This may come as no surprise, but the Atlantis likes theme-parking. Each of the hotel’s restaurants has a distinct look going for it: Nobu’s decor is oddly serpentine; Ossiano resembles an underwater grotto. Of course, Ronda Locatelli, a contemporary restaurant helmed by the Italian Michelin-star chef (and UK celebrity) Giorgio Locatelli, is no exception. As my date and I dined under a large, mushroom-shaped wood-burning oven, we had the distinct feeling we had followed Alice down a rabbit hole somewhere.

And the service was so soothing, so relaxedly, unforcedly cheerful and, well, un-Dubai, that the restaurant might as well have been in Wonderland. Dining at Locatelli is just a deeply pleasant experience. The servers all greet you with ‘buona sera’, throaty Italian music oozes from the stereo and the staff are attentive enough to meet your needs, but respectful enough to let you enjoy your meal in peace.

The food strikes a similar balance. Great care is taken to make every dish sing, but there isn’t the pretence and fussiness that afflicts the eats at other high-end restaurants. No, it was good ol’ fashioned rustic food, elevated to the heavens. Take for instance the crumbly spinach and potato quiche: a simple, country dish, seemingly unremarkable, save for the sweetness from interspersed flecks of plump sultanas and an interior so soft it seemed like a feat it held together at all. A no-frills butter and sage sauce ensured nothing stole the thunder from an order of pumpkin ravioli, which screamed proudly in the mouth: ‘I am pumpkin, hear me roar.’ The dish was given an extra soft licking with some caramelised pine nuts.

The restaurant’s pride is its wood-burning stove, which churns out some delicate pizzas, no doubt, but for those who prefer their crust a little doughy, this isn’t the slice for you. My own goats cheese and garlic pizza didn’t excite as much as some of the other items born from that wood-chomping womb. A filet of poached Italian beef, dressed minimally with a garlic-rich salsa verde, was the culinary equivalent of a lobotomy, rendering me speechless aside from an occasional ‘arf’, such was the power of the mousse-like cut. It was a shame, then, that the sides we ordered to accompany our mains initially failed to make an appearance, though all was quickly forgiven when they did – the roast potatoes with their fragrant rosemary infusion were worth the wait alone.

Desserts were unequivocally traditional; tiramisu, panna cotta and the less ubiquitous zucotto, were all present on the menu. These are just dishes you think you know, but realise you don’t until you taste Locatelli’s unadulterated versions. Vanilla panna cotta is as sleek as an oil slick on the tongue, and it is nearly a polka dot with the seeds from fresh vanilla beans. My date couldn’t get over the elegant presentation, though I was more infatuated with my zucotto, which came out looking like a cake sporting jheri curls made from thinly sliced jam roly-poly. The layer of hazelnut and chocolate trifle underneath leant a sublime airiness to an accompanying sheet of ice cream, which repaid the favour by spreading its infectious creaminess throughout the pudding.

Locatelli has an uncanny power to transport; perhaps it’s the waiters’ cooing accents, the rare authenticity of the food, or the overall happy-go-lucky vibe. Either way, the joint proves a welcome and affordable escape from everyday Dubai. It may not be Italy, but it comes as close as a desert restaurant likely ever will to simulating the real thing. So do yourself and your wallet a favour: forget booking a ticket to Europe and take a taxi to the Palm.

The bill (for two)
1x Bottle of Lurisia water Dhs28
1x Goats cheese pizza Dhs90
1x Spinach potato tart Dhs55
1x Beef Dhs185
1x Pumpkin ravioli Dhs90
1x Roasted potatoes Dhs25
1x Zucotto Dhs45
1x Panna cotta Dhs45
2x Glasses of white wine (Vermentino) Dhs78
Total (service included) Dhs641