Mighty Masti, with a License to Pour (update: I’m not happy with the new menu)

La Mer, a beautiful “Arabian coastal chic” neighbourhood spread across the beginning of Jumeirah beach is turning into everyone’s favourite hangout. Delightfully diverse in every aspect, it’s a place to witness cultures of the world mixing together and carrying their own identity. Cheerful crowds in colourful swimwear coexist with locals dressed in traditional outfits sipping tea on Persian carpets. With free parking, Wi-Fi, outdoor showers, street art at every corner, plenty of attractions open and a few more on the way, every visit to La Mer is an exciting discovery. For me things got super exciting when I’ve discovered Masti, where sunset cocktails are no longer a dream.

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The first time I heard of Masti was from one of the restaurateurs. “How intriguing,” I thought. It is not common for competitors to speak highly of another business, or insist with a little glimpse of naughtiness that I must check it out immediately (in fairness the conversation took place as I typed my pin code). “Are they open now?” I wondered. The response startled me: “Be there after five”. Obviously overwhelming curiosity won, bringing me there at 5 o’clock sharp, thirsty for a new experience.

Masti translates as “fun and mischief”, a concept that appeals to all sort of cool folks: millennials, hipsters, Instagram stars, desperate housewives, startuppers and “seen it all” DIFC girlz and boyz (these are the categories that popped up first in my head). The restaurant’s approach of blurring limits applies to everything you see, hear, touch or taste. Being the first (and only at the moment) licensed restaurant at La Mer, they are obliged to experiment and amaze.

Extraordinary, but fact: the restaurant with a “license to pour” is not a part of a hotel, but a completely independent establishment at the South side of La Mer. The existence of Masti is a fantastic occurrence on its own, inaugurating a new era in UAE food and beverage business, and paired with some pretty awesome cocktails is an offer one cannot simply miss. The the restaurant consists of two levels, with drinks served after 5pm on the first floor and their fantastic upper terrace overlooking the beach and the Downtown.
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While many may stop to sip the night away, Masti is definitely not just a pretty lounge with epic cocktails. The majority of dishes on the menu represent the change in dining happening all over the globe. Set as Indian Fusion cuisine, the restaurant breaks all obvious stereotypes and expectations by offering food that exists nowhere else. Have you ever tried any of the following: naan pizza with burrata and butter chicken, tuna tartar mixed with crunchy puffed rice, caved in a shell of unsweetened sugar, smoky lamb croquettes with a side of chopped sweet onions, lotus cookie tiramisu in a pool of saffron or a mysterious sounding dessert called “raspberry rose”?

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The Avant Garde of Japanese cuisine

Weird but true: the exercise of observing art always has an intense appetizing effect on me, stronger than any existing aperitif. Just two hours under the “rain of light” dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi, all I could think of was food. All was lost to the most human feeling ever, hanger. A quick look at Google Maps disappointed with only a few exceptionally bland nearby options. Then, a peculiar name popped-up on the screen and a 10 minute countdown to Sushi 99 at the Four Seasons commenced. Grrrrrr…

The drive to Maryah Island, a fancy financial district overlooking downtown Abu Dhabi, from the cultural district of Saadiyat was pleasant with barely any traffic and complimentary valet on arrival. One floor down from the lobby and we were standing right in front of a bronze waterfall, casually serving as a door frame. “Wow,” I thought. “This will be an entrance to remember!”

Other eye-candy placed at the entrance was a giant fish statue with charismatic looks and an ironic eye: “You guys think you’ve seen it all?” This artwork was repeatedly re-printed on beautifully crafted rectangular plates all around the restaurant.

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Sushi 99 starts with a spacious lounge, a golden bar on one side and a glass window opening on expensive looking bottles thoughtfully arranged behind it. The interior décor includes expressive saturated tones and was highly elusive and slightly deceiving, as in my view it didn’t communicate Japanese. Comfy sofas and dark grey ottomans contrasted with vividly red murals and rugs and balanced the warmth of the light. A similar concept continued across the restaurant, and when my eyes adapted to the dimmed light, I started to realize how carefully the Japanese theme was crafted into the otherwise very chic Mediterranean surroundings. Bonsai trees, for example, did the trick for me.

The table was minimalist, with shiny wine glasses, custom-made cutlery and crockery, a piece of art soya sauce jar and an adorable white cookie that, with water, turned into a hot towel. Greatly impressed and stunned, I mumbled to myself something about sincerity, peacefulness, elegance and passion, however a clear voice interrupted my chaotic sentence: “Japanese with Spanish influence. Not vice versa.” The first Sushi 99 opened in Madrid and quickly turned into five locations including Barcelona. The Abu Dhabi bar and restaurant was the first and only establishment abroad. Alrighty!

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A big fan of chic cocktails involving advanced bartending and mixology, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order off the list. So I walked directly to the golden bar and requested to be impressed. Sergey, who immediately accepted the challenge, served me a tall glass filled with a refreshing, punchy mix with everything Dubai girl dreams of (fresh raspberries for example). My second drink, an exotic Mojito put together by Yuli, featured passion fruit as the main ingredient. Yumm!

The repeated theme of passion (think interiors, art and fruit) came up while ordering. Once the menu was open, our hostess started a conversation describing dishes, ingredients and cooking secrets to us. They source the world’s best and freshest ingredients. Their Spanish tuna was so incredible that some parts resembled a marbled Wagyu steak. Don’t believe me?

I placed myself in the hands of the very competent team to feed us with no regrets. Salted edamame, a complimentary starter, got me into sampling mood and the dinner began. It took the first dish, a juicy crab served in its shell, to announce my verdict: absolutely amazing. The best I’ve had in life, and a little spoon on the side made scooping easy.

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A few other masterpieces tasted that night included: spicy tuna tartar with a secret Japanese sauce, foie gras rolls topped with sweet raspberries, a selection of salmon sushi flambé with slices of browned lime a top, and slices of tuna soaked in a trio of sauces – coriander, passionate fruit and soya. This was the moment the chef stopped by our table to grate fresh wasabi right in front of us, melting my heart completely.

While we were savouring these luxuries to our senses, the breeze occasionally blew through the open panoramic windows adding a touch of wildness to the experience. We selected a pot of green tea with mochi ice-cream as a final touch to the dinner and sipped the night away. I can’t wait to go back!

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P.S. The charismatic looking person casually lounging at the bar is Cris, a fellow blogger and social media influencer. You can find more about him here.

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