The votes have been counted and verified – these are your big Abu Dhabi winners…

On May 3, the 2021 edition of the What’s On Abu Dhabi Awards took place, and for the first time ever, we went virtual. It was still packed with that same signature razzle-dazzle, we still dished out 39 of the biggest leisure and entertainment awards in the emirate, we just made sure it was safe for all involved. Because we love you.

And the winners in most of these categories were decided by you, the voting public, but there were also four Big Prize winners, selected by us here at the What’s On team, awarded for outstanding contribution to making Abu Dhabi an incredible place to live. Especially in what has unquestionably been, a challenging year.

With no What’s On Awards last year, these accolades are being distributed based on efforts over the 2019-2020-2021 period.



Standing out amongst Abu Dhabi’s glittering collection of restaurants is no mean feat, and the fact that this venue has achieved that, for the second year running, speaks to exactly how special this place really is. Conceived by one of British cuisine’s brightest stars, and featuring a menu with many best-in-city dishes, this restaurant really is a Rockstar in the emirate’s hall of culinary fame. Congratulations to the team at our Restaurant of the Year: Oak Room


CHEF OF THE YEAR – Chef Sandeep Ail, of Punjab Grill Venetian Village Abu Dhabi

There are many reasons behind our choice for the city’s top chef. There’s the proven consistency in craft, a desire to innovate, to blend culinary hemispheres, and to court both tradition and fringe. The tasting menus created by his kitchen are always fascinating stories, told with flair and flavour. Our Chef of the Year is an exemplary ambassador of sustainability, forever searching for new ways to source more locally and operate as close to zero waste as possible, at his resident Punjab Grill. Congratulations to our chef of the year: Sandeep Ail

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR – Fouquet’s Abu Dhabi

Dining hall

The creation of great food is one of the highest forms of art, and the art of cooking is something very close to the heart of this Newcomer of the Year. Opening in the early months of 2020, the deliberate brush strokes of a Michelin calibre French menu, exclusive real estate, and international reputation helped this restaurant weather the storm of the global pandemic. Already a popular choice for visiting celebrities, we’re excited to see what new dishes and directions they make us fall in Louvre with next. The winner of the What’s On Newcomer of the Year is: Fouquet’s Abu Dhabi




You can satisfy almost any sort of culinary craving in Abu Dhabi, with world cuisine recreated on the capital’s collective menus. Sometimes, however, an eatery opens up and carries a new flag to this United Nations of the dinner table, strengthening it. This time our Indie Restaurant of the Year brings, along with its flags, a tale of fire and spice. Family recipes, passion and stories from West Africa and the West Indies. Congratulations to our Indie Restaurant of the Year: West to West Kitchen.



FAVOURITE BRUNCH – White, Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort

The capital-famous White brunch at the stunning Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort takes the crown for a variety of reasons. It offers a Premier League brunching experience, especially for seafood fans, it’s family-friendly, furnished with easy island vibes, and the consistency of quality and care across the full range comes close to unparalleled in the capital.


FAVOURITE ASIAN RESTAURANT – Benjarong Restaurant and Lounge, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi

This proud ambassador from the land of smiles serves up some of the region’s most artful and authentic South East Asian cuisine. And it does it all through with the theatre of linen tablecloth fine dining.



The brainchild of celebrity Indian chef Kunal Kapur, don’t expect traditional cuisine here. Instead, you’ll find unique dishes such as chicken tikka stuffed into a Tibetan bun and a smoked chicken soup served in a smoke-filled globe. It really must be seen to be believed. Take our advice: go hungry and take a food journey through its unique offerings. You’ll be glad you did.


FAVOURITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT – Sole, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers

This newcomer landed on the scene late in 2020, and immediately demonstrated its Italian fluency. It has emerged top in one of the most hotly-contended categories of the whole night because, just like the ingredients it uses, it radiates freshness. We urge you to try the eggplant parmigiana, it’s rural European comfort food at its best. There’s a hearty vegetable backbone to the flavour, luxurious spoonfuls of fondant cheese, and a distinctly botanical endnote courtesy of the basil.


FAVOURITE JAPANESE RESTAURANT – Tori No Su, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers

Tori No Su is one of those restaurants that prove there’s far more to Japanese cuisine than just sushi and ramen. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things, but why limit your experience when there’s a world of diverse wonder to explore.


FAVOURITE MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT – Byblos Sur Mer, InterContinental Abu Dhabi

It’s not hard to find a good Arabian restaurant in Abu Dhabi, we live in ‘Arabia’ of course. It’s our bread and butter, or, more accurately, kuboos and hummus. But you’re not handing out medals for ‘good’, you’re voting for ‘great’, and Byblos Sur Mer, with its waterfront views, epic grilled meats and traditional family recipes, is a perfect example of that greatness.


FAVOURITE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT – Fishmarket at InterContinental Abu Dhabi

Decked out like a traditional seafood market, expect to dine on the freshest catch at Fishmarket. Found right on the beachfront, it’s stood the test of time thanks to its genuine, friendly service and focus on the freshest ingredients.



A sleek steakhouse with a celebrity chef, Oak Room is the restaurant everyone in Abu Dhabi’s been talking about in 2021. Celebrity clientele, delicious dishes and sultry interiors are just some of the things that impressed us most. There is so much else to love about this restaurant, too: the hidden entrance, the heavy crystal glassware arranged by size behind the imposing bar, the leather chairs and velvet banquette seating, and the atmospheric lighting.


FAVOURITE ALL DAY DINING – Sofra BLD, Shangri-la Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi

Dine around the world at this souk-style restaurant, with an impressive array of live cooking stations available for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


FAVOURITE EUROPEAN – Cyan Brasserie, Andaz Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi

Cyan was another new addition to the Abu Dhabi dining scene in 2020, and the Franco-Arab brasserie has been delighting diners from its home on 18th floor of the iconic, Guinness World Record-holding leaning tower of Abu Dhabi, since the moment the doors first opened. It’s a must-visit if you like your food to trend as well on the ‘gram as it tastes in your mouth.


FAVOURITE LATIN AMERICAN  – VaKaVa, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers

Latin restaurant VaKaVa is the mischievous twin sister of long-standing UAE favourite, Toro Toro, and now stands in its place in Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers. VaKaVa is described as more well-travelled, with a passionate personality, and that’s exactly what it delivers through its inventive Latin American dishes and striking decor.



FAVOURITE AFTERNOON TEA – Observation Deck at 300, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers

Sky high sophistication, breathtaking views and dainty dining helped make this your favourite choice for afternoon tea in Abu Dhabi.


FAVOURITE BUSINESS LUNCH – Mosaic Restaurant, Muroor

There are now two outposts of this purveyor of fine Middle Eastern cuisine. Mosaic offers traditional Lebanese hospitality as part of its business lunch proposal, along with a strong variety of great tasting Levantine classics.


This capital cafe has acquired a passionate following across its UAE locations, and it’s not hard to see why. Perfect patisseries, gourmet coffee and breakfasts that really are the most important meal you have that day.



We fully endorse your choice for this year’s top healthy eating restaurant, a shining example of how the healthiest food can also be the most delicious. Locally sourced, organic, zero plastic and 100 per cent ingenious plant-based offerings, it’s always been a winner in our eyes. Try the focaccia and thank us later.


FAVOURITE PUB GRUB – Belgian Café, InterContinental Abu Dhabi

Sure British pub grub is pretty fun, but the Belgian stuff? Now that has a touch of class. You’ll find it in full European colour at this laidback bar terrace, which also happens to offer one of our favourite family Friday brunches.


FAVOURITE DELIVERY — Jones The Grocer, Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi Downtown

Jones the Grocer 2

You’d have to travel a pretty hefty distance to find a UAE resident who hasn’t heard of Jones the Grocer. Fuss-free and focused on high-quality ingredients that are locally sourced where possible, and in the past year its gastro-delivery service has been a lifeline for those that want to enjoy incredible, graft-free food at home. Its ‘big beef’ take on the Reuben certainly put a smile on our face multiple times during curfew.



FAVOURITE BAR – 7 by Impressions Rooftop Bar, Anantara Eastern Mangroves Abu Dhabi Hotel

Neon hues and peerless green waterway views make 7 by Impressions Rooftop Bar a more than worthy winner. It’s craft menu packs an haute snacking punch, too.


FAVOURITE ATTRACTION – Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

All of our favourite DCU superheroes (and villains), Tom, Jerry, Buggs, Daffy, Tweetie, The Flintstones, and backed up by some spectacularly wild rides – what’s not to like? This would have been our pick for top attraction, too.


FAVOURITE CONCERT– Flash Live; Eid Celebrations

Being the emirate’s leading concert organiser, it shouldn’t surprise you that this was a three-way Flash Entertainment play-off for first place. Flash beating off strong competition from Flash, took the grand prix here for its work on those outstanding Eid celebrations that inspired a nation.


FAVOURITE LADIES’ NIGHT – Barfly By Buddha Bar, Venetian Village Abu Dhabi

barfly abu dhabi

Free pink sugary drinks do not a great ladies’ night make. It’s about the ambience, the entertainment, the nibbles and OK it is also a little bit about the free drinks. The neo-baroque styled Barfly By Buddha Bar is achingly cool, and it’s Wednesday Aphrodite Ladies’ Night there’s 50 per cent off food, free-flowing drinks and good vibes only.



It’s not been the most rave friendly of years but this sleek social space split over three floors, has been continuously innovating with exciting promotions and electric theme nights, regardless. Midweek rooftop shenanigans, chilled Saturday sessions and eclectic beats rightly make this your top spot for putting your hands up and getting down low.


FAVOURITE SPORTING EVENT – Mubadala World Tennis Championship

First of all, we’d like to just say that Abu Dhabi deserves its own plaque for its contribution to staging global sport safely this year. Quite literally showing the world how it’s done. And whilst the 2020 Mubadala World Tennis Championship was cancelled, the 2019 edition was one of its most fiercely fought men’s and women’s contests in the tournament’s history. As always the creme of world tennis turned up to contend, but in the end Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal took home the title crowns.

FAVOURITE STAYCATION — Anantara Eastern Mangroves Abu Dhabi Hotel


There wasn’t much travel happening in 2020 so staycations were a really big deal. Not only did Anantara Eastern Mangroves put out some great deals for residents, but its luxe facilities, gorgeous rooms and pool with a unique view also helped us live like royalty, if only for a while.



Famous Dubai beach club Cove made its Abu Dhabi debut in 2020. Found at IMKAN’s Makers District on Reem Island, the luxurious hub of the vibe-tribe, comes with a 100-seat alfresco restaurant and lounge (Two.0), a sea-pool set in the ocean, cabanas, an infinity pool deck, and 300 metres of pristine private beach lapped by cut-glass island waters. No wonder you love it.



Favourite Brunch: Urban Kitchen, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi

Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant: Grills@Chill’O, Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche

Favourite Indian Restaurant: MYNT Indian Cuisine Restaurant Abu Dhabi

Favourite Italian Restaurant: Sacci, The Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa

Favourite Asian Restaurant: Max’s Restaurant

Favourite European Restaurant: Alba Terrace, The Abu Dhabi EDITION

Favourite All Day Dining Restaurant: Turf Café

Favourite Latin American: El Sombrero, Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort


Favourite Fitness Facility: CLYMB Abu Dhabi

Favourite Spa: Anantara Spa, Anantara Eastern Mangroves Abu Dhabi Hotel

Images: What’s On Archive