Ringing a good friend in Abu Dhabi, I inquired if she would like to join me on Sunday night for a meal at Original Fusion.
“I’ve never heard of it,” she asked. “What do they serve?”
Even though I had reviewed the menu, which promised to ‘blend great Emirati heritage with various European dishes’, all I could answer was, “Fusion.”
(Unnecessary) reservation made, we arrived at an empty restaurant with our pick of tables (we were the sole patrons throughout the evening). With its loft-like atmosphere thanks to exposed duct work, an oversized light fixture, and a color palate of purple and white, the interior felt like a sophisticated airport lounge. I’m not sure if this was the intent or not. Why the bar area is located on the far side of the restaurant (therefore forcing guests to cross through the dining room) seems a tad strange, but I did enjoy the open kitchen concept. Having peeked outside, the terrace is generically nice and does afford some unique views not found elsewhere in the capital.
From the start, our service was awkward. There was talking over, strange amounts of repetition and missed items that had to be clarified. It’s not to say that the wait staff wasn’t polite in their delivery, or anything but professional, however, it was strangely jarring throughout the meal.
Although licensed, the drinks menu is rather basic. Currently, there are no specialty cocktails listed (although plenty of spirits). So we ended up with a few glasses of nicely chilled chardonnay from an extremely limited wine list.
While fusion can mean different things, my interpretation is a combination highlighting the best that two cuisines have to offer. Glancing at the menu, I saw this most prevalent in the camiloi (Italian pasta and well, camel). As I am by no means an expert on Emirati cuisine, I would invite someone better versed in these flavor profiles to take a closer look at the menu and advise where the specific ‘fusion’ occurred, because I mostly saw a European experience.
To my dismay, two of the starters I had been looking forward to trying (the zucchini flower and quail sphere) were not available. Instead, we sampled the lamb nest with a green salad (the fattoush listed on the fancy easy to use digital menu was also unavailable –- for those more traditional in their dining experience, a bound paper menu was also provided) and the camioli. While our appetizers were not explicitly listed as sharing plates, as we wanted to try all that was on offer, the dishes could be consumed by one person or enjoyed by two (potentially a push for more diners). Upon arrival, for some reason, I expected more of a lamb tartare and less a plate of cured lamb. However, with the egg yolk and crunchy pistachios, I enjoyed the combination of flavors and textures (although I would have served it warmer). Unexpectedly, the camioli was served while we were enjoying the lamb, and by the time we tucked in, was much colder than I would have preferred. The camel was tasty, and the creamy parmesan sauce enhanced the slightly salty pasta. These soft textures were further balanced with some roasted almonds. We had not explicitly asked for our dishes in any order, but as a note to the kitchen and wait staff, I would ask the guests if or when they were ready for their next plate before firing off dishes too early.
Fortunately, there were no temperature issues of any kind with our mains. I was a bit surprised to see hammour on the menu. After some recent education of overfishing in the region, going forward, as lovely and delicate as the dish was, at the risk of contributing to any overfishing, I would choose another protein. My friend’s Chilean sea bass (in reality Patagonian toothfish) was also quite delicious and both were beautifully presented. In trading bites, we noted that the sea bass had a little too much relish, with the accompanying loumi sauce (a mixture including elements of dried lime) far too salty for our liking, and not necessary in an already mouth-watering dish. With mains at AED120 and AED140 respectively, the pricing is relatively fair.
To finish our meal, we settled on a sorbet selection and cardamom mousse. Both lived up to expectations, although, in my opinion, the extra chocolate on the mousse was a little redundant.
I was on the fence about a fair rating as we walked out. While waiting for the elevator, we spotted the soon-to-open Tamba, a home-grown Indian concept which oozed ambiance, despite the lack of guests. The manager greeted us personally and invited us for a tour. It helped me conclude that while the food at Original Fusion is reasonably good and well priced (AED250 per person for three courses without alcohol), the lack of atmosphere and service issues have me making it difficult to recommend to others. The experience was neither particularly original nor fused with anything specific, however, I suppose ‘Decent European Venue with Vague Regional Elements’ is not the best name for an establishment… While I wouldn’t hesitate to order everything again, Original Fusion has plenty of room for improvement, before I decide to return.