99 Sushi Bar is the latest dining destination to open at Abu Dhabi’s upmarket Galleria Mall, in a year when we’ve already been spoiled with the likes of Coya, Eat Greek, Loca and La Petite Maison. Hailing from Spain, 99 Sushi has five branches in Madrid and one in Barcelona, with the popular sushi spot choosing Al Maryah Island for its first international location.
Finding 99 Sushi Bar is a little problematic due to a distinct lack of signage, but upon finding your way to the mezzanine level wedged between the Galleria and Four Seasons hotel, the reward is obvious. Waterfalls slide effortlessly down a golden glass facade, seductively inviting diners to discover what’s inside. Gold is most definitely on the agenda, like the palace of the mythological King Midas, embossed gold can be found everywhere – the walls, the menus, the uniforms and even the chopsticks holders. This all gold thematic works surprisingly well, staying on the right side of gaudy and complemented by blown-glass and mirrored walls, 99 Sushi makes for one of the most appealing dining rooms in Abu Dhabi.
Much of this appeal is drawn from the restaurant’s size which is limited to around 80 covers, inclusive of the covered deck offering waterside views and a small private dining room. The trend of over-sized restaurants has plagued the Abu Dhabi dining scene for some time now (we’re looking at you BU and Toro Toro) and with a near impossibility of filling such venues to capacity, we appreciate 99 Sushi’s strive for intimacy and refinement.
For an establishment a little over a week old, the experience truly impressed. It’s rare to see a team so well-versed in the menu and fully prepared to receive diners in such a short period of time after opening. It’s abundantly clear that 99 Sushi have brought their ‘avant-garde haute cuisine’ to Abu Dhabi in a bid to steal some of the clientele and shine from Zuma’s glittering crown and with high-levels of service and a good price point, it will be interesting to see how these two restaurants work in such close proximity to one another.
For an establishment named 99 Sushi, the menu is a collection of Japanese favourites with a specific focus on sushi. We begin with the Tuna Tataki (AED 95), presenting thin slices of impeccable tuna from the small interactive sushi bar, lightly seared on the outside and drizzled with a soy sauce reduction, coriander and passionfruit. It’s a bold introduction to the world of 99 Sushi, creating a burst of flavour to the palette that resonates with us long after the meal is over.
The quality of the seasonal ingredients is evident in each of the intricately constructed dishes that materialised from the kitchen and the use of natural slate as place mats brings a naturalness to proceedings, as if taking diners back to nature and the singular elements of each dish. The signature Tiger Prawn Tempura (AED 109) is 99 Sushi’s take on the ever-popular dynamite shrimp and offers a plentiful portion of lightly battered prawns in a kimchi sauce. The success of this dish lies in the fact that it’s not slathered in sauce, allowing the prawns to retain a delicate crispiness, though we would’ve appreciated a little more heat from the kimchi.
A Spicy Tuna Tartare (AED 159) again uses the salted and fermented vegetables of kimchi in the creation of what is easily our favourite dish of the day. Looking more like a traditional sweet and sour mix, the beguiling spice blend partnered with the cool tuna chunks and additional texture from the shoestring chips, makes for a rewarding choice. Tartare comes to the fore again with the aptly named Golden Bricks (AED 159), six warm nigiri constructed from tuna tartar, avocado, tobiko (flying fish roe) and gold leaf. As decadent as the golden surroundings, this dish acts as a testament to the innovation on display that elevates the dining experience above the expected sushi choices.
The Matsuri Maki Roll (AED 85) is an interesting choice that literally comes to life at the table. For the maki come topped with tuna flakes that react to the heat of a jalapeno sauce that is poured into the rolls. With the flakes dancing hypnotically like some kind of insectoid, it’s a dish that is likely to impress (we’ve seen the same technique utilised at both Aji & Ramusake in Dubai) and we believe this is a first for Abu Dhabi. So Instagrammers in the capital be prepared.
Also of interest are the flambéed nigiri of which we tried the salmon with lime (AED 50) and Wagyu with garlic and leek (AED 49), representative of an interesting take on sushi that we’d not previously experienced. Our final item from the sushi section, the Grilled Foie (AED 55) served with raspberry and tare (thick sweet dipping sauce) is an ambitious creation that was perhaps a little too dense and rich for our liking.
Aside from the sushi, there are a couple of main course options involving Wagyu in various forms (carpaccio, ribeye and short rib), corn-fed chicken and a selection of fish. We select the 99 Cod (AED 199), 99 Sushi’s take on the Japanese black cod which has become an obligatory inclusion on Japanese menus in the UAE following its runaway success at Zuma. Here at 99 Sushi, the cod is sweet and succulent having been cooked in the oven and finished under the salamander grill, and at AED 199 it’s cheaper than any of its competitors in the capital.
For dessert, we’d heard about a chocolate and truffle (yes you read that correctly) combination which was unfortunately unavailable on the day of our visit but we weren’t disappointed by the Mochi which offered the perfect balance of consistency and flavour.
As a new concept for Abu Dhabi, 99 Sushi Bar makes a bold impression and an integral addition to the dining options on Al Maryah, perfectly slotting into the high-end niche of the island. It’s a venue that secretes a luxury feel from the very fabric of the building, from the amber-lit bar through to the elegant lounge. With a no entertainer and no brunch policy, it will be very interesting to see how diners in the capital take to 99 Sushi, but for us, it’s not to be missed.
Location: The Galleria, Four Seasons Hotel, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 3:30pm / 7pm – midnight
Phone: 02 672 3333
We were invited to dine at 99 Sushi Bar. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.