This Abu Dhabi outpost of the famous Pinoy seafood joint has a need, a need to feed…

The well-established Dubai location of Dampa Seafood Grill has earned a rightful seat at the head of the affordable dining scene. And although its younger sibling, the Abu Dhabi branch has only been dumping buckets of oceanic bounty for a little under two years now, it already has a pincer grip around the capital’s seafood fanciers.

But what’s all the fuss about? Why does Dampa enjoy such a cult-level of impassioned devotion? We’re standing outside the vibrant Fatima Bint Mubarak Street exterior right now, so we’ll let you know.

First impressions aren’t allowed much time to percolate at Dampa, immediately after walking through the door you’re bombarded (in an entirely charming way) by loud colourful facades, neon signs and wall art (‘if it smells of fish, eat it’) with a tongue very deliberately in cheek.

There are two levels of dining space here, and with it being not long after midday the ground floor is bright and buzzing with a hot pot of mixed nationalities. The basement section has a firm fiesta vibe with gaming attractions that include a foosball table (in accordance with government guidelines, currently off-limits).

We decide to sit at a wooden bench upstairs, where our server wraps the table in protective paper cloth and dishes out gloves, and bibs. Because, we’re reliably informed, it’s about to get messy.

The signature dining experience at Dampa, comes via the medium of buckets or ‘dumps’ of seafood. Giant baskets of freshly grilled shrimp, crab, mussels, clams and sweetcorn cobs, which are heaved theatrically onto your table.

We select the Cajun spice preparation as our marinade of choice (other options include ‘Mexican’, the mild ‘Mardi Gras’ and ‘Thai’). It’s just Dhs152.25, comes with paired mocktails and rice and feeds about two to three or potentially even seven people (depending on how hungry they are). We also select a few chef’s specials – baked mussels (Dhs39), grilled almost giant squid (Dhs38), and cheesy lobster thermador (Dhs47).

The ‘dump’ arrives in a giant metal bowl and our waiter, uses a thin trickle of loose marinade to sketch out a Cajun spice heart on the table, the container is then lovingly upended in the middle of the heart. Love truly is shellfish afterall.

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We begin dissecting the huge chitinous mountain, peeling off perfectly cooked morsels of sea-meat. The flavours sing in operatic verse, of spice, and smokiness and just a semi-quaver of sweetness. It’s a masterful delivery of an uncontrived idea.

We also need to give a special mention to the cheesy lobster thermador, a delicious replica of the archetypal fine-dining staple, bubbling with buttery umami.

Verdict: This is a meal that’s more than the sum of its flavours. It’s also enormously good fun, possibly the closest we’ll ever get to a medieval, Game of Thrones-style banquet. The service was warm and professional, and the lively ambiance undulled by pandemic restrictions. Rating: A

Fatima Bint Mubarak Street, open midday to 11.35pm daily. Tel: (02) 622 0096, @dampaseafoodgrill

Images: Provided