The first best thing about Al Ulya (despite the Arabic ‘sounding’ name) is that it is authentically Portuguese, located in a non-nonsense neighborhood, easy to find and ample parking at hand. Enough excuse to get away from the ‘buzz’iness of the mall culture, and spend some quality café time in an atmosphere that is homely and reminds you of everything Portuguese. The ambience is rustic, with a mix of black and white images of Portugal covering the wall at the back, traditional guitars on another and pieces of wooden furniture filled with traditional Portuguese foods and artefacts along the other.
And that’s not all! Rui Encarnacoes is quick to greet you (he is Portuguese!) and give you a culinary tour of the delicacies the establishment has to offer, taking pride in the fact that recipes are traditional (handed down generation to generation) from across Portugal, with many of the ingredients shipped in.
The first choice for us are the ‘pastels’ but we go for Rissois de Camarão (a Portuguese shrimp dumpling) and Croquetas de Carne. And a little cup of bica (a strong café) served in small cups.
After the delicious starters, we decided to take the culinary journey further with a Sopa da Pedra no Pao Caseiro (a tasty broth served in a crusty loaf), a Sandes Mista (ham and cheese sandwich) and a fresh seafood salad that had shrimps jumping out of it. Topped with Pastel de Nata…. just like in Portugal.
Fed-up (pun intended or unintended), stuffed, we still managed to bag a few treats for home including some freshly baked bread and some Empanadas de Galinha (Chicken pastry), and more pastels.
With the Portuguese chatter you hear all around, it is obvious that the restaurant is a popular hangout with the Portuguese and the many other expatriates walking in. The idea of introducing a proper Portuguese café is just what Abu Dhabi needed.
Incidentally, Al Ulya (Loulé) is a city in the South of Portugal that still has a rich Islamic heritage – a legacy of Arab rule from the early 700’s until 1249 AD. Al Ulya is translated as ‘The Highest” in Arabic, very appropriate for a city that is perched atop a mountain with strong Islamic architectural influences. The old market of Al Ulya was the inspiration for the logo.
Get adventurous then and venture into Al Ulya for a great culinary experience and some fine Portuguese hospitality. You could only get lost in the back lanes (call +971 2 583 87 27 for directions), but you will agree that the food is worth dying for.
Makes me proud of my Portuguese heritage!
Afterthought: … and on another note – Lulu’s now has begun offering Empanadas 🙂