Piccolo Mondo has long been a cult haven in International City. The place is blessed with an eccentric owner who has an eye for decorating, and the decor alone is utterly winning: the restaurant is crammed with sculptures, paintings and the odd nautical-themed bit of kitsch. The newly opened branch on Marina Walk is twice as inviting thanks to a cool patio complete with cushy chairs, romantic lighting, a prime view of the Marina and earthy ‘Girl from Ipanema’-type tunes. With a pool table inside, a mile-long shisha menu and a gorgeous selection of freshly squeezed juices, what’s not to love? Well…

There’s no question that when it comes to atmosphere, Piccolo Mondo Bay gets 10 out of 10. The food, alas, is a slightly different story. My date and I started with a strawberry salad. As is the case with everything on the menu, the portion was massive. The salad was far from inspiring, but it was passable. The strawberries were a day or two past ripe and therefore had a slightly boozy note (a hint that the fermentation process had started). There were also some out-of-season tomatoes, feta cheese and chopped romaine and, while the balsamic dressing was fairly standard, it could have used some extra seasoning. It didn’t exactly make us embrace our greens.

The mains were more problematic. After perusing the menu, which included everything from Indian curry to baba ganoush, I ordered a house special: jumbo shrimp sautéed with garlic, mushrooms and cauliflower. They were served in a bath of boiling butter on a huge cast-iron platter. Our seats were quite low to the floor and, as my towering waitress brought it over, I was nervous she might tip the scalding liquid onto my lap (luckily that particular catastrophe was avoided).

Eating food dunked in butter is never pleasant, especially when the butter is burnt – as a result, everything in the messily presented platter tasted bitter and charred. My date fared slightly better with his penne alfredo. Ordered precisely because it was a safe bet, the overcooked pasta drenched in a bland cream sauce didn’t actively offend – it just sat there, limp and tepid.

For dessert we shared a chocolate fondant, which was on the same level of mediocrity. The flat cake refused to ooze (making the term ‘fondant’ a bit of a misnomer). The average dessert came served with two scoops of frost-bitten ice cream, which my date and I didn’t bother to finish.

It’s safe to say that Piccolo Mondo Bay is not the ideal place to go for a dinner date. But though the food is decidedly sub-par, it’s an excellent hangout spot. The shisha is good – there are several flavours to choose from – and the juices are the one thing the kitchen seems to do exceedingly well. The view is unbeatable and the pool table gets a big thumbs up. The spot begs for a return visit. Just skip the food, and you’ll be set.

The bill (for two)
1x Four seasons juice Dhs29
1x Pineapple juice Dhs22
1x Strawberry salad Dhs35
1x Jumbo shrimps Dhs59
1x Penne alfredo Dhs50
1x Fondant cake Dhs39
Total (excluding service) Dhs234