Restaurant review: Tuck into nachos and a mean matcha cake at Sanderson’s in Abu Dhabi

Spinach shakshouka pide and sea bass with celeriac and apple slaw also take pride of place on chef Troy Payne’s menu

The matcha yoghurt skillet cake with banana ice cream and miso caramel at Sanderson’s. 
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Sanderson's is a venture by the Serg half of Tom and Serg, the chefs who brought us a number of popular eateries, including Common Grounds, The Sum of Us and their eponymous Dubai cafe. Going it alone, Spanish entrepreneur ­Sergio Lopez opened this project last September on The Walk at Al Seef Resort & Spa by Andalus.

The Abu Dhabi restaurant has launched a fresh new menu focused on healthy "mood food", which head chef Troy Payne says is all about "eating with intention". The list is like a game of two halves; it incorporates nutrient-­dense dishes on one side, and on the other, "comfort-style food for the days when you need a bit of a hug", adds Payne.

What to expect and where to sit

The cafe is spacious, inviting and comfortable, its neutral decor interspersed with pops of colour, such as an aquamarine couch set against a grey wall, and lush green foliage against crisp white tones. The wicker chairs and lamp shades add a fun, cool touch.

On clement days, the terrace is a no-brainer. But the airy inside is equally inviting with its warm, rustic feel. Staff are friendly, happy and eager to please; you could easily while away a good few hours here without feeling like you’ve outstayed your welcome.

The eatery has a cool and colourful interior 
The eatery has a cool and colourful interior 

The menu

Payne consulted a nutritionist to find out how certain ingredients affect a person's mood and then worked them into interesting creations. For our lazy weekend lunch, we got the salmon poke bowl packed with chunks of the juicy, ice-cold, raw Atlantic fish, with a flavour and freshness as deep as the ocean it came from. It's layered with quinoa, courgettes, avocado, red onion, edamame and seaweed, all drizzled with a zesty ponzu and sesame dressing. It's a light opener to the heartier helpings of green shakshouka pide and prawn nachos that follow.

The pide comes with spiced spinach, chickpeas and tomato, topped with a baked-but-still-runny egg, all on freshly baked bread. It's warming, comforting and indulgent, and yet still manages to feel guilt-free. The prawn nachos (which couldn't feel less like nachos, being triangles of seeded, gluten-free toast, and cheeseless) are a delicious, health-conscious reworking of the comfort-food classic. The medley of flavours from the Mexican-style beans, smashed avocado and tangy Turkish salad, combined with plump, smoky-sweet, stone-roasted prawns, skilfully make up for the lack of tortilla chip crunch and gooey, melted cheese.

For dessert, our waitress recommends the matcha yoghurt skillet cake with banana ice cream and miso caramel – it's her favourite and we see why. The warm green-tea-flavoured cake combines beautifully with the sweet banana ice cream, and the sticky miso-­caramel sauce is a delight when combined with the dense cake. How healthy the mood-elevating ingredients are in this one is debatable, but every spoonful transports us to cloud nine.

Signature dish

The standout of our order is the irresistible mix of flavours in the shakshouka pide. But the restaurant's signature dishes, Payne says, are the shredded sea bass with celeriac and apple slaw wrapped in beetroot pistachio and sesame "leather", and the smoothie bowls.

"These dishes were developed at Serg's house on an afternoon of experimenting, good company and having a great time, when he was training for a triathlon, and we were trying to come up with delicious but healthy dishes," Payne explains. "The acai and tropical smoothie bowls have lots of banana and nuts in them, which all have properties such as selenium, potassium and phosphorous, for a mood-boosting lift."

Who’s eating there

The cafe has an area selling jewellery and trinkets, which will appeal to artsy types. The space is large enough to be family-friendly, too, and the playground nearby will certainly be a draw for families with young children. On our visit, groups of friends and couples were enjoying the health-conscious dishes and superfood juices.

A chat with the chef

Payne has worked as head chef alongside celebrity chef Greg ­Malouf in Melbourne. Payne helped Malouf open Cle in Dubai and also worked at the chef's Zahira, as well as at The Sum of Us.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, August 30 – 2018 :-  Sergio Lopez (owner) at The Courtyard in Al Quoz Industrial area in Dubai. He is going to open his first restaurant called Sanderson’s in Abu Dhabi in October. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For Arts & Life.
Sergio Lopez opened Sanderson’s in September 2018. Pawan Singh / The National 

As head chef at Sanderson's, Payne is the creative mind behind the mood food. "We simply wanted to create a menu that would have the ability to lift people's spirits," he says.

Aside from the selection we sampled, the list caters to plenty of diets. "For vegetarians and vegans, I'd recommend the rice-paper veggie wrap filled with crunchy vegetables, and wild and brown rice," Payne says. "The tamarind sauce gives it a nice spicy zing." For seafood and meat-lovers, Payne suggests the aforementioned sea bass wrap because it's "adventurous and surprisingly filling, not to mention gluten-free".

And his favourite dish? “I love the stone-roasted prawn nachos,” he reveals. “We bake this amazing seed mix for the ‘nachos’, which is full of good oils and a range of awesome minerals, and then the beans, the prawns and avocado are delicious accompaniments.”

Price points and contact information

Plates range from Dh49 to Dh69 for mains, and desserts are from Dh25 to Dh49, which we thought was reasonable considering the quality of ingredients and consideration that goes into each dish.

Sanderson's is open daily from 8am to 10pm at the Al Seef Compound, next to Al Seef Village Mall, Abu Dhabi. Call 02 222 1142 for more information or to make a reservation.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant