3 Dishes and a Chef at 55&5th, The Grill - St Regis on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
The restaurant is, by Abu Dhabi's standards, in the fine category, catering for 60 indoor guests. In the cooler months, the terrace adds another 35. I have written before about the magnificent interior at 55&5th. How it manages to be opulent without being gaudy and ostentatious is remarkable. Decadent, tasteful and stylish. This night I find myself in the private dining room, but it affords me views of what is happening outside.
Chef has tailored another a fine menu. For this piece, I challenge myself to find three dishes, only three, that can serve as profile pics for Chef, each metaphorical about him in some way.
For the first dish I choose the Pea, Ham and Potato, and here I forego a focus on the consomme. This is such a simple dish if one considers the elements. Potato anglaise, rich, smooth and creamy, is topped with duck ham and edible flowers. It is a dish that belies a strong masculine personality in Chef - this is probably one of his prettiest and most feminine dishes. Finally, pea powder has rained down on the plate, to make it an absolutely sensuous dish. It is what I imagine the angels eat - it is soft, smooth and silky with tremendous subtlety.
The next dish is more complex. Langoustines cooked to perfection, with a delicious moisture inside, are the main attraction, but it is the accompanying ingredients that could make this dish a fitting profile pic for Chef. It is dish of connections. His, dare I say, signature happy ingredient, popcorn holds it all together. A bed of popcorn purée forms the base, topped fresh popcorn on top of three pieces of buttery and creamy langoustines. The butteriness connects it to the popcorn. But that is just the beginning. The former is almost granola like, coated with a bit of honey, resulting in a bit of sweetness that connects it to the langoustines and resulting in a lot of crunch! While the popcorn threatens to change the texture, the quinoa does it to the nth degree. Then, as if that is not enough, hibiscus gel adds a lemony berriness to the dish. It is that light lemon aspect of the hibiscus that connects to the langoustine. A perfect dish of connections.
My second dish is another serving from the sea. Halibut with smoked langoustine. While the first langoustine dish was about connections, this one is about balance. The latter simply falls apart in a very structured manner, if that make sense. To say it falls apart would do it a disservice, but I think you get the meaning. Maybe I should say it breaks apart? I love the contrast. Even looking at the langoustine on the halibut reveals a juxtaposition, something that is carried through in the taste. The langoustine, smoked, perches on a naturally tasting halibut. Burnt cucumber adds texture to the dish, the water cress oil brings a lovely green to the dish while the truffle purée adds a flavourful intensity. Key side elements again make this a fabulously sophisticated dish!
So 3 dishes which each reveal a distinctive aspect of Chef - an expression of a sense of sensitivity, a flare for connecting seemingly unrelated ingredients and a deft hand at balancing ingredients.
As I finish this piece my mind is looking ahead to the wine dinner. These special events bring out even more creativity in Chef. I still cannot quite place my admiration for him on any specific part - the sensitive plating? Beef cooked to the right temperature without fail? The generous use of ingredients like quinoa and popcorn? Whatever it is, I know I am in for another memorable evening. And what about 55&5th? It continues to confound by putting bums on the seats. I am encouraged that things fine can still stand their ground while everything else becomes casual.
55&5th, The Grill
St Regis Saadiyat Island,