Li Jiang - Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi



There is a minimalist simplicity that is so welcoming and engaging as you walk into Li Jiang. I have the option of walking through the magnificent wine racks which line the way to the dining area - metal and glass. However, I go left and sit at the bar and feel the simplicity tenfold. Wood dominates, almost unfinished wood in places. The metal motif is evident again. I start the evening with a glass of their house Champagne, Henri Abele, well balanced and crispy. The music, a selection of uptempo beats, immediately makes me feel relaxed and chilled. This is not your typical Asian restaurant.

Entrance

Simple

Wine rack 
After my drink, I am shown to the dining area. I see one of the chefs 'pulling noodles' in the old Chinese tradition. Memories of my time in central China come rushing back and I remember myself making noodles in the same way. If you have not seen this, it is worth watching. Wood again is a big part of the kitchen and dining area. I like the fact that the bar and dining area are connected in this way. The flow from the bar to the dining area is a very natural one. Harmonious. Nice. If you would like a view of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, proceed further into the restaurant. A very warm area with sofa seating gives some good views. All in all, a very stylish restaurant that maintains an elegant simplicity that places you firmly in Asia.
Part of a very energetic and warm staff.
Notwithstanding the Chinese name, Li Jiang serves a variety of Asian dishes, with South east Asia featuring strongly on the menu. This is reflected in their team of chefs who are mainly from Malaysia and Singapore.

Open kitchen in view 
Semi-private dining room


I start off with a small selection of dim sum. The steamed dumplings are fluffy, and the lobster dumplings in particular are outstanding. I follow this up with an absolute highlight. Pan fried Beef foie gras dumplings is served and the accompanying sauce is so tasty. Dumplings and soy sauce are so predictable, so Chef serves them with lemongrass chili sauce instead. Delicious.
Beef foie gras dumplings
Selection of dim sum 
Wasabi prawns
While I am served my Wasabi prawns, I look at the waiting staff. There is an energy about them, and as I interact with some of them I can see the source of that energy - they are happy. There is also a synergy between them. They work together so well, and they seem to feed off each other. Meanwhile, the wasabi prawns, one of Li Jiang's signature dishes, checks all the boxes. The batter is not too heavy, the prawns are not overcooked and the wasabi is the right amount. The hint of wasabi still allows me to appreciate the subtlety of the prawns. Finally, the bit of green mango on the top brings a bit of zestiness, making it more complex. Again, delicious.

I have one of the by-the-glass wine options, the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013. I have written about this wonderfully easy wine. Highly recommended.
Black cod
Tofu dish
My main course is then served, and I am full of anticipation. Chef Lee has prepared a special tofu dish, Fried rice and the Honey Glazed cod. The cod, particularly, has me straining at the leash because it is such a beautifully textured fish with a skin that is so sensual! It does not disappoint. Again, it would have been easy to ruin the cod with too much honey, but it does not happen. Perfect. The glazing on the skin means the rest of the fish has retained its natural delicacy. The fried rice  and tofu dishes are classic Chinese for me. They succeed in taking me back to Henan 2002. The tofu dish is rich with vegetables which are still lightly crunchy - carrot, broccoli, baby corn to name a few. It is lightly spicy because Chef feared that if he spiced up Sichuan style it would have been too hot for me - little does he know that Ma po tofu is one of my favorite dishes. Next time.

Having felt that the passion fruit notes in the Oyster Bay would not go well with the honeyed black cod, I asked Cindy, the in-house sommelier, to recommend another wine. She poured me a glass of Pinot Grigio Pierpaolo Pecorari 2012.This dry full bodied and lightly fruity wine definitely paired better with the cod.

Dessert

After I ended my dinner with a tasty ice cream dessert, I had a glass of Cognac and reflected on why I liked my Li Jiang dining experience so much. When a chef is able to evoke memories and tastes from the past, it is a special evening. Unwittingly, that is what Chef Lee succeeded in doing. That is what you call an authentic experience when a Chef takes you back, in my case, to China. I liked that while the restaurant markets itself as South east Asian, it offers so much more than that. It is probably as much Chinese as it is South East Asian. Also, the music made for a super enjoyable evening. Finally, the supremely friendly staff had a great work ethic, but were also eager to engage. The manager herself oozes enthusiasm and has has clearly created a team that really gels. This is evident on so many levels. An all round fantastic restaurant!

Li Jiang
Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi
+971 2 818 8282




Menu (new menu to be launched in September)
http://bit.ly/1rtXk9B

                                                                                                Pictures thanks to Nokia Creative Studio on my Nokia 1520











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