Playing Catch Up

WTC Mall is a modern shopping destination that caters to a diverse range of fashion and food-centric customers.” Aldar

Contrary to popular belief not all expats are spoilt and hard to please (not sure that all wait staff, valets, taxi drivers etc would agree with that statement) and there is nothing more pleasing to us more than a glimpse of familiarly from our home nations to satisfy some homesickness, well I speak for myself anyway.

ImageA little piece of the UK high street has appeared on our horizon

The newest shopping mall in Abu Dhabi, the World Trade Center (WTC) Mall ticks a lot of expat boxes with familiar high street names luring us into its shiny facade and dark wooden interior. It’s no secret that the capital is usually playing catch up to our glitzy, showy neighbour emirate up the road, but in a record retail coup the WTC is home to the first House of Fraser (HoF) in the UAE! This departmental gem, which is a favourite of mine back in the UK, is not quite the same as my local one in The Oracle shopping centre in Reading (no surprise there really) with most of the goods on offer of a high-end nature but it’s a lovely place for a nostalgic browse and at the moment has a fantastic 60% off sale!

ImageNando’s resides on the top floor of the WTC Mall

In a selfless act earlier this week, I took the teenager to WTC so she could get her Nando’s fix, another high-street favourite that opened in the mall last week. Now Dubai has had a couple of branches of the South African Chicken restaurant but this is the first branch to open here in Abu Dhabi (second branch opening on our doorstep in Al Zeina in April, inshallah) and it has been welcomed with open arms, especially by the younger generation. Famous for its Portuguese-Mozambican flame-grilled chicken with a variety of Peri-Peri marinades and flavoured sauces, it’s definitely one of the teenagers favourite haunts from back home.

As a veggie (hence the selfless act reference), a restaurant with a distinct poultry theme is not my top choice for lunch, but surprisingly instead of the just the drink I thought I would be nursing for the duration, I had three vegetarian options to choose from. Opting for a veggie burger with Lemon and Herb sauce, I received the comment “Only pussy’s order Lemon & Herb!” from the very ungrateful teenager! How rude! Out of the mouths of babes, or is that expat brats! Now not only do I not like chicken but I loathe food courts in malls so I am happy to report this is a stand alone space and another bonus it offers free refills on soda, all very American and not at all healthy! My ‘pussy’ lemon and herb veggie burger was surprising very nice and I am reliably informed that the peri-peri chicken meal was delicious.

ImageThe newly opened popular chain Nando’s has opened finally in AD, check out its wall of sauces below

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Another expat favourite dining option located in some of Dubai malls that has finally opened in Abu Dhabi is the American Asian-themed chain PF Chang’s China Bistro, again located in WTC. With so much hype surrounding this place, we tried it out last weekend to see if it did live up to its reputation and arriving early on a Saturday evening we couldn’t get a seat for love nor money, as it was packed. We joined the wait list and were given the dreaded buzzer which usually sends the other half into meltdown as the words ‘Wait’ and ‘Food’ in the same sentence do not go down well and neither does vague table timings! Luckily the aforementioned 60% menswear sale in House of Fraser within the buzzer zone distracted him for just enough time! Phew!

ImageThe very popular PF Chang’s, complete with full-size horse, is proving a hit here in the capital

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PF Chang’s did not disappoint! Vast menu, lots of veggie options, fast and efficient service, good food in large portions and again the Americanism of free refills! Even when we left, the place was still packed to the rafters and the queue was just as long so I am guessing it’s been well received here in the capital.

ImageThe traditional wooden interior with a modern twist of the WTC mallImage

When I first visited WTC malI I was disappointed but it seems as I went in the early days during its soft opening phase (in other words seriously behind schedule, not ready but opened anyway) with so many unfinished retail spaces, no HoF and just a cafe or two open but I may have spoken too soon. My initial opinion has now changed as the mall now has a great vibe, lots of different shops and dining options that were previously only in Dubai which is a huge bonus to us residents. Plenty of free parking combined with easy access to the Central Souk next door are more plus points and no doubt when the cinema is finally opened, the lure of a Nando’s or PF Chang’s combined with a movie will ensure its ongoing popularity.

ImageThe two gleaming WTCAD towers that are new on the Abu Dhabi skyline (source:www.timeoutabudhabi.com)

The World Trade Center Abu Dhabi (WTCAD) comprises of two slanted top towers that rise high above the existing skyline and along with the mall at the bottom also house residential space, a hotel and offices. WTCAD joins other trades centers across the globe with the shared objective of developing international trade and business. The Central Souk, Mall and towers sit on the twelve acre site of the old Central Market, a historic part of the city which was the heart of business and trading activity in the capital for over thirty years. As the hub of the city and the place were traders worked it seems the perfect location for the WTC to be erected.

It seems our malls are finally getting there and catching up with Dubai but it’s a slow and painful journey. I read this week that we are getting another American retail giant, Hollister opening here in Yas Mall after the first branch opened in Mall of The Emirates recently. The teenager and I visited the MoE branch earlier this week and it was like being back in the US, same lighting, same furniture, same clothes, same smell but one major difference dictated by cultural restrictions………no shirtless, six-packed smooth chested young men to welcome you in and have your photo taken with (the teenager not me just to clarify!) Much disappointment from the teenager as she may be growing out of the Hollister phase/fad but not the posing with said young men, she will just have to wait until London in the summer!

ImageFlashback to NYC 2012 and the scene the teenager was hoping to recreate in Dubai ^^ and what she actually got below….. 

ImageA torso free welcome at the new Hollister store in Dubai

So Abu Dhabi mall planners, especially those responsible for planning the new Yas Mall opening here in the last quarter of this year, please can you open a Pizza Express?? You will make this expat a very happy bunny and save me driving to Dubai for my favourite pizza fix. Thank you!

All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2014. All rights reserved.

**2016 Update** Pizza Express has opened in WTC Mall along with other great restaurants located in The Hub. Nando’s has opened at Al Zeina in Raha Beach and another branch recently opened at Boutik Mall on Al Reem Island. Sadly House of Fraser at WTC has closed but a second larger branch has opened in Yas Mall.