What’s On Awards Abu Dhabi 2015 – the winners revealed
The votes are in. And now the winners can be revealed…
These are the city’s best spas, restaurants, bars and concerts, as chosen by you. So read on to find out the cream of the Abu Dhabi crop.
Restaurant Of The Year: Zuma, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island
Last year’s Newcomer Of The Year award winner, it should come as no surprise that Zuma is once again racking up the accolades. This time, taking the top prize at this year’s awards with the coveted Restaurant Of The Year. Only opened in March of last year, the Japanese fine-dining has become a major player in the capital’s foodie scene and consistently serves up top-notch fare.
Indie Restaurant Of The Year: The Third Place
If you’re spending the weekend at the Corniche, there’s only one place you should be heading afterwards for a refuel. The Third Place is a very special kind of place, not only does it serve great coffee and breakfast, it’s making the effort to engage with the community. The converted villa has plenty of room upstairs for weekly yoga classes, local art exhibitions and bookworms can even borrow titles from their communal library for free.
Chef of the Year: Justin Galea: Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi
What’s On has the honour of meeting many chefs in Abu Dhabi, but none are as passionate about food as Aussie Justin. He’s the man behind Le Royal Méridien’s reboot at the back end of 2014 – Stratos, Wheat, Market Kitchen and Amalfi are all strong outlets, and all down to his hard work and creativity in the kitchen. He’s always hovering around, saying hello to customers, but we have one word of warning – the man loves to talk food, so clear your diary if you’re heading down to his hotel for some grub, as he’ll be nattering away.
Newcomer of the Year: Asia de Cuba, Nation Riviera
Asia de Cuba. It’s the reply we here the most when we ask friends, “where are you eating tonight?” This fusion restaurant has it all – an amazing al fresco area, stunning décor, a phenomenal menu and brilliant staff, who know their menu inside out. Asia de Cuba really shook up the dining scene in Abu Dhabi in 2015 and was the obvious choice for the Newcomer award.
Favourite Bar: Iris, Yas Marina
If you’re meeting friends on Yas, where’s the place you’ll always choose first? For us it’s Iris, and Abu Dhabians agree, judging by how many votes this al fresco bar got. Friendly, knowledgeable staff, a comprehensive beverages menu, tons of cocktails and great tunes mean this place is busy not only on F1 weekend, but all year round.
Favourite Day Out: Kidz Factory
Opened earlier this year, the massive play centre (the venue tops out at 4,500 square feet, spread over two floors) for little ones is a firm favourite with families. Part playground and part arts and craft centre, this supervised space is an ideal place to leave the kids while parents run errands (or sneak some much deserved me-time into their day).
Favourite Concert: Robbie Williams
Let me entertain you, he said – and he certainly did, when he played at the du Arena in April of 2015. The former Take That stars solo gig was well received in the capital, as he belted out his classic hits and a few surprise cover songs as well.
Favourite Ladies’ Night: Jazz Bar And Dining, Hilton Abu Dhabi
Snazzy black and white décor, great deals on drinks and people dancing on the tables – there’s very few bars as lively as Jazz Bar And Dining, down by the Corniche and another worthy winner (it was crowned Favourite Bar at the 2014 awards too).
Favourite Festival: Beats On The Beach
No tickets, no problem. The Formula One’s free music festival on the beach is always heaving with people (no matter how humid it is), so it came as no surprise that the Yasalam festival ran away with the prize this year. Of highlight was Jason Derulo’s epic dance moves and performances by Rita Ora, Tinashe and rapper Juicy J.
Favourite Nightclub: People by Crystal Abu Dhabi
This boutique nightclub is as trendy as it gets. Rotating theme nights, special guests (Kid Ink and Xzibit played last year) and a swanky location in The Collection on Saadiyat Island ensure this nightspot is packed with people. The club is surprisingly intimate, even thought there’s enough room for 350 guests, and an obvious favourite with revellers here in the capital.
Favourite Sporting Event: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
The F1 gets all the attention, but the golf is a simply brilliant event in its own right – there’s very few other events where you can get so up-close-and-personal to the players, but the main reason it won is surely due to all the extra fun it offers all the family in its Championship Village. The golf was pretty nail-biting as well, with Frenchman Gary Stal winning after a dramatic collapse from Martin Kaymer, who surrendered a 10-shot lead.
Favourite Brunch: Aqua, Rosewood Abu Dhabi
The Rosewood has a bit of an ace up its sleeve in the form of award-winning Spice Mela chef Siddharth Krishna, who can be regularly seen hovering around the kitchen during the hotel’s Friday brunch. The views of the water around Tourist Club are spectacular from the curved windows of Aqua, and the buffet adopts a quality not quantity approach with good effect. Finally, it wins bonus points for its popular kids area.
Favourite Business Lunch: Zuma, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island
Strapped for time? The three-course ebisu lunch menu is only Dhs140 (their two-course ebisu express option costs a surprisingly affordable Dhs75 and is served in under one-hour) will see guests served quickly and efficiently. The menu includes miso soup with tofu, pan fried prawn and black cod gyoza and miso marinated black cod.
Favourite Café: The Chocolate Gallery, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi
Sweets reign supreme at this cocoa inspired café. While the decedant desserts are a no-brainer, there are also a handful of tasty savoury options (think fresh salads, grilled panini’s and savoury crepes) that are quite good. Chocoholics should not miss the chocolate making classes on offer.
Favourite Healthy Restaurant: Zest, The Club
Even though this restaurant is for member’s-only, that didn’t stop diners from casting their votes in droves for this outlet. The menu offers freshly squeezed juices, nutritional shakes and energy drinks as well as organic dishes and healthy sandwiches.
Favourite Pub Grub: Stills, Crowne Plaza Yas Island
It’s all about the fish and chips for us at Stills, which is quite possibly the most popular venue on Yas Island. But the rest of the menu is of just as high a standard, and sitting outside in the cooler months is a must. It’s What’s On’s spot for dinner before we go to gigs at the du Arena.
Favourite Food Truck: Burger Fuel
This Kiwi chain has several mall outlets and their high quality fare can also be scoffed in food trucks. The standard doesn’t drop as a result, though – our favourite car-punned dish on the menu has to be the Hot Rod burger with jalapenos. Another outlet that smashed the opposition when it came to votes.
RESTAURANTS ABOVE DHS400
Favourite Chinese Restaurant: Hakkasan, Emirates Palace
One of the capital’s most sophisticated restaurants, Hakkasan is actually one of the city’s older outlets now, but what they do, they still do very well – and Abu Dhabians voted for it in their droves. They’ve recently introduced a new menu, so the pressure will be well and truly on to repeat in 2016.
Favourite French Restaurant: Brasserie Angélique, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of this year’s voting – Angelique finally knocks Bord Eau off its perch and is your choice as the best French restaurant in the city.
Favourite Indian Restaurant: Ushna, Souk at Qaryat Al Beri
There was a time, a few year back, when giving awards to Ushna was a no brainer – it was one of the few high-end Indian outlets in the city, meaning it’s reception area was getting pretty cluttered with so many trophies. Competition now, though, is much tougher, but that hasn’t stopped this old favourite, which offers classic Indian fare while adding a creative twist to newer dishes from winning yet again.
Favourite International Restaurant: Asia de Cuba, Nation Riviera
It sounds like an experiment conjured up by a mad scientist in a lab – can you really combine Asian and South American dishes. It turns out you can. Asia de Cuba’s food is of an exceptionally high quality, especially the crispy octopus al ajillo and the seafood served at its ceviche bar. A worthy winner.
Favourite Italian Restaurant: Circo, InterContinental Abu Dhabi
The décor here is fun (think circus-themed, colourful monkey heads all over the walls) but the real reason to visit is the food. Circo Abu Dhabi has sister outlets in New York and Las Vegas and the dishes are beautifully presented and extremely tasty. For our money, it’s also one of the few places in the city to get that Italian classic, tiramisu, spot on.
Favourite Japanese Restaurant: Inakaya, Venetian Village
A dinner and a show – eating out doesn’t get much more lively than at this Japanese spot, which has quickly gained a loyal following. The greeting from the chefs, who chant and smack long wooden panels in a rather noisy fashion, is worth a visit alone, but make no mistake, the fish on offer also delivers – it’s some of the finest in the city.
Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant: Rozanah, Yas Marina
While the menu is rather compact and concentrated, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you visit this restaurant in Yas Marina. The sophisticated décor and high quality food makes this Lebanese outlet a good choice if you’re looking for a special night out.
Favourite Modern European Restaurant: Bentley Bistro & Bar, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island
The staff are classy, the balcony on Al Maryah offers breathtaking views, the vibe is loud and buzzing, and the food is good, especially the beef bourguignon. It’s become a popular haunt for expats and locals alike.
Favourite Pan-Asian Restaurant: Hoi An, Shangri La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri
Serving up Vietnamese food in an elegant setting, you’ll feel as if you’ve transported yourself to Southeast Asia when dining here. The French-influenced décor (think wicker chairs, dark woodwork and Orientalist furniture) harkens back to colonial times while the menu offers both traditional and more modern dishes. Try the mango soup, topped with coconut ice cream.
Favourite Seafood Restaurant: Sayad, Emirates Palace
There was a lot at stake for Sayad this year, an outlet that walked away with two awards last year. It’s chef, Sinju Varghese (who What’s On crowned Chef Of The Year in 2014), left for pastures new, but that didn’t affect the quality of the dishes one bit. Fantastic seafood served in plush surroundings, it’s a place to book if you’re celebrating a special occasion and is yet again a worthy winner.
Favourite Steakhouse: The Forge, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
What’s On readers voted for this classy venue in droves and with good reason – the cuts of meat, be it Charolais, Wagyu or Kobe, are mighty fine and melt in the mouth every time. The staff are friendly and know their way around the menu and what’s more, you get to choose which knife (all handmade, of course) you’ll use to dig into your dish.
Favourite Thai Restaurant: Silk & Spice, Sofitel Abu Dhabi
Another restaurant to walk away with an award two years running, Silk & Spice kept big hitters like Sontaya from victory once again, thanks to its extremely authentic menu and friendly staff.
Favourite The Americas Restaurant: Market Kitchen, Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi
It should comes as no surprise that Justin Galea, the man behind this modern American kitchen, has taken the top honour of Chef of the Year. The venue is elegant, understated and, most importantly, consistently provides some of the best dishes in town. When you go, be sure to try the soy glazed beef short ribs with apple-jalapeno puree.
Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant: Zaytinya
This family-friendly Lebanese restaurant in the recently opened Al Seef Village Mall has quickly made a name for itself (there’s also a branch in Al Ain), thanks to its friendly staff and good quality dishes. The lamb and chicken mixed grills are of a particularly high standard.
Favourite Chinese Restaurant: Royal Orchid Restaurant
There’s an eclectic range of food on the menu from seafood, lamb, poultry and vegetarian dishes that will keep even the regulars coming back for more. We recommend you sample the chicken clay pot with mushrooms – delicious.
Favourite French Restaurant: Le Beaujolais, Mercure Centre Hotel Abu Dhabi
An Abu Dhabi institution, serving high-quality French food at wallet friendly prices, Le Beaujolais does a mean foie gras and a moreish fondue in a tasteful Gallic setting. It’s a little bit of Paris transported to the UAE.
Favourite Indian Restaurant: Biryani Pot
For the second year in a row, this excellent Indian restaurant nestled inside Al Maryah Island’s shopping mall The Galleria, romped home with the most votes. The menu’s not changed since they won the gong last year (the grills and the quinoa biryani are still menu highlights) but such consistency is probably why you, the public, once again decided they’re one of the best Indian restaurants in the city.
Favourite International Restaurant: Choices, Yas Island Rotana
Another outlet to walk away with the award two years in a row, Choices has actually gone step further than Biryani Pot – this is the third year in a row it’s won this gong. The friendly staff and good quality dishes at decent prices have made this popular yet again with Yas Island, Khalifa City and Al Zeina residents over the past 12 months. Can anyone take their crown in 2016?
Favourite Italian Restaurant: Mamma Rossella, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
A theme park isn’t where you’d expect to find good pizza and pasta, but Mamma Rosella offers just that and a whole lot more – it’s worth visiting on its own, let along flying along on the world’s fastest rollercoaster afterwards. The al fresco style ambience of the décor is also a winner.
Favourite Japanese Restaurant: Sushi Central
It’s been a big year for Sushi Central – they expanded and opened new branches (including one near the port in Mina), got a good review from What’s On Abu Dhabi, and now, finally, have had approval from the general public. And it’s all with good reason – think exceptionally fresh sashimi, rolls and so much more.
Favourite Modern European Restaurant: Leopold’s Of London
The rise of LOL in the UAE continues. These swanky cafes have become the go-to place for friends to natter over a coffee, and for families to meet up over a weekend. The tea and coffee laboratories get all the attention but the food is of a high quality, and even veggies are well looked after. The gigantic quiches are particularly good.
Favourite Pan-Asian Restaurant: The Noodle House
With a diverse menu ranging from Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Malay inspired cuisine, you can be certain to find something delicious to eat here. The restaurant is an easy favourite with capital goers (just look at the Al Wahda Mall venue on a weekend) and the recently revamped menu means there’s even more reason to visit this award winner.
Favourite Seafood Restaurant: Turquoiz, St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
The location, right on the beach at Saadiyat Island, is a bit of an unfair advantage, but Turquoiz also serves cracking food, such as the salt and pepper squid. A surprise, yet 100 per cent worthy winner.
Favourite The Americas Restaurant: Fatburger
Yes, too many burgers will make you fat, but one Fatburger once in a while won’t do you any harm – and Abu Dhabi foodies, it seems, agree. The restaurant finally knocked Burger Bureau from its perch (a winner the previous two years) and the varied menu probably had something to do with it – forget the beef, we like the Hawaiian pineapple sweet teriyaki chicken sandwich.
Favourite Thai Restaurant: Talay, Le Méridien Abu Dhabi
Considered an institution when it comes to serving up high quality and flavourful Thai food, this restaurant has added another What’s On Award to their resume after taking home two consecutive trophies in 2012 and 2013. The waterfront setting, friendly Thai staff and affordable prices have helped this outlet regain its spot at the top.
Favourite Fitness Club: Bodylines Fitness & Wellness Club, Beach Rotana
Boasting sea views overlooking Al Maryah Island, this fitness club makes heading to the gym that much more appealing. The facility is airy, bright and offers dozens of machines to get your heart pumping. Plus the unique group classes on offer (for both kids and adults) including aqua aerobics, ballet, pilates and taekwondo certainly make working out more tolerable and it looks like our readers agree, considering how many votes this wellness centre racked up.
Favourite Spa: Thalgo Spa, Abu Dhabi Country Club
Bigger really is better when it comes to this award winner. Named after the French brand of spa products on offer, Thalgo Spa is Abu Dhabi’s largest spa, with a whopping 23 treatment rooms to boot. The enormous facility is at once tranquil and stylish, with spacious treatment rooms, friendly staff and a special VIP section for those looking for that extra bit of pampering.
Favourite Nail Bar: Tips & Toes
Talk about nailing it – this professional ladies salon has taken the title three years in a row. And for good reason. Their salons are typically packed with loyal clients getting a range of services that go well beyond perfectly groomed digits including eyelash extensions, a range of relaxing massages and traditional Moroccan hammam experiences.
Favourite Hair Salon: Marquee
Tucked away in Eastern Mangroves Promenade, this hair salon knows how to pump up the volume (literally) when it comes to taming your tresses. A favourite with ladies throughout the city, the 1950s inspired salon is all about old-school Hollywood glamour and finesse. Think polished blow-outs, movie star worthy treatment (you’ll be given a macaroon and mocktail during your service) and an impressive knowledge of the latest trends when it comes to hair. No wonder they’ve managed to snag the title a year after opening their first outlet in the capital.