Things to do in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is not a destination that has ever been top of my travel to do list, but I was more than happy to discover a little more about the capital city of the UAE, on a stopover between London and Seoul. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven Emirates that form the UAE, and has become known as a destination that champions its heritage and showcases culture. It is an accessible size, so in just 3 days we managed to eat our way round the city, soak up the sun on the beach and wander round some incredibly impressive museums and mosques.

Abu Dhabi

To Stay

Rosewood Abu Dhabi – The Rosewood in Abu Dhabi is one of three hotels this luxury group has in the Middle East. In a destination where five-star hotels are plentiful and lavish it is hard to stand out, but the Rosewood does so effortlessly with understated and sophisticated style. The hotel is found on Al Maryah Island and is the proud home to several brilliant restaurants, including Cantonese, Lebanese and International eateries. There is also the beautifully serene Sense Spa and tropical outdoor pool area. Our suite for the night was a heavenly oasis of comfort, with every amenity and more. The bathroom was a real highlight with a huge tub overlooking the city.

Abu Dhabi

To Eat

Tashas – This brunch spot is a hit with the locals, and provided a nice break from eating in hotel restaurants. The cafe is an export from South Africa and offers fresh juices, coffee and generous brunch dishes. I loved my spicy scrambled eggs with avocado and toast.

Sambusek – Head to the Rosewood’s Lebanese restaurant Sambusak to sample the best meze in town. A vibrant menu captures the essence of Lebanon’s cuisine with the freshest seafood, marinated grilled meats and authentic salads and baked treats. We particularly loved the cheesy fatayer and flavoursome kibbeh, made with lamb.

Namak by Kunal Kapur – Located within the Dusit Thani Hotel this is the flagship Abu Dhabi restaurant for Indian master chef and tv personality Kunal Kapur. Despite the slightly tired interiors the food is exciting and imaginative. The lamb chops and chicken tikka tacos were both winning dishes, and I found the paneer butter masala curry addictively tasty.

Mirzam – Originating from Dubai, Mirzam is a boutique company producing high quality chocolate using single origin cocoa beans chosen for their unique flavour and quality. This shop recently opened at the historical site of Qasr Al Hosn and the shop is a lovely place to sit overlooking the city with a cup of flavoured hot (or cold) chocolate. I loved the chocolate and fell instantly in love with the colourful decorative packaging.

Abu Dhabi

To Drink

Hidden Bar – Gin enthusiasts should head straight to the Hidden Bar inside the Rosewood Hotel. This atmospheric bar serve their own flavoured gin infusions with tonic or you can choose to taste one of the 150 brands behind the bar.

Arabica % – When I visited the original Arabica % coffee shop in Kyoto I never imagined the company would grow so fast, and now they have 54 stores internationally. With shops on the Corniche and at Al Bateen the Emiratis seem to be loving the Arabica blends, with both venues seeming very busy. I visited every morning for my daily caffeine kick, and was very grateful to have somewhere to get such high quality coffee in Abu Dhabi.

The Espresso Lab –  This speciality coffee lab and roastery at Qasr Al Hosn takes coffee very seriously. Choose from filter coffee or espresso-based drinks, which use local beans rather than importing from around the world.

Abu Dhabi

To Do

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – I was in complete awe of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This stunning mosque is the third largest in the world, and can accommodate up to 41,000 worshippers. The mosque holds the world’s largest hand-woven carpet and the main crystal chandelier weighs 12 tons! It is free to visit, but I recommend booking in advance and taking the opportunity to do a guided tour which takes you to areas you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Qasr Al Watan – This incredible palace only opened in 2019, opened by  Sheikhs Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates) and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to celebrate the heritage of the country.

The Louvre – A  sibling to the famous Parisian museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibits exciting contemporary shows alongside an impressive permanent collection which includes work by Degas, Magritte and Manet. The building itself is also visually impressive, a structure inspired by the cupola (a distinctive feature in Arabic architecture), designed by architect Jean Nouvel.

Qasr al Hosn – This is the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi and should be the first stop on any itinerary to get a basic understanding of UAE history. The city was built around this fort, and to me it felt like the centre of the city.

Abu Dhabi

Escape

Saadiyat Beach Club – Found on Abu Dhabi’s iconic Saadiyat island this luxury beach club is the perfect city escape for the day. Sit on the white sand beach or by the pool, or use the gym & spa facilities inside. The club serves a casual food and drinks menu to satisfy all your cravings. It was total bliss to spend a day chilling out in the sun here.

10 New London restaurants to try this season

After a summer hiatus the London restaurant scene is back up and running, and there seems to be a new opening almost every day to try. It is exciting to see a range of different cuisines, vegetarian gems, speciality seafood eateries and new fine dining venues. Here’s my top restaurants to try across the capital this season.

Bubala

Bubala – Following a series of successful supperclubs Bubala opened up its first permanent site in Spitalfields this year. The all-vegetarian Middle Eastern restaurant is wow-ing crowds with the addictively good plates and welcoming service. Don’t miss the the Laffa flatbread and the luxurious halloumi with black seed honey.

Vardo

Vardo – A new concept from the Caravan team, Vardo is an all day dining venue on the King’s Road. The futuristic space immediately catches your attention, and continues to thrill with a diverse menu of internationally inspired dishes. I recommend visiting for breakfast when you can also try their great coffee and baked treats.

Legare – Tucked away in Tower Bridge, Legare is another pasta bolthole, ideal for warming you bones and filling your stomach in the freezing winter weather. The chef Matt Beardmore, worked at pasta mecca, Trullo is Islington, and brings this experience to the short menu at Legare. I was particularly fond of the Orecchiette with fennel sausage & cavolo nero ragu.

Norma

Norma – Charlotte Street is awash with great restaurants, and now Norma has joined the family. This cosy and sophisticated eatery comes from chef Ben Tish, and is an ode to the food of Sicily. The comforting menu showcases the best of the region from traditional pasta recipes to exceptional raw seafood, seasonal antipasti and cannoli for dessert, of course!

seabird

Seabird – I love the Hoxton Hotels and was overjoyed when the first South London branch opened earlier this year. The huge site has beautiful common areas, a new co-working space (coming soon), and wonderful restaurants. Seabird was created in partnership with Premiere Enterprises (from New York’s Maison Premiere), and is the found on the 14th floor, boasting epic skyline views of the city. The seafood inspired menu has a range of appetising dishes and is the proud home of London’s longest oyster list.

officina 00

Officina 00 – Just when I thought there were enough great homemade pasta places on the London restaurant food scene another opens and steals my heart. Officina 00 is thriving in Old Street, kneading and shaping all the pasta in full view of the diners, it is an atmospheric experience. The rich and flavoursome pasta dishes cost between £8-12 and showcase the chef’s wide pasta repertoire. I enjoyed Pumpkin gnocchi with smoked ricotta and Occhi filled with braised pork Genovese.

Folie – A newbie to Soho, this stylish restaurant promises a taste of the Riviera. I was happy to see Provence staples like panisse (essentially chickpea chips) on the menu, and remember the desserts being brilliantly moreish and refined. The perfect place for a glamorous weekday lunch in central London.

Forza Wine

Forza Wine – The long-awaited Forza Wine finally opened this Autumn, perched on top of the newly transformed Bussey Building in Peckham. It is the sibling to the wonderful pasta haven Forza Win round the corner, but this venue very much has it’s own personality and menu. The concise menu changes regularly, with bold punchy ingredients taking centre stage. As the name suggests, wine is a major part of the offering here, and the drinks list is both interesting and reasonable.

Robuchon

Comptoir de Robuchon – Joel Robuchon’s death last year was one of the food world’s greatest losses… his restaurants (in London and further afield) have always delighted me, and I couldn’t be happier that a new Robuchon has opened in town. The grand but relaxed eatery is found in Green Park / Mayfair with a delectable deli by the same brand next door. The menu is long and everything is delicious and inventive while still staying true to the great chef’s classic dishes. Don’t miss the legendary mashed potato and the lamb chops.

Paradise, Soho

Paradise – A new Sri Lankan restaurant has taken over the former-Spuntino site, bringing vibrant flavours and plenty of spice to Soho. The small plates menu is split into sections, I recommend trying one or two from each, I particularly loved the Mutton Shoulder Rolls and the homemade soft drinks.

Disfrutar, Barcelona

I first tasted a dish by Disfrutar at the OAD (Opinionated About Dining) Awards earlier this year in San Sebastian. The seafood recipe was inventive, intense in flavour and a marvel to look at. Then, a few months later, the 50 World’s Best Restaurants list was announced, and Disfrutar was one of the highest risers, being awarded a coveted place in the top 10. Needless to say, I fast-tracked it to the top of my to visit list and booked flights to Barcelona immediately.

Disfrutar

The restaurant is run by three chefs, Oriol Castro, Mateu Casañas and Eduard Xatruch, who all held important roles in the El Bulli kitchen. Prior to opening Disfrutar in 2014, the trio opened Compartir in Cadaqués on the Costa Brava, a more casual eatery.

The Dining Room at Disfrutar is simple and elegant, and foliage plays a leading role in the decor. The tables are left bare, giving no clues about the meal ahead.

Disfrutar

There are two multi-course menus to choose from… the ‘Classic’ menu, featuring favourites of the house and the ‘Festival’ menu, recommended to returning guests, with an array of new seasonal dishes. We opted for the Classic menu, an elaborate meal of 30 unique recipes, featuring the flavours of Spain in an entirely new and unexpected interpretation.

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The pace was quick and the courses were small, it was a perfectly composed symphony of culinary twists and turns, and I loved the excitement of it all. Many of the dishes are served or completed table side by the charming waiters, who seemed to be enjoying the performance just as much as the dining audience.

Disfrutar

I was delighted to sample a few of their most recognisable dishes – the miraculous Gazpacho in sandwich form, beautifully spherical bursting olives, and a favourite of ours, the macaroni carbonara – transparent mock pasta made from pork gelatine, served in a divine sauce of parmesan and cubes of bacon.

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Not every course was a bite to eat, some came in drink form… one section of our menu was dedicated to rabbit inspired treats, including a cold consommé with a hint of orange, it was like a meaty rich old-fashioned cocktail.

Disfrutar

Nothing is as it initially seems at Disfrutar and some of the most magical dishes deceive you on first glance. Towards the end of the menu we moved onto sweet dishes… two tiny padron peppers are made from thick and indulgent chocolate mousse, seasoned with a peppery hint.

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Sweets continued with cheesecake cornets – bite-sized cherry cones filled with sour cherry sorbet, Kirsch jelly and cream, a wonderful palate cleansing mouthful of deliciousness.

Disfrutar

It was great fun to receive our courses but also to watch the excitement unfold around the room, as other tables ooh-ed and ahh-ed at their imaginative dishes. One table nearby to us were receiving completely different dishes, when I asked the waiter about their meal he commented that they’d visited 3 times already so the kitchen were preparing a totally unique set of new experimental dishes for them… an indicator of the care and effort they go to for every diner, whether it’s your first or tenth time at the restaurant.

Disfrutar translates as ‘to enjoy’, and I can whole-heartedly say I enjoyed every aspect of this exemplary restaurant. An unmissable experience from start to finish, and a must for gastronomes visiting Barcelona.

More information and book a table at Disfrutar here.