Is Bice Mare an Italian job well done?
So why did this restaurant review lead the pack to win a dream gourmet holiday to Italy this summer, courtesy of a Bice Mare competition? Here’s what our judges have to say:
Dave Reeder, editorial director, Hospitality Business Middle East, “The Bice Mare road trip is such a culinary opportunity of a lifetime that I was keen to choose someone who not only clearly enjoyed good food, but could write intelligently and with passion, demonstrating knowledge rather than just enthusiasm – something the winning restaurant review clearly reflects.”
Francesco Guarracino, executive chef, Bice Mare Dubai, “The winning restaurant review was articulate, transparent and measured, with no dramatic phrases – addressing all elements of the dining experience, food, service and decor included. All this gives us a good perspective on our strengths and weaknesses which will help us improve the operation.”
Samantha Wood, founder, FooDiva, “This review captured my attention with a strong lead and a relevant storyline cleverly weaved into the narrative. Engaging writing skills aside, it touched upon the many elements that make up a successful restaurant experience, demonstrating food expertise, and wrapped the story up with a playful conclusion.”
Read on for the review and the winner.
Leonardo da Vinci, La Bohème, Vespa, Trevi fountain, Ferrari, Fendi, Sistine chapel, Capri pants; Italy and the Italians, just have ‘it’. Yet above all else, and at its very heart, the essence of Italy is best captured by its food. As a fully out-of-the-closet Italophile, I’m not sure why I hadn’t yet crossed the threshold of Bice Mare at Souk al Bahar. It’s been over five years since the Italian seafood restaurant opened in Dubai, under chef Francesco Guarracino; the spectacular terrace views of Burj Khalifa and the dancing fountains are renowned; it has won awards aplenty; and so I booked a table for lunch mid-week to experience it for myself.
The entrance to Bice Mare does not do justice to the interior which is both tasteful and elegant, layers of stiff white table linen and neutral tones are accented with dark aquatic blue and sparkling mirrors. Black and white yachting prints join with other nautical references to set the stage for the seafood staples of the menu, all of which are sourced from Italy and the broader Mediterranean and flown in twice weekly. Yet the distinctive signature look is due a summer transformation with a grand design to open up the kitchen and create a long gallery view and a lounge area, where new life will be breathed in to the baby grand piano with live performances.
For lunch, my companion settled on the calamari fritti, and the baked paper-wrapped parcel of deliciousness which arrived at our table was all tender calamari and prawns, lightly touched with seasoned batter and dressed with deep fried mint leaves (an inspired addition). Garnished with lemon and served with tomato and tartare dips, the generous portion could have easily served as a secondo. Equally well presented was my fresella con tono – a layered stack of croutons, tomato concasse, green olives and mozzarella, topped with tuna tartare, a side of yoghurt dressing and pale yellow edible flowers, which I adore.
Two types of pasta featured on the menu, dried (albeit from “the best artisan producer in Italy”) and “home made fresh”. Our waiter endorsed the ravioli alla massala, “a classic, wherever you go to Bice, you will find this!” I was sold. The handmade ravioli with minced veal, beef and spinach, served with soft porcini mushrooms in a cream sauce, was cooked to perfection having both texture and bite. I should note that I returned another day for the pasta course; such a generous menu requires attention and more stamina than I, for a single sitting.
Both my companion and I ordered the branzino con gremolata; a grilled fillet of sea bass with an olive oil dressing of chopped herbs, garlic, lemon and capers, served with a side of crispy roast potatoes. Now, I’m not a fan of fish skin, mostly because I don’t ordinarily enjoy either its taste or texture and usually scrape it aside. Yet my companion’s exclamations over the skin “lightly crispy and seasoned, delicious” made me rethink as it was so beautifully prepared and its flavour so good, that it served as a condiment to the sea bass in its own right. Only a fool would leave something this good. I felt that this dish encapsulated everything which is at the soul of Italian food. Simple, quality ingredients, sensitively prepared, coming together to create a dish which delivers far more than the sum of its parts.
And to dolce and to tiramisu. With over a quarter of a century of sampling under my belt, I feel I’m better placed than most to sit in judgement of this queen of Italian puddings. Bice Mare takes a three-pronged approach to its tiramisu presentation. First the dessert itself, moist and generously dusted with cocoa power. We were told that it had Amaretto, but perhaps another secret ingredient, or an imagined indulgence, as the menu made no mention of alcohol. It was accompanied by a white chocolate lollipop rolled in crushed hazelnuts, with a soft chocolate mousse at its centre, and also a tiny iced coffee sorbet with ice cream served in a shot glass. I returned to the restaurant within three days to eat this all again. It was divine and a perfecto ten. My companion’s panna cotta with a drizzle of berry coulis and fresh strawberries also delighted, “it’s all about the texture” she sighed, “and this is just so right, not gelatinous and not soft”.
Too full now, even for coffee, we had to concede and asked our waiter for the bill. He brought both this, and a tablet into which we could input our feedback. We had the three course “quick and chic” luncheon, with the addition of a pasta dish from the a la carte menu. At AED360 a head for lunch with sparkling water this is not a luncheon menu for every day.
It was excellent by any standard – and Bice Mare has its digital feedback form rated from “excellent, very good, good, average to poor”. Is it perhaps seeking affirmation rather than qualitative data with regards to the customer experience? I did my dining duty and pressed all the little buttons on the screen, but what I wanted to say was this:
“Bravo, this meal was truly superb. I would eat like this every day if I could, I am certain it would help me to live longer and be happier, and well, more ‘Italian’. Could we please have a luncheon menu this delicious, but not so large, and not so expensive, so I can visit you often and partake in more of La Dolce Vita? Your staff is the right blend of attentive and unobtrusive, and bar a single point, were knowledgeable about both the menu and the provenance of ingredients. A restaurant such as this, should be full to bursting at lunch each day, sharing food and love the Italian way. I really don’t know why it took me so long to find you.”
Who is Melanie Hunt? I work for the UK Foreign Office and travel is an integral part of my job. Connecting with food is connecting with people, a culture and a way of life. Sharing a good meal has probably done more for diplomatic relations then any well-drafted missive. I’ve always seen a restaurant as a place of connection and reflection, a way to pause, indulge, experience and recharge. My favourite restaurants are those which invest in their design and aesthetic (I also freelance as an interiors writer.) Engaging the eyes can elevate the food and enhance what the palate experiences.