My date and I wanted to love Little Italy, but we weren’t expecting to. It’s an endearing place: a vegetarian Italian restaurant in the heart of Karama that, among other things, can conjure up Jain food upon request. It was such an odd, lovable concept and, when we entered the restaurant, we wanted to love it just that bit more. The decor was at once sleek and cheesy. Curved wooden sculptures hanging overhead gave the place an air of sophistication that was promptly sucked back by photos of Italian landmarks imbedded a foot under the floor and covered with a pane of glass. My companion was also enamoured by the laidback, friendly staff who happily didn’t hang over our every move.

The menu made some strides towards authenticity, including a range of risottos (described as ‘a special type of brown rice’, wood-oven pizzas and zuppe (Italian for soup). Every now and then the chef would throw in an Indian version, as was the case with the Goa pizza. We started off with the spinaci salsa, described as toast served with delicately blanched young spinach tossed in garlic butter. The reality was that it was garlic butter seasoned with a bit of spinach. It was a reasonably pleasant dish, if you choose to forget about your cholesterol count. We later dipped into the funghi alla trapanese, mushrooms roasted with garlic, lemon and parsley. These shrooms weren’t subtle, but they were juicy and meaty, giving off a powerful explosion of garlicky zest. We enjoyed them, but these also arrived sweating in olive oil.

The mains let us down. The ultimate pizza, which I ordered in the hope it would be loaded up with vegetables, was begging to be blotted with a napkin and, despite the variety of produce advertised in the menu, only sported a Spartan smattering of peas, mushrooms and onions. My date’s risotto al forno arrived swimming in an over-salted tomato sauce, and was past al dente.

We opted out of dessert. Not that I wasn’t curious, but the meal was so unbearably heavy that we couldn’t possibly have fit it in. We don’t admire the concept of Little Italy any less – it’s still pleasant to see the neighbourhood’s vegetarians have options outside of curry shops. Unfortunately, the venue almost seems to view its meatless status as a burden, as something to be covered up with rich, buttery sauces. Instead, the place should recognise the advantages of serving strictly vegetarian Italian fare. There is definitely an opportunity here to present light, fresh produce in an appetising way. We only wish it was an opportunity that the kitchen would seize.

The bill (for two)
1x Small Masafi water Dhs3
1x Funghi Dhs29
1x Spinaci salsa Dhs24
1x Risotto al forno Dhs24
1x Ultimate pizza Dhs36
Service Dhs13
Total Dhs139