Last night, at a glittering ceremony at the Yas Viceroy on Yas Island, the city’s entertainment and hospitality industries were celebrated at our annual awards ceremony. The majority of the awards are voted for by the general public, with just our four ‘Grand Prix’ (including the coveted Restaurant Of The Year award) trophies being chosen by the team at What’s On. So, here are the city’s best spas, restaurants, bars, concerts and more, as chosen by you, our army of readers
THE GRAND PRIX WINNERS
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR – Tamba
While Zuma, last year’s winner, is still top draw and consistent, high-end Indian Tamba takes our main award this time because it always tweaks its menu and tries to improve its offering. It added new dishes throughout the year, created special menus for Ramadan and Diwali and has a lively ladies’ night. The staff are exceptional as well and know the intricacies of the meals on offer. It’s high-end but with a relaxed vibe – it’s inclusive, not exclusive. Everyone in Abu Dhabi loves Tamba.
CHEF OF THE YEAR – Marshall Roth, Butcher And Still
Roth has made this 1920s Chicago, prohibition-themed steakhouse in the Four Seasons one of our go-to places in the capital. His steaks are some of the best we’ve tried, but the ambitious menu has so much more to offer. Roth just launched a new lunch selection that even has a hot dog on it (and a very good one at that). His desserts are also sublime – his key lime pie is our editor Andy’s favourite dessert in the city. Most importantly, though, his food fits the restaurant’s concept perfectly.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR – Coya
The pan-Latino opened in March in the capital and it’s as good as the one in Dubai, in terms of service, food and decor. Menu highlights for us include the selection of Peruvian tiraditos, small dishes such as wagyu beef tataki with cashew nut purée, and mains including lamb chops. They also host great themed parties, (they have one coming up this month for Halloween). Coya thinks outside the box and it has been a massive hit in Abu Dhabi.
INDIE RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR – Art House Café
A cool café attached to the Etihad Modern Art Gallery, this Emirati-owned eatery uses meat from Abu Dhabi farms, while pieces of art by local talents hang from the walls. All the furniture is recycled (think tables made out of trays, trolleys, oil drums) and Khaled Seddiq Al Mutawa, the owner, wants to teach Emiratis and expats about recycling. It also hosts events, such as a night market and it has offered discounts to cyclists in the past. A real community place.
RESTAURANTS ABOVE DHS400
Olea, St Regis Saadiyat Island
Called the Epicurean, you get quality and quantity here on a Friday, including Mongolian barbecue, tandoori ovens, Italian pentolo and more.
FAVOURITE CHINESE RESTAURANT
Shang Palace, Shangri-La Hotel
The mighty Shang has stood the test of time in the capital, and the previous What’s On Awards winner is back among the gongs this year, beating the equally mighty Hakkasan to the trophy.
FAVOURITE FRENCH RESTAURANT
Bord Eau, Shangri-La Hotel
It was a bit of a shock when the multi-award winning, fine-dining masterpiece that is Bord Eau didn’t win last year, but it’s also no surprise to see it back amongst the trophies this time.
FAVOURITE INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANT
Sofra BLD, Shangri-La Hotel
An all-day dining restaurant you’d actually consider taking family to on a visit (the food is that good). The Friday brunch here also remains ever crowded.
FAVOURITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Roberto’s, The Galleria
One of Abu Dhabi’s finest Italian restaurants, with a cracking alfresco area overlooking the waters near downtown, its Crudo Bar serves some of the best seafood in the capital. The pizzas are pretty special as well.
FAVOURITE JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Café Sushi, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
How do you quickly make a name for yourself in the city’s ever-growing Japanese scene? Employing a chef who used to work at Zuma is certainly one way to go about it. Not surprisingly, the miso cod served here is an absolute belter.
FAVOURITE MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT
Ornina Oriental, Al Bandar
The name suggests this should be an Asian restaurant, but Ornina Oriental actually serves high-quality Arabic and Middle Eastern dishes. A unique exterior and awesome views of the ocean around Yas complete the package and make for a worthy winner.
FAVOURITE MODERN EUROPEAN RESTAURANT
Bentley Kitchen, The Galleria
A former winner, Bentley’s dishes are sophisticated and often add clever touches to classics (Nicoise salad with pepper crusted tuna, or the no-rice risotto with potato and mushroom).
FAVOURITE PAN-ASIAN RESTAURANT
Cho Gao Restaurant & Lounge, Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi
Cho Gao has been rammed for years, in part because it proves you don’t have to pay five-star prices to get five-star Asian food. We’re big fans of their Mie Goreng Indonesian noodles.
FAVOURITE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Another oldie but a goldie – Fishmarket is possibly the oldest restaurant in Abu Dhabi and the novelty value comes from ordering your food by the kilo. Situated near the hotel’s Marina, the alfresco area is a delight during winter as well.
The Capital Grill, Dusit Thani
The Dusit Thani’s steakhouse has come close in the voting before, but this year it finally goes home with the top gong, and what a worthy winner it is as well. The sleek décor evokes TV’s Mad Men, but there’s nothing mad about the food here – it’s just consistently very good, from the drool-worthy 72 hour-cooked barbecue brisket, to the wagyu burgers and the gigantic steaks.
FAVOURITE THAI RESTAURANT
Sontaya, St Regis Saadiyat Island
We’re starting to sound like a broken record, but once again Sontaya walks away with the trophy for best Thai. Veggies are well catered for, and its main dishes, such as the caramelised chilli and lemon grass salmon, are some of the finest you’ll try in the capital. Add to it some incredibly jaw-dropping surroundings on Saadiyat and you have a natural winner.
FAVOURITE THE AMERICAS RESTAURANT
Chamas’ unique serving system of green and red signs (to tell the staff to continue bringing you meat or to stop) makes it one the main reasons we’re victims of the Abu Dhabi stone – we never, ever want to turn our sign red. The jovial atmosphere, fun staff and high-quality meat on offer make this exceptional value and a go-to place for many in the capital, time and time again.
BEST ENTERTAINMENT & EVENTS
The high-end Indian in the WTC Mall walks away with its second award. Tamba gets creative with its cocktails, has an ever-popular alfresco bar (with great views of downtown) and a vibrant ladies’ night. It’s a worthy winner.
Favourite Day Out
An activity centre in Al Wahda Mall that gives tots and tweens a space to play, climb, exercise, create and imagine, Orange Wheels romped home with a huge number of votes. It features a soft play area catering for younger children, while the main playground has slides, obstacle courses, mazes and three trampoline capsules for older guests. Inside you’ll also find The Village, complete with costumes and accessories to encourage role-play, and an art studio. It’s a venue that’s popular with What’s On staff and their kids.
The British indie rock legends played a New Year’s Eve concert that is talked about almost as much as their legendary gig in the rain at Emirates Palace a few years back. Chris Martin and co saw in the New Year in style on Yas Island at the du Arena.
Favourite Ladies’ Night
Stills, Crowne Plaza Yas Island
You just can’t beat Stills – it’s rammed most nights of the week, is the place to go before a gig at the du Arena, and its ladies’ night always impresses, with great DJs and drinks deals.
Last year’s F1 gigs on Yas were a great mix of legendary, modern and superstar – US rapper Pitbull, legendary singer Lionel Richie, Rihanna, and UK DJs The Chemical Brothers kept the du Arena crowds pump all weekend.
Last year’s winner Mad has some competition – Empire opened this summer right next door to the Yas Viceroy and proved an instant hit, thanks in part to its great mix of events (R&B evenings, Arabic evenings, ladies’ nights), plus a state-of-the-art LED and sound system.
Favourite Sporting Event
HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship
The best thing about the golf in Abu Dhabi? You don’t have to be an expert to have a great time here. The Championship Village is ever popular with families, and if you are a follower of the sport, you can get up close and see the likes of Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy on the fairways and greens. One of the capital’s biggest sporting events is a deserved winner. Not been before? Next year’s takes place from January 18 to 21 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
RESTAURANTS under DHS400
Amerigos, Park Inn By Radisson
Abu Dhabi is overrun by brunches offering international dishes, but What’s On readers aren’t just interested in those, it seems – you voted in droves for the Acapulco Brunch at Mexican outlet Amerigos, and with good reason. The tacos, ceviche, grills and churros make this feast just a little bit different from others in the capital.
Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant
Kamoon, Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana
You, our army of readers, agree with What’s On, it seems. We gave Kamoon a good review a couple of years back and it’s just got better and better ever since. The menu isn’t about surprises, it’s classic Arabic dishes such as baba ganoush and tabbouleh, but the love apparent in the preparation is clear to see.
Favourite Chinese Restaurant
Dai Pai Dong, Rosewood Abu Dhabi
Hong Kong-style street food is served at Dai Pai Dong, and very good food it is, too. A new chef hasn’t hindered the quality of the a la carte menu or the outlet’s dim sum brunch package on Saturday, and What’s On agrees with you, the voters – it’s our favourite Chinese restaurant in the city and is a winner two years in a row.
Favourite French Restaurant
Le Beaujolais, Mercure Centre Hotel Abu Dhabi
Remember that scene in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves sees the same cat time and time again? That’s how we feel when we give out this award every year – this stalwart of the Abu Dhabi dining scene has now won three years in a row and continues to impress, thanks to its straightforward take on classic French dishes, friendly, albeit quirky, service and also its passion for special menus and guest chefs.
Favourite International Restaurant
c.Taste, Centro Capital Centre Rotana
Good, friendly staff and a buffet that is big without being overwhelming, c.Taste gets the classic dishes, from Arabic to Asian and beyond, just right, and its brunch is popular, thanks to pocket-friendly prices.
Favourite Italian Restaurant
Pizza Di Rocco
Di Rocco just keeps on going from strength to strength – it’s a popular pizzeria among the city’s social media foodies, and as well as doing the classics well, it’s a canny chain that caters for those of you on a special diet. You can even order vegan pizzas here.
Favourite Japanese Restaurant
The ever-growing Sushi Central remains ever-popular – this is the fourth year in a row that this haunt has walked away with this much-coveted award. It’s sprawling presence in the city was rubber-stamped when it opened a branch in Yas Marina Circuit. The fish in all four of its outlets is of the finest quality.
Favourite Modern European Restaurant
Stills, Crowne Plaza Yas Island
For us, it’s always been about the pies at Stills, but there’s so much more to the menu. It’s an eclectic mix, featuring fish and chips, bangers and mash, ricotta ravioli and pacific crab cake, but regardless of their country of origin, they’re all cooked to perfection.
Favourite Pan-Asian Restaurant
Abu Dhabi’s huge Filipino community voted in their thousands for Max’s. The food here is filling, tasty and most importantly, exceptional value. The Pinoy barbecue chicken is a must-try dish but we’re also fans of their crabmeat fried rice.
Favourite The Americas Restaurant
Love meat but on a budget? Go and see Dave. Barbecue is the main event here, especially the beef back ribs and short ribs that are pit-smoked for three to four hours but the burgers and steaks are also legendary. This is classic American food at its best.
Choice Cut, Novotel Al Bustan
The Novotel Al Bustan’s steakhouse is no secret to the city’s foodies. This is the place to go for a cracking piece of meat but you won’t have to mortgage your house to pay for it. Its salad bar gets just as much attention as the steaks it serves. Top service and a friendly, knowledgeable staff mean it’s no surprise to team What’s On that you, the readers, crowned it the winner.
Kababs & Kurries
We can’t help but feel a little bit pleased to see one of the city’s most established brands in the capital win. Kababs have been dishing out great food at two venues for several years now and is a worthy champion.
SPAS AND SALONS
Favourite Fitness Club
Fitness First, Abu Dhabi Mall
Fitness First scored highly in the voting process – the facilities are top draw and modern, the instructors friendly and the list of classes on offer is comprehensive, covering cycling, zumba, power yoga and more.
Spas come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is a little different. This isn’t a spa for a massage, you head here to give your teeth some TLC. Natural products and LED technology are used to whiten teeth.
Favourite Nail Bar
Nails The Modern Manicure Studio
A phenomenal number of votes were given to a place that offers a huge menu of services (covering everything from a pure butter spa manicure to a cherry almond sugar scrub). The friendly, helpful staff mean this is a place where you will want to spend hours getting your tips and toes sorted.
Favourite Hair Salon
Tara Rose Hair And Beauty Salon
Tara Rose is doing so well, they’re about to open a second branch in Al Bateen. Their team of hair stylists are well-respected in the city – attention to detail and customer service are just two things that have made this place one of the city’s most popular and we were blown away with how many votes their received – well into several thousands.
Favourite Business Lunch
Todd English’s Olives
The American celebrity chef’s outlet in the Venetian Village servers a top-draw business lunch with plenty of choice. The ground lamb flatbread to start is particularly good, and we can’t help but recommend the slow braised short rib with roasted onion mash for your main. It comes in at a reasonable Dhs95, but chuck in another Dhs20 and you can make it a three-course affair. End it all with the tasty hazelnut semifreddo.
The Lobby Lounge, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
The Fairmont’s Lobby Lounge is more than just a gateway to the hotel – they do a mean afternoon tea here (there’s a truffle version available), plus you can choose from one of 80 teas from their sommelier. The cakes on offer are pretty spectacular as well.
Favourite Healthy Restaurant
Zest, The Club
Abu Dhabi’s British Club in Al Meena has now won three years in a row with its healthy eating outlet Zest. It gets clever with its menu and we’re big fans of its smoothies (whey protein and peanut better, please) plus it also offers gluten free dishes.
Favourite Pub Grub
Belgian Beer Café, Radisson Blu Hotel
The Belgian Beer Café flexed its mussels (see what we did there?) to pull in a huge amount of votes, but there’s so much more on the menu, from classics such as vol au vents and veal meatballs to lamb shank. Simple European food done exceptionally well.