As we step into week three of the holy month, now is the time to book your spot at the iftars you want to try, but haven't got around to. In Abu Dhabi, we recommend the buffet at Emirates Palace, which takes place in a custom-built pavilion, and you can stay on for its famed suhoor afterwards.
Where to sit and what to expect
Living up to the venue’s name, the setting is nothing short of palatial, with gold drapes accentuating a subtle cream and beige colour scheme.
Take a regal, high-backed seat under the ambient lights. These shine down from a black ceiling suggesting the sky at night punctuated by stars. It’s a great space from which to break the fast with family and friends, especially if you’re looking for something special that blends classic and contemporary dishes with creativity and flare.
Marble-topped tables are set out for guests in groups of varying sizes, with enough space between them to make the setting feel intimate despite the vastness of the venue.
The buffet features all the traditional ingredients and dishes you'd expect at this time of year, and staff bring juices of your choice to the table and top you up on request.
There are a variety of plates on offer from classic Middle Eastern cuisine including a fragrant whole lamb ouzi, succulent grilled meats, and a variety of salads and dips such as moutabel, tabbouleh and muhammara. There are also Oriental and Indian favourites, including a sweet kung pao chicken and a delightfully spicy lamb biryani. Of the more unusual plates, there's a grilled fish fillet with tahini sauce, and caramelised watermelon topped with tabbouleh, feta and roasted Gulf prawns – a signature.
There are many, but it’s the creative plates that catch my attention. The lightness and mix of flavours and textures in the watermelon topped with tabbouleh, tart feta and a plump, juicy prawn is a highlight. Youssef Maghrabi, Oriental chef de cuisine at Emirates Palace, says he invented the dish “years back” in Texas. “I was in an upscale five-star hotel to cook for a fundraiser event and the dish had to be from the Middle East. It was a great success. All guests liked the combination.”
Don’t pass up on the mixed grill, either. “It’s a traditional sharing dish and if prepared properly and with the right quality ingredients, it provides a moment of joy to everyone around the table,” Maghrabi says, and I concur.
It’s tough to find a low point in the selection. The only dish that didn’t quite live up to expectation was the maple-glazed roasted chicken with apples and plums. While tasty, it lacked the sweet stickiness promised in its name.
A chat with the chef
Maghrabi has cooked across the region, including in Beirut, Syria and Dubai, and his iftar plates reflect this. Those he recommends are the sweet potato, red quinoa, baby spinach and portobello mushrooms at the Emirates Palace Salad Bar – where variety abounds for herbivores – and the smoked salmon and artichoke quiche with sun-dried tomato aioli for seafood fans. Also topping his picks from the ocean are the lemon panna cotta with salmon caviar, and the strawberry gazpacho with prawns.
Maghrabi suggests meat fans head straight for the lamb ouzi with Oriental rice and the Wagyu roast beef with mushroom jus. The sweet-toothed will not be disappointed, either, with a huge dessert section brimming with baklava, fruits and a plethora of cakes. Maghrabi's favourites are the lime and raspberry, and date cheesecake. He also says save room for the Emirates Palace cake and classic blueberry tart.
Value for money and contact information
To get to the venue, guests must walk a red carpet and through a vast corridor that opens out to the regal space. With the mix of traditional Middle Eastern dishes on offer, plus a few favourites from India and the Orient, as well as a live station whipping up a variety of pasta dishes, the setting and choice alone make the Dh295 price tag worth it. Paired with playful flavours and dishes that run the gamut of nutritious, indulgent, healthy and comforting, Emirates Palace has something to suit every palate and could make for a great family treat.
To make a reservation, contact 02 690 7999 or email@example.com.
This iftar was reviewed at the invitation of the restaurant