Mediterranean fusion seems to be Abu Dhabi’s food concept of choice at the moment. Following the successful launch of Amalfi to Beirut at the Le Royal Meridien hotel, we have another hotel restaurant throwing their hat into the ring and offering a very similar idea.
Malaga The Lounge is located on the rooftop of the Jannah Burj Al Sarab hotel right in the heart of the Tourist Club area. A location that we have passed on many occasions while driving the busy city streets of downtown, yet this was the first time that we had actually visited the venue.
The hotel is small scale for Abu Dhabi and we were greeted by hundreds of European holidaymakers on package deals upon entering the lobby. Thankfully ascending the lift to Malaga, we were carried away to a far more subdued setting, that is a fusion of both European and Arabic influences, much like the food.
The name Malaga refers to the Andalusian City in Southern Spain. An area that is greatly influenced by Arabic culture, dating back to the year 711, when Arabs began arriving from North Africa via the strait of Gibraltar, bringing with them cultural innovations such as alchemy and the art of paper making. These people were know as the Moors and had a great impact on the architecture, language and cuisine of the region, which still prevails today. These influences can be seen at the Alcazba fortress in Malaga, the Arabic baths of Ronda or the colonnades and Islamic architecture of the Mesquita Cathedral.
When the Arabs were expelled from the region, they left behind their traditions and cuisine, which had become engrained into the culture of Southern Spain. Thus we have the conceptualisation behind Malaga The lounge’s vision – a blend of cultures and cuisine to create a vibrant and social dining experience.
Malaga is both a restaurant and a shisha lounge and the two areas are distinctly separated. The decor is composed of plush armchairs, in beautifully contrasting turquoise and silver shades. Walls are decorated with images of the Arabic influences in Spain, from the colourful wooden doors of Seville, to beautiful calligraphy. A rainbow of coloured Arabic lanterns (known as fanos in Arabic) are suspended from the ceilings and the windows are covered with a beautiful wooden lattice in Mashrabiya design.
Entering the low-key space, visitors can’t help but be wowed by the large windows that provide stunning views over the corniche and busy port of Mina Zayed. Try and bag one of the window tables if you are visiting around sunset, as the vista is truly unforgettable. Attention to details is key here and even the tableware is made to blend in with the thematics of the restaurant, from the soft rounded edges of the triangular plates, to the turquoise glassware which perfectly matches the upholstery.
The venue carefully wraps itself around the inviting swimming pool and climbing a few short steps, you will find yourself in the shisha area.
Our meal began with the traditional lemon mint drink, a staple of any Arabic restaurant and made by mixing mint leaves with freshly squeezed lemon juice. It seems that every Arabic restaurant purports to have the ‘best lemon mint in the UAE’ but the difference here, is that the concoction is thick and no additional sweetener is added. You can taste the tartness from the acidity of the lemon, which though not to everyones taste, was just right for us.
As we had been invited to dine at Malaga, the chef had prepared a special menu for us, containing some of the restaurants best selling dishes. With the approach being Mediattanean fusion, we were given a mixture of Italian, French and Lebanese dishes to try and much as we love hummus, it was refreshing not to see it on the menu of a predominantly Arabic restaurant.
We started with a crisp cheesy bruschetta, embellished with tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese and olive oil, making for a warm and delightful dish, that is one of Malaga’s best selling items. The Italian influence continued, with a pepperoni pizza using the finest of Italian Mozzarella and it is here that the concept pays off, with each dish being colourful on the plate and having that home cooked authenticity.
Next came a number of salads, from the Lebanese Fatoush to the world favourite Caesar. The Fatoush was a colourful mix of tomatoes, cucumber, radish, lettuce and parsley, drizzled with a vinaigrette of grenadine and balsamic. The caesar has some of the greatest croutons, for the fact that they were crisp on the outside and soft on the interior.
The highlight was the porcini mushrooms tagliatelle, infused with truffle oil, for a light and silky smooth texture. The chef informed us that the food at Malaga is all about those who like to taste fresh ingredients. Spices are used sparingly, in favour of allowing the individual elements to speak for themselves. A prime example of this is the pasta, which is specifically imported from Italy and is not currently supplied to any other restaurant in the UAE. Beverages are not neglected in their authenticity and the mandarin juice is also imported from Italy to retain that sun-rich Mediterranean sweetness.
Despite being a Mediterranean fusion restaurant, the majority of the dishes that we sampled were distinctly Italian in origin – a reflection of the most popular items from the menu.
The menu at Malaga is not the biggest, but it’s a distinct case of a select few items prepared to a good standard. The menu also contains appealing watermelon and halloumi bites, sandwiches, fish and chips and the newest addition, a Wagu beef burger that contains a special blend of peppers imported from Europe.
The dessert offerings consist of an authentic tiramisu, white chocolate soufflé and the popular Kanafeh (a Levantine sweet cheese pastry), though we were too stuffed to try any of them.
For us the best thing about Malaga is the shisha. Not only is this the perfect environment for an after-dinner smoke, but it is also one of Abu Dhabi’s few inside shisha areas. Meaning that the air conditioned comfort is likely to be very popular once summer rolls around and the expert ventilation system means that you can’t even smell the smoke, which will be a real plus for people who are dining in the adjacent restaurant area.
Now Malaga has one trick up their sleeve and that’s the presentation of said shisha menu. Rather than displaying all the flavours on a piece of paper, participants are offered a chest of tobacco from which they can freely view and sniff the required options, to help with the selection of flavour. This was an innovative method that we have not encountered anywhere else in the Middle East and a vast array of flavours are offered, from the traditional double apple and mint and grape, to more obscure choices such as mango, melon and orange. At the recommendation of the Malaga team, we sampled the cinnamon which was delicate and retained its light flavouring even after three coal changes.
Malaga The Lounge is a place that encourages social interaction in the form of backgammon games and live sporting events broadcast on the outside terrace. Staff are without a doubt some of the friendliest you will encounter on the capitals dining scene and it is this warm hospitality and homely ambiance, that makes Malaga The Lounge such a pleasant surprise, especially when combined with the reasonable prices.
Malaga has been open since February and it’s a great shame that people are seemingly unaware of its existence at the Jannah hotel. Jannah translates as ‘paradise’ in Arabic and there is certainly a little bit of that here, with wonderful views and what is likely to become our new favourite shisha spot.
Location: Jannah Burj Al Sarab Hotel, Mina Street, Tourist Club Area, Abu Dhabi
Hours: 4pm – 1:30am
Phone: 02 201 6222
We were invited to this event but all views are our own. All photographs are © Out & About UAE, with the exception of the interiors, which were provided by the restaurant.