Aquarium seafood restaurant’s price tags don’t justify the simple cooking

A new seafood restaurant at Yas Marina hits the mark when it comes to satisfying, not dazzling.

The interior of Aquarium at Yas Marina. Courtesy Aquarium
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At Aquarium, you make the ­acquaintance of your dinner right before you ingest it.

There it is, laid out on a massive heap of ice, the day’s fresh catch. Bathed in soft lighting, it’s an ­appetite-whetting display. A whole fish? No problem. Jumbo prawns or baby octopus? Just point them to your server – all prices by the pound – and the kitchen will cook them any way you please.

The approach of this new seafood restaurant, located at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, will remind some of the spectacular open-air, curb-side Bu Qtair fish shack in Jumeirah, only with the ambience of Ossiano at Atlantis The Palm. Granting diners panoramic views of Yas Island, it is at once elegant and easy-going – comparable to an upscale Red Lobster.

But unlike Ossiano’s, the food is presented without airs and graces. An order of grilled prawns with lemon butter sauce arrived as exactly that: a white platter of 10 peeled prawns, with a bowl of ­lemon butter sauce on the side.

Simple, easy and satisfying – if only the dish hadn’t cost a whopping Dh270.

But let’s put the pricing problem aside and focus on Aquarium’s devotion to simplicity. While the ordinariness of preparation and presentation welcomes diners of different sensibilities, the lack of a sense of play rules out a memorable meal. We eat at restaurants to take a break from the monotony of home-cooked meals, so why bother to dress up, drive and pay for food you could have prepared yourself?

We were even more surprised to find out that Aquarium is run by the same team behind Ornina, the buzzy Mediterranean lounge in nearby Al Bandar – a place where flavour comes front and centre, where seafood is coddled and ­exalted.

At Aquarium, the seafood is plainly cooked and plainly served – no nonsense. Fortunately, the seafood is extremely fresh. The sherry had a delicious, custard-like flesh. The lobster was meaty and moist. The appetiser of deep-fried shrimp cakes was slightly sweet and not at all greasy.

And the sauces were divine. A concoction of fish sauce, chilli, lemongrass, ginger – served on every table – emitted a smell as tantalising as its taste. A red curry sauce was as good as it gets; not surprising as the restaurant’s head chef is Thai.

But at Aquarium, not all sea ­creatures are created equal. We looked forward to an order of black squid-ink tagliatelle with langoustine and salmon – the most ­exciting item on the menu. The pasta was well-cooked, but the seafood chunks were drowned in too much cream sauce, rendering them ­irrelevant. It wasn’t worth it – for us or for them.

A hokey but irresistible dessert, banana tempura with ice cream, reinforced Aquarium’s refusal to go gimmicky. In fact it was the only dessert on offer, aside from a fruit platter.

Aquarium is not exhausting – like its next-door neighbour Stars ‘N’ Bars – but it sure is boring.

Don’t get us wrong. Being ­divorced from trends does not a bad restaurant make. There is a passion for the life aquatic here, if only it can be showcased better.

The kitchen has to refine its stance, rethink its steep price tag and develop a more novel approach to simplicity.

• A meal for two at Aquarium, Yas Marina, Yas Island, costs Dh847, including service charge. For reservations, call 050 238 5883. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito