Review: Asador de Aranda – What’s On Abu Dhabi
Superb Spanish cuisine where suckling lamb is the star…
It’s amazing what six months can do for a cuisine in the capital. Before September 2022, authentic Spanish restaurants in Abu Dhabi were thin on the ground.
Fast forward some 180 days and we now have two quality options: José by Pizarro in Conrad Abu Dhabi, which opened to much fanfare in March, and Asador de Aranda, which, on the contrary, opened ever so quietly in The Galleria at the tail end of last year.
Despite little media attention, word has got around about an unassuming Spanish export that slow cooks the best milk-fed lamb in the country. And so, on our early-bird weekday visit, the venue is fairly busy. It deserves to be rammed.
The décor has an old-fashioned feel: wooden columns, racing-green banquettes, heavy oak tables with leather placemats, black and white framed photos, and a very odd painted glass ceiling.
But we’re not here for interior inspo. We’re here for what’s cooking inside that imposing pure-wood clay oven: great Spanish roast lamb.
The OG Asador de Aranda opened its doors in 1963 in Castilla y Leon serving Spanish-only roast lamb prepared in a wood-fired oven, and to this day, the brand has barely altered its cooking style.
Now the company owns more than 20 outlets in Spain and a few internationally, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Spaniard and executive chef Antonio Santos has worked alongside the likes of Blumenthal and Ramsay, and run several Michelin-starred restaurants.
But at Asador de Aranda, he’s returned to what makes him happiest – traditional Spanish home-cooking done well.
The reason we’re here
Asador de Aranda is Spanish from perfectionists: the popular patatas bravas (Dhs50), for instance, are elevated to aristocracy, the potatoes double-fried until hypnotically crisp, their sauce sweet and ripe from good tomatoes, the aioli yellow from good egg yolks and pugnacious with garlic.
Six croquettes (Dhs55) are delicate of shell, their roasted chicken-laced béchamel filling creamy and dense. Just wonderful slurpy little indulgences.
Then there’s the proletarian gambas al ajillo (Dhs88), an oily, garlicky tapas just touched with herbs, which whisks us straight to a summer’s day in Valencia.
Then comes the moment we’ve been waiting for: a trolley rolls over from the oven towards our table. Resting there is our el cuarto de asado – suckling lamb leg (Dhs380, 1.2kg) sitting in its traditional clay pot.
Roasted for three to four hours, its crispy coating gives way to the tenderest, most succulent and milkiest of meat, seasoned only with salt. A thing of rare, faultless beauty. Even our charming server, Shani, looks at it beaming with pride.
Dessert-wise, it was our duty to try the churros (Dhs48), which was possibly the most authentic version we’ve had outside of Spain in that it was too hot to touch.
It felt as if they had been delivered straight from the deep-fat fryer to our table, which is, in our opinion, the best way to enjoy them. Leave them to cool and you lose that vital freshness. These are piping hot, deep-fried and dense, served with dipping chocolate. What’s not to love?
What’s On Verdict: With such terrific tapas and wood-fired lamb as this, Asador de Aranda is a hidden gem in plain sight. Go now.
The Galleria, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi, daily noon to midnight. Tel: (0)2 681 4444. @asadordearanda.uae
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