Aqua Brunch - Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi there are so many brunches. When one goes to brunch often, it is easy for brunches to simply become like every other brunch. However, in a month of brunches, occasionally, one is simply surprised by a brunch that really stands out above the rest. In recent times I have had the good fortune of experiencing a couple of these, and my experience at Aqua, Rosewood Hotel, was another one of those brunches that will linger on in my memory, long after the table cloths and napkins have been washed, ironed and laid out again.

Aqua boasts many strengths. The first strength is one beyond its control, but that unwittingly is a big strength - its size. It is not a big brunch in terms of floor space, but the less is more concept is firmly at home here. The brunch accommodates around 80-90 people, and while they can expand that when the Ramadan tent is not up and the weather is conducive, this is a good number. It means a very good staff to guest ratio, leading to a very personalised experience. It also means fewer dishes but an emphasis on quality.
The Rosebuds brunch

After sipping on a glass of Champagne, I explored the buffet. As I was with my 8 year old, we checked out the Rosebuds brunch for kids. You have to see it to believe it. By now you know how important it is to me as a father that brunches do more than just offer fries, nuggets and a face painter. This is a kids' brunch, and I call it that because it is more than a station. It is a room dedicated to kids: a choice of 4 mains - pasta pomodoro, pure beef sliders, unprocessed fish fingers and potato wedges. There is a big screen TV  to keep kids entertained, bean bags for relaxation as well as a room with toys and books. Oh, and for good measure, a Baskin Robbins fridge, candy floss and popcorn machine and a candy selection right out of Willy Wonka! I have experienced nothing like this in the city for kids. Nothing. Talk about raising the bar. Forget the bar. The metaphor has been redefined. It is about taking kids onto a cloud and transporting them to a world of wonder and amazement; three hours of reveling in  childhood and innocence.

Irish oysters brought to my mouth the sea.
Fresh sashimi
Then I started my brunch. First up I tried the oysters. Irish. From a previous brunch post I waxed lyrically about Irish oysters. Today was another day of enjoying this less obvious choice of oysters. French and Scottish, so ubiquitous and nice, but Irish oysters have their place too. They were big, well shucked and importantly, not rinsed in water after shucking. They were intense in evoking the sea.

Aqua probably has the highest staff to guest ratio I have encountered at a brunch. There was staff from all its restaurants, in addition to the regular staff from Aqua, as well as Chef de cuisines from Catalan (Chef Antonio), Spice Mela (Chef Siddarth) and Aqua (Chef Harris). Impressive. An added bonus was the presence of Abu Dhabi Timeout Young Chef of the year, Chef Bouchta. Not a bad thing to have your meals prepared by this team.

Just after finishing some incredible salmon and tuna sashimi, Aqua restaurant manager, Edouard recommended I try his favorite brunch dish prepared by the Catalan chefs, beef and foie gras mini burgers. Five minutes later I bit into one of the tastiest burgers I have ever had in Abu Dhabi - the beef beautifully cooked with a pink centre and the foie gras,  pan seared to perfection. Yum, and symbolic of the fabulous menu creations at Catalan. 

Beef burger topped with foie gras
Seared foie gras
Cucumber soup
Already satisfied that the food on offer was a notch above the usual brunches, I reflected on another strength of the brunch - the staff. There is strength in diversity. Or does diversity threaten uniformity? As I talked to waiting staff, it  affirmed the idea in emphatic fashion that diversity is definitely a strength. In my short time, I interacted with staff from the Ukraine, Indonesia, Serbia, Krygyzstan, Nepal, Nigeria, Russia, France, Greece, India, Morocco and South Africa to name a few. It is not just that they are from these diverse backgrounds. This in itself, while impressive, is surpassed by the manner in which the staff are exponents of the Rosewood philosophy of ensuring that guests experience dining, whether it is casual or fine, that will leave a marked impression on the soul and palate. Diversity and difference, brought together by one vision, was so beautifully displayed at Aqua.

Strength in diversity at Aqua.
The Moet Chandon Imperial Ice, an off dry and fruity Champagne marketed to enjoy with ice to balance the sweetness, was an interesting and bold choice of Champagne. While you may be surprised by the sweetness, I think it is a perfect brunch drink: fun, vibrant and calls you to live life with abandonment and pleasure. A welcome departure from the Veuve Clicquot they often serve.

Cold and hot desserts of very high quality.

I then tried the pizza, a classic margherita  pizza showcasing Aqua's Italian side, the tender and moist duck and the perfectly cooked veal. All wonderful in different ways.

Dessert was, predictably, as good as the first part of the brunch. Highlights included the raspberry profiterole, the exotic cheese cake, chocolate souffle and a lovely cheese selection.

Aqua's brunch appropriately brought to a conclusion an incredible culinary journey for me that began at Rosewood Hotel on 3 April when, interestingly, I had dinner at Aqua. There was a poetic sense of completion as I walked out of Aqua today. I looked back with intense emotions. The faces of the waiting staff and chefs were more than just faces. They were people who had left an indelible mark on me through basics like cooking the  best dishes they could cook and having them served the best possible way they could be served.

This brunch, a gorgeous celebration of food and life, was more than a fine selection of ingredients brought together to produce some amazing dishes. It was about the hands that bought the produce to the hands that prepared the dishes to the hands that served them - a chain that was linked by a dedication to making sure every guest, young and old,  spent three hours of his or her life in happiness. The atmosphere at Aqua was about living the  moment. I looked around the restaurant and saw no deep seated angst or sadness. Smiles. Laughter. Joy. That is a credit to this incredible team at Rosewood and Aqua that they could transport us away from the realities of our lives to a simpler place; a place of peace and pleasure.

The low down

Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi
+971 2 813 5550
Gourmet | Food & Soft drinks      250 Dhs++                       
Connoisseur | Food, Wine & Bubbly       350 Dhs++               
Gastronome | Food, Wine & French Bubbly      500Dhs++
Rosebuds Brunch | 3-12 years      50 Dhs++

Note that Aqua's brunch will open again after Ramadan. It remains open as an all-day dining restaurant serving breakfast and lunch during Ramadan, and dinner after. 

Brandon Stoltenkamp