Oriental vegetable salad. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

From the private entrance in the west wing of the Emirates Palace Hotel to walking on water (semi-literally) to reach the restaurant's front door, Hakkasan truly exudes an air of a chic retreat where you can forget the life you left outside.

tabloid! previewed the restaurant, which opens to the public on Saturday, a favourite of celebrities who flock to the flagship Michelin-starred Hakkasan in London, during a special tour and to say that it was impressive would be a bit of an understatement.

The dark wooden décor, which was hand-carved combining ancient Chinese and Arabian motifs, along with the dim lighting and swatches of blue peaking out from here and there immediately gives the restaurant an aura of calm. That combination along with the gastronomic delights would make anyone loath to leave — closing time or not.

To start things off, we were given a deliciously refreshing set of cocktails and mocktails, something that Hakkasan is renowned for, straight from the impressive 15-metre-long bar. I went with the aptly named Eden — a blend of black grapes, rose sugar, lychee juice, coconut cream and lime.

The heavenly combination hit the right spot and went well with our dainty bites that included fried and grilled dumplings, each with a unique stuffing, such as dates that was a nod to the UAE's culture, but with Hakkasan's touch, of course.

Afterwards, we were ushered to the "cages" as Hakkasan members fondly refer to the dining room area. Why cages? Because each dining section was walled off with intricately carved wooden panels that gave a sense of privacy while your senses are serenaded by the dishes placed in front of you.

Spoilt for choice

Among our starters were the steamed diver scallops with homemade chilli sauce and a fine oriental vegetable salad. The scallops were tender and the chilli sauce gave just the right kick, while the salad, which included bamboo shoots among other ingredients, helped to reel in our senses for the main course.

For the mains, we were truly spoilt for choice. For seafood lovers, there were not one, not two but three dishes to sample. But for those who were not big seafood fans, the jasmine tea smoked chicken was an option. The chicken was juicy and the jasmine tea gave such a aromatic aftertaste that I couldn't help wondering why no one had ever tried this combination before.

Then came my favourite part of the meal dessert. The dark chocolate fondant, rich, warm and creamy, was among the best fondants I had tasted in a long time. To counter that richness, banana ice cream was served. A departure from the traditional vanilla ice cream that is usually used, the banana provided a welcome complement to the fondant, while at the same time asserting Hakkasan's original culture.

Overall, the experience was one that made me and my senses feel welcome, entranced and sated. The restaurant is perfect for any occasion, from casual get-togethers to formal dining. It will not be a surprise if it becomes a foodie favourite soon.

What is the signature dish of Hakkasan Abu Dhabi?

The jasmine-infused beef ribs. It is actually the signature dish of Hakkasan London but we substituted beef for Abu Dhabi. We also use blue fish crab, hammour and other items that are local to the UAE. So we make sure to concentrate the natural flavours of the city as much as possible. But at the same time we import 60-70 per cent of our ingredients to ensure everything is up to our quality standards.

Any other adaptations?

In London, we usually complement our dishes with certain Chinese wines but here we decided to complement them with 50-year-old Chinese teas out of respect of the country's culture. Plus, both Chinese and Arabs share a love of tea.

How would you describe your cuisine?

We are a modern Cantonese restaurant. We try to make sure that our dishes contain a combination of traditional Chinese and modern elements.

What makes Hakkasan stand out?

We don't say no. No matter what your special request is. Nothing is impossible for us, as long as it is within reason.

Which celebrities have visited Hakkasan London?

Well, we've had Michelle Yeung [Hong Kong actress] and David Beckham — he's a regular actually. He comes in at least three times a week!

Where: Hakkasan, Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Telephone: 02 690 7999
Must haves: Eden mocktail, Jasmine smoked chicken and the chocolate fondant
Décor: Chinese monastery meets upscale establishment
Ambience: Zen calmness
Timings: from 6pm - 2am, last order at 12am
Rating: 5/5

Did you know?

The luxurious restaurant will be expanding to the rest of the UAE and Europe in the future, with the next Hakkasan slated to open in Mumbai by the end of 2010.