Mall food in Abu Dhabi

There are those that believe the humble mall restaurant to be not worth anybody’s time. Time Out puts five of them to the test Discuss this article

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Cantina Laredo: Located in the ever-popular Khalidiya Mall, Cantina Laredo claims to serve authentic, gourmet Mexican dining in a sophisticated atmosphere. This family-friendly eatery sports a festive interior replete with references to the Mexican motherland, giving it more a Tex-Mex steakhouse feel than a restaurant with fine Mexican cuisine.

In typical Tex-Mex fashion, crispy corn tortilla chips and salsa appeared as soon as we sat down. Not knowing this would be the highlight, we chomped on, expecting a pleasant meal al gusto Mexicano.

Our first order was the recommended ‘top shelf’ guacamole appetiser – a blend of avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, and jalapeño – prepared right in front of our table. Though it actually looked like guacamole, the questionable texture and sub-par flavours failed to impress. Chunks of stiff avocado were left unmashed, the lime juice went unnoticed; the jalapeños lacked their signature kick.

Disappointed, we chose the Enchilada Veracruz dinner and shrimp fajitas for the mains. This final one-two punch to our culinary sensibilities knocked out any hope for a genuine Mexican meal. The sad display of tiny shrimp came with a sizzling hash of bland vegetables. The enchiladas – rolled corn tortillas stuffed with strips of chicken as dry as the Sonoran Desert – left us parched and hungry. Caramba! When it comes to real south-of-the-border dishes, Cantina Laredo’s ‘authentic gourmet’ is, unfortunately, all image and no substance.
Khalidiya Mall (02 635 4877). Open daily 11am-midnight. All major credit cards accepted

On the top floor of Marina Mall, the escalator conveniently leads straight to the stained-glass façade of this Persian eatery. We chose a seat on the faux terrace next to a faux streetlamp, under the faux-finished ceiling that thinks it’s the sky: ‘outside’, though still very much within a mall. We’d have philosophised further on this existential crisis, but there was food to be eaten.

Flatbread, soft cheese, fresh herbs, skinless walnuts and pickled accompaniments paired beautifully with our starter, kashk-o-bademjan. The fried aubergine mixed with kashk (a dairy product similar to whey) and flavoured with sautéed garlic and mint was reminiscent of babaganoush or mutabal; smooth and smokey, the kashk poking through like a flavourful goat cheese.

For entrees, the large, fresh chunks of hammour in the fish kebab, and the grilled shrimps were excellent. Undoubtedly, however, the highlight of our meal was the traditional Persian spinach stew, ghormeh sabzi. Vibrantly green, with a sharp, citrusy tang, the tender lamb and pinto beans offered a meaty heartiness to shoulder the whole, homely creation. For a few fleeting moments, sitting under those puffy, painted clouds and tucking into this unique dish, we almost forgot we were sitting in a mall.
Marina Mall (02 681 8585). Open daily noon-11.30pm. All major credit cards accepted

Tche Tche Boulevard:
Tucked away from the main promenade, Tche Tche Boulevard’s tunnel-like entryway opens out to a grand dining hall. Soaring walls of glass, oddly placed lampshades, alligator-skin floor tiles, Arabic reguetón on flat screens; the surreal interior screams that there’s more at hand than espresso and salad. The menu offers popular Arabic fare and family restaurant cuisine, yet table-top ashtrays and gurgling shisha pipes remind you Tche Tche has café flowing through its veins. Smokers are welcome here.

The kibbeh nayyeh starter – a raw mixture of lean ground beef, bulgur wheat, and spices – was supple on the tongue. Accompanied by sliced onions and drizzled with olive oil, this appetiser kicked the evening’s international feel up a notch.

Mushroom steak and grilled shrimp were the recommended mains. The steak itself was tender and juicy, and at a great price, though it lay buried under a heap of flavourless mushroom sauce. The plump shrimp were grilled and flavoured just right, and priced reasonably considering their size. The accompanying spicy mayo dip was a pleasant complement.

Perhaps the most original item on the menu was the Vimto smoothie. Piled a mile high, the tower of purple ice was too good. Each sip resulted in brain-freeze headache, yet we happily finished the fruity concoction with furrowed brows.

Classy café, trendy date spot, full service kitchen: Tche Tche Boulevard is Al Raha Mall’s best-kept secret.
Al Raha Mall (02 556 6411). Open daily noon-midnight. All major credit cards accepted

Zyng Asia: This tired little chain is crammed haphazardly into the back of Marina Mall, a refuge for tired mothers balancing 50 shopping bags on one hand and a screaming baby on the other. The formica table tops are spotted with slimy fingerprints of the many cranky children who came before. Instead of facing all this, we opted for a ‘romantic’ spot overlooking the sunny harbour – and spent the entire meal sweating profusely.

As for the grub, the plastic tables might have made for better eating than the cardboard cafeteria fodder they tried to pass off as food. Don’t be fooled by their decent lemon and mint drink or speciality chilled chai. The beverages are the calm before a storm of utter mediocrity. Our sumo platter arrived fried into infinity – we suspect the dish got its name because aspiring sumo wrestlers eat it to pack on the blubber. Sadly, its oily film won’t line your tongue long enough to give flavour to the main entrees: the chicken teriyaki bowl lacked a key ingredient – the taste of teriyaki – and we suspect the cashew chicken got nuked in the microwave.

It’s a mall’s sad attempt at Asian food. At the end of the day, all we can say for it is: stay away from the salmon sashimi.
Marina Mall (02 681 9319). Open daily 10.30am-11.30pm. All major credit cards accepted

By Jon Wilks
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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