Al Nafoura Lounge is the latest food and beverage venture from Abu Dhabi’s Beach Rotana and has been launched to coincide with the hotel’s silver jubilee. Two and a half decades is a long time in terms of Abu Dhabi’s hospitality sector and the popular beachfront property has taken an interesting approach to the shisha courtyard found in so many hotels across the GCC.
Set around the central fountain (Al Nafoura means fountain in Arabic) the seasonal venue has taken up residence in the area usually reserved for annual events such as Oktoberfest and the Swiss Christmas Market and offers quite the transformation. Al Nafoura may be a seasonal pop-up but it’s clear that money has been invested in the concept, which looks to bring the traditional living room outside. Think wooden bookshelves, quaint ornaments and low-slung couches upholstered in hues of turquoise and grey, providing comfortable seating that’s strategically positioned to capitalise upon the views over the unique skyline of the ever-evolving Al Maryah Island.
Representing a crossroads between modern and traditional, Al Nafoura Lounge takes the social aspect of the Arabic majlis and turns it into something more modern and urban but entirely in keeping with the cosmopolitan population of Abu Dhabi. Positioned in the centre of the hotel, this specific lounge has been designed as a place for people to gather and socialize, and despite our initial reservations we found ourselves entirely enamoured with the venue.
Al Nafoura’s menu focuses on Levant specialities mixed with international favourites and a separate breakfast menu. Although we did note the prices to be significantly higher than similarly themed venues in the capital, the overall quality is good. We begin with a selection of mezze that includes a Fattoush (AED 38) comprising of sixteen individual ingredients, Kibbeh’s (AED 40) of cracked wheat, lamb and pine nuts, Stuffed Vine Leaves (AED 33) and some beautiful Chicken Falafel (AED 40) that successfully manage to avoid the expected dryness often associated with this chickpea centric dish.
Pleasingly the menu is marketed as Arabic fusion rather than MediterrAsian (a lazy term we’re slowly beginning to detest) and there are some interesting choices to be found amongst the lighthearted text that encourages diners to learn integral Arabic phrases (yalla, yaani, tayeb, khalas). In a region where we’re so used to the likes of hummus, tabbouleh and baba ghanoush, we found ourselves impressed by Al Nafoura’s particular take on hummus. The Pistachio Hummus (AED 31) boasts a subtle nuttiness and a discreet sweetness that manages not to overpower the remaining mezze. Similarly, the Toasted Pumpkin and Tahini Puree (AED 31) makes for a delightful twist on traditional moutabel.
A concise dessert menu of only five choices means we (expectedly) opt for the Kahlua Tiramisu (AED 56). Our search for good tiramisu should really be its own blog but we’re pleased to note that Al Nafoura’s is good. Significantly helped along by the inclusion of alcohol (you can order it without), a generous proportioning of mascarpone, and a nice bit of texture from the coffee tuile. For those in search of more traditional dessert choices both Kunafa and Muhalibiya are available.
The ambience is heightened by the arrival of nightfall when the fountain is illuminated in a funky purple tone and Al Nafoura comes alive. As one of the only venues in Abu Dhabi to sell Medusa Shisha (the only other we can think of is Eclipse at the Four Seasons) this should be the USP of the venue.
Medusa takes the art of shisha to a new level in terms of presentation (ours looked like a futuristic jellyfish and UFO hybrid with its pulsating LED lights) and the ability to bring gastronomic elements to the shisha culture. Again, pricing is a concerning factor with the signature Medusa costing a whopping AED 326 for either the Chocolate Delight (garnished with vanilla pods, chocolate flakes and cinnamon sticks) or Tropical Fantasy (garnished with mango, pineapple and strawberries). The smooth draw and immense flavour are likely to leave you wondering why you’ve ever smoked anything else, but when regular shisha is priced at AED 138 it does beg the question – who is willing to pay for such a privilege.
With alcohol available after 6pm, don’t miss the Turkish Iced Coffee (Irish whiskey, cardamom, and cinnamon), Al Nafoura has the potential to capture the after-work crowd and achieves the goal of being an inviting environment for people to socialise. But with lounges becoming a firm fixture in the Abu Dhabi marketplace, consideration needs to be given to both pricing (a little high) and service (a little slow) if Al Nafoura is going to stand out against the new Balcon Terrace at the Southern Sun Hotel or Grill@25 at the Marriott Downtown.
Location: Beach Rotana, Tourist Club Area (Al Zahiyah), Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 10:30am – midnight
Phone: 02 697 9000
Out & About UAE were guests of Al Nafoura Lounge. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.