It’s the best of the catch on offer here at the Fishmarket but then if you’re up early enough to visit the Fish Souk in Abu Dhabi you’re guaranteed the pick of the nets. Evidence of an early alarm call is here on crushed ice, Black Sea Bream; Bouri; Hamam; King Fish; Omani Lobster; Snapper; Squid and local crabs, this display would give any fishmonger a run for their money.
The restaurant is on the beachfront, and if it wasn’t so unbearably hot, we’d be sitting outside enjoying the view. The inside of the restaurant is pleasant enough, the round building is rather dated – think bamboo and wicker, a few large fish tanks and the pre-requisite for many fish restaurants the sea-themed matching napkin and tablecloth combo.
It’s a Friday night and the start of the weekend here in Abu Dhabi and the atmosphere in Fishmarket is buzzing and we share our night with families, couples and tourists all enjoying the excellent service and theatre of the Thai chefs who are using their woks to great effect behind their glass-screened stage in the centre of the restaurant. Fishmarket first opened its doors 30 years ago and it’s been serving up the freshest fish, cooked Thai-style. The chef in charge is Thai-born Sawai Jampakaew who has been working here since 1992.
Greeted at the door by the Restaurant Manager, Mohammed El Sayed, we’re escorted to our table and asked if we fancy doing a little shopping. We didn’t need asking twice and grabbed ourselves a basket. This is a menu-less establishment but when you have half of the Persian Sea on offer it seems a little daft to waste the paper. You choose the fish you like the look of and the server explains how it’s best cooked – grilled, fried or steamed. It’s served with fresh vegetables, rice or noodles and Thai sauces on the side.
We choose a Tiger Prawn for starter, Hamam and Black Sea Bream for main with seafood noodles. I can’t resist the squid which Mohammed tells me is superb in a garlic lemon butter sauce.
My dining partner is my Mum who I’m spending a week in Abu Dhabi with and although she hasn’t got a huge appetite she’s a massive fan of fish.
Before our food arrives, we’re given a basket of Hammour tempura which needed just a squeeze from the accompanying wedge of lemon. Testament to the freshness of the catch.
The service is relaxed but attentive and our water glasses are filled when they start to run dry. Our table is cleared after each course promptly and I watch as the other tables are offered the same. Mohammed keeps a close eye on the whole operation and wanders the restaurant chatting to diners about their meals.
The Tiger Prawns are served with a red Thai sauce and a garlic and lemon butter sauce which has a pouring consistency, served in a small bowl for dipping. Once the meat had been removed from the shell, it had shrunk in size considerably, they were small lobsters to begin with.
We polish them off with ease and my squid arrives – it’s a generous plate – the squid cut and seasoned in flour, deep-fried and introduced to the lemon, garlic and butter sauce. It was cooked perfectly but I have to say I didn’t finish it completely so greed got the better of me again.
We share the fish which is filleted, again choosing not to add sauce, the Sea Bass is dense, thick and flakes away from its silvery backing.
The Hamam which I’ve not tried before, is thinner and again grilled, it has a buttery taste to the meat and I love it. For me, there’s nothing like the freshest fish cooked simply and noodles make a great alternative to fries or vegetables. They arrived in a fish-shaped dish, again a generous portion, with plenty of calamari rings and prawns, ribbon sliced carrot, garnished with spring onion.
For the wallet-conscious it’s worth bearing in mind that your fish is weighed and then prepared – all the fish is priced according to weight, and that’s clearly marked on the label.
We were staying in the nearby hotel, a ten minute leisurely stroll away through the Marina. As we leave the restaurant we’re offered a lift back in the Hotel buggy, simply because it’s a little dark and a few building works hoardings are up around the beach area. Of course the walk would have done us both a power of good but the buggy ride was a lovely touch.
Would we return? Absolutely. We loved the whole concept, if the fish were any fresher we’d be swimming with it.
The average bill for Fishmarket is AED 400-500 (between £70-£90, July 2013).
We were guests of the Fishmarket.