September hails the launch of Abu Dhabi’s first ever restaurant month. An exciting time for foodies to dine on gourmet three course meals, at some of the capitals most desirable restaurants for just 195 AED per person. Comprising thirty of the best fine dining venues (that’s one a day guys), restaurant month runs from 1st – 30th September 2016 and is organised by the team behind fine dining publication ‘Dining and Nightlife Abu Dhabi.’
Being massive lovers of Thai cuisine, we couldn’t wait to sample the offerings at the picturesque Sontaya. Situated on the pristine sandy beaches of the St. Regis Saadiyat Island, we challenge you to find a more romantic dining space and believe us when we say, that the food was excellent.
The word “Sontaya” means sunset in Thai, though due to downtown traffic we arrived slightly later than expected, therefore completely missing the sunset. None the less, Sontaya is an enchanting venue, that is both modest and intimate. The design is of small glass pavilions that appear to float upon a charming water feature. With the humidity high, the bi-fold doors were unfortunately closed, but during the winter months, each of the pavilions opens up to provide visitors with a seductive alfresco dining environment. Atmosphere has a huge element to play in creating a great dining experience and suspended above the water, Sontaya has it in spades!
Interiors are simple and consist of light wood and earthy tones, with a scattering of Thai antiquities upon glass shelving. Light fittings resemble the traditional Thai conical hats but in an inverted formation and we especially appreciated the space for not being one large dining area, rather a series of interconnected pavilions with small booths. Providing privacy for a couples date night or a special occasion. Each table is lit with a bright bar of neon that runs across the table top and along the floor, creating a striking pattern of parallel lines in a manner that accentuates any food or drink placed upon it.
As moonlight shimmered on the serene pools and the lights of the soon-to-open Louvre glittered on the horizon. We were entirely captivated by the venue and were excited to see what Sontaya had in store regarding its food.
Our love of Thai Cuisine stems from a backpacking trip through South East Asia in 2006. Back then our daily diet consisted of little other than street food, green curry or if we fancied something sweet, mango and sticky rice. Sontaya’s specially crafted dishes for restaurant month, encapsulate some of these elements into a menu that is short and to the point.
The meal began with a selection of prawn and pumpkin crackers and a fiery shrimp dip that allowed us time to graze while perusing the menu. At Sontaya mocktails, soft drinks and hot beverages are included as part of the set fee, making it an absolute bargain with no hidden extras (unless you wish to order alcohol).
The mocktails encapsulate the spirit of Thai island life, with their concoctions of exotic flavours and a tantalising freshness. The most popular being the Sukhumvit (ginger, lime, lemongrass and Thai chilli) that is named after an area of Thailand’s capital city Bangkok and packs a pleasant heat into a refreshing blend of natural ingredients. Likewise the ‘Nirvana’ combines lychee, cranberry and a secret sour mix to create a powerful fusion of distinctly Thai flavours.
Starters soon arrived and served ‘sharing-style’, diners can expect spring rolls, plump tofu satay, succulent chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, pan fried fishcakes and a banana blossom salad. The Sontaya platter takes the best of Thailand’s street food scene by transforming it into a fine dining concept, with the chunky tofu and crunchy banana salad being specific highlights. A powerful array of sweet and exotic flavours emanates from each individual appetiser and we were slightly ashamed not to have discovered Sontaya sooner.
For main courses, diners are offered two options. A stir-fried chicken or wok fried beef and although the menu does little to make these dishes sound exciting (other than providing a simple list of ingredients), the dishes are to be admired for both presentation and taste. Wok fried beef is tender and served rare, though these are fortunately not the small slices of meat that you would usually find in Asian cookery. Instead huge chunks of quality beef arrived, served in a black pepper sauce with confit onions and baby broccoli.
Stir fried chicken, arrives in a Thai chilli paste, capsicum, onion, cashew nuts and a crisp vermicelli. Creating not only a dish of multi-textural composition but one that packs a powerful explosion of flavour Served with edible flowers and a fragrant sticky rice, we appreciated the fact that the meat was neither overcooked or slathered in sauce like so many Asian dining options. At Sontaya, sauces are used to complement the quality of the meat, as opposed to a way of covering flavours. It’s a subtle and delicate methodology that works beautifully well.
After a quick palette cleanser of orange juice and cinnamon (slightly to tart and sour for us), it was time for dessert. Again, only two options are provided and despite our early scepticism regarding the heavily fruit centric choices, we were pleasantly suprised.
With bananas being an integral staple of Thai cuisine the complementing flavours of the ‘Caramel chilli banana’ was resounding success. We especially appreciated the lightness of coconut espuma against the sweetness of the banana and the kick from the chilli. With a popping candy surprise crunch, who ever would’ve thought that banana and chilli could go so well together?
‘Pineapple Passionate’ was basically pineapple served four ways and though some elements worked better than others (burnt pineapple and jellied noodles for example), the white chocolate mousse and matcha crisp, really helped to elevate this fruity dish to greatness. Foregoing the heavy dessert route of cakes and fondants and tarts is a refreshing concept and the execution here was light and faultless.
The food at Sontaya is truly excellent and it’s easy to see why the restaurant has garnered so many awards. The only mis-step of our meal was the ‘Apple mockajito’ which in an attempt to replicate a mojito was overly sweet to the point of being almost sickly.
Service through the meal was highly professional and the staff dressed in traditional Thai attire really helped add to the authenticity of the expereince. Referring to diners by their first name is a personal touch and a great example of the hospitality that Thailand is renowned for – it’s not called ‘the land of smiles’ for nothing! Food and drink were subtly replenished during the course of our meal and it was easy to see why there were so many regular customers in the room.
As we left, walking over the serene floating walkways. Images of hill tribes, elephants and glittering golden temples came to mind, as we felt the familiar pang of nostalgia for our past travels. Thankfully with an exquisite location like this, we felt as though we could’ve been on some sort of mini-holiday and it’s finding places that makes you feel like this (at such reasonable prices), that makes Abu Dhabi restaurant month a resounding success. Here’s to the next one…
Abu Dhabi restaurant month – sponsored by Dining and Nightlife Abu Dhabi – runs from 1st – 30th September 2016 and offers something for every palate, from Pan Asian, Sushi, Italian, Greek, Indian and Arabic. Each three course menu has been carefully designed by Abu Dhabi chefs who are eager to show off their culinary skills. You can head over to Zomato to book a table or see the menu for each of the participating restaurants:
18 Degrees: Mediterranean – Hyatt Capital Gate Hotel
Acropolis: Greek – Le Méridien
Atayeb: Arabic Mediterranean – Yas Viceroy
Barfly by Buddha Bar: Asian, Sushi – Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal
Belgian Café: Belgian, European – InterContinental Abu Dhabi
Benihana: American, Japanese – Beach Rotana
Benjarong: Thai – Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi
BiCE: Italian – Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Bord Eau: French – Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi
Brasserie Angelique: French – Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Brassier Flo: French, Seafood – Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
BU: Latin American – The Hub at The Mall, World Trade Centre Mall (Level 4)
Byblos Sur Mer: Lebanese – InterContinental Abu Dhabi
Catch: Seafood, Sushi – Nation Riviera Beach Club
Circo: Italian – InterContinental Abu Dhabi
Crust: Healthy Global Cuisine – Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island
Frankie’s Italian Restaurant & Bar: Italian – Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
Inakaya: Japanese, Sushi – Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
Indigo: Indian Fusion – Beach Rotana
Li Jiang: Southeast Asian – The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
Market Kitchen: Modern American Cuisine with Local Influence – Le Royal Méridien
Noodle Box: Southeast Asian – Yas Viceroy
P&C by Sergi Arola: Spanish – Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi
Punjab Grill: Indian – Venetian Village, The Ritz Carlton
Rodeo Grill: Fine Steaks and Grills – Beach Rotana
Sontaya: Asian Fusion, Thai – St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
Stratos: Revolving Lounge Bar and Grill – Le Royal Méridien
Tamba: Indian Inspired – The Hub at The Mall, World Trade Centre (Level 6)
Todd English’s Olives: Mediterranean – Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal
Tori No Su: Japanese – Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Villa Toscana: Italian – St Regis Abu Dhabi
Location: St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Twitter / Facebook
Hours: 12pp – 4pm / 6:30pm – midnight
Phone: 02 498 8008
We were invited to dine at Sontaya. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.