Some reviews are harder to compose than others. The reviews I loathe to write concern achingly likeable restaurants – the type of places you really want to succeed, but don’t. If a cute café with a charming owner serves sub-standard grub, it can be soul-destroying. Hence it is with a heavy heart that I am penning this very review.
You see, Piazza Italia is a sweet place with a lot going against it. For starters, it’s not in a great location. Yes, it’s in the Marina, and in summer you can sit outside and gaze at the sea. But it’s tucked away inside a residence that even Time Out’s usually observant editor, who lives nearby and walks past it every day, has failed to register.
It’s no wonder, then, that the place was empty when my date and I paid a visit. We got the sense that the staff weren’t expecting customers – when we entered they were watching TV with the volume turned up. There was a quick flutter to switch it off and turn on some music instead.
There were many things that were immediately likeable about the place. The decor, though slightly cheesy, was sweet; the venue was set up as a mock Italian villa, complete with whitewashed stone walls and fake creeping ivy. The Italian owner was adorable, stopping by our table throughout the meal to make recommendations and to ensure the evening was running smoothly. The staff, too were eager to please, offering a menu boasting freshly made pastas and pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven. In other words, the restaurant had all the promise in the world. It was set up to make you want to like it, partly because it was such an underdog.
To be fair, the food, when it arrived, wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t stunning. Passable is really the best descriptor. The starter that kicked things off – chicken and aubergine pizzaiola – failed to satisfy, primarily because both those main ingredients were terribly tough. The home-made pasta we tried – a black tagliatelle with two monstrously large prawns – was overcooked and fishy-tasting; the prawns were meaty but average. The wood-oven pizza was all right, but just that. The thin crust was brittle rather than chewy and though it was topped with buffalo mozzarella and fresh tomato sauce, it was oddly lacking in flavour.
However, the meal did have one, exquisite saving grace, and that was the tiramisu. It was definitely the most complex rendition of the dish I’ve tried in Dubai (and I mean that in a good way). The mascarpone boasted hefty lashings of almond and coffee flavour and hid the occasional chocolate chunk. It was a winning rendition, and one that undoubtedly saved the meal.
It’s true, Piazza Italia’s savoury options could do with some work. In the meantime, the sweet staff, marina location and well-executed desserts make it a prime spot for a coffee and a pudding.
The bill (for two)
1x Large local water Dhs12
1x Pollo alla pizzaiola Dhs38
1x Tagliatelle Dhs58
1x Vegetariana pizza Dhs45
1x Tiramisu Dhs36
Total (excluding service) Dhs189