The jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none train of thought is rarely as troublesome as in the restaurant business. Do one cuisine and do it well or else expect our suspicion and, quite possibly, derision.
There was a nagging doubt, then, when we picked up the menu in Diablito. It has the outward appearance, right down to its linguistics (Diablito translates to “little devil” in Spanish), of a tapas bar. Sure enough, it majors on tapas, as well as montaditos, a Spanish take on bruschetta. Expand its notional remit to Mediterranean and you can explain the presence of a range of distinctly Italian pizzas and pastas. But add in Tex-Mex selections (fajitas, chilli con carne or a gourmet burger), plus a nachos section, and you can colour us confused.
It was to prove a telling first impression. As was spotting one diner using a napkin to vigorously fan herself on the terrace as we arrived. Despite the Yas Marina views, we decided that indoors was the smartest option. There’s also a roof terrace, but that was closed when we visited – presumably admitting partial defeat to the rising temperatures.
The homely inside only houses a handful of tables, but boasts a lovely, laid-back vibe that’s aided by a soundtrack of Bob Marley and assorted reggae, alongside a side order of contemporary indie-rock. The serving staff were pleasingly informal and international – one sat down next to us to run us through the menu and took our order on an iPod touch.
The mood was matched by an opening salvo of tapas, which was, almost without exception, very reasonably priced at between Dh20 and Dh35 per dish. The almejas marinera (clams in a garlicky tomato sauce) were, individually, minuscule morsels, but our plate was piled high. Croquetas of spinach and pine nuts, with a creamy, garlicky side-dip, felt quietly inventive. The patatas bravas eschewed the more-regular cuboid with circular slices in a thick tomato sauce. Only the garlic prawns were unremarkable, although perfectly enjoyable. Two picks from the montaditos menu completed a stacked starter spread: smoked salmon with lemon and ricotta, which did everything expected of it, and Manchego y membrillo, nutty Spanish cheese with thin strips of flavourful, jelly-like quince.
Still slightly unsettled by the prospect of Tex-Mex dishes, we made our mains an Italian job. At about 13 inches (34 centimetres, which is the unit of measurement on the menu), the smaller pizzas are intended to be shared by two people, which would make them decent value at Dh70 to Dh100. Sadly, though, the fairly nondescript results wouldn’t have you abandoning your favourite pizzeria, although Diablito’s kitchen willingly cooked up a half-and-half option of “The Sting” and a “Mr Mackenzie”. Both featuring beef and red and green peppers, the halves were basically identical, save a helping of pineapple on the former.
Infinitely more impressive was the oven-baked, gluten-free vegetarian lasagne, a beautifully presented length of thinly sliced, marinated aubergine layered with courgettes, mixed peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.
The most Spanish-sounding option on the small desserts menu (only four options) was the crema Catalana – although it turned out to be a rather average crème brûlée by any other name. We never found out what the brownie with vanilla ice cream that we’d also ordered tasted like, meanwhile, as our server cheerfully deposited the crema Catalana on our table, with two spoons for sharing, then disappeared without another word. In terms of Diablito’s faults, the devil is in the details. We’d be immeasurably happier if it streamlined its cuisine somewhat, but until then, we’ll be back for a second helping of tapas.
• A meal for two at Diablito, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi, costs Dh360. For more information, call 02 565 1175. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito