Taking a closer look at Abu Dhabi's new Michelin Guide winners
Who won what and why you should care…
The plat is now out of the Michelin bag in Abu Dhabi and, based on the whims and wants of its inspectors, we’ve learned who’s kind of a big deal on the capital’s culinary scene. A significant 42 restaurants were added to this inaugural 2023 Guide, four were awarded the sought-after Bib Gourmand status (good affordably priced food) and three more were honoured with what is likely international gastronomy’s most coveted prize of all, a Michelin Star.
But who are these Michelin winners, and why should we care? Well, if you like good food — you’ll struggle to find a better respected independent arbiter of taste, than our friends at Michelin. Their rigorous testing method applies science to art, and rates experience based on: The quality of the ingredients, the mastery of cooking, the harmony of flavours, the personality of the chef through the cuisine and the consistency both over time and across the entire menu (each restaurant is visited multiple times).
The Stars align
The three restaurants each awarded one Michelin Star in Abu Dhabi as part of the 2023 guide were…
99 Sushi Bar and Restaurant
After the Guide announcements, we predict that this (Spanish by birth) haute Japanese cuisine concept is probably experiencing somewhere in the region of 99 problems seating all the people trying to get a table now. With the Mich’, definitely being the causative one. These are of course great problems for the sushi house, based in The Galleria Al Maryah Island, to have. And whilst the volume of attention is likely new, 99 Sushi has been a central pillar of Abu Dhabi’s fine dining circuit since 2017. Their signature dishes include Wagyu and Kobe prime cuts; otoro nigiri; blue fin carpaccio; Hokkaido uni; gyozas; and king crab salad. They’re also known for adding exciting European flexes onto Asian cuisine, we’re talking tinkering with truffle and figuring out new ways to use foie gras. @99sushibaruae
The name ‘Hakkasan’ represents a global chain of high-end Cantonese restaurants, with strong links to the Guide. Two London Hakkasans have won Michelin Stars, and Dubai’s own location gained one in its inaugural guide earlier this year. And this Abu Dhabi outpost, found in a very special location, has now joined that list. You’ll find it at Emirates Palace, plating up artful servings of dim sum, seafood, spice and other food fire, often based on ancient Chinese recipes. Our picks from the Abu Dhabi menu? Typhoon lobster, Chilean sea bass with organic honey and the supreme dim sum selection. Our verdict after eating there? “The aesthetic element of the courses at Hakkasan is important, yes, but the art is indistinguishable from the eating. It’s all about the holistic experience. The chef is speaking through the food, and whilst we can try to describe it here, the only way to hear this beautiful mantra is to try it. Which you really rather ought to.” @hakkasanabudhabi
Talea by Antonio Guida
Emirates Palace now finds itself represented by a binary star system, with the relatively recent launch of Talea. It’s a culinary engine driven by multiple Michelin Star-honoured Chef Antonio Guida. A modern space, there are faux frescos on the wall depicting scenes from various Italian cities and highlighted detailing on the ceiling coves. We swooned over the calamari alla griglia, and gushed in hushed cooing sounds over what they did to a fillet of ricciola (amberjack). And what is now their verified ‘Michelin Star’ range of pizza, represents the perfect way to introduce yourself to the kitchen’s incredible flavours on a relative budget. Our verdict: “Talea is an Italian job extremely well done, blowing the doors of our expectations clean off. Best Italian fine dining in the city? It just might be.” @taleauae
As mentioned above the Bib Gourmand category is awarded to restaurants that excel in providing good food at affordable prices. There were four inclusions in Abu Dhabi, Bibs at the ready…
You’ll find expertly crafted Armenian-Lebanese dining at The Galleria Al Maryah Island’s Almayass, and in line with the defining requirement of the Bib Gourmand award, it won’t break the bank. This cross of two culinary houses, both alike in dignity, translates into some great mash-up mezze items — kebbeh karaz; ras asfour with cherry sauce; manti; bastermi; and shanklish — lead the pack for us. @almayass_abudhabi
Beirut Sur Mer
Located along the picturesque, beachfront promenade of Mamsha Al Saadiyat, Beirut Sur Mer comes painted its scintillating botanical aesthetics, paired with a remarkably strong Levantine menu. The menu is absolutely gargantuan, filled with a myriad mezze, dishes such as quinoa tabbouleh, crab moutabal, and halloumi bil teen. Our verdict: Beirut Sur Mer offers the finest service and a vast menu that will leave you wanting to linger for hours if only to try more plates of mezze, but don’t be like us! Save room for your mains. @beirutsurmer
Locally based culinary legend, chef Akmal Anuar (whose Dubai restaurant 11 Woodfire won a Star in the inaugural Dubai Michelin Guide) opened his first Abu Dhabi restaurant this year, and it’s a keeper. The location pin drop is at the canal front destination Al Qana, the seat of so much exciting new gastronomic and leisure murmurings in the capital. Otoro is an authentic and clinically studied reenvisaging of an Osakan kitchen, and beyond the stunning nigiri options (of which, naturally the otoro —fatty tuna, is their expertly crafted signature) our pick of the dazzling dishes was the: “melt-in-the-mouth shabu shabu burger. A burger like no other, its moreish wagyu slices, perfectly toasted bun and buttery caramelized onion make every bite jucier than the last. We lick our fingers clean.” @otoro.ad
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The second of two Al Qana entries, Tazal’s range and quality of Mediterranean x Middle Eastern fare impressed the inspectors enough to earn a solid Bib Gourmand nod. The creative menu includes fusion dishes such as peri-peri chicken biryani; seafood machboos paella; chicken kaaksadilla; Wagyu Al Mosul; and a Korean lamb explosion with cumin tuile. It’s fair to say the restaurant’s claim that these are ‘brave twists’ certainly checks out, but given the recent Michelin acknowledgement, it seems it was a flavour experiment worth making. @tazaluae
Talking about the list, Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of the Michelin Guide “The wonderful diversity of the cuisine proposed by these 3 restaurants perfectly illustrate the curiosity of local gourmets, as well as how Abu Dhabi welcomes international cultures to make them shine at their best level”.
Poullennec continued “This first MICHELIN Guide Abu Dhabi selection is the beginning of a long journey for a city with unlimited gastronomic potential. Our inspectors discovered a rich variety of cuisines offered in Abu Dhabi, from creative dishes conceived by some of the world’s most renowned chefs, to traditional cuisines of the region: Middle Eastern, Lebanese and, of course, Emirati.”
The inspectors aren’t only focusing on food while they dine, they’re also looking out for shining stars among the service. In this year’s guide, there are three Abu Dhabi contenders for special awards. They are:
Service Award: Rawad Hamdan and team, Restaurant Li Beirut
Sommelier Award: Marlon Nuque, Zuma Restaurant
Young Chef Award: Luigi Stinga, Restaurant Talea by Antonio Guida
If your name’s not on the list, you’re not coming in
The Abu Dhabi Michelin Guide 2023’s other inclusions looked like this: Al Mrzab, Butcher & Still, Byblos Sur Mer, Cafe James, Café Milano, Catch by St. Regis, Cipriani, Coya, Dai Pai Dong, Finz, Fishmarket, Fouquet’s, Grand Beirut, Hoi An, Li Beirut, Li Jiang, LPM, Market Kitchen, Martabaan by Hemant Oberoi, Mazi, Meylas, Mijana, Moksh, Namak, NIRI, Oak Room, Oii, Paradiso, Punjab Grill, Shang Palace, Silk & Spice, Tean, VaKaVa Pan Latin Grill and Lounge by Richard Sandoval, Villa Toscana and Zuma.