After launching earlier this year in Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi, Ray’s Grill has been generating a buzz in the capital.
Not to be confused with Ray’s Bar – which is one floor below – Ray’s Grill replaced the restaurant Quest, which closed in December.
After an ear-popping ascent to the 63rd floor, we were greeted by a friendly hostess and seated near a window overlooking what might be the best view of the capital – one that would be all the more stunning if the lights were dimmed a little. We found it too bright for a fine-dining experience – a visit to the more dimly lit Ray’s Bar proves that lower lighting works much better.
The interior of the restaurant hasn’t changed much since its Quest days. The tables are sleek and simple, surrounded by beige or black leather chairs. All offer views of the skyline and most also allow you to watch the chefs busy at work in the central, open kitchen.
The background music is mostly upbeat jazz – but when Creedence Clearwater Revival comes on, I’m left wondering what the musical theme is meant to be.
To begin with, the service was impeccable. Friendly and confident, our server knew the menu well. He was attentive, yet unobtrusive. But while he was no less friendly as the night wore on, he was less attentive during the second half of our meal. We waited far too long for our mains to be cleared, during which time our server was taking an exceptionally long time to mix drinks on a trolley for another table.
He eventually motioned the bartender to attend to our table, which he did, clearing our plates and bringing the dessert menu – but only after we requested it. In fact, he served us for the rest of the meal, right down to settling the bill. Your server should never change halfway through a meal at a fine-dining restaurant.
As for the food, the restaurant did not have four items on the menu, three of which were significant shortfalls: oysters, tuna and lobster.
We ordered the smoked Wagyu salad (Dh75) and the crab cakes with Peruvian chilli (Dh65) for starters.
The salad – a rectangular mass of tender, mouthwatering chunks of Wagyu beef – was dressed in a smooth, sour-cream sauce. The two polenta-coated deep-fried jalapeño-cheese rounds it came with were crisp on the outside and filled with soft, strong cheese.
The crab cakes came with corn paste and a dollop of Peruvian chilli on the side, but there was no need for either. Generously stuffed with minced crab, these cakes were deliciously moist and can stand alone.
On to the main course, and the choice of steaks included US, Australian and Irish beef. Aged for at least 28 days, all of the meat is cooked over charcoal kept between 375° and 400°C.
Before our meat arrived, we were presented with a box of steak knives and told to “choose our weapon”. However, the difference between the knives was not explained.
My 300g US prime fillet (Dh225) was perfectly cooked to the medium-rare I had requested. The crispy, charred exterior gave way to a tender, juicy, exceptionally well-seasoned piece of meat. This was one of the best steaks I’ve had in the capital – if not the best. I had a side of mac and cheese (Dh25) at our server’s recommendation. The short rigatoni pasta was saturated in an irresistible combination of Gruyère, Comte and Parmesan cheeses. and was rich, creamy and velvety smooth.
My husband’s Australian rack of lamb (Dh165) didn’t get the same rave review, mostly due to the uneven cooking. While the flavour was on point, only one of the three chops was served as the requested medium-rare.
Halfway through our main course, we learnt of the elusive salt menu. When the salt on our table ran out, our server promptly wheeled over a trolley of salts from around the world. Why had we not been told about it from the start? “It’s only on request,” I was told. But if it’s your first time – as it was ours – you would never know to request it. Likewise, there is an extensive selection of mustards we found out about only by chance.
Our most interesting dessert was the warm apple crumble (Dh40) – mostly because it was infused with Pop Rocks, which added a level of unexpected fun. This dessert offers a perfect balance of sweet and sour and I loved the layered textures: soft, tart chunks of diced apple, crunchy crumbles, fizzing Pop Rocks, and cold, soft, green apple ice cream.
Our experience was good enough to bring us back another time, but closer attention to detail would serve this restaurant – and diners – well.
The high-quality food and the views are enough to entice diners through the door, but rectifying the few missteps in service and ambience could easily raise Ray’s Grill to a level well above the competition.
• A meal for two at Ray’s Grill, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, costs Dh800. Call 02 811 5666. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito