Troy Payne

Sanderson’s at Al Seef in Abu Dhabi: Good, healthy food, without going on about it

Troy Payne is reluctant to start tossing around buzzwords like organic when it comes to healthy food. Probably more than many people in his industry, though, the executive chef for Sanderson’s at Al Seef Resort & Spa in Abu Dhabi, a restaurant from Serg Lopez, formerly of Tom & Serg, knows what he’s talking about.

The 41-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, who managed to lose 25 kilograms five years ago and keep it off, has been in the culinary business since he was 14. He visits local farms and markets on his day off and prefers to cook most of his own food at home – even though that’s his job all day. He launches Sanderson’s with a kitchen staff of a dozen people, coming from within the fold of Bull & Roo, which was the umbrella business Lopez ran with Tom Arnel before striking out on his own. Ahead of the opening this Friday, November 9, Payne tells what kind of food will be on the table at one of the capital’s most anticipated eateries.

It will be healthy food…

…but the concept won’t be rammed down anyone’s throat – and it might not be what you expect. “I’m not a big fan of labels,” Payne explains. “There is going to be healthy food, there is going to be nutritious food. There is going to be food where people go, ‘Oh, that’s superfood.’”

Vine leaves and dehydrated rice paper beetroot sheets, made from the pulp of beets used in fresh juices, will replace traditional tortillas in wraps. But don’t expect to see any acai.

“You know that acai berry that everyone raves about and it’s a superfood? A blueberry is better,” he says, laughing. “Okay, so a blueberry has more nutrients, more protein, more minerals, more vitamins in it, and is just as powerful, if not more powerful than the acai berry.”

It will be a nice place to hang out…

…because first of all, the place is gorgeous. Rattan furniture, bright and airy, it’s got a real Mediterranean feel, situated poolside with turquoise banquettes, glass walls and loads of plants and greenery, inside and out. There is a play structure nearby; kids and prams welcome.

“The food is about being healthy, nutritious and adaptable and there’s a part there about trying to introduce new versions to people,” he explains. “We’re not dangling food from the ceiling and you’ve got to catch it. It’s not theater, but it is about presenting things nicely for people.”

There will be organic food…

….but Payne’s not obsessed with it. Here’s why. Organic has become a big business, and it’s not always done in the best way. Trusting a supplier to deliver “organic” vegetables from goodness knows where, believes Payne, is not a responsible way to operate. During his years in Dubai, he became acquainted with local growing techniques on those previously mentioned farm and market jaunts (think fermented fish bones as fertilizer). He’s going to do the same thing at Sanderson’s. “There is going to be what I can find as locally as possible,” he explains. Organic, to him, is “if I plant a tomato here and take care of it and don’t spray anything on it. To me organic is being pushed too far, for sales and marketing. And the most organic thing I’ve ever had was my grandpa’s tomatoes.”

There will be home made food…

…lots of it. All the pasta and bread will be made on-site, including a sourdough made from Payne’s own starter from home. Expect homemade nut milk, too: almond, cashew, hazelnut and other varieties.

There will be meaning…

…and nods to the region. Eggs on toast, for example, will feature lemon-crumbed halloumi, watermelon rind compote and a charred caraway bun. The Sanderson’s poke bowl features zucchini, quinoa, avocado, raw salmon, red onion and seaweed – with a local twist.

“A ponzu sesame dressing is very Japanese,” he says. “So in the Middle East we have tahini, that’s sesame, so we’ll be making our own tahini and utilizing that.”

There might be more…

… but unlike the dizzying expansion pace of Bull & Roo, the successful partnership Lopez left recently, time is going to tell for what happens after Sanderson’s is up and running.

“I think that the minute something starts in the UAE or someone sees it could be like this, it’s ‘where are we going next?'” he says. “With this, it’s more a case of making this awesome.”

There will be good coffee…

…this is Serg, after all.

Featured photo Troy Payne at Sandersons/Ann Marie McQueen is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



Receive our newsletters right in your inbox.