Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg
Restaurants

Abu Dhabi Dining: From Sushi Beside the Sea to Affordable Spiced Lamb

You might not come for the food, but there are restaurants and cocktail bars that might bring you back.

Abu Dhabi is a city with spectacular architecture and beautiful hotels. But let's face it: It's hardly known as a dining destination.

Fortunately, you can eat very well in the capital of the United Arab Emirates: From sushi to camel burgers, there's an international range of food on offer. Rooftop cocktail bars are another attraction. Here are some places to try.

Pearls by Michael Caines

Pearls restaurant by night.
Pearls restaurant by night.
Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

This dramatic restaurant at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers is built over the water. It features a beautiful modern dining room with clean lines topped by a jumbo outdoor terrace where you can enjoy the breeze while sipping cocktails and drinking in the view. Best still, there is a generous happy hour with 50 percent off Veuve Clicquot Rose, which takes the bottle price to 297.5 dirhams ($81) - so low it would almost be rude not to order one. The food is pretty good, too, including a starter of galantine of quail, with pistachios and black trumpets, hazelnut mayonnaise, mange tout salad, sultana and truffle vinaigrette (90 dirhams).

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Corniche Road;+971 2 811 5666 

Li Beirut

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers is also home to Li Beirut, which injects an element of modern gastronomy into Lebanese cuisine. Dishes at this award-winning restaurant include a starter of foie gras kabbah with walnut chutney, almond puree and lemon foam (65 dirhams). Traditional dishes such as shishlik kabab (105 dirhams) are also well prepared. You can sit on an outdoors  terrace overlooking the beach and enjoy the solicitous service.

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Corniche Road;+971 2 811 5666

7 Spices

7 Spices.
7 Spices.
Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

This small Emirati restaurant is a world away from the posh hotels. It's a tiny place with seating for about 20 at bare tables on which you can deposit bones from dishes such as Machbous el Gi with seven spice (55 dirhams), spiced lamb with rice. There's an English menu if you ask and you can spot your food being prepared in a small kitchen behind the serving counter.

Salam Street, Near Bridgestone Al masaood; +971 2 633 3308; 633 3390 

Villa Toscana

This award-winning Tuscan restaurant at the St. Regis is known for its espresso lunch at 105 dirhams and its brunch, which starts at 250 dirhams. You can order pizza to go, too. The ingredients and cooking are both of a high standard, but this establishment feels very much like the hotel restaurant it is.  I'd be more likely to go here for a business meal than to relax.

St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Nation Tower, Corniche Road West;  +971 2 694 4553 

Relax@12

Relax@12.
Relax@12.
Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

The bar atop the Aloft hotel serves decent sushi, and the cocktails are 35 dirhams a pop. The main attraction is the glorious night-time view. Sadly, I missed Ladies Night and had much of the rooftop myself as I arrived early.

Aloft Abu Dhabi Hotel · Khaleej Alarabi Street; +971 2 654 5138 

Hakkasan

If you like more modern Chinese food, Hakkasan may be for you. The standards are as high as ever as the international chain expands without any drop in standards. Once you are inside, you could be anywhere: Fine if you are not interested in Abu Dhabi but it's a long way to come for Hakkasan.

Emirates Palace, Corniche Road; 971 2 690 7739 

Catch

Spicy tuna with scallion, avocado, sesame seeds, pickled cucumber and kimchee sauce.
Spicy tuna with scallion, avocado, sesame seeds, pickled cucumber and kimchee sauce.
Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

This fish restaurant on the beach was one of my favorite places in Abu Dhabi. You reach it via a marble tunnel under the road from the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. There's even a golf cart in case you find the walk too taxing. (The last time I was in such a posh tunnel was in Pyongyang, but the food wasn't so good.) At Catch, there is beautiful fish and sushi, including spicy tuna (48 dirhams), with scallion, sesame seeds, pickled cucumber kimchee sauce. The business lunch is 160 dirhams.

Nation Riviera Beach Club , Corniche Road West;  +971 2 611 0909 

Le Café

The Emirates Palace has to be seen to be believed. It is blingcredibly luxurious. If you want to taste such excess without going into debt, Le Café in the lobby is worth a look: You can order a camel burger, topped with 24 carat gold flakes, for 110 dirhams and you know you are in Abu Dhabi.

Emirates Palace, Corniche Road; +971 2 690 7999

Market Kitchen

Shrimp meatball pizza at Market Kitchen.
Shrimp meatball pizza at Market Kitchen.
Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

This place looks like a hotel coffee shop but is better than that. Some of the recipes are from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten via New York-based Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group, which created Market Kitchen. The shrimp meatball pizza with arugula pesto, roasted peppers and Parmesan at 80 dirhams ($21.78) is light and fresh, and even better with a glass of Penfolds 2013 Chardonnay at 60 Dirhams. The two-course lunch menu is 75 dirhams, while brunch costs from 250 dirhams to 45o dirhams, depending on whether you are drinking mocktails or Champagne.

Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi · Sheikh Khalifa Street; +971 2 695 0300

Bentley

For shoppers at the ritzy Galleria Mall, Bentley is a European bistro with an outdoor terrace. I ordered an intriguing bottle of wine: Boschendal 1685, Chardonnay - Pinot Noir, Stellenbosch, at 300 dirhams. If you are intrigued to see the color, you may be disappointed. The waiter explained that wines on the terrace must be served in black glasses. Oh well.

The Galleria Mall, Al Maryah Island; +971 2 626 2131

Shang Palace

Har gau at Shang Palace.
Har gau at Shang Palace.
Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

This is one of the best Chinese restaurants in Abu Dhabi, with multiple awards. Take a table outside, order the delicately made dim sum and it is a treat. The illustrated menus and the décor underline just how traditional Shang Palace is, so don't go here in search of culinary adventure.

Shangri-La, Khor Al Maqta, Qaryat al Beri; +971 2 509 8555 

Richard Vines is the chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and on Instagram @Richard.vines

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