The Ritz-Carlton is an imposing 5* Hotel located ‘between the bridges’ on the Grand Canal in Abu Dhabi. It’s packed from floor to ceiling with marble, crystal and gold and the interior is Emirati bling at its very best.
Their south-east Asian restaurant Li Jiang is on the lower ground floor, softly lit with a red and brown interior, walls dressed in silk.
The centre piece is the busy kitchen, where open flames flare and woks are tossed, simply superb theatre.
If that’s not good enough for you, then you need only look out of the window to see the shimmering Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
It’s always difficult to gauge the atmosphere in a restaurant when Ramadan is in full swing. It’s the ninth month of the Muslim calendar where strict fasting is observed from dawn to sunset. Large tents are erected and it’s here locals and visitors can retreat for ‘Iftar’ or breaking of the fast. It’s a lavish affair with hundreds of cloches spilling lobster, prawns, curry, Arabic delicacies such as lamb and camel Ouzie (steamed meat) as well as live cooking stations. All hotels have them and the Ritz-Carlton is no exception. On the night we visit, the Giornotte Restaurant where Iftar is being served, is heaving, which meant Li Jiang felt a little on the empty side. That said, there were two tables of revellers and the bar area was busy.
My dining companion is my Mum, not too adventurous when it comes to food, but she tells me before we eat that she’s open to try new flavours and looking at the menu, this is just the place to give her taste buds a workout. It has a great mix of dishes from soups, to dumplings, noodles, fish and meat with a couple of signature dishes. I’m told that the chef makes all his noodles on the premises.
We began with a bowl of freshly puffed prawn crackers, which for me lacked any real prawn flavour, but I never get excited by them and often think the ingredients can be put to a better use, but I know some think a Chinese isn’t complete without them.
The starters were incredible, and whilst I always find dumplings a disappointment, the lobster dumplings were full to the gills with dense lobster meat, mushroom and snow peas, topped with a beautiful green fish eggs.
We made light work of the majestic trio of deep-fried dumplings, filled with large juicy prawns , avocado and a delicate balance of Wasabi. Whilst the dish came with a mango salsa it wasn’t necessary, these were too good to drag through a sweetened sauce. My only complaint was we hadn’t ordered more. They were truly sublime.
A delightfully punchy soft shell crab was cooked Chiu Yim style, not too salty and a great balance of flavours between the garlic and the fine red and green chilli rings. The batter surrounding the crab was beautifully flavoured, light and crispy and the portion plentiful.
The best was yet to come in the restaurant’s signature dish. A generous two-fillet plate of Honey Glazed Black Cod was wonderfully buttery, scorched on heat, after a salty-sweet marinade bath.
A fillet of the local fish Hamour or King Fish had been wok fried with mushroom, water chestnut, asparagus, snow pea, lotus root and carrot.
The cod was Mum’s choice but I couldn’t help eating it, we picked at the Hamour, lovely though it was but it just wasn’t the cod. Looking at the pictures now, my mouth is filling with saliva and it’s hard not to dribble.
Greedily we ordered a rice flat noodle dish to have on the side but it was way too much for us to devour and a step too far.
Beaten by ‘large eye, small stomach’ syndrome I can’t tell you what the desserts were like but if I had room the deep-fried ice cream with rose water and Valrhona chocolate would have definitely been my choice.
I shouldn’t forget to mention that the service was friendly, knowledgeable and seamless and the ‘Captain’ made sure we have a fabulous evening.
Li Jiang is open for lunch from 12 pm and 3.30pm dinner from 7pm to 11pm Sunday to Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays the restaurant is open from 7 p.m. to midnight.
We were guests of The Ritz-Carlton although, as ever, I tell it how it is.
The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, PO Box 91888, Khor Al Maqta’a, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Call (00) 9712-818-8282 for reservations.