La Mer, tucked away in the Sofitel Abu Dhabi, offers a strange combination of what there is to love and dislike in UAE restaurants.
For the most part, the food at this new seafood eatery was tantalising. And the service impeccable. But it costs an absolute fortune to eat there and, with a generic decor (lots of beige) and lack of customers, it just doesn't feel like a place where one needs to be.
As promised upon making the reservation, we were shown to a "lovely table by the window", looking down in the distance on the very same fish market offering some of the day's local catches. Even though it was closing in on 9pm, there were no other customers in sight (two parties would amble in later).
The bread offerings are worth noting: first, in a tiny vase, two warm Parmesan breadsticks and a pair of spicy, paper-thin pieces, which the waiter called pizza bread. Then a selection of warm rolls, which I would have passed on had it not been for the butter, which came laced with seaweed and is made in-house.
For our starters we chose a half-dozen Tataki-style oysters, which came nestled on a bed of wakame topped with yuzu foam. The citrus in the yuzu made a nice contrast to the tangy, bright green seaweed, and rendered the combination downright delicious. We also shared a king crab salad with avocado and tomato, which, while delicious, I found a touch on the salty side.
La Mer offers a catch-of-the-day market with a choice of sides, sauces and preparations, which that day featured local sea bream and hammour. Not in the mood for fish, we chose the Wagyu beef fillet with foie gras, caramelised endive and foie gras sauce for one of our mains. What arrived was a towering hunk of beef, cooked to perfection and thoroughly enjoyed. The foie gras was both rich and buttery, as it should be, and the sauce was divine. The caramelised endive, however, was virtually unrecognisable and flavourless, and while I know Wagyu beef is a high-end product, I can't help thinking that for Dh320 per order, a bit more in the way of sides might be nice.
From the lobster three ways on offer we selected the sautéed variety. What arrived was an incredibly tasty stir-fry, its mushrooms augmented gently with truffle oil. I had gone out on a limb with this one, fearing that the lobster would turn up overcooked or gummy. Save for a bite of claw - always a tricky one - it did not let me down.
Dessert was another story. We ordered Cremeux, a light French cheese and vanilla crumble combination, because the "tomato gelee, tomato pepper and caramel tuile" sounded interesting. But while the cheese-and-crumble portion was refreshing, the gelatin topping was generic. The chocolate cupcake, which promised a fondant made from a type of spicy dark chocolate, turned out to be far too ordinary considering the Dh55 price. We could barely tuck into the gelato brought to the table in a fun cloud of dry ice, an unexpected gift from the chef, but it was much appreciated all the same.
Although the La Mer experience was overall a good one, when considering the price of the dishes and a whopping final price tag, I would expect perfection, a lot more bells and whistles and, to liven things up, a few more people on board.
A meal for two at La Mer, Sofitel Abu Dhabi, cost Dh1,264, including service charge. For reservations, call 02 813 7777. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito
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