Our relationship with Cho Gao has been a strained one. Having always considered the busy Asian-inspired restaurant on Abu Dhabi’s Hamdan Street as an establishment that offers value for money and some great promotions. Our last review left us with extremely mixed feelings.
Our last review of Cho Gao started out well. The appetizers were of particular note due to their distinctive Asian flavours that incorporated elements from the very best of Thai, Chinese and Indonesian cookery. Things descended quickly and we struggled with the main courses which displayed so much promise but lacked execution. Before giving up completely with the desserts which were in severe need of a re-think. We left disappointed and somewhat forlorn to see one of our previous favourite dining spots, was getting by on little more than reputation.
Our faith was restored somewhat with the launch of ‘Cho Chill’ a late night happy hour that turns the restaurant into a transient nightclub of hypnotic beats and cocktails with a Far Eastern twist. With interiors this appealing we couldn’t quite strike Cho Gao off of our list, s0 upon receiving an invitation to try the restaurants new menu ‘A Taste Of Japan’ we accepted with some trepidation. Usually when a restaurant launches a new menu, it will be a temporary or seasonal collection of ten to twelve dishes. Cho Gao has instead chosen to be different and go for an all out assault of Japanese flavours. Launching a sprawling menu of salads, sushi and sashimi that clocks in at a whopping twenty-one new dishes! But are they any good?.
A new menu calls for a new chef and Cho Gao have wisely expanded their team to include a specialist in Japanese sushi. Some fresh blood into the kitchen has certainly given things a much needed shake up and not being constricted by the current menu, has allowed the sushi chef to venture into interesting territory and develop some truly unique creations that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in the capital.
Starting with the salads Cho Gao’s Japanese menu offers four new additions:
- Salmon, Crab & Avocado: mixed with cucumber and slathered in a spicy mayonnaise.
- Crispy Volcano: a plethora of shrimp and crab combined with the flavours of pear, tobiko and sesame oil.
- Daikon: a visually striking concoction of radish, salon roe and sakura mix.
- Goma Wakame: our favourite of the four, utilizes a simple blend of Japanese seaweed, lemon and toasted sesame.
Moving onto the raw courses, Cho Gao offers seven different items in either sashimi or nigiri form. For those who are a little dubious when it comes to sushi. Sashimi basically refers to slices of raw fish arranged on their own and served with little more than a colorful garnish and some wasabi.
Nigiri on the other hand takes these slices of raw fish and places them onto oblong, compacted mounds of rice. The flavours are identical in the case of Cho Gao’s offerings and both come as a serving of six pieces. With Unagi (eel), Ika (squid), Shimi (mackerel), Sake (salmon), Tako (octopus), Maguro (tuna) and Ebi (shrimp) on offer, the selection is certainly a good one. Most pleasing are the generous portions sizes, with the slices of raw seafood arriving a little thicker than we’re accustomed too but allowing us to get a real taste for each dish in the process. So often sushi is padded out with rice and other substitutions or sliced so thinly in a bid to reduce costs and increase portion control. Thankfully this isn’t the case here and we found the portions to be overly generous (not that we’re complaining).
The ‘Cho Gao House Rolls’ are where this new menu really comes to fruition and proves itself as a serious contender to some of the finer sushi choices in the city. Maki rolls are cylindrical in nature and rolled using a bamboo mat known as a makisu. The ones at Cho Gao forgo the nori (seaweed wrapper) in favour of the Futomaki style of sushi, in which the ingredients are encased in rice. The usual California Rolls (crab, mayo, cucumber) are complemented by favorites such as Shrimp Maki (adding crispy shrimp tempura to the mix of teriyaki and sesame seeds) or the wonderful Spicy Salmon (cucumber, avocado and tabiko).
With a selection of ten rolls to choose from, there are two stand outs from the menu that we would strongly encourage you to try. The Caramel Maki – yes you red that correctly – is not a desert but a roll of shrimp tempura, crab and avocado. Topped with a crispy crab caramel (there’s some alliteration for you) that brings in a sweet subtlety we’ve not encountered with sushi before. This juxtaposition of sweet and savory is a unique entity for Abu Dhabi and one that we presume people will flock to Cho Gao for once the word (or Intagrams) gets out.
Not to be overshadowed by the innovation of the Caramel Maki, we truly appreciated the flavours and textures of the Cho Gao Maki, the signature item from the new menu. A delightful roll of crisp crab, shrimp tempura, salmon, cucumber and Lolo Rosso. Heightened in flavour via the use of fresh mango slices.
These new additions to Cho Gao are breathing some much needed life into a restuarant that was starting to stagnate in terms of concept and menu. Taste of Japan, much like the newly launched Cho Gao pillow (a sizzling foil parcel available in either chicken, seafood or beef variants), is making huge strides to bring innovation and appeal to a restaurant that gained huge popularity when downtown was the focus of the city. Abu Dhabi has now expanded off island and taken many of the expats with it and so the grandeur of a hugely popular restaurant had begun to fade. It’s evident that the F&B team at Cho Gao and the Crowne Plaza as a whole, are looking to turn this perception around and are doing a sterling job with these new additions.
Since our review, Cho Gao have also given the dessert menu an much needed overhaul. The green tea tiramisu has been replaced (thankfully) with Lychee Panacotta, Apple Pie with Ginger Ice Cream, Green Lime Cheesecake and the one we’re most excited to try – The Melting Chocolate Ball on Banana Cake.
We strongly urge you to give Cho Gao another shot and we ask you to take some time to peruse the sushi menu. As the photos were taken by none other than team Out & About UAE. We hope you enjoy.
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.