The Asian-inspired Smoking Doll offers some of the best Oriental food in Abu Dhabi. Out & About UAE have reviewed the Reem Island location previously and upon receiving at invite to the Nation Towers brach, we were couldn’t wait return and for our fix of Far Eastern delights.
In the twelve months since our previous visit the menu remains largely the same, aside from some minor enhancements and additional dishes. All our old favorites such as the Bangkok Tom Yum Soup, traditional Pad Thai and Pad Nampeung (honey and soy glazed beef) are present and correct but this time we looked to sample some of Smoking Doll’s lesser known items.
In keeping with the Reem Island location, Smoking Doll Nation Towers adopts the same color scheme of vibrant oranges and dark blacks. The light-fittings – with their splashes of bright colours – resemble inverted parasols and the space is divided by wooden partitioning, masterfully crafted and shaped like a geisha’s fan. Gone are the colored kimonos worn by the pleasant staff, instead replaced with a far more formal attire.
Despite its location in a mall (albeit a very upmarket one), images of a personality-less retail destination escape from the mind upon entering the subdued space. Large windows with corniche views provide the impression of dining alfresco, without the need to actually be outside in the heat. With tables pressed up against the glass, diners can expect views of the Marina Village and the mightily impressive Emirates Palace.
Having had such a pleasurable meal on our previous visit, we had in mind a few items that we wanted to try. Starting with the Smoking Roll, a platter of sushi housed in a bell jar of smoke. Exposing the sushi to smoke allows it to take on some of the smoldering flavour and also works as an alluring piece of dinner theatre.
Making a visual impact is key with this dish and the whisps of smoke do help to add to the mystical charms associated with Japanese cuisine. The taste though doesn’t quite live up to the presentation and is more of a good dish than an excellent one, comprising unagi, smoked mayonnaise and a fresh cucumber pickle.
One of the things we appreciated most during our first visit were the beverages selection, which have now been improved somewhat further via some new additions. Despite not having a liquor license the fruity mocktails are of a very high standard and blend some of the most fragrant and exotic Asian ingredients.
The colouration of the striking Purple Haze may be garish but the taste is spot on due to its mix of creamy coconut, grenadine, passion fruit and pineapple juices. Meanwhile The Gentleman muddles kumquats with lychee and homemade lemonade, though it’s the taste from the Thai sweet basil that is most prominent.
Looking for something simpler? Then the Siam Mantra, a combination of fresh ginger, apple and elderflower is likely to suit. Or perhaps the Thai Iced Coffee with it’s cool blend of espresso and frothy milk.
All drinks come with a side of lychee pearls. Added to the drinks, these sweet translucent spheres act a like a sweet and fruity caviar, exploding on the tongue and providing an instant hit of sugary lychee. So often these kinds of beverages come across overly artificial and far too sweet. Thankfully Smoking Doll provide a more subtle balance, making these drinks more refreshing and thirst-quenching than sugary-sweet.
Back to the appetisers, we admired the Goong Chup Paeng Tord (a crispy prawn tempura with garlic chilli sauce, lime mayonnaise and fresh ginger) thanks to it’s light golden batter, that despite being fried showed little signs of oil and lots of fleshy prawns.
To be honest, we were disappointed with the Gyozo Nuea (beef, hoisin and ginger dumplings), in part because the dumpling skin was far too think and also because the filling was dry and a little tasteless. It may have been an off day in the kitchen because usually the dumplings at Smoking Doll are good but on this occasion we couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.
Things were quickly redeemed with the arrival of the main courses, with the portion sizes appearing to have increased since our previous visit and indicative of better value for money. Selecting from the menu is the most difficult part, with a number of skewers, curries, sushi platters and wok fried dishes available. The menu is full of colorful pictures to assist you, complete with a helpful key that suggests via pictures which dishes to order – with a fan highlighting spicy dishes and and a geisha showing chefs recommendations.
Pad See Ew, a combination of work fried noodles, Chinese broccoli, morning glory and beef is full of fresh vegetables and reminded us of a similarly themed dish we sampled on a trip to the perfume pagoda in Vietnam. The beef is generously cut from a large chunk of meat and had a strong flavor and is a dish that carries a distinct aroma, smelt long before its arrival at the table.
Meanwhile the Talay Pad Prik fries prawn and calamari in a fiery chili paste and tops with basil. Accompanied by a bowl of steamed jasmine rice, this staple of Asian cuisine helps to subdue and diffuse the heat from the chilli which is used generously but tastes very good.
Up until this point our food had arrived with speedy efficiency from the team of competent Smoking Doll staff. Perhaps because it was late in the afternoon, we found ourselves dining during a shift change and this was unfortunate. It was a meal of two halves, with staff initially pre-empting our needs but after the changeover we felt a little ignored. Thankfully with just dessert left, it didn’t detract too much from our dining experience.
In our previous review we mentioned that when we returned again it would be to sample the Mango Sticky Rice and Ginger & Lime Creme Brûlée from the limited dessert menu. Mango and sticky rice has been a firm favorite of ours for sometime and stems from a street food cart that used to travel Bangkok’s Kho San Road during our backpacking days. The version at Smoking Doll is more ‘fine dining’ than street food and comes in a bamboo, with a side of creamy coconut cream and a selection of exotic fruits. Don’t let the fact that you’re eating sweetened rice dissuade you, yes it may be carb heavy and stodgy but this is all part of its appeal.
The Creme Brûlée was also passable, with just the right amount of acidic citrus offset against the caramelized sugar top and warm ginger. Understandably these desserts won’t be for everyone but are perfectly in keeping with the ‘Asia-Fused’ concept of Smoking Doll and are a great platform to showcase South East Asia’s exotic ingredients.
Smoking Doll at Nation Towers is more picturesque, ambient and altogether busier than the more subdued Reem Island location. Presenting a successful blend of Asian Fusion with elements of Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine all represented. With great consistency across the food and beverages we certainly enjoyed our second time at Smoking Doll and sincerely hope that both our writing and images have improved significantly since then.
We were invited to dine at Smoking Doll. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.