Filipino chef John Buenaventura serves a varied buffet in Abu Dhabi
When it comes to dining options in Abu Dhabi, the world is yours. Or your oyster mushrooms, if you really don’t smell like seafood.
Such variety can sometimes leave your stomach empty and your mind full of indecision as you ponder what to eat for dinner. Mexican? Italian? Something more regional? The mix of menus can be tricky to navigate, but Graphos Social Kitchen at Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island aims to provide diners with a menu that starts at the door and leads to a maze of cooking stations where dishes from around the world are prepared.
What to expect and where to sit
The expansive indoor dining space is divided into a dozen sections, making the restaurant feel like a cozy place to eat at all times. As I’m led through the double doors, there are small tables on the right, with wooden chairs and longer tables with padded seats, all arranged under low colored lanterns. There is also an area with curtains where diners can eat in privacy.
Outdoor seating is available by the hotel pool and seems to be a popular spot the evening I visited. But I’m led to a table near the middle of the restaurant that offers a view of a fountain outside and a clear run to the maze of cooking stations.
Graphos operates as a buffet-style restaurant during its breakfast and dinner services — lunch is a la carte — with dishes prepared in small kitchens dotted around the center of the space. They are separated by geography, with Eastern and Western cuisine meeting at the salad bar.
Given the variety of dishes on offer, it is advisable to take a gastronomic tour through the maze of the buffet to help you create your personal menu. My first steps take me past an East Asian station with vegetarian sushi and tuna sashimi, across from the deliciously colorful salad spot.
In front of me is a selection of house drinks, priced and arranged on a central table, and an area devoted to breads of all kinds. There’s also a “kids’ section,” complete with cupcakes, donuts, jars of marshmallows and sprinkles, and a chocolate fountain.
Restaurant manager Shemeer is on duty and introduces himself with a playful quip that all guests are free to use the fountain, as “there is no age limit here”. He directs me to the eastern half of the restaurant, where I find hot mezes, such as crispy kibbeh, and main courses including Arabic mixed grill, lamb curry and pad Thai, with chefs ready to serve me. a plate.
Meanwhile, my dining partner’s culinary compass points west to a station where the components of a classic roast dinner are being prepared – lamb and chicken are cut and plated by the serving chef – as well as two pasta dishes. Eggplant slices cook on a grill, creating a delicious sizzle and reminding you that dishes are fresh.
At the western border of the buffet area is a wide assortment of desserts. All are arranged on a variety of small stages – from wooden boxes to birdcage cake stands – and compete for the spotlight as diners pass by. Raspberry Almond Slices are among the most delicious options at first sight. Clear glass panels separate the sweets from the guests, preventing me from grabbing a few to taste as I return to my table.
One problem with buffets is that food is often plated by the guest, preventing chefs from assembling dishes that are a feast for your eyes, as well as your Instagram followers. At Graphos, the staff fills the plates for you, but the portion size is always up to the customer. There’s also a strong temptation to mix things up on the way – you can combine potato harra and pasta with tomato sauce just to save yourself a second trip.
It may put a heavier burden on the restaurant to deliver taste, but it hits the mark with well-prepared offerings. The freekeh with roast chicken was pleasantly tasty – and the portion of meat was generous – but I found myself coming back for another serving of dal palak which, while understated, was packed with flavor and was a treat.
The salad station’s lemon mint avocado shooter is also worth a mention. It offers a light and refreshing start to a meal and is served in a shot glass, making it fun to drink and allowing you to sip or gulp it down before returning to choose a main course.
A conversation with the chef
John Buenaventura, Executive Chef of the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, has worked primarily in the United Arab Emirates, including nearly two years at the Yas Bay hotel. Originally from the Philippines, he follows the culinary principles that food should be “simple, straightforward and nostalgic”. He describes the Graphos menu as “familiar” and says the restaurant’s east-west concept is designed to give customers an “intimate feeling when dining”.
Value for money and contact details
Graphos charges Dh120 ($30) per person for the buffet breakfast; 145 Dh for lunch and 190 Dh for dinner. It may leave your wallet lighter, but the wide variety of dishes and the potential for multiple servings means you probably won’t.
Graphos Social Kitchen is open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. For reservations, call 02 208 6900.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant
Updated: April 22, 2022, 6:02 p.m.