Review: Oii, Mediterranean dining at Al Qana
Is it style over substance at Al Qana’s newest offering?
There’s never a time that the Mediterranean is more on my mind than during summer. Likely because it’s where most of my friends and colleagues head, eager to retreat from the baking UAE heat. This is a feeling I’m sure I’m not alone is, as Mediterranean restaurants pop up all over the capital, bringing baskets of still-warm bread drizzled with olive oil, menus of fresh seafood, earthy interiors and a soundtrack that if you close your eyes could sound like it’s heard over the sound of the lapping sea. The latest addition to that offering is Oii, which opened earlier this year in a wave of launches at waterfront destination, Al Qana.
While there might be no sounds of the waves to backdrop dining at Oii, when the floor-to-ceiling windows can be opened during the winter months, diners benefit from a pretty waterside setting. Alas, it’s the middle of August when we visit, so we quickly retreat indoors but not before a longing gaze at the wooden tables dotted across the terrace alongside potted plants and rattan lamps. Once inside, our disappointment on missing out on alfresco dining evaporates when we see just how pretty the interiors are. White stone walls, olive trees in large ceramic pots, and seats in linen coloured suede create an environment that feels warm and relaxing. At the centre, a grand gold bar is impossible to miss, impressively carved into the wall and lined with shelves filled with colourful bottles and pretty pampas.
While the restaurant only serves mocktails, there’s an impressive offering available, and our fruity Obrigado (Dhs45); a mix of red berries served up in a heart-shaped glass with a sprig of thyme, goes down a treat. As the drinks arrive, so does our first course. The potato gnocchi (Dhs50) is the dish we like the least and despite each piece being soaked in a wild herb pesto it’s too stodgy. The gambas pil pil (Dhs52) goes down much better, and a still-sizzling sauce of Calabrian chili and garlic packs the perfect punch, so much so we mop up every last drizzle with the still-warm, homemade focaccia. The peach caprese (Dhs60) wouldn’t have been our typical order, but comes highly recommended, so we give it a go. It’s the meal’s surprise hit: a peach cut in half and grilled is perfectly plated with neat drops of cucumber gazpacho and stracciatella creating the perfect balancing act between sweet and savoury.
When we move onto mains there’s a hefty focus on Portuguese and Greek dishes, so we opt to try one of each. The frango com piri piri (Dhs95) arrives as a whole grilled baby chicken with neat pearls of cous cous. It’s tasty but a little drier than we would typically like, so we add a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of salsa verde and enjoy the full flavour combination. The lamb cutlets (Dhs155) are tender and topped with a chive oil and flakes of fennel salt, an aubergine puree adding a softness to the dish.
From Oii’s dessert selection, don’t miss trying the clementine and almond cake (Dhs40), with a juicy, fruity sponge, zesty citrus caramel and a surprisingly savoury note from the whipped ricotta we originally mistake for cream.
Before we leave, we’re invited for a ceremonial plate smashing, something we’ve witnessed all the guests around us try before departing. We can’t refuse, it’s a fun way to end an experience that even for a brief afternoon, has taken us to the shores of Santorini.
The verdict: A gorgeous Mediterranean restaurant with plenty of potential.
Oii, Al Qana, Al Maqta, 9.30am to 11pm daily. Tel: (0)2 628 2983, @oiiabudhabi