Giorgio Armani has a different sort of reputation. He is known for a clean, classical, even minimalist look. He loves neutrals, and his eye for detail is so extreme one gets the sense he’s probably rather picky. In other words, he is the anti-Cavalli.
Given the fanfare surrounding the Armani Hotel – Giorgio’s first foray into the world of hospitality, and the first F&B outlets to grace the iconic Burj Khalifa – you’d expect the exacting man would have ironed out even the slightest crinkle before the opening. The staff certainly seemed on high alert. The army of impeccably dressed men and women that met me at the door were almost aggressively gentle, offering cooing welcomes before gliding me in a whisper towards the establishment’s signature restaurant. They clearly didn’t underestimate the significance of this launch.
For a fine-dining restaurant, this was a remarkably unstriking room. The lighting was a touch too bright to make it a romantic spot, though the prestige of the place ensured it was filled with couples. At a neighbouring table, a Rod Stewart lookalike in a sparkly blue blazer was trying to impress a woman half his age. ‘He must be big in Japan,’ my companion chipped in.
The menu was upscale Italian, mixing Tuscan grandmother-spun classics with a handful of more modern innovations. Pastas – the restaurant’s speciality – were hand-made and hand rolled, so I decided to start my meal with a buckwheat casarecce (short, twisted noodles). Pasta isn’t traditionally the most exciting thing on a menu, but here it was: the dish included the creamiest ricotta I’ve ever experienced, accented with nothing more than spinach, cherry tomatoes and breadcrumbs. This unassuming combination mingled to make magic; though there were only a handful of ingredients involved, each was so fresh it screamed.
My date’s veal was much more reserved: these ingredients merely coughed. A small bruschetta came topped with sliced veal liver and was served with a side of mushrooms and truffle. The whole thing possessed an understated earthiness that was pleasant, but nothing compared to some other offerings on the menu.
Main courses were a letdown. The skin on my wild sea bass was so over-salted that I had to peel it off to make it edible. My date’s veal tenderloin was dry, overcooked and served alongside a particularly robust (read: overpowering) pea purée.
The meal got back on track with desserts, as we debated which of us had scored the winning combo. His nougat semifreddo – sandwiched between two crisp sheets of white chocolate and drizzled with raspberry sauce – may have come up trumps on presentation, but I found my pear mille feuille more delectable. Made with ultra-thin wafers, soft poached pears and a gentle scoop of milk chocolate ice cream, my dessert contained a multitude of flavours that married beautifully. By comparison, I found my date’s dessert a little too single-note (and a raspberry note at that).
Ristorante is strange; it serves some of the most memorable dishes in town, as well as some of the most disappointing. The mistakes made by the kitchen also seemed far too rookie for a restaurant of this calibre (and price bracket). There is limitless potential – and I don’t doubt that the pastas on offer are some of the best in Dubai – but overall, Ristorante really needs to smooth out these mistakes to live up to the Armani name.
The bill (for two)
1x Veal bruschetta Dhs90
1x Casarecce Dhs80
1x Sea bass Dhs205
1x Veal tenderloin Dhs235
1x Semifreddo Dhs60
1x Mille feuille Dhs60
Total (including 10 per cent service) Dhs730