Bar review: Penelope's Brasserie & Jazz Bar Américain, Yas Island
Jazz bands > Jazz hands…
No matter how many times I see somebody complete a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded, it never fails to blow my mind. It’s an impressive enough accomplishment without the blindfold, but deliberately depriving yourself of the most effective tool for solving the puzzle is just the best kind of theatrical audacity.
And it’s exactly that genre of flare flex that came to mind when I heard that the new entertainment project on Yas Marina, Penelope’s Brasserie & Jazz Bar Américain, was opening their terrace early, prior to the completion of their cabaret staging interior. Ambitious, brave, brazen even — but has it managed to spin its coloured blocks into the right position for the big reveal? We went along to find out.
I’m going to come right out and say it, Penelope’s Brasserie & Jazz Bar Américain on Yas Marina is one of the coolest, most exciting Abu Dhabi openings of 2022. That short waterfront stretch of terrace performs a Herculean effort in accounting for its name, serving unmistakably Riviera vibes, a red hot Mediterranean menu, suitably chic cocktails and unlike some other ‘claimants’ in the country, actual jazz.
Penelope’s has some particularly glittery marrow in its bones, it’s owned by locally-based hospitality legends Layla Kardan (Papillion, Dubai) and Hamdan Al Khafaji (La Carnita), and is a concept conceived by Eddie Ghazal (Canary Club, Dubai). And the mark of this All-Star trio is already clearly stamped into design touches across the venue.
A little pro tip for you: Right now is literally the perfect time to head down and check it out, they have 50 per cent off the entire food menu for the month of December, some great deals on festive celebrations, a new ladies’s night on Wednesdays and a nightly sundowner aperitif deal.
Setting the tone
Against the plucked strings of the double bass, waitstaff glide over the Niçois monochrome-tiled floor, across the bar a framework of art deco bronze is backed by safari-palm print, whilst above our heads, the brasserie’s blanched awning stretches over the dining terrace softly tracing the curve of a porcelain wave. It’s cosy, almost cavernous, like a jazz bar should be.
We’re going with the set menu, it’s Dhs375 for the soft package or Dhs550 for the house (which includes selected cocktails). The starters include options like onion tarte, escargots and calamari — we’ve commandeered burrata and tuna tartare. The crudo dish is detailed in its notes, a tightrope of sharp citrus over soft honey.
The unofficial law of brasserie dining is that when you see an entrecote on the menu (and there almost invariably is), fate dictates that you must order it — we also take a seabream to go along with the mandated steak frites. Both dishes are delivered with almost faultless execution, though the Wagyu entrecote with rendered butter marbling raises its voice a little louder.
Dessert is placed on the table amongst cut glass tumblers and hands tapping along to the looping rhythm of the live house band. Tarte tatin and crème brûlée, what better way to au revoir this grand repas.
Before we leave, we take a seat closer to the jazz quartet, the Marina waters providing percussion support behind us, the momentum is palpably building and we have no idea where the melody is leading us, but like the journey of Penelope’s itself, we cannot wait to find out.
Verdict: There’s an almost impossible level of cool exuded by Penelope’s, real intent in its syncopated swagger, a prospect made all the more impressive by the fact — they’re just warming up.
Yas Marina, Yas Island, 6pm to 2am daily. Tel: (02) 635 1116, @penelopes.ae