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Dai Pai Dong

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Al Maryah Island’s foodie scene gained another significant notch with the opening of Dai Pai Dong in the Rosewood Hotel just over two months ago. Judging by the constant hum of satisfied guests, it has received a city-wide thumbs up in that time.

The name literally translates as “restaurant with a big license plate” and is supposed to be a nod towards the open-air food stalls one might find in heaving Hong Kong. Aside from the open kitchen with glistening ducks hanging in a window, though, this place is anything but casual, decorated in sleek brown woods and leathers, fiercely beautiful dragon busts, Chinese art and sculptural lighting. Funky Asian grooves have you tapping your chopsticks in anticipation of the delectable menu.

Their surprisingly affordable lunch and dinner offerings are simple and straightforward with few showy gimmicks. In fact, the lineup reads like any standard Chinese menu, just one found in a classier joint than your corner takeaway – dim sum, soups, meat, seafood, vegetables, rice, noodles, sweets. Pick and choose what you want to share – which you will, many portions are bigger than they first appear – and pair the dishes with a signature cocktails or choice Chinese pours, and settle in.

The staff say you can’t leave without trying the Cantonese roasted duck here, so we opted for crispy-skinned slivers with pancakes. To be frank, though, this dish was the least memorable. If it transpires that they really won’t let you out of your seat without ordering some duck, then your best bet is to have it in the Dai Pai Dong Barbecue Assortment, which also includes beef, chicken and pork.

Happily, it was the one disappointment we encountered. With each course our impression of the place, and its chefs, got better and better – a viewpoint that was validated by a Chinese acquaintance we ran into later. We were impressed with our plump Har Gow shrimp dumplings and in particular the flawlessly cooked homemade wok-fried rice noodles tossed with succulent Australian beef and wild mushrooms. To have this every night would never be onerous.

Surprisingly noteworthy was this lively braised eggplant mixed with ginger, garlic and a preserved chili sauce; so gorgeously flavour-rich that we ordered more rice to accompany it to its end.

Protracted conclusion
Bursting at the seams, we’re glad we didn’t give into our envy as another table shared marinated jelly fish and instead powered on with dessert, as our choice of fried black sesame seed balls with coconut ice cream was a total winner. Its incredible mix of soft, sticky and doughy, warm and cool, just hit the spot to end the night on a smooth note.

No fine dining spot these days would be complete without an attached watering hole where businessmen can loosen their ties or clash heads before or after their meal, and down a corridor where you think you’ll hit an ‘Employees Only’ sign or a broom closet at Dai Pai Dong, is actually where you’ll find quite possibly the tiniest bar in Abu Dhabi.

Handsome and cozily low-lit, it seats about 25 very stylish, very in-the-know people. You may find us in there on one of our more pensive nights next week. Or lounging in this new Asian sensation’s equally lovely outdoor seating area while evening weather is still bearable.

Dai Pai Dong

Where:
Al Maryah Island
Abu Dhabi
AE

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