7 Stages of Brunch at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi
As you know, I'm just back from a week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, thanks to a really great fare from Eithad Airways. Our trip was split between five days in Dubai and three in Abu Dhabi, which worked out to our advantage, as it allowed us to participate in the emerging Abu Dhabi trend of Friday brunch.
Brunch is, for better or worse, one of America's great exports of the past five years. Sure, brunch is internationally recognized, but it was those of us in America who deified, commoditized, and marketed brunch into a new level of fame. For the record, brunch happens if you are seated before 12:30PM. If you sit down at 1:00 or 2:30, you can still eat breakfast foods, but that's lunch. Feel free to not comment on this below, because I know I'm right, you're wrong, and you'll never admit it.
Anyway, brunch in Abu Dhabi has taken on a life of its own, and puts any other brunch I have ever attended to shame. This being our last day, we decided to go all out with our brunch, and settled on Oléa restaurant at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island. This St. Regis is about twenty minutes outside the city proper, with an extensive property that includes both a hotel and residences.
From the main building lobby, there is a breathtaking view of the Persian Gulf that you could swear you once saw on a postcard. In a moment, you're swept into a world of luxury and exclusivity that only St. Regis can create.
Downstairs, beneath the main lobby, exists the St. Regis' two main restaurants, Oléa and 55&5TH. Though you must make a reservation at one, you may freely hop between both restaurants, as the brunch is an all-you-can-eat (and all-you-can-dream) buffet. Our reservation was at Olea, and we were fortunate enough to snag a table outside, overlooking the water and with a clear line of sight to the band. When we arrived at the table the third place setting had its back to the water, and as I was going to have that chair, I promptly re-set the table...no way was I missing out on this view.
It's hard to describe exactly what happens at brunch at the St. Regis...much like the "Saint" in the St. Regis name, this was a religious culinary experience for me. I could walk you through all the stations, but I think you'll be best served by learning through my plates of food. Let's begin:
Plate 1: Foie Gras and Sushi
55&5TH is the smaller of the two restaurants, but was home to one of the brunch's most wondrous tables: the foie gras station. Yes ladies and gentlemen, an entire buffet station devoted to foie gras.
Naturally, I would have to have some foie gras first, as I wasn't going to miss out on the chance to eat dishes that would help me quickly earn back the cost of today's bill (trust me, there was work to be done). The platter came will some perfect dressings, notably the fig jam.
Because I'm adventurous, I paired the foie gas with some assorted sushi and sashimi. The fish was quite alright, but the spicy mayo and wasabi lacked the punch I've grown accustomed to.
Drink Pairing: There was an orange bloody mary served with smoked salmon. I had to have it.
Plate 2: The Fish Course
Before going up for plate 2, I had ordered a glass of red wine (Malbec), expecting to enjoy some of the meat courses. However, this plan was thrown out when I locked eyes on the raw fish bar.
Take a look at that. Just LOOK at that. Everything you could want, all in one place.
Razor clams, mussels, crab legs, octopus, and more, found their way to my plate. The crab legs were a standout, and I would argue that they may be some of the best I have ever had.
Drink Pairing: Malbec
Plate 3: Meat. Meat. Meat.
This was the one I was waiting for. As my friends and I walked to our table upon arrival to Olea, we did a cursory overview of the buffet offerings, and we all gasped when we saw the standout dish: a waffle topped with poached egg, hollandaise sauce, and 13-hour braised beef cheeks. I'll take a moment to share a photo and let you catch your breath.
Hours had passed until I could enjoy this treat, and now was the time. Accompanying this on my plate were a veal hot dog, a veal hot dog topped with sriracha shrimp, and an oyster po boy.
All were delicious, but nothing held a candle to the Waffles Benedict, the flavors of which brought a tear to my eye for their perfection.
Drink: Whiskey, rocks.
I should now mention exactly how alcohol works at this brunch. Sans alcohol, the buffet alone is 300DH, with alcohol it's 395DH, and with champagne it's 495DH. We went for the middle package, which we thought gave us access to all NINE (yes NINE) bars at brunch, each with a different theme/featured liquor. Unfortunately, there was a top shelf/middle shelf dilenation, which meant that while I could have Jack Daniel's, I couldn't get Jack Single Barrel. Oh well, worse things...
Plate 4: The scraps
I wasn't done yet, so I went back for a few highlights: more crab legs, one more po boy, and two new features: a veal meatball, and some quail!
Drink Pairing: The red wine kept flowing from here on out.
Plate 5: Cheese!
Well, I forgot to take a photo of the plate I had created, but one of the most important aspects of St. Regis brunch is the cheese room. Yes, an entire room devoted to cheese. A singular room, with one long banquet table and its own chef, devoted entirely to cheese. Hard cheeses, soft cheeses, stinky cheeses, fragrant cheeses. Cheese of all shapes, sizes, and colors. In an instant, I left Abu Dhabi and was transported to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, only this time the chocolate was cheese, and your Charlie had a hell of a lot more facial hair.
Plate 6: Dessert. Round 1.
Dessert was an experience in and of itself. From a macaroon tree, to a s'mores bar, to a gelato cooler, the dessert quadrant of the buffet was an ACTUAL Willy Wonka factory.
Like a hawk trying to identify the weakest member of the pack, I circled the tables several times trying to identify which treats would be the first to fall to my appetite.
The initial selections: an apple crumble (I make better), a banana cake with chocolate sauce, and a mousse with ingredients I can't remember.
Plate 7: This is the end.
I would not end my meal with one dessert plate...no. There was still a bit more room in my stomach, and I would not leave until I busted a seam. So, back for more.
This time: a raspberry panna cotta, caffè latte gelée with dark chocolate and hazelnut, a macaroon and, in the lower right, the piece de resistance.
To be honest with you, I had no idea what this little dome was when I took it off the display tray. I just saw chocolate, and knew this was something I was in the mood for. Then I bit into it.
Guys, IT WAS THE ST. REGIS VERSION OF A MALLOMAR, AND IT HAD A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE AS THE BASE.
Upon discovery, my table promptly freaked out, and both friends who had not seen this dessert leapt from the table and beelined for the dessert table. Together, we cheered our find and completed a marathon brunch.
Three hours. Seven plates. One unforgettable meal. Oh, and this pen I stole. Thanks guys!