Chinese New Year celebrations have taken over Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Island. Beginning with a spectacular display of fireworks to mark the start of the year of the Rooster. Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a special occasion celebrating the turn of the lunisolar calendar and traditionally marks a time to honor deities and ancestors. The Chinese calendar is divided into twelve blocks, much like the Western calendar, except each block represents a year rather than a month and is characterized by one of twelve zodiac animals. This year is the year of the Rooster, with people born within this year said to be honest, energetic and confident.
Dai Pai Dong at the Rosewood Hotel celebrates Chinese New Year with a special set menu priced at AED 195++. Being huge fans of Dai Pai Dong and it’s all you can eat dim sum brunch, it didn’t take much convincing for us to head out to the Rosewood after a busy day at work and indulge in Chef Dong’s traditional Cantonese feast. A menu with plenty of variety and will be served daily until Friday the 3rd February, in celebration of this auspicious occasion.
Dai Pai Dong translates as a road-side stall that sells street food. The restaurant at the Rosewood has taken this idea and run with it, blending traditional wooden lattice work with an upmarket fine dining concept that exudes a certain sense of class. A dragon rises out of the floor as if guarding the entranceway and interiors feature large baskets of garlic and chilis alongside intricate stone carvings. Instrumental Chinese percussion provides a soothing backdrop to complement the dark and intimate atmosphere.
As with our previous visits, we find our attention immediately drawn towards the open kitchen. A hub of constant activity during the course of the evening, with the sizzle of woks, the clatter of pans and a constant billow of steam emanating from between the glass partitions. On numerous occasions throughout our meal, we find ourselves at the kitchen to watch the intricate construction of dim sum and the ‘pulling’ of noodles.
Dai Pai Dong’s special set menu is an exciting affair and begins not with our favourite dim sum, but a Yee Sheng. Often referred to as a ‘prosperity toss’ the dish is a raw fish salad of shredded vegetables, crackers and salmon. Stirring in the accompanying peanuts and Chinese five spice, it’s immediately evident why Yee Sheng has become a staple of Chinese New Years celebrations. Part sushi and part fattoush, this deconstructed salad provides a light and fresh surprise, from a cuisine that is renowned for being particularly sauce heavy
Having dined at hundreds of restaurants since arriving in the capital almost four years ago, our meal at Dai Pai Dong offered a UAE first for us. Without any prompting, we’re asked if we would prefer local water or the branded Voss? This is remarkable for the fact that many establishments don’t offer a choice (having strategically partnered with high end water providers), so we’re more than a little surprised. Good work team Rosewood!
As expected, the Dim Sum plate did not disappoint. We’ve dined at Dai Pai Dong enough times to know that it offers some of the very best dim sum in the city, with Hakkasan at the Emirates Palace being their only real competition. With six dim sum (three fried and three steamed) the selection includes a vegetable spring roll, sesame prawn toast, mushroom and scallop dumplings and a tasty lobster Sui Mai. It was the pumpkin shaped duck puff that was the standout, for its clever blend of texture and intense flavours.
Excellent flavours aside, our main concern was the portion itself. With six individual dim sum (all different) being served between two people, we weren’t sure if we were supposed to split each one in half to share? A quick chat with our friendly server confirmed that the portioning was correct and the dim sum were just a ‘taster.’ Upon further pressing, an additional portion is whisked over to the table without fuss and helps to cement our belief that the Rosewood is at the forefront of the customer experience and really go out of their way to ensure customers are looked after.
In addition to the new food menu, Dai Pai Dong have created four signature cocktails to celebrate Chinese New Year. We sampled two of them, the DPD Mojito (rum, green tea, kumquat and mint) and the Phoenix Rising (gin, cherry liquor, ginger and bitters). Both drinks hinted at their Asian ingredients without being overpowering or too sweet.
Next to arrive was the Double-Boiled Seafood Soup. In all honesty, aside from a Vietnamese Pho, we wouldn’t usually order soup but because of its inclusion on the set menu, we thought we’d give it a try. We’re pleasantly surprised to find a rich broth topped with a breaded lid. The lid can be removed and torn, before being combined with the soup to soak up the flavours of the seafood floating within. We presume double-boiled to mean that the soup has been cooked for an extended period of time, with the texture of the ultra-soft shrimp confirming this.
As one of just a handful of establishments to serve pork in Abu Dhabi, we’re excited by the Roasted Pork Ribs which arrived inside a cast iron pot. Served in a Jing Du sauce, the ribs are a delight, notoriously sticky and ever so sweet. With Cantonese Duck also served, 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 served with scallion, cucumber and hoisin sauce, to be rolled within pancakes.
The ‘main course’ comprises Abalone (golden rice), Chinese Green Vegetables and a variety of meat and fish dishes. A Steamed Cod sits on a bed of tomato and tofu and though flavorsome, the piece of fish may be a touch over-cooked and didn’t seem to work on a textural level, sat upon a gelatinous slab of tofu. The presentation of the Stir-Fried lobster is a talking point at the table, retaining the head and tail of this crustacean. Meanwhile the ‘body’ is a deconstructed selection of plump flesh covered in spicy XO sauce and served alongside broccoli florets.
The Wok-Fried Wagyu Beef was the standout of the evening and presented another sticky and sweet dish but this time the meat was offset by the fresh al dente nature of the sugar snaps with which it’s served.
It wouldn’t be Chinese New Year without desserts and Dai Pai Dong are offering three. A passion fruit flavored Hong Kong Egg Tart, a Mango Roll and the striking Koi shaped Osmanthus Cake. A traditional sweet pastry made from rice flour and resembling a sweet take on a dim sum, carries a delicate flavour and sweet fragrance. The fish like appearance is unique and is further enhanced by the translucent nature of the ‘skin’ through which you can see the interior.
On repeat visits Dai Pai Dong continues to prove itself as a strong contender as one of the best Chinese restaurants in Abu Dhabi. There’s a particular draw due to the authenticity of not only the food but the interiors, with a distinct tea house look and feel.
The Chinese New Years Dinner Feast at Dai Pai Dong is available from January 25th to February 3rd from 6 to 11pm and is priced at AED 195 per person.
They will also be holding a special edition of their popular Yum Cha Brunch with traditional Dim Sum trolley and Shao Kao BBQ. February 3rd & 4th from 12:00 to 4pm and priced art AED 195 per person for the soft beverage package.
Location: Rosewood Hotel, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi
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Hours: 12pm – 11pm
Phone: 02 813 5552
We were invited to dine at Dai Pai Dong. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE