The chic Abu Dhabi Edition launched last autumn to much fanfare. Located in Al Bateen, the Marriott-brand boutique hotel has 198 rooms, a residences building and three restaurants helmed by renowned British chef Tom Aikens. Oak Room has the capital's foodies talking due to its atmosphere, choice steaks and personal touch by way of Charlie Grainger, the region's only meat sommelier.
When my dining partner and I arrive at the hostess desk, we think we'll be led elsewhere to dine, but the plain, dark-panelled wall in front of us is pushed open to reveal a nearly hidden entrance into a stately and inviting bar area. This flows into two consecutive dining rooms that are minimalist yet cosy, with oak walls, leather seating and gold accents, including the largest pendant light I've ever seen. A giant framed photo of Lou Reed, Mick Jagger and David Bowie adorns one wall, while The Rolling Stones's Gimme Shelter plays audibly.
Make room at your table for the oversized, one-page menu that begins with appetisers and oysters, and moves into signature cuts, speciality steaks and even vegetarian choices, before wrapping up with some suggestions for classic British sweets, and tasty mocktails that include the Purple Rain and Velvet (from Dh45).
A note on the menu suggests asking for Charlie's recommendations and, as Bowie's Modern Love begins to play, the meat sommelier arrives at our table bursting with enthusiasm over a 200-gram Denver cut (from Dh200) he insists we try. He describes it as "buttery and nutty" and with grade six or seven marbling. We also take him up on the signature chateaubriand for two (from Dh280 per person), which is marinated for 24 hours in garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil, and comes with truffle mashed potatoes topped with crispy shallots and a side of watercress salad.
He asks us how we like our meat cooked and, while I had the foresight to avoid bringing a dining partner I knew would want her beef well done, I didn't expect to hear her say "rare, but not more than medium rare". I always assumed medium was the way to go, thinking you get a nice crust on the outside. However, seeing Grainger's eager smile at my friend's request, I give in and agree to medium rare. We also order a starter of housemade ricotta (from Dh50) and sides of Wagyu fat chips (from Dh50) along with buttered spinach (from Dh30), because, you know, vegetables.
A chat with the meat sommelier
Originally from Petworth, West Sussex, Grainger, 28, is a trained butcher and is here to elevate our knowledge and expand our palates. He refers to the glassed-in meat room off the dining room as his office and says it's where he spends most of his day, slicing various meats. In the evening, he trades in his chef whites for a rustic brown leather apron his mother sent from Canada. A chance encounter on Instagram, when chef Aikens began following Grainger's meaty account, led him to this specialised position and his energy and charm make him a great face for the brand.
Thick slices of sourdough bread arrive first along with Marmite butter. As North Americans, we are both unsure of anything Marmite-related, but are quickly converted. I make a mental note to buy a jar and whip up my own version of this speciality spread at home. A generous portion of the house-made ricotta is next, accompanied by a trolley carrying Terre Bormane olive oil and a wooden casket filled with a special 25-year-aged sweet balsamic vinegar to be drizzled on top.
The whipped concoction is flavourful, but lacks texture, while the three types of tomatoes layered around it lack both. For such a standout dish, the tomatoes would be better as from-the-garden heirlooms or semi-dried. More thick sourdough comes with it, but crostini would have worked better. If not for the decadent olive oil and vinegar, I'd give this a miss next time.
Grainger soon arrives with another trolley carrying the steaks. He slices into them, each revealing a jewel-red interior. I start with an end slice of the 300-day grain-fed Australian black Angus chateaubriand and savour the herbal punch. I hesitate to try the Australian Wagyu Denver cut, but I have to know what Grainger was describing. Stop the press. This. Is. Steak. It's firm, yet melts in your mouth, and yes, buttery and nutty as promised. It doesn't need sauce and don't you dare jam a wedge of a chip or a dollop of mash on your fork with it. Just enjoy it as it is, because you'll never forget it. And if it's a little on the rare side and that's not your thing, give it a go anyway – you won't be disappointed.
For dessert, and with Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy playing, we go for a quintessentially British Eton mess and sticky toffee date pudding. Both are remarkable, with one tasting like a perfect summer day and the other like a comforting winter treat.
Who’s eating there?
We are among the first to arrive early in the evening, but the restaurant fills up over the next few hours, with well-heeled locals and non-Emiratis alike. There are several celebrations, romantic dates and two couples enjoying a double date. The bar area is dotted with guests, some making their way to the bar across the hall, The Library (which curiously has no books). Two private rooms that each hold 10 diners are, again, behind a hidden entrance in the wall at the far end of the restaurant.
Price point and contact information
This is the place to indulge in those rib-eyes and tomahawks that you may skip past at other restaurants, because Grainger will steer you to the perfect-for-you piece and the price won't be something you even consider. Appetisers start at Dh70 for the beef broth, speciality steaks from Dh100 for the 300-gram black Angus Stanbroke flank steak up to Dh790 for the grade 9+ 350-gram Master Kobe full-blood Wagyu rib-eye. Sides run from Dh30 for green beans, broccoli, triple-cooked chips and ratte mashed potatoes, while desserts begin at Dh30 for the sticky toffee date pudding. Tables are available from 6pm to 11pm daily, and can be booked online at oakroomabudhabi.com or by calling 02 208 0000.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant