new manager will be key. He has fresh ideas and he himself has the persona to draw in a new demographic. Lastly, support staff on the floor need to shed their inhibitions and let go. Being sassy, self assured, boldly able to make recommendations - this is the Market Kitchen I envision. 

As we prepare for our main course, I am excited when  a smoker is brought to my table. The next drink looks like it could be a tour de force. Now, smoking drinks is almost so last season, to indulge in a bit of teenage speak, but something unique is brought to my Market experience. Market Kitchen has its own Aromatised wine. All I can reveal is it is Pinot Noir based. this is used with brandy and hydrosol to create a cocktail that has everything - showmanship, flavours, intensity and a pretty decent pairing with red meat, as I discover with my Beef short ribs and my guest's Hanger steak. 

The Soy glazed beef short ribs has that delicious caramelised glaze with ots sweetness but granny smith apples done two ways balances it rather well. The dish is completed with a crumby texture. My guest's Hanger steak frites is quite a surprise. When you pay 107 AED net for a steak, you have low expectations. On the other hand, I find this secondary cut to be better than some primary cuts I find as entry level offerings in some steakhouses. It dawns on me that while this evening is all about the new drinks, this Market menu still has legs and can keep going  a while yet until the new menu arrives. 

For the final drink, we turn to a locally inspired drink with dried apricots, saffron and mint are just three of the elements used to create a mocktail that brings us full circle. The evening started out with a mocktail and fittingly ends the same. It turns out to be the most challenging of all the drinks initially because saffron is such an intense ingredient; a little too much and it ruins a drink. That is what happens to me. Out of curiosity I stir it, try it again and balance is there, finally. I recommended to the team that they serve it with a stirrer to constantly ensure that the saffron does not settle on the bottom! 

When I told a friend I was having dinner at Market Kitchen, she could not believe that it is one of my ten favourite restaurants in the city. She is an interesting study in many ways. 26 years old and a real foodie but she has not warmed to the restaurant. She is part of that demographic I think Market Kitchen needs to embrace and tonight's experience with the new drinks has shown me that this is part of how it can be done. The restaurant has a lot of elements in place, not all of them, but most of them, to do just that. As for my drinks, it was an evening in which mocktails sat alongside cocktails  and were afforded the respect they deserve. Mocktails need to be sensuous too. Gone are the days when someone who does not drink alcohol is offered orange juice. Herbal is the new buzz. People are embracing this for health or trendy reasons. But it is there. Good to see Market Kitchen setting trends again. 

Market Kitchen
Le Royal Meridien, Khalifa Street,
Abu Dhabi
971 2 674 2552

Brandon Stoltenkamp
instagram: @bmstoltenkamp