Abu Dhabi is a city of extremes, and we’re not just talking about that summer heat. The expensive tastes of wealthy locals and expats have seen it become a magnet for the biggest global names in hospitality, but if that’s not your scene, there’s also quite a selection of less overdraft-bothering local cafes that can offer astonishing value for money. From the ultra-shiny to the super-simple, here’s our pick of the best …
Cheap and cheerful
Lebanese is by far the UAE’s favourite cuisine, and despite the efforts of the capital’s top hotels, the best hummus and tabbouleh is still to be found in less polished surrounds. Most of the dishes here are simply on a par with nearby contenders, but it’s the takeaway shawarma – stuffed with beef or chicken, fries and garlic sauce – that make it a must for street-food seekers. Yours for just AED 6 (£1.16), one makes for a tasty lunch, two the perfect late night sustenance.
Indian restaurants in Abu Dhabi fall into two categories: slick and pricey hotel-based operations, and backstreet curry houses where the bill can come in at a tenth of the price or less. Tandoori Corner (which isn’t, in fact, on a corner) is very much the latter, though the food is easily as good as its five-star competition. As with many Indian restaurants in the city, there’s a whole menu of Chinese dishes, too, making it perfect for any group at loggerheads over what they fancy for dinner.
Emirati food is oddly difficult to come by in the United Arab Emirates. Looking to redress the balance is Shaikha Al Kaabi, a young local who first set up a roving foodtruck serving modern takes on the dishes of her childhood, and has since opened a bricks-and-mortar site. Start with the fareed (a meat and veg stew), before graduating to harees (a wheat pudding with beef). Even if one plate isn’t to your taste, dishes start at AED 20 (£4), so risks are minimal.
As is tradition in Ethiopian cuisine, dishes at this welcoming backstreet restaurant come served up on a spongy sourdough flatbread called injera. This edible plate also serves as cutlery – rip a patch off and use it to scoop up the slow-cooked stews and curries on top. The Bonna Annee Special – preposterous value at just AED 40 (£8) – comprises a mix of meat and veg dishes, and will feed two people very handsomely indeed.
Abu Dhabi’s restaurant scene is full of wacky concepts. Thankfully, between the classic French cooking and the modestly stylish dining room, there are none to be found at this polished waterfront restaurant. That’s not to call Bord Eau stuffy – even traditional dishes such as boeuf bourguignon and confit duck surprise with canny twists and inventive presentation. Best of all, though, is the fact that even the simple stuff is beyond decadent – try the outrageously silken, buttery mash potato for evidence.
It’s not unusual for glitzy restaurant brands to put down roots in the UAE. But Hakkasan – one of the first to do so – is unique in that it’s still every bit as good as it was when it first arrived at Emirates Palaceeight years ago. The menu of modern Cantonese dishes is big on luxe ingredients – think Canadian lobster, Alaskan crab and wagyu beef – but the delicate, stunningly beautiful dim sum is where the kitchen’s real craft lies.
Butcher & Still
The Four Seasons hotel brought a whole new level of luxury to the city when it opened in 2016, so it’s no surprise to find that its flagship restaurant – a 1920s-styled steakhouse – is one of the hottest tables in town. The menu plays it straight – a simple selection of beefy cuts, some gobsmackingly expensive, with steakhouse staples on the side. Veggies, don’t run away screaming just yet – the beautiful and well-stocked bar is worth a visit alone.
With its focus on raw food, quinoa and pisco, Peruvian cuisine has been embraced by just about every trend-loving city in the world, so there was no way Abu Dhabi was going to miss out. At Coya, it all comes with an obligatory layer of luxury; wagyu tartare bao, grilled king crab – even a side dish of fried potatoes is jazzed up with some black truffle. The five-course Especial tasting menu clocks in at AED 690 (£134) per person, and that’s before you’ve had your pick from the pisco-heavy drinks list.
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