As we approach the last 10 days of Ramadan – which mark the start of the Qiyam Al Layl prayers – consider heading to 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant for a Japanese iftar that's both incredibly filling and hearteningly healthy. The 10-course meal includes edamame, soup, a range of maki and nigiri, steak and dessert, and costs Dh199.
What to expect and where to sit
More an oversized balcony than a terrace with but a handful of tables, the cosy outdoor area at 99 Sushi sits directly above the water, and is kept cool with dim lighting and a vertical garden wall. If you're still hot, choose a seat close to the floor-to-ceiling windows within, which is dimmer still. There's an open-plan kitchen, vibrant mosaic meets sleeper wood decor, and some funky, albeit slightly overloud, tribal music playing when I visited. Your third option is the 12-seater private dining room.
I am full by course five. Fortunately, the meal starts off nice and light, with a pair of hosomaki with chu-toro (the fatty part of the, in this case, bluefin tuna) and leeks. The cool, crunchy flavours work well in combination with the steaming edamame and a tiny cup of miso soup with more leeks, seaweed, tofu foam and, according to the menu, truffle, which even my bloodhound nose is unable to detect. These first three dishes are deliberately kept light and healthy, allowing diners to pace out the meal.
The trio of starters is followed by a robust tiger prawn tempura, baked king crab au gratin and soft-shell crab maki. The tempura is delicious and doesn't come with the usual thick batter coating, but it's not spicy enough for me, and the creaminess gets cloying after a while. Combining it with the soy sauce and wasabi, which you can get freshly grated at your table, is a tasty alternative.
Next come two types of nigiri, the single serving a relief after the dozen or so crab maki rolls. Of these, the turbot flambe with coriander oil and momiji oroshi (grated Japanese daikon with red chilli) packs a real flavour punch, and does not need the wasabi-ginger-soy seasonings it comes with. The same can't be said of the salmon flambe, which seems to be dunked in lime and needs the wasabi etc to tone down its tangy bite.
The main event, if you have room for it, is a tender skirt steak with galangal sauce and more Japanese rice. Do save space for the mochi ice cream, which has a vanilla or mango option. The former is not oversweet and is topped with a daub of chocolate, which seeps into each bite.
The lone turbot flame nigiri is my favourite dish here; the white fish is tender and flaky, yet does not crumble but on the tongue. Of the two crab dishes, the gratin is definitely superior, and comes served in its shell with a decadent combination of wasabi, tobiko and yuzu mayonnaise.
The soft-shell crab and avocado maki suffers from an excess of furikake seasoning, which the sticky-rice exterior is liberally doused with. The combination of dried fish and sesame seeds simply serves to overwhelm the palate, although I find generous lashings of ginger takes away from furikake.
A chat with the chef
Chef Breinner Sandoval has been with 99 Sushi Abu Dhabi since its pre-opening two years ago. Before that, Breinner worked at the 99 Sushi Bar in Madrid alongside his father, who is the chef de cuisine at the Hermosilla branch.
“For me, the must-try dish on the iftar menu is the king crab au gratin with wasabi, tobiko and yuzu mayonnaise, as it provides an explosion of flavours at the first bite and is served with real Alaskan king crab.” Likewise, the restaurant only uses bluefin tuna.
Value for money and contact information
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive set menu at a fine-dining venue for Dh199 this Ramadan. A quick peek at the regular prices of the dishes puts the king crab at Dh120; the prawn tempura at Dh115; and the steak at Dh155.
For more information or to make a reservation, contact 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant at the Four Seasons on Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi, on 02 672 3333.
This iftar was reviewed at the invitation of the restaurant