The Pearls and Caviar bills itself as the ultimate lounging destination, where the hipsters of the Abu Dhabi jet set spend evenings drinking mojitos while complimenting each others good looks.No sign of this on a very slow Tuesday night. A large table of well to do 60-somethings, a few romantic couples, and khalas as they say in these parts.
The building itself is impressive. Set aside from the main hotel complex, right on the water, you take a little buggy from the valet parking through the private villa area to reach your unique destination. Service, as usual for the Shangri-La, is understated, friendly and efficient.
Pearls is the white themed open air bar on the upstairs terrace. it has a very impressive view of the Bain Al Jesrein area.The inventive light plays of the Mosque domes, the original shape of the newly opened Sheikh Zayed bridge, even the modernist bloc of the Shangri-La’s competition, the Fairmont, make a nice backdrop to quiet conversation. Which you can’t really have since the constant buzz of traffic on Mussaffah bridge is also part of the “picture”. Probably not a problem at 1 am when the DJ is in full swing, but definitely noticeable when you’re almost alone. The mojito was all I expect from a place like this – overly sweet, made with rum that has probably not been within 1000 miles of Havana. Then again, this is a place for “signature cocktails” with chocolate … Enough said.
The chilly wind and bad mojito made us quickly retreat downstairs to the Caviar restaurant. I’m not a big fan of modernist décor in restaurants, mostly because it’s usually failed. This time however, I have to say that there is a Japanese like attention to matching theme and food. You really feel as if your walking into a world of black pearls and silvery caviar. The architects and designers got this part right. Again, the service is quite nice, which in itself, for long time gulf hands, is a pleasure.
From the billings (“Mediterranean Taste and Gulf ingredients …”, ) I wasn’t expecting very much, except for maybe the Caviar. That part didn’t disappoint but with 30 grams going from 700 Dhs for basic Sevruga from the Caspian Sea to more than 2000 Dhs for Iranian Beluga, it will have to wait for a really special occasion. Particularly if we’re going with the suggested champagne pairings of Cristal Roederer.
I’m not sure if many people do order the caviar (I rather suspect some Ferrari-owning subset of the population does) but putting it at the front of the menu does serve a useful purpose for us unwashed masses: it makes you think that 80 dhs is not unreasonable for an appetizer.
The menu itself is a pleasant surprise – heavy on the fish and seafood, a grilled bouillabaisse i would’ve sampled if the lobster hadn’t been so tempting. Zucchini fries and grilled asparagus as side dishes. The lobster was very good, if on the small side, and extremely well prepared, with just a bouillon and some garden vegetables. The grilled asparagus was well executed as well. As for the Zucchini fries – well, somebody didn’t get the Minimalist memo that day: a heaping mound of chickpea-floured deep-fried yet undercooked and bland zucchini sticks with a blob of heavy cream and a load of very spicy chili sauce. I’d say the head chef from TGIF designed that one…
Following the two out of three batting average, I ventured into dessert territory. I should’ve learned by now that “theme plates” are usually a way to rip the dinner off with really really tiny bits of food. Plus one for experience. The Citrus Something-or-other was a tiny wedge of key-lime pie, two (yes, count’em, 2) wedges of very small blood orange and one blob of orange sherbet. And frankly, the size was the only memorable experience about it.
Pearls and Caviar is an expensive place. Nothing in the ads suggests otherwise, so it was not really a surprise when the numbers came in. And to be fair, the lobster was perfectly executed, the setting is really nice, and i suspect in more clement weather, the restaurant terrace must be great for a romantic evening. So I will probably go back, but with a mind to actually splurge on the caviar for a really really special moment. Until then, I can’t help but feel I paid a little too much for the chic and minimalist and didn’t get enough of the dazzling taste of the Mediterranean.