Frangipani {Dinner on Zaya Nurai Island}

Ok, so one really cool thing about Abu Dhabi is that you can take a 10 minute car drive to the ocean front, then hop on a speed boat for another 10 minutes, and be at a totally luxurious, secluded island resort.  Zaya Nurai Island to be exact.  So that is precisely what we did last Thursday evening. (Yes you can even do it easily on a Thursday evening!)  We decided to take a "romantic getaway" to dinner at Frangipani (the Island's main restaurant).  Since they opened, a little over a year ago, hardly anyone yet knows just how easy it is to get to there, (yes I am blowing it now) so the whole trip felt like a private excursion.

When you step off of the speed boat there are helpful assistants to guide you (walk you, or even give you a ride on a plush golf cart) to your dinner reservations.  We decided to walk the three minute walk down the sandy path, through the plush greenery to the beach front eatery.  The view from the restaurant's large wooden patio allows you to watch the waves as the sun sets.  Ok, sounds like blah blah cheesy, but as the warm breeze blows through your hair and you realize that you are in the middle of the Arabian is more than just romantic, it feels like a really extraordinary place to be!  (Especially on a Thursday night!) 

The service is excellent. Before you can even sit down they are bringing you cold water and offering you a drink from their creative mocktail/cocktail menu. One of the more creative drinks on offer is served in a small flowerpot, and is a nicely balanced concoction of beet juice, rootbeer, and a few other secret ingredients that I won't give away. The sweetness is subtle and the sparkle is refreshing.

Frangipani offers a range of cuisine, but all of the food is simple and thoughtfully prepared, which is just slightly important.  The kitchen team is lead by the practically celebrity chef, Marc Abed, and I am not sure what is more interesting about him, his personal style (he was wearing crisp bright green khakis when we met), his infectious passion for food, or his friendly demeanor.  He has the experience of the pros, having done his time at the famous Noma, in Copenhagen, and he is anything but lacking in the global perspective needed to please the multicultural customers of the UAE.  (He, himself, is actually half Mexican, and half Lebanese).  

We decided to go with a few of his recommendations for dinner which included the Salt Crusted Sea Bream, the Tenderloin with a choice of sides, and a few of their freshly creative salads.  We started with three salads and a beautiful basket of warm crusty bread. The mild, creamy Burrata with Cherry Tomato confit; the nutty Avocado and Red Quinoa with ginger; and my favorite, the Mediterranean Squid (grilled baby squid with just a simple lemon and olive oil dressing). The squid were tender and wafted that subtle charcoal aroma that pairs so nicely with the breeze from the ocean.

As the mains arrived, we watched as our server fileted the Sea Bream at our table with the ease of having done it a thousand times. The fish was tender, and mild with just a squeeze of lemon. If you prefer a heartier meal, the steak might be your new go-to. It was juicy and flavorful (as it should be, being prime grass-fed New Zealand beef). They also offer a number of rich and delicious jus selections, but we too enjoyed the flavor of the meat to use them much. As a true lover of the side dishes as much as the main attractions, I loved that none of them were overly rich or heavy. You can't go without the crispy chips, the fluffy mash potatoes and the roasted brussels sprouts (which are not easy to find here in Abu Dhabi). I didn't get to the pasta this time but I was so so tempted to order the Scamorza Gnocchi. Until next time....(sigh).

No matter what you decide to order, you absolutely have to save room for dessert (as if that is ever an issue for me). There is a decadent dessert (reflecting some of that Noma creativity) made specially only at Frangipani... you will find it on Instagram or Twitter etc, so I will leave that to your sleuthing... My favorite was a complete surprise and most probably hovers under the radar for most diners. The Cream Brulee. It is served in a cute little jar topped with juicy red currents. The dessert is creamy, light, not overly sweet, and bursting with smooth, nutty vanilla.

When dinner is over you are welcome to stay as long as you like wandering the island, maybe watching the open air film on a comfy bean bag, or relaxing in the beach-side lounge, with the live music, a cocktail or a coffee. The last boat leaves the island at 11pm, and in an all-to-short trip across the waves you will suddenly be back to reality.

Just one more thing: I am amazed how undiscovered this place is still!  Instead of planning another usual romantic meal out at the trendy Etihad Towers or Emirates Palace, this dinner out was a totally unique island getaway...(And -if you really want to impress someone-there is always the option of renting one of the absolutely AMAZING over-water villas and staying for a night, ...but that will have to be a whole different post....)
Just go for dinner... or brunch, or lunch, and you will wonder why you never went before.


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