The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri: refined, casual, or both?
The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri is the new Dubai-based wing of Florence’s famous three Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri. The Artisan is not, however, a direct replica of its Florentine parent. While the Dubai restaurant is clearly Italian in both menu and feel, it’s positioned as a ‘refined-casual’ concept rather than a deliberate attempt to create a full three ‘Michelin star’ experience in the Emirates. The overt branding connection between The Artisan and the original Enoteca nonetheless likely means that diners will approach the Dubai version with a certain level of expectation – and I’ll freely admit that this expectation makes it very difficult to know how best to approach the restaurant.
While tucked away at the back of what appears to be an unpromising corner of DIFC’s Burj Daman (the same building as Burger and Lobster), The Artisan isn’t struggling for customers on a Friday night (over a long weekend too). While quiet at 8pm, an hour later it was packed – with the main dining demographic being tall, slim, long-haired women of c.25-35 who all seem to use the same hairdresser, and all seem to have the same wardrobe of black dresses. Still, between the clientele, (slightly too loud) trendy background music, and décor that bridges the gap between Tuscan palace eggshell blue and modern corporate steel, at least The Artisan has a definable atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere that perhaps won’t equally appeal to everyone, but it’s a welcome contrast from some of the near-empty DIFC restaurants I’ve reviewed for FooDiva this year.
The menu offers a tight and focused selection of traditional Italian dishes with a few modern twists. We skipped the antipasti leggeri (light starters), and went straight to the main antipasti. I had the octopus with green beans, a couple of excellent tentacles that had been cooked to perfection, both tender and charred, served with vegetables and a rich sauce, though my dining companion thought the dish was slightly over-salted. That same companion ordered the signature marinated prawns with ginger quinoa salad, which had some lovely tender prawns, but we both agreed there wasn’t that much in the way of ginger flavours shining through.
I was strongly tempted by the linguine with clams and bottarga (in the pasta and risotto section), but just didn’t think I’d fit it all in – and went straight to the mains. Here there are four options each of fish and meat (though no pork). I had the Hamburg rooster with citrus fruit sauce, four tasty pieces of well-cooked poultry in a rich and sharp sauce – and that’s all. This makes for a low-carb dining experience so long as you’ve stayed away from the pasta and risotto (perhaps that partially explains the dining demographic), but ordering from the contorni (sides) is arguably crucial for a more rounded main course experience. My stewed artichokes with garlic and lemon sauce were a good accompaniment for the rooster, yes, but I felt just a little shortchanged by a main which was perfectly well-cooked, yet somehow lacked a little in variety without a side. Some slightly more proactive menu explanation (and there was nothing wrong with the staff’s knowledge) might have helped manage expectations. My dining companion’s Milanese veal cutlet was a well-executed Italian classic – and with some cherry tomatoes adding a little more variety than with my rooster – but while skillfully prepared, wasn’t three Michelin star standard. It was more than competent (very good, even) but just seemed to lack a difficult to define spark that would have lifted it past very good to excellent.
Desserts were a real highlight, with my tiramisu managing to be simultaneously rich and light and fluffy, while my companion’s lemon tart was his favourite dish of the night. I could understand why; it was beautifully sharp.
Another plus is The Artisan’s wine list. The original Enoteca Pinchiorri is famous for a wine list that regularly wins major awards. It was unlikely that Dubai was ever going to match the original here, but – commendably – there’s something for most budgets, from whites costing under AED300 through to bottles for an eye-watering AED40,000. The more budget-friendly white that we had (from the under 300 range) was very good value for money, showing that care and attention has gone into choosing the cheaper wines as well as the expense account end of the list. Staff were also excellent, though it took a little fighting through some not very subtle upselling to insist that I didn’t want a cocktail from the spirits menu, and really just wanted to see the main wine list.
There’s an awful lot going right for The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri. There’s a decent atmosphere, a good wine list, attentive well-trained staff, and some very good food. So why did I find it so hard to love? That’s a tough one to explain. I think it’s partially because it leans so much on the reputation of Enoteca Pinchiorri in the promotional material. That’s entirely understandable given the strength of that reputation, but it’s also a double-edged sword that perhaps influences expectations. As I noted earlier, and the engaged and friendly floor manager explained when he came to our table, the Artisan is quite explicitly positioned as a ‘refined-casual’ restaurant, not as a fine dining restaurant experience. But the prices are pitched more at the refined end of the market than the casual end. Excluding alcohol (but including water and one espresso), a three course dinner for two came to AED792, or almost AED400 a head. That’s fairly ambitious. As a result, The Artisan seems caught slightly awkwardly between ‘refined’ and ‘casual’, neither wholly one or the other. Yet only one month after opening, it seems to have very quickly found itself both a successful niche in the crowded DIFC restaurant market and a loyal clientele. I suspect I just might not be part of the target audience; I don’t own a black dress, after all. In the meantime, it’s 3 ½ out of 5 FooDiva knives from me.
What do you expect from a ‘refined-casual’ restaurant? Does the reputation of an international parent restaurant influence how you see its Dubai version?
The Man in the White Hat.
So who’s FooDiva’s anon guest reviewer, The Man in the White Hat? He has an abiding interest in both history and food; his holidays tend to combine an intriguing local cuisine with a UNESCO World Heritage site, and he’s eaten his way across some 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australasia. While now based in the UK, his work occasionally brings him back to Dubai.
— FooDiva (@FooDivaWorld) May 10, 2016