The Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi is a property that defies expectations. As a brand constrained by connotations surrounding its mid-range status, the F&B team at this specific location are doing an admirable job of transforming peoples perceptions of the brand.
Located just off the lobby, the hotels Japanese restaurant SushiSan has garnered a reputation for affordable sushi in the capital and while it would be unfair to compare the offering to other heavy-hitters like Zuma and 99 Sushi, what you’re getting here is good indeed.
SushiSan is relatively small with a capacity for just 55 diners and as first time visitors, we’re impressed by the modern look and feel of the space with its intimate red leather booths and interactive sushi counter. Our visit coincides with the restaurants new Thursday Fusion Brunch which kicks off at 6:30pm, a much appreciated early start and ideal for a post-work drink and a welcome opportunity to kick-start the weekend.
The fusion element derives from the fact that (despite the restaurants name) this is more than just a sushi brunch. Guests can expect spring rolls, dim sum, ramen soup and a selection of Asian salads presented on small buffet tables and presided over by a large mural of a geisha. With visual appeal and the draw of Instagram becoming key marketing tools, it’s pleasing to see the SushiSan team have considered the presentation of the buffet with salads displayed amongst a ‘garden’ and the inclusion of a quirky sushi burger.
The sushi is ordered to the table using familiar check-box forms and features eight varieties of maki, plus a number of sashimi options which are made to order before being presented to the table upon sleek black slates. We’re assured that the Mucho Bonito (spicy tuna, avocado tempura flakes and ponzu) and the Salmon Fantasy (salmon, avocado, cream cheese and wasabi) are the most popular choices but we find ourselves more enamoured with the Dynamite Roll with its crisp tempura shrimp and tobiko which pops in the mouth.
The idea of fusion doesn’t just come from the amalgamation of Asian specialties but also the sushi itself (if you’ve visited Moshi in Dubai then you know the drill), and while sushi purists may balk at the likes of a beetroot maki roll, it’s a flavour combination that really works. Traditionalism aside, this particular maki has the potential to become an Instagram favourite due to its deep pink colouration making for a distinct visual appeal.
Sashimi comes from an interactive sushi counter where you can witness the chefs slicing the fish — salmon, tuna, octopus and tomago (Japanese omelette). Yet it’s customization that’s key to this particular brunch and the team are more than happy to assist with bespoke sushi creations for those with specific dietary requirements. This marks a refreshing change from the rigidity of many establishments in the city and an example of the customer experience being placed front and centre.
In keeping with the fusion concept the desserts may not represent traditional Japanese delicacies, instead taking brunch favourites and transforming them with a SushiSan twist. The utilization of popular Asian flavors is appreciated, though the Pandan creme brulee didn’t quite work for us (we’ll stick with the obligatory brunch chocolate fountain).
Drinks maintain a strong emphasis on quality, with two sake based cocktails available alongside Japanese beers and wines. Yet it’s the smoky moonshine that had us enraptured. With SushiSan being one of a handful of venues showcasing this spirit in the capital (we note that the new Saadiyat Rotana also stock it). We actually first got a taste for the moonshine at a recent golfing event to showcase the Holiday Inn’s forthcoming craft beer and burger concept Stock Burger which will be arriving VERY soon. The moonshine comes smoked in a glass bottle and packs quite the punch and with a variety of flavours on offer, we’d suggest you try the passionfruit one.
Service is friendly and efficient with a special mention to the bar team who put in a lot of hard work in ensuring a strong guest experience. Heightened by a restaurant that actually has atmosphere, thanks to DJ with a penchant for picking quality party tunes that instill SushiSan with a relaxed and playful vibe, albeit at an acceptable sound level which will not stifle conversation.
The Fusion brunch replaces SushiSan’s Friday concept and the move into a Thursday night slot appears to have benefited the space. Positioning the restaurant against less competition, while maintaining a reputation as an affordable Japanese restaurant.
Out & About UAE were guests of SushiSan. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.