This month we dine at the table of Chef Sunil Vaz, of Caramel Lounge and Restaurant, where we sampled some of their incredible signature dishes…

Chef Vaz is actually a native of the region, having been born in Kuwait, before heading to Bombay to study. “Cooking was more of a family tradition and growing up I helped out a lot in the kitchen,” he recalls. “And when the time came after graduation, I decided to get into the culinary field in Goa because I developed a serious interest in it. My hometown was inspirational for my future career with so many cultures and backgrounds.”

Chef Vaz then moved back to the Gulf to continue his career in Dubai, at the Hilton Creek, before moving to the prestigious Gordon Ramsay restaurant Maze, in London, where he worked with Jason Atherton. Following this, he moved across the Atlantic to Florida to work for Angela Hartnett at Cielo. He then returned to Dubai to the Capital Club before joining the Caramel Group, which has been his home for the past five years.

Caramel is already a highly successful concept that originated in Dubai’s DIFC, and now boasts four popular venues in the Middle East and Africa, with a fifth in the pipelines. Abu Dhabi’s venue can be found in the prestigious Collection mall at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort.

The venue is very well done, combining classy, elegant and modern, and yet comfortable and cosy, with mood lighting and a soothing and intimate amber glow. There is a choice of seating options, from comfortable and private couched booths to normal seated tables and social stool tables in the lounge area.

It’s the kind of place that can function as both a social gathering spot or an intimate dinner for two, with a live DJ livening things up most evenings.

“We take our food very seriously, sourcing the freshest ingredients from around the world in order to stay true to the authenticity of the dish,” explains Chef Vaz. “For instance, we get our Rock Shrimp from Florida and Beef from Australian ranges. With a bar lounge and live music to match, the fact that we’re already an award-winning venue located in one of the most popular destinations in the UAE, really speaks for itself.”
We started with two classics, the TNT Shrimp and Buffalo Wings with blue cheese dip. The shrimp were substantial, succulent and delicious, and the wings were nicely tangy without being too spicy, and went very well with the dip.

Then Chef insisted we try two dishes that the restaurant is renowned for – the Tuna Pizza and the Mac and Cheese Bites. The bites were nice, also coming with a cheese dip, although you couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed (and a little guilty) at so much cheese! However, we were blown away by the Tuna Pizza, which is truly delicious and yet a very light dish, with tuna Carpaccio layered on a wafer thin base with a lovely dressing. Superb!

With these dishes, we can see the culinary direction that Chef Vaz takes with regards to the menu at Caramel. “I like to create contemporary American cuisine. At Caramel we love to reinvent “comfort food” classics with an upscale gourmet twist in a luxurious yet relaxed setting,” explains Chef Vaz.

Our next experience was to be something truly novel – a Kobe Bolognese with truffle oil. This isn’t as rich as it sounds, as it’s not made with the thick sauce of a traditional Bolognese, although it is as tasty as it sounds!

And following that was the Chilean Sea Bass, which was a generous portion of succulent sea bass on a bed of seafood risotto, drizzled with lobster jus, also just as delicious as the description suggests.

We were truly impressed by everything we sampled at Caramel, and highly recommend you go along to try it for yourselves.

GO: Call (0)2 678 3344 for reservations and visit www.caramelgroup.com for more information.