Unless you’re Joey from Friends, eating is always more fun when you share, isn’t it?
In fact, we reckon that feasting on a spread of Middle Eastern mezze is one of the best things you can do in the capital.
If you’re new to the city, this dining ritual involves ordering a load of small plates such as hummus, salads, pastries, meats, cheeses and fish, and digging in as a group.
Obviously it should be joined by plenty of warm bread, and other than the awkward moment of deciding who gets the last kibbeh, there’s really nothing not to love.
These plates might be small in size, but they’re certainly big on flavour.
So here’s where to find the most colourful, tasty and interesting mezze in the capital.
Pass the hummus please…
The Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort is one of the capital’s most beloved veteran hotels, and Lebanese and Armenian restaurant Al Mayass has an old-school charm and friendly warmth to it. There’s a homey feel and a traditional look to the dining room, and a long list of mezze to choose from, including no fewer than seven different types of hummus, numerous fresh salads and hot plates that even the keenest of foodies might not have tried before. The beachside location is also totally idyllic.
Best dish: The batinjan harr. This absolute triumph of a dish is full of fresh flavours, Arabic spices and beautifully cooked pieces of soft aubergine.
Open daily 12.30pm-1am. Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort, Corniche Road, Al Markaziyah (02 677 3333)
Byblos Sur Mer
The views over the marina and the glittering skyline beyond form part of the appeal of this fine-dining restaurant, but the dishes are also exceptional. The mezze selection is extensive to say the least, with highlights such as smooth garlicky hummus, salty shanklish cheese (mixed with tomato, onion and parsley), stuffed vine leaves and fattoush topped with huge rings of fried bread.
Best dish: The hendbeh with zaatar and halloumi. This pile of baked greens and fresh thyme is a total sensation, and with only a subtle taste of salty halloumi, it’s still a light and healthy (ish) dish.
Open Sun-Thu noon-2am, Fri-Sat noon-3am. InterContinental Abu Dhabi, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud Street (02 666 6888).
This elegant eatery impressed us from our very first visit. With gold frame-adorned walls, and a huge outdoor terrace, this place isn’t just popular for its regular Thursday-night live music events. The Friday brunch is a spectacular celebration, but before you even get to the main courses, you’ll be delighted by the mezze. There’s every variety you could wish for, including spicy sausages, traditional pastries, calamari and more.
Best dish: The baba ghanoush. This mouth-watering alternative to hummus feature a gorgeous blend of aubergine, tahini and lemon juice. It’s the perfect appetiser for the main event.
Sat-Wed noon-2.30am, Thu-Fri noon-3am. Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street Road (02 667 4446).
The views from the outdoor terrace at Flooka really can’t be beaten, and if you’re used to spending time downtown or on Yas Island, it’s nice to come here and remind yourself just how special the Eastern Mangroves really are. Of course there’s a huge display of fresh fish which is just waiting to be fried or grilled to your liking, but the mezze is also well worth a try. Many classic recipes have been adapted to include seafood, and the garlic prawns go particularly well with the fresh warm bread.
Best dish: The prawn and cheese croquettes. It isn’t the most sophisticated or traditional of mezze, but it’s just what you need after an energetic few hours kayaking.
Open daily noon-midnight. Eastern Mangroves Promenade, Salam Street (02 441 8244).
Relaxing by the clearest blue waters you’ve ever seen and posing on wooden swings can work up quite an appetite, and seafood and Middle Eastern restaurant Hooked plays a key part in making Zaya Nurai Island the dreamlike location that it is. The cold mezze selection is made for enjoying on sunny afternoons, and you can choose from stuffed vine leaves, labneh with garlic, moutabel, zaatar salads and more. There’s also a mixed seafood platter and favourites like fatayer and halloumi thrown in there too. It’s all just as good as the picture-perfect setting.
Best dish: The hummus trio. This pretty plate means that you no longer have to decide between beetroot, pesto or classic hummus. You can simply try all three instead.
Open daily noon-4pm, 7pm-1am. Zaya Nurai Island (02 506 6274).
Great food, a beautiful setting and superb service make this elegant eatery a worthy option for a memorable evening. Order a sharing-style mezze platter and you can try cold specialities like hummus, fattoush, balik salmon and mohamara, or go for a hot plate and nibble your way through fatayer, kibbeh, chicken wings, batata harra and more.
Best dish: The prawns provençal. Beautifully presented and served in a tangy garlic, lemon and coriander sauce, this special shellfish dish is almost too good to share.
Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, West Corniche (02 811 5893).
The glittering The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi is always impressive, and when you’re not here to chill at Barfly, or feast on piles of pasta at Todd English’s Olives, you should check out the lovely colourful small plates at Mijana. The lengthy menu even includes a dedicated ‘kibbeh corner’, and the hot and cold platters let you try some of the most popular light bites like cheese fatayer, labneh, moutabel batinjan and more.
Best dish: The moutabel shamander (beetroot hummus). The crunchy pistachios provide contrasting textures in this vibrant dish, while the warm Arabic breads are lighter than air.
Open daily 4pm-1am. The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal, Khor Al Maqta (02 818 8282).
The terrace at this classy Middle Eastern restaurant is ideal for watching the sun set over the city’s skyline, and such a beautiful scene is even more enjoyable when you can feast on super mezze at the same time. Given the name, it’s only right that you try at least one of the six types of sambusek (the feta and akkawi cheese variety is particularly brilliant), while hummus fans have four different variations to choose from.
Best dish: The chicken liver. If you’re yet to experience the joy of fried chicken livers with sweet pomegranate sauce, this is the place to jump on board the trend.
Open daily noon-12.30pm. Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island (02 813 5550).
This stylish Lebanese, Turkish and Emirati restaurant has a beautiful two-tiered patio area, just a few metres from the white sands of Saadiyat Beach. The staff are helpful and efficient, and the mezze includes all your favourite hot and cold variations like comforting kibbeh filled with beef and onion, spicy harra potatoes drizzled with lemon and warm manakeesh served straight off the grill.
Best dish: The shrimp fattoush. This puts all the other variations on this classic salad to shame. The prawns are absolutely enormous and it’s the perfect mix of crunchy salad, sweet dressing and meaty shellfish.
Sat-Wed 3pm-11pm, Thu-Fri noon-midnight. Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island (02 418 2414).