The Fishmarket - Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Three key aspects of The Fishmarket
Old can be good
There is an old fashion-ness to the restaurant. It is the antithesis of all the glass and steel restaurants out there with a contemporary feel. Bamboo and wood instead dominate in this restaurant, making it warm. It is, you may say, charming. Loyalty seems to be a key at The Fishmarket. Speaking to staff, I heard about many returning customers; about guests who have been patronising the restaurant since it opened. The Fishmarket is a living metaphor for the notion that loyalty is worth more than new customers.
As the name suggests, When you walk in the restaurant, you are entering a market place selling fish and vegetables. This in itself is a fantastic idea. You are in a 5* establishment that evokes an experience at a fish market. As I went through the restaurant, I saw plastic bags and baskets! When I was ready, I was guided through the process. Everything is sold by mass. As I walked through the 'market', I could not help but notice the number of locally sourced seafood products. Very impressive. But there is an added twist to this market experience. The kitchen staff are Thai, so while you can go with lightly flavoured dishes, the preferred cooking is Thai. To guide guests, the name of sauces that accompany the seafood are listed in eye's view.
This is about personalised dining in a very relaxed setting. The selection of sauces available to guests over and above the degree of spiciness makes it an individualistic dining experience.
The Tom yam goong was stellar. It is one of those dishes that you use as an indicator of a chef's skill. While the Chef de Cuisine Sawai was still on vacation, his team produced an excellent dish. Sweet, sour and spicy beautifully balanced in one dish. Generous coriander and coconut milk ensured that this tom yam was more than just about lemongrass and hot spices.
The oysters were well shucked. I liked them - big and fleshy. The one off note for me was probably the Lobster thermidor. I am not a fan of the thermidor, but my guest was keen, so we had it. My fear was well founded - in the end it is about the cheese and not the lobster. I would rather recommend a simple grill plus lemon. Order was restored with the Hamour. Unfortunately it did not photograph well, but the flavours were to die for. Vegetables from the 'market' were stir fried and accompanied the fish. The sweetness from the red and yellow peppers and scallions balanced the extra spiciness of the dish. Finally, the hamour itself was cooked in a way that allowed to retain its moisture.
Dessert was something special. Nothing to look at, and if anything, really had me questioning it. However, the Sankaya phak tong or Thai pumpkin custard, vied with the hamour and Tom yam for dish of the night. It worked because it confounded expectations and really challenged the brain. Highly recommended.
The Fishmarket is a unique restaurant. There are not many restaurants in the city that can be used to plot the phenomenal growth of Abu Dhabi. It is more than a restaurant - it is a cultural icon, but yes, first and foremost a restaurant. With a proven concept that works exceedingly well and a strong clientele base, one can understand why it is so popular with Emiratis and Japanese alike.