It may be a cliche, but dining at Erth feels like reading a love letter to the UAE.
For those unaware of its inspiration or unfamiliar with Emirati cuisine, the only evidence is the mention of local sourcing in the menu.
But begin to ask a few questions or turn over some crockery and the depth of the immersion is increasingly revealed.
The restaurant is the latest concept from Shaikha Al Kaabi, the Emirati entrepreneur who started Meylas, one of the country’s first major local casual dining restaurants serving traditional Emirati food.
Erth is a departure from the traditional but is still completely Emirati, from its ingredients to its design and feel.
Sourcing locally goes beyond the farms that provide the produce on Erth’s inspired dishes; it’s an ethos that permeates almost every aspect of the restaurant.
Its understated locale seamlessly complements the surrounding Qasr Al Hosn, combining the concept of an Emirati majlis with brutalist architecture, which has already been recognised with a local award.
What to expect and where to sit
Almost everything at Erth is sourced locally, even its decor. The plates and vases are made at a ceramic studio in Saadiyat, and the live cooking stations sit on top of hunks of stone carved from Jebel Hafeet. Even the tables and chairs are made by an Emirati designer.
During my visit with my husband, it was a rare occasion when the inside of a restaurant was just as alluring as outdoor seating. But when the weather is nice in the UAE, you sit outside.
We sat at a table by a water feature overlooking the historical Qasr Al Hosn, which is surrounded by modern high-rise buildings and busy streets.
It was the only unoccupied table as the restaurant has become popular with Emiratis and residents.
Inside, the seating areas are sunk into the ground, mimicking a majlis without requiring guests to sit on the floor.
In each corner are tables surrounded by curtains, offering privacy to guests who would prefer it.
We asked the restaurant manager, Abdul Raouf, for his and the chef’s recommendation and were served a variety of their favourites.
We started with mini shrimp taquitos (Dh45) cooked in a coconut milk green curry with lime and black garlic.
This was followed by green garden peas and black lemon croquette (Dh35), casuella hot pot with local ghee (Dh45), and locally farmed torched salmon crudo (Dh75).
All were beautifully presented but, of the four, the salmon was incredible, with cubes of mango and perfectly-dressed shaved fennel.
The casuella hot pot, a creamy risotto with a comforting familiar taste of ghee and sharp pesto on the side to cut through any heaviness, was another favourite.
Next we tried the margooga ravioli (Dh65), grilled tiger prawns (Dh95), Al Ain miso baby chicken (Dh65) and Bzar-marinated beef short ribs (Dh105).
Our favourites of these were the ravioli, baby chicken and short ribs (more on these below). The prawns were sadly a little dry but the other three dishes more than made up for them.
For dessert, if you can believe we still had room for it, we tried the Gahwa chocolate cake (Dh35), which wasn’t as chocolatey as I expected but still delicious; and the ferni custard creme brulee (Dh35) with pistachio crumble and local berries.
The menu shows hints of head chef Devi’s obsession with exploring certain underplayed ingredients in Arab cuisine and presenting them through French culinary techniques.
Lumi, or sun-dried black limes, is a recurring motif on the menu. Integrated as an aioli sauce to the steak, and as a gel in one of the desserts, the bitterness of the traditional stew ingredient is applied ambitiously throughout.
When it works well, as it does in the steak, it gives diners who have grown up with the ingredient and those experiencing it for the first time a thrill.
It's hard to choose one. Instead of boiling dough balls in a tomato-braised vegetable stew as tradition would dictate, the margooga ravioli encases the stew in a dumpling.
It is slathered in a creamy Parmesan sauce and served alongside charred asparagus and confit tomatoes, also making it a perfect dish for vegetarians.
Another delicious vegetarian-friendly dish is the casuella hot pot with local ghee, a risotto served with a side of pesto and black garlic sauce.
We also enjoyed the beef short rib that promptly obliged and fell apart when prodded with a fork. The Emirati spice mix cut through the rich meat, bone marrow sauce and creamy cauliflower puree.
A chat with the chef
Devi, who has applied his years of training in western-style cooking to Emirati flavours, says his favourite ingredients to cook with are “locally sourced products, which bring farms to the table”.
When we visit, he excitedly tells us how the restaurant works with a company that gives the team access to produce from 90 farms around the Emirates. Every item on the menu is developed by Devi and Al Kaabi.
The kitchen is also fostering Emirati talent. Meera Alnaqbi, 26, is a chef in training at Erth, learning the tricks of the trade after deciding to follow her passion for food when she graduated from Zayed University.
Her recommendations included the cauliflower tabouli, which deviates from the traditional recipe; and the bzar-marinated lamb, which is cooked for more than 21 hours in the restaurant’s tanner (an underground oven).
“Our focus is to create a whole experience starting from the name and the theme, every item including the cutlery, plates and furniture is made by Emirati hands," Alnaqbi says.
"The food flavours and spices we use are all Emirati and local.
“For me, every dish I serve is a reflection of my culture and personality on a plate.”
Price point and contact information
Starters range from Dh32 to Dh96, while mains will set you back between Dh65 and Dh140. Sharing dishes go for Dh35 to Dh40, and all desserts are Dh35.
Erth Restaurant AlHosn is at Qasr Al Hosn compound in Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi, and open daily from noon to 11pm. For reservations, call 02 679 4014 or email email@example.com.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant