As one of our favourite new openings of the past 12 months, the arrival of 99 Sushi Bar on Abu Dhabi’s upmarket Al Maryah Island came as somewhat of a surprise.
It’s abundantly clear that 99 Sushi have brought their ‘avant-garde haute cuisine’ to Abu Dhabi in a bid to steal some of the clientele and shine from Zuma’s glittering crown and with high-levels of service and exemplary food, it’s been interesting to see how the two restaurants competing in such close proximity to one another.
With the majority of diners distracted by the idea of Friday brunch, 99 Sushi have swooped in to capture their own sector of the market by being one of the only restaurants in the capital to offer a Saturday brunch and what a laid back and refined affair it is.
Waterfalls slide effortlessly down a golden glass facade, seductively inviting diners to discover what’s inside. Gold is most definitely on the agenda, like the palace of the mythological King Midas, embossed gold can be found everywhere — the walls, the menus, the uniforms and even the chopsticks holders. This all gold thematic works surprisingly well, staying on the right side of gaudy and complemented by blown-glass and mirrored walls, 99 Sushi makes for one of the most appealing dining rooms in Abu Dhabi.
Brunch may start at 1pm but don’t expect any food for the first hour, that’s not a criticism but the defining factor of what makes this particular brunch so unique. From the hostess stand we’re led through the small bar and restaurant (with capacity for only 99 diners) and out onto a terrace overlooking the water and Abu Dhabi’s skyline. The environment feels chic and with low-slung velvet couches and living walls constructed from verdant foliage, we can’t help but linger with a glass of champagne in hand. A competent saxophonist adds to the audience as does the five hour window for brunching (1pm — sunset), marking a more relaxed approach to brunch and one that encourages diners to socialize and connect.
Hailing from Spain, 99 Sushi Bar has five branches in Madrid and one in Barcelona, with the popular sushi spot choosing Al Maryah Island for its first international location. The concept may derive from Spain but the cuisine is solely Japanese and although ‘haute cuisine’ appears to be the current marketing terminology for anything new, in the case of 99 Sushi Bar this is an accurate monicker.
With the word Zeitaku translating from Japanese as extravagance, this feels like a strong representation of this particular table brunch. We’re eased into proceedings with a simple selection of nori wrapped Hosokmaki and Edamame and it’s particularly interesting to note that during the first few courses we’re encouraged to eat with our hands to experience the food from a heightened sensory perspective.
The notion is presumably to prepare us for the reinterpretation of Okonomiyaki, which in this instance has been transformed from a savory pancake into more of a sushi pizza. The notion of sushi pizza is certainly not a new one, with the dish becoming an Instagram food trend in early part 2017. As with the majority of these gimmicky dishes designed for ‘the Gram’ in a bid to provoke likes and hashtags (#SushiPizza) the execution varies widely. Thankfully, the Okonomiyaki at 99 Sushi has a firm focus on providing stimulating textures and flavours and the combination of corn tortilla with tuna usuzukuri and tare sauce transpires to be a winner.
The subversion of expectations continues with the Fatty Tuna and Smoked Beef Bacon Tacos, a dish that replaces the tradition corn taco shell with a paper-thin seaweed wrapper. In all honesty it’s not the easiest dish to eat and despite the inevitable mess, the amalgamation of fatty tuna, rice and a chili tomato emulsion makes for a unique dish quite unlike anything we’ve tried before.
99 Sushi Bar wisely use the brunch to showcase some of their most popular dishes, with the crowd-winning Tiger Prawn Tempura taking precedence is the early courses. This take on the ever-popular dynamite shrimp offers a plentiful portion of lightly battered prawns in a kimchi sauce. The success lies in the fact that the dish isn’t slathered in sauce, allowing the prawns to retain a delicate crispiness, though ideally we would’ve appreciated a little more heat from the kimchi.
Our personal favourite dish from our initial review of the venue appears midway onto the brunch and still remains our ‘must order’ choice for this specific venue. The Spicy Tuna Tartare utilizes the salted and fermented vegetables of kimchi and looks more like a traditional sweet and sour mix. A beguiling spice blend partnered with cool tuna chunks and additional texture in the form of shoestring chips makes for a rewarding choice.
Next up are the Panko Mistura Roll and the Temptsuyu Maki. The latter is a dish that creates a lasting impression, literally coming to life at the table! The maki are adorned with tuna flakes that react to the heat from the accompanying sauce. With the flakes dancing hypnotically like some kind of insectoid it’s a dish that is likely to impress (we’ve seen the same technique utilised at both Aji & Ramusake in Dubai) and we believe this is a first for Abu Dhabi. The maki is followed in quick succession by the nigiri with four varieties on offer — butterfish with truffle, fatty tuna, scallop and salmon flambé with lime.
With the consistency so high throughout, the Fatty Tuna Tartar Gunkan is the dish we enjoyed the least. Served with smoked beef bacon and quail egg, the gunkan didn’t provide quite the same impression as the rest of the brunch, leaving us slightly underwhelmed.
A common misconception regarding the table brunch is the perceived lack of food from seasoned brunchers accustomed to the (seemingly) never-ending buffet tables. The 11 courses presented during the Zeitaku Saturday brunch will easily take you beyond bursting point and after all the sushi offerings, the main course of Skirt Steak represents a dish we wouldn’t have expected. Cooked to your liking, the usually fibrous cut taken from the cows diaphragm is a pleasant surprise thanks to the galangal sauce that really helps to elevate the dish.
With so many courses on offer, a simple dessert of Mochi Ice Cream makes for a sensible end to the brunch, with the Japanese rice cake ice cream offering the perfect balance of consistency and flavour.
Granted the pricing of this particular brunch is in the upper bracket for the capital, the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true. 99 Sushi is uncompromising and in a similar vein to their most direct competitor Zuma, there is no voucher culture, no Entertainer and no negotiation when it comes to both price and quality.
With such extensive fine-dining options on Al Maryah Island, with the likes of Zuma, LPM, Nusr-Et, Coya, Butcher & Still and Robertos all competing for your dirhams, 99 Sushi seems like the perfect fit and the Zeitaku Saturday Brunch looks to firmly cement that reputation.
As we mentioned in our initial review: “99 Sushi Bar makes a bold impression and an integral addition to the dining options on Al Maryah, perfectly slotting into the high-end niche of the island. It’s a venue that secretes a luxury feel from the very fabric of the building, from the amber-lit bar through to the elegant lounge.”
We’ve got 99 problems but sushi ain’t one 🙂
The Zeitaku Saturday brunch is available every Saturday from 1pm – sunset:
AED 399 (non-alcoholic)
AED 499 (bubble and premium house beverages)
AED 699 (champagne and sake)
Location: The Galleria, Four Seasons Hotel, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 3:30pm / 7pm – midnight
Phone: 02 672 3333
Out & About UAE were guests of 99 Sushi Bar. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.