To say we’re addicted to dim sum would be a vast understatement. These little steamed (or fried) parcels of joy have long been our preference at any Chinese meal and a trip to Hong Kong back in 2009, has made our appetite for authentic dim sum all the more insatiable.
Our adventures wandering the narrow streets of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island in search of atmospheric tea houses – full of steam and the clatter of chopsticks – were probably the most memorable element of our trip. Entering into Cho Gao, at Abu Dhabi’s Crowne Plaza hotel, we successfully managed to recapture a little bit of that essence.
Cho Gao is a beautiful space capped with wood and Chinese inspired designs, giving the feeling of part tea house and part ancient temple. The narrow space opens out into an intimate dining room separated by wooden screens. A backlit bar is the prominent feature, stretching along the back wall, while from the ceiling, traditional paper lanterns and wooden birdcages are delicately hung. Illumination is provided via small candles placed in hidden alcoves which highlight the artifacts throughout the room, including temple gongs, buddha statues, spice baskets and intricate wooden carvings.
Beginning with drinks, we were elated to discover a fantastic happy hour promotion. Every day between the hours of 2pm and 7pm Cho Gao offer a 50% discount on all drinks…including alcoholic beverages!
With a range of fruity blends and mocktails, we thoroughly enjoyed the aptly titled After Work Special (rum, Malibu, amaretto, orange and pineapple juices) and the alcohol-free Tropical Storm (orange juice, strawberry syrup, passion fruit and sprite). Though it was the Love Potion that became our favorite, if only for its potent blend of vodka, amaretto, peach schnapps and cranberry juice. Despite not incorporating Asian infusions into the cocktails (as one would expect), the menu is far more classical and we certainly appreciated the bombastic nature (note: strong alcohol content) of these drinks.
With the food offering Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Indonesian specialities, Cho Gao takes diners on a journey through the very best of South East Asian cuisine. Expect spring rolls, skewered satay, soups and fresh salads. With the name Cho Gao literally translating as ‘rice market’ in Vietnamese, it does feel as though diners have the pick of the very best of Asia right at their fingertips.
Our appetizers were excellent across the board. With the Wasabi Prawns being the definite highlight, via their utilization of crispy fried gulf prawns, a coating of spicy Sriracha and a serving of tangy passion fruit salsa. The creaming of the wasabi root actually acts as a dilution technique that is bound to make even the most hesitant of diners want to sample these delightful prawns, thus settling some very high expectations for the rest of our meal.
Next came the dim sum which can be either fried or steamed (or do what we did and ask for a combination of the two). Keeping with the seafood theme, our selection included Prawn Siew Mai and we throughly enjoyed these little morsels wrapped in wonton skin. Though we were a little disappointed to discover that Cho Gao do not offer any form of Char Siu Bar – our favorite item from any dim sum trolley (if only for its fluffy exterior).
Our dining companion opted for the Seafood Tempura. Presenting prawns and calamari in a light and crispy batter, ideal for dipping in the duo of accompanying sauces. With Asian food being notoriously difficult to plate in a pleasing manner, we did appreciate the efforts that went into the presentation of these starters that consisted of little mounds of seafood, set within a concave groove in the dish.
Unfortunately, there was a stumble with the Cho Gao experience when it came to the main courses. With the menu offering a good variety of stir fries, ribs, rice and noodle dishes, we can only describe our choice of the signature Lobster XO as a disappointment.
The Omani lobster certainly looked the part, with large chunks of flesh tossed amongst asparagus spears and red fish roe. The execution though, was another story altogether. The dish was severely lacking in any sort of flavour other than salt, which severely detracted from the delicate flesh of the lobster. The thought process behind the dish is good and we especially appreciated the popping texture provided by the fish roe but unfortunately the overall execution fell short of the mark.
The Beef Masaman curry suffered a similar fate. Though not quite so lacking in flavour as the Lobster dish that preceeded it. The curry was unfortunately very average and not as intriguing as its description on the menu would suggest – hilltop villager special.
Luckily the Peking Duck managed to redeem the meal. A staple of Beijing’s Imperial era, this signature dish is just as impressive today as it was on the banqueting tables of the Imperial courts. Prized for its crisp skin, the roasted duck is thinly sliced and presented with scallion and cucumber, to be rolled in pancakes with hoisin sauce.The version at Cho Gao most definitely matched the quality of the excellent appetizers and helped to bring back our confidence in the restaurant.
Dessert though was another frustrating experience, especially considering our excitement for the Green Tea Tiramisu. The very idea of combining our favorite dessert with green tea had us intrigued. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be and much like the lobster dish, the concept was on point but the execution, disappointing. Taken as a tiramisu, the dessert was good for its creamy texture and strong coffee but for a hybrid, the green tea did nothing other than add a pale green colouration to the cream and for a dish with such promise, the tiramisu left us a little deflated. Perhaps some minor tinkering and the addition of matcha (to bring out the tea flavour) could really help this dish to become the unmissable dessert it’s destined to be.
Our experience at Cho Gao was a confusing one. Starters are truly exceptional but the main courses and desserts require a little re-working to match the standards of their precursors. Granted, the Peking Duck was spectacular and the restaurant space itself is one to be proud of. Cho Gao does have the potential for greatness and as one of the few quality Asian eateries in the capital we really hope things improve.
Having spoken with management, we believe that our feedback was valued and that our constructive criticisms will be taken on board. For that reason, we look forward to returning to Cho Gao again in the coming months.
Thursdays and Fridays: Cho Chill offers smooth chills, exotic bites and chilled drinks from 10pm – 2am.
Fridays: Cho Gao Much Brunch from 12pm – 4pm at just 225 AED ++ (selected beers and wines) and AED 136++ (including a selection of iced teas).
Saturdays and Sundays: Cho Gal ladies nights provide four free selected cocktails for the ladies.
Location: Crowne Plaza, Hamdan Street, Al Markaziya, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 1am (3am on weekends)
Phone: 02 616 6149
We were invited to Cho Gao. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.