Bice: The Hilton Dubai Jumeirah may not be Dubai’s swankiest hotel, but it’s home to a gem of an Italian. Part of the longstanding upmarket Milanese chain, Bice’s classy but casual vibe, attentive service and, crucially, its food, are all top notch. Rich wooden floors, spacious tables, subdued lighting and an unobtrusive pianist make this a good choice for romantics, although the atmosphere is vibrant enough to suit lively groups. Tuck into warm foccacia and fresh tomatoes as you peruse the extensive menus (featuring traditional safe bets including risottos, pizzas and homemade pastas, there’s also a monthly promotional selection). Don’t be afraid to heed the advice of the well-informed waiters. The king crab steak and watercress salad is impressive – a light and tasty start to any meal, and the oven-baked sea bass with fresh spinach and porcini mushrooms, will be cooked to utter perfection. With main courses both beautifully presented and generously proportioned, squeezing in dessert will be a challenge, but you have to test out the waiter’s claim that Bice’s tiramisu is the best in town. Our bowl was scraped clean.
Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, Dubai Marina (04 399 1111)
Bussola:If you’re hankering for Italian food but can’t choose between a casual, rustic pizza or a more upmarket, fine-dining affair, Bussola is your go-to spot. The venue, nestled amid the Westin’s lush gardens and multiple pools, boasts an open-air terrace upstairs, offering panoramic views of the ocean and Palm Jumeirah. Prices up here are reasonable for a hotel restaurant, with authentic wood-fired pizzas setting you back about Dhs60. In the mood for upscale pasta and meat? Opt for Bussola’s chic downstairs incarnation; if you still want the open-air dining experience, there’s a large terrace boasting the same dramatic views. Service is efficient and unintrusive, and the candlelit tables and soft evening breeze fuel the romantic atmosphere. Pasta traditionalists may be disappointed by the menu’s lack of bog-standard bolognese and carbonara options, but the creative dishes on offer (everything from suckling pig to rack of lamb, fresh fish and home-made ravioli) should appease even the most demanding. If we have one niggle, it’s that the portions are fairly small, but on the plus side you’ll avoid the usual Italian carb overload and you’ll have plenty of room for dessert.
The Westin Mina Seyahi, Al Sufouh Road, Dubai Marina (04 399 4141).
Cavalli Club:Flamboyant, gaudy: with Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli at the helm, this venue was never going to be understated. Yet no matter what your taste, it is breathtaking. Huge chandeliers drip from a jet-black ceiling and sparkling crystal curtains wind their way among the zebra-print furniture, framing Dubai’s beautiful people as they sip eye-wateringly-priced bubbly. First impressions are a little daunting: when booking, guests are warned of the strict ‘smart-elegant’ dress code and minimum order of two courses per person. It seems rather excessive. Yet there’s much more to Cavalli Club than ostentation. Service is immaculate and welcoming; staff are eager to offer menu recommendations and exchange small talk; hover a hand near your Marlboros and a waiter will be there with a lighter before the cigarette touches your lips. It’s just a shame that the food can’t scale similar giddy heights. The Italian dishes are well thought-out, carefully prepared and nicely presented. In any other venue this fine cuisine would take centre stage but at these prices, and in these surroundings, nothing really stands out. If you’ve got the cash, this is a unique hangout; for the rest of us, make it a special occasion and hope that the dazzle of Swarovski will distract you from the bill.
Fairmont Dubai (04 332 9260)
Frankie's Italian Bar & Grill:As is often the case with celebrity-driven restaurants, there's a lingering fear of yet another anticlimax waiting to unfold. Happily, Frankie's – the byproduct of a collaboration between Marco Pierre White and jockey Frankie Dettori – is different. It delivers, and on every front. The atmosphere is lively and vibrant, the food fitting of the restaurant's rich decadent decor, and the service is both confident and charming. In fact, there's almost a sense of swagger and flamboyance to the place. Most importantly, the food (though it can take its time) really excites. The dishes are beautifully presented and there's genuine flair and artistry in the assembly. The spaghetti lobster is creamy and rich, without being too heavy and the chocolate souffle is exquisitely executed. This may not be the most authentic Italian food you'll eat in town and though the prices are a tad on the steep side, you'll doubtless come out of Frankie's smiling and very spoilt.
Al Fattan Marine Towers, JBR (04 399 4311).
Il Rustico:If you’re pounding the streets of Satwa and have a hankering for pizza and grape rather than curry and coke, Il Rustico is a reliable option. While it won’t win any awards for haute cuisine or pushing boundaries, the atmospheric, dimly lit and indeed rustic spot is cosy and consistent. We prefer the pizzas to the underwhelming pastas, our favourite being the pepperoni pizza for its tangy and simple taste, but haven’t had luck with any of the restaurant’s more ‘adventurous’ pizzas like the Cajun chicken (there wasn’t a hint of tang in the dish). Desserts are decent, but once again, they’re not worth writing home about – at times the tarte tatin is a delicious exploration of vanilla and apples, but the last time we sampled it, it was merely a study in soggy on our plate. That said, we still continue to return to Il Rustico. Why? Well, firstly it’s an affordable and down to earth option in Dubai’s overpriced Italian eating scene. And secondly, the quirky interiors and family-run feel make us a bit warm and fuzzy inside, or maybe that was the red? Either way, Il Rustico has an odd charm that we sometimes crave.
Rydges Plaza, Satwa (04 398 2222).
Marzano:Dubai’s many malls and souks boast an absolute glut of pizza restaurants; while far too many of them follow the greasy American fast-food format, there are a couple of hidden gems that buck the trend. Step forward Marzano. This diminutive restaurant, hidden away in the little-known Souk al Manzil in Downtown Burj, manages to eschew the usual Disneyfied Italian dining stereotypes (red checked tablecloths, open hearths, exposed brickwork) in favour of more modern, albeit slightly bland, décor – think Pizza Express with fishtanks. Indeed, the venue’s only concession to the typical Italian mould is the mandolin version of ‘O Sole Mio’ that serenades diners from the stereo. The menu offers a huge range of pasta options, alongside a scattering of pleasant-enough sounding meat and fish dishes, but we’d recommend heading straight to the pizza section. The delightfully thin, freshly made pizza crusts come topped with a scattering of oh-so-fresh ingredients, from the traditional quattro stagioni to more unusual spicy chicken. Not too oily, not too heavy, these authentic, great-value pizzas would be the envy of many a Neapolitan chef. The only disappointment is that the venue is unlicensed, meaning diners have to make do with beef (not pork) salami and pepperoni.
Souk Al Manzil, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 420 1136).
Ossigeno:This slick venue at Le Royal Meridien bills itself as high-end Italian dining (the clue is in the no-shorts-and-sandals dress code). So when arriving at the restaurant, it’s refreshing to be greeted by friendly staff and a buzzing, laid-back vibe – while the venue is smart, with slick, clean décor, it doesn’t feel pretentious, and staff seem as happy to accommodate families as they are suited businessmen. The menu ticks most boxes, offering pasta, meat and fish dishes, and we particularly like the inventive use of ingredients: on our last visit we spied coffee-scented noodles, as well as a risotto with blueberries and courgette flower. For budding linguists, each menu entry is also described in both Italian and English – we have to admit that ‘costata di agnello’ sounds so much more enticing than ‘rack of lamb’. The food itself shows plenty of flair in the kitchen, combining fresh, Mediterranean-style flavours that help to lift this venue above many of its contemporaries. If we have a quibble, it’s that prices are on the high side, but that shouldn’t stop Ossigeno challenging for the city’s Italian dining crown.
Le Royal Meridien, Dubai Marina (04 316 5550).
Prego’s:TECOM seems to be an up and coming area in Dubai and it will only be a matter of time before it competes with the Marina. Prego’s has a good step on the ladder. Set in the Media Rotana hotel on the ground floor this large Italian eatery hasn’t gone too far over the top with its décor, as you walk in an impressive grape collection can be seen on the left and there’s a lovely cold meat selection right in front of you. The restaurant is busy mainly with business clientele staying at the hotel and young families dining but it still retained a slight romantic feel. It oozes confidence and the food thankfully backs this up. The menu is a little long with page after page of choices ,which can be overwhelming. The Caprese which comes as a healthy portion, is big enough for two to share. The classic lasagne dish impresses with the texture and weight of the pasta (which can sometimes overtake the whole the dish), while the Mediterranean sea bass and sea bream fillets on a bed of baby spinach are delightfully light and retain all their flavour. A new favourite we feel.
Media Rotana, TECOM (04 435 0000).
Ronda Locatelli:Appearances can be deceiving, and the slightly wacky setting for Michelin-star chef Georgio Locatelli’s Dubai venture (think burnt orange walls, flamed entrance and a giant mushroom-shaped wood-burning pizza oven) may well raise a few eyebrows among traditionalists, but yell ‘bueno sera’ and dive in, because the food is anything but tacky. In fact, at first glance the menu looks a little ordinary, but the simplicity of the fresh ingredients leaves diners gasping with delight. A commoner-garden appetiser like tuna salad takes on a new dimension when served with tangy red onion salad and nutty borlotti beans, and mini portions of homemade pasta (also available as mains) such as the herb tordelli with a snappy fresh tomato and walnut sauce, impress with their unfussiness. Main courses include staples such as lasagne as well as tasty mains (the thin chargrilled beef in the piccatina di manzo pairs perfectly with juicy sliced tomatoes and crisp red onions). The pizzas, however, are nothing out of the ordinary and a chicken topping shouldn’t, in our opinion, contain bones (a fact seemingly lost on the otherwise attentive waiter). Back on track with desserts, tiramisu and parfait are a cut above the norm. It’s often said that the secret of good Italian food lies in the freshness of the ingredients and Signor Locatelli doesn’t disappoint.
Atlantis Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Segreto:If you’re looking for an elegant way to wow on a first date or celebrate a special anniversary, then this classy Italian will most definitely impress. From the romantic waterside setting (you arrive by abra) to understated but sumptuous décor, attentive (but not fussy) waiters, first-rate cuisine, Segreto is difficult to find fault with. Tasteful and tasty, the menu is inspiring in its simplicity, with barrata cheese replacing commoner-garden mozzarella and 24-month-aged pork carpaccio adding to a list of melt-in-the-mouth cold cuts. Risottos come in various permutations including porcini, red chicory and smoked salmon and asparagus while homemade pasta dishes feature the likes of lamb tortellini with a warm goat’s cheese fondue. Both dishes are served in entrée- or main-sized portions. The mains serve up refined platters such as the beautifully succulent sea bass on a bed of endives topped off with truffle. The restaurant's dessert section is small but perfectly formed – the staple tiramisu is presented as a work of art but surprisingly overshadowed by a zingy lemon and ginger sorbet. Cool and chic indoors in the summer months, alfresco dining on the outdoor terrace in the winter affords a stunning view of the waterways. Segreto is fine dining at its best.
Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
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Rizwan Takkhar Jun 01, 2011 07:53 pm
Great post! I'll most probably NOT be dining at most of the places listed here but I loved the descriptions and pictures. Club Cavalli looks so friggin' amazing. I love my regular Johnny Carino's and Romano's Macaroni Grill, somewhat the best (cheapest) Italian I'll have for a while, which is not a completely bad choice.