A recent spate of mediocre Italian restaurant openings in the city has made it difficult to maintain optimism in the face of another promised ‘authentic’ trattoria. So it was with leaden feet that I visited Prego’s, tucked away in the newish Media Rotana hidden in the obstinately far-off Greens, and disconcertingly sharing a name with my least favourite brand of tomato sauce.

All my cynicism, however, melted in the face of the restaurant’s menu, the very first page of which boasted the best assortment of Italian cured meats I’ve yet encountered in Dubai. Though many of the meat descriptions were useless (‘It’s not Bacon or Salami it is “Paisanella”’), the selection of these cured delicacies was unquestionably meticulous. To leave Prego’s without ordering the selection of five (there are 20 meats to choose from) is, as far as I’m concerned, a grievous sin.

Watching chef Mauro Cereda, who also mans the salumeria (a kind of Italian deli), haul fat-speckled rounds of dismembered shoulder and thigh, and slice them as thin as pages out of the OED, was almost as mesmerising as actually letting each delicate slice of ham melt on the tongue, taking turns to explore the nuances of a teasingly salty sliver of speck or rudely sweet, smooth strip of crudo di San Daniele. Forget Magic Planet, Ski Dubai or the Dubai Ice Rink; Prego’s salumeria may be the most playful spot in Dubai.

For all the milkiness of my date’s buffalo mozzarella, or the fineness of his pesto, nothing could force me to break my allegiance to the cured mound before me. Naturally, anything that followed this orgy of meat was destined to pale in comparison. Still, the main course didn’t fail to take me on a journey, albeit a slightly less… exotic one. Peppery, grilled lamb chops, tender, if cooked beyond what I’d asked, mingled with the sight of Spencer Tracy films playing on nearby television screens and the sound of ’50s crooners oozing out of the stereo in a soft hum.

The result was a course that evoked a sense of being home, though not home in the real sense, more home as I imagined it would be, were I to reside in an old black and white movie or a Nat King Cole song: home as a place that is as warm and safe as a favourite old cardigan. Such was the comfort I derived from that lamb dish, complete with a mound of airy potato gnocchi (all too often the dumpling is served chewy, dense and brick-like).

Meanwhile, large, pot-bellied tortellini stuffed with a silken pumpkin puree (a refreshing use of seasonal produce) was putting my date into a pleasure-induced coma. When asked for a description of his dish, he could barely utter a word beyond, ‘Nuts…’ referring to the tender hazelnuts marinated in hazelnut butter that accompanied his pasta.

The waitress, who managed to effect that winning combination of being both knowledgeable and unobtrusive, recommended the tiramisu for dessert. She came back with a large, bowl-sized glass filled with creamy, rum-soaked trifle, which came moist, fresh and perfectly layered. To the irritation of the part of me that aims to be restrained (and maybe one day, thin), I finished the entire bowl, even though I was full before I started.

Eating at Prego’s, I concluded, is like dining inside your own id: it is, essentially, a pleasure-factory, and though some menu items helpfully boast a heart-shaped icon denoting healthy eats, it’s best just to leave outside concerns, like calories and propriety, at the door.

The bill (for two)
1x Large bottle Acqua Panna Dhs22
1x Selection cured meat Dhs68
1x Mozzarella salad Dhs50
1x Tortellini Dhs62
1x Lamb Dhs89
1x Cheese plate Dhs50
1x Tiramisu Dhs32
Total Dhs373