Ask any Abu Dhabi resident which is the best Ladies Night in the capital and the unequivocal answer will be Iris. Wednesday nights at this Yas Marina venue are always fully booked and come with an almost certain guarantee of a good night.
So what is it about Iris that’s struck such a chord with their regular patrons? First and foremost it must be the view. Set against the picturesque backdrop of Yas Marina, the setting includes luxury yachts, the Formula 1 circuit and the LED canopy of the architecturally striking Yas Viceroy Hotel. With a number of upmarket restaurants (all licensed) dotted around the Marina, Iris has the additional advantage of an expansive outside terrace.
In fact, Iris is predominantly a terrace with low slung seating in vibrant greens set around a central bar area. Venture inside and it’s rather gloomy and the loss of the view adds to a significant loss in atmosphere. Separated by large bi-fold doors the interiors are likely to be a welcome asset once the inevitable summer heat sets in and dining al fresco becomes near impossible.
We’re semi-regulars at Iris and find it’s the cocktails that ensure our repeat custom. The bar menu offers the usual classics (Mojitos, Sangrias, Martini’s and Mai Tai’s) but it’s the signature blends that are Iris’ strong point. Described as ‘Cool Daises’ these seasonal concotions have been designed to lift your spirits and in the process, offer some of the best mixology in Abu Dhabi. As SERIOUS lovers of cocktails this is a big selling point for us. Take for example the Black Pearl, a blend of Jameson Black Barrel, Bacardi Carta Negra, Fresh Cardamom, Black Tea, Lime and Rose Syrup. Presented in a pipe amidst wisps of smoke, it’s a drink of intense power but with a distinct smoothness and we’re almost unsure whether to drink or smoke it.
Add to the mix a nice selection of Aperitifs, Bellinis and Iris Luxury Cocktails and seasoned drinkers will find something to suit all tastes. Plus some unique mixes you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. If you’re not sure what to order the competent bartenders can create bespoke cocktails based upon your preferences.
Our recent visit to Iris was the first time trying the food and we were intrigued to see if the culinary offerings could live up to the expectations set by the cocktails. At first glance the menu seems to lack identity, offering an eclectic mix of the latest food trends without any connecting concept. Sushi sits amongst Peruvian ceviche and classic bar bites in a menu that attempts to appeal to all.
We begin with Rock Prawn Tempura and are pleased to find the plump prawns coated in a crisp tempura batter and a sweet chilli mayonnaise that strikes a good balance between sweet and spicy. The anticipated crunch is welcomed but the dish arrives warm rather than hot. As staple of bar menus across the UAE, we would’ve liked to see Iris re-invent the dish in some way. It serves its purpose nonetheless.
Our waiter gleefully informs us the Peruvian Spicy Tuna is the best example of Causa in Abu Dhabi. Even going so far as to explain how Iris’ version is far superior to the one found at Pan-Latin favourite BU. He’s very wrong! Despite a good ratio of yellow potato to tuna, the element of raw fish severely lacks seasoning. It’s clearly a plate designed to impress but what should be a vibrant and colourful presentation appears somewhat dull. Now it may be the lighting but it’s a good reflection of the dish itself, insipid and somewhat uninspiring.
A Spicy Crunchy Salmon Salad fares much better but transpires to be the tempura prawn concept again in a different guise (in a salad format). The raw sashimi style salmon coated in breadcrumbs was our pick of the evening.
The prevalent theme of the night is one of under-seasoning and the Fresh Summer Rolls take the Vietnamese concept of fresh vegetables wrapped in rice paper but leave behind all of the exquisite flavours. Expecting the Yuzu Ponzu sauce to provide all of the required flavouring on an otherwise bland plate. Herbs or seasoning are required in addition to the crunchy vegetables to elevate the dish and kick it up a notch.
We had similar issues with the main courses, which is disappointing for plates that average around the AED 200 mark. Our Pan-Fried Lamb Fillet offers two small pieces of meat in a flavoursome rosemary sauce, but take a piece of meat that hasn’t touched the sauce and it’s vastly under-seasoned. It comes with a small stack of eggplant, tomato and mozzarella which is a staple dish at many Spanish restaurants but isn’t the best complement to the lamb. Perhaps some carbs should be offered instead?
While the lamb was a relatively small portion, the Pan-Fried Mediterranean Sea Bass is at the other end of the spectrum. Presenting a larger portion of protein with Imperator carrots, snow peas and purple potato chips, placed on the fish to resemble scales. It’s a plate with much to admire but again the seasoning is lacking, the fish is too greasy and result in the potato chips turning into a soggy mess.
Desserts didn’t do much to change our minds about dining at Iris. The Churros are good (especially the chocolate dipping sauce) but the element of presentation evident in the preceding courses, appears MIA. Similarly, the Cheesecake Brownies arrive partially frozen and non-representative of either a good cheesecake or brownie.
Iris comes to us from Beirut and the party atmosphere of that location has certainly made the transition to Abu Dhabi. As a lounge, Iris remains one of the best in the Abu Dhabi, but as a restaurant concept we’re unconvinced. Perhaps our expectations were too high (when compared to the drinks) and coming at this review from a fine-dining perspective may be somewhat unfair BUT Iris is an upmarket brand.
Our experience was one of inconsistency, offering excellent drinks and a stunning location but service that’s perhaps a little too casual and some lacklustre food. Would this stop us from a return visit? Certainly not, but only for the drinks and the view.
We were invited to dine at Iris. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Two images used courtesy of Iris Yas Island.