An inspired Tasting menu that challenges so many traditional ideas - JW Steakhouse, Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi

The dining scene is a challenging one on so many levels and I have the utmost respect for chefs and  Food & Beverage Directors. It is quite a conservative one but at the same time people are always looking for something new because they seem to get bored very quickly. It is all about balance. Guests do not want to be shocked but they do want something that is interesting and occasionally surprising. This why I found the Tasting menu at JW Steakhouse at The Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi intriguing. Chef de Cuisine Stephan Benkendorff really got me excited about it and I knew I had to try it. 

While sipping on a glass of Moet Chandon NV champagne to get the evening going, I received  a facebook message. I am told my first dish is being readied and I am sent  a pic. This tells me I am in for something unusual. A message from the chef. Secondly, there is no menu - restaurants usually create a small menu and and have it on the table. Instead, Chef will be using technology to tell me what I am having. This is 'sooo out there', as my 11 year old would say. I have spoken to many chefs who find phones intrusive and distracting. But tonight Chef Stephan is using that exact device to create a fun and interactive experience. Breaking the rules, I think to myself. I am told the first course is Burrata paired with a Tomato gin fizz. No wine? Breaking the rules again. It has me thinking - does one really need a wine with every course? Heresy even asking the question, I think. Let's see.

The burrata is what I expected. Well, it looked like it anyway. If the guest is going to be surprised, it should be in a way that still leave the integrity of a dish untouched. No more to add here - try it. It would be wrong to write about the surprise. How about the tomato gin fizz? Actually, after having had it, I feel there could not have been a  better pairing. It is a refreshing change from the traditional wine pairings with this classic Italian cheese. Also, there is the obvious ingredient connection between the two.

Cucumber lime spritzer
In anticipation of my next course, Chef sends me a 3 second video clip of my dish he is preparing. I cannot help but smile. Why has no one thought of doing this here? The next dish is Inspired by the colour green and is paired with a Cucumber lime spritzer. Ah, wine is back, well kind of. The dish is one of surprise and discovery. When you get yours you will understand what I mean. Discovery. It is a dish of contrast. Contrast. On more level than one. Oh, you will fall in love, if you have not yet, with dill after this dish. Well rather, there is a good chance you will. 

While enjoying the thrill of this, Teddy Pendergrass' classic Love TKO comes on - 70's soul music seems to go so well with this restaurant. Besides, it sets it apart from the rest. Identity.

Expecting a  message for my next course, I get  a pic of a can of ginger beer. Nice. It creates intrigue. It is part of the beverage pairing. How will it be used I wonder. The Lobster bisque is served next. I will say nothing else. Its presentation challenges the senses on numerous fronts. I will say no more. One of my dishes of the night. 

The fourth course returns one to comfort in a manner of speaking. Slow Braised Australian Beef Cheeks in homemade tagliatelle pasta is aired with a gorgeous Turning Leaf Zinfandel - fairly traditional right? But it is the inclusion of  a pasta element in the dish that I like as well as another exciting ingredient. I am not saying. 

As I recover from the intensity of the previous course, my phone lights up - a message that includes a short video showing me the salmon that will be served next. I love it. his is really elevating the relationship between the chef and his guests by using technology. Of course, this concept works very well with people who do in fact use tech and are not averse to this sort of interaction during a dinner. Personally, I think it is brilliant. What I  like about Chef's execution is that there is not a message with every single course, leading to a fine relationship between technology and human as the waiter goes into detail about the courses not included in the e-message. 

An important feature in the traditional JW Steakhouse experience is the Bourbon trolley, itself a symbol of the identity of this steakhouse. It is good to see it used as part of the Tasting menu and is in fact boldly incorporated into the steak course. Yes, no red wine! The next drink is prepared table side, creating an opportunity for live interaction with the the waiter. 

Where the early dishes surprised, the steak course surprises by not surprising if you know what I mean. This whole evening has been about confounding expectations, about taking the guest on a  journey and just when the guest thinks he or she has it figured out, a  surprise comes. It is about balancing the norm with a surprise. Therein lies the success. You don't want to be surprised every time surely? It just gets boring. The Kettyle Northern Irish Grass Fed Aberdeen Angus Rib Eye does have some fabulous extras to make it a special course, though. Chef Stephan's Salt crusted potato is prepared at the table.  He brings the kitchen to the table, something that happens on two levels. First, through messages, pics and videos and then the human touch. This is such an effortless marrying of where food and beverage is today where it depends so much on that interplay with technology. 

Is that the end of the Tasting menu experience? No, but pictures would really ruin it for guests reading this. The remaining courses are stacked with creativity that should leave you feeling that you have had an evening like no other in the city. I have also chosen not to mention all the courses because they simply need to be experienced. 

The 8 course Tasting Menu at JW Steakhouse is available to one person/couple per night and needs to be booked in advance. Understandable because the evening affords you attention you are unlikely to have had in many  restaurant. At 350AED with beverage pairing - and I do recommend this - it is a journey you have to take. The menu, interaction between you and Chef, movement, plating, ingredients, flavours and price will leave you feeling emotionally exhausted. It is a journey of highs and even higher highs as you try to stay grounded. For too long in Abu Dhabi, tasting menus have been over priced. I once tried a 4 course tasting menu incl wine pairing for 900AED! What JW is doing is breaking the rules. After my experience, I begrudgingly have to admit that there does not have to wine for every course. While Chef has created something that defines special, I think the beverage pairing, with the exception of the ginger based pairing for the amazing lobster bisque, worked superbly. Oh, on a  side note, Chef has assured me that every guest is given the same experience as me, so you should not feel this was specially done for me. 

Where does this tie in to your experience?
In a previous post on JW Steakhouse I wrote about how it has come on since a less than stellar debut almost abut 9 months ago. The Tasting Menu concept brings together all that is so good about this steakhouse from a fine kitchen team to a restaurant manager who is as passionate about service as she is about attention to detail to the waiting staff, who while still very much a work in progress, is heading in the right direction. On on eother occasion have I been this excited about an evening. That was three years ago at Catalan, a Catalonian restaurant that has since closed down. Three years is a long time. But it has been worth the wait. 

The Essentials

JW Steakhouse
Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi
JW Steakhouse
+971 2 304 7777

8 course Tasting Menu 
350AED++ with beverage pairing
250AED++ food only
Brandon Stoltenkamp
Disclaimer: I was invited to try JW's Special Tasting menu by the restaurant