Life in the fast lane at Roberto’s Abu Dhabi

Roberto's Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi restaurants - FoodivaA conversation with FooDiva about the slow-food Italian principles of chef Francesco Guarracino had me excited about eating at Roberto’s when it opened in Abu Dhabi on Al Maryah Island. The success of the Dubai restaurant prompted visions of me relaxing into my chair for several hours as the flavours, wines and aromas of Italy wash over my tongue, allowing me to enjoy my meal at a leisurely continental pace.

Upon arrival, it was clear that there was a special Formula 1 event happening, with a gleaming Ferrari at the door and a red carpet entrance. Greeted by the usual, but unnecessary, bevy of beautiful people, it took two people to look for our details and show us to a table. Maybe it was F1-inspired but the service team operate in a high-octane fashion, with a flurry of waiters and sommeliers asking if we were OK and offering their advice. It still took two attempts and ten minutes to get a wine list (with a decent selection), and my wife gets a berry cocktail that is nothing like what she asked for, but is drinkable and not too strong. I settle on the 2013 Pinot Noir which was light-bodied and archetypal of this grape.

Roberto's Abu Dhabi foodWhat happened next blew us away and involved no fewer than seven different staff members making sure we were accelerating towards the finish line. In the space of just eighteen minutes, we received bread, a soft-cheese amuse-bouche in the shape of a tomato, our starters, a lesson in white truffle, and our main courses. My wife enjoyed a huge bowl of golden-fried calamari which came with a slightly contrary, spicy, tomato dip when the requisite tartare sauce was enough. My capesante nocciole e limone di Sorrento – a scallop ceviche with hazelnuts, lemon jelly and amaranth – was presented in a modern fashion and tasted as fresh and as vibrant as it looked on the plate.

However, I could see our mains sitting on the pass well before we got them and this was evident in the taste and quality of what came next. Without much time to consider what was happening, four grams of imported Italian trifola smothered our dishes – spaghetti con carbonara di wagyu for me, and agnello for my wife – with no mention of cost or desired amounts of the truffle. The carbonara was classically done the Italian way with just eggs creating the sauce, but there was not enough wagyu beef bacon. Unfortunately, the truffle helped ruin the dish and the time spent sitting meant the pasta had coagulated and had to be torn apart. I left more than half of the dish, due to poor quality and being full from the volume of food delivered in a short time. My wife enjoyed her soft lamb tenderloin that was already topped with black truffle, but it lacked a sauce of any depth to bring the dish together. The polenta, the mushrooms and the lamb were like strangers on a plate.

Desserts of an Italian cheeseboard and a competent panna cotta, washed down with a rich espresso completed the evening. A disagreement regarding the charging of AED300 for the unnecessary truffle (I personally think the price should have been declared at the time) was resolved with a 20% discount on the bill, but a 20% increase in awkwardness. My issue was that the truffle contributed to ruining the dish, but felt like it was a hidden attempt to hike up the bill; not everyone will be aware that truffle is so expensive when it is presented in the same manner as Parmesan shavings. If the truffle complements the dish then this should be articulated, whether orally or on the menu. One gram of truffle and a minimum fifteen-minute break between courses would have left me much happier.

The atmosphere of the relatively empty restaurant – that meets the promise of slick Italian design – was surprisingly vibrant, and the bar-cum-decking area looked suitably chilled for a Thursday evening cocktail. The service and the food need fine-tuning to justify the AED335 price point per head (not including alcohol) or even more so, the AED485 if you have the extra truffle on your dish. Most importantly, the service needs to slow down to match the ambience – I like to have 10-15 minutes between courses for food to digest and wines to be poured. I happened to visit Roberto’s a few days later and the experience was similar; flavoursome food (thankfully without the truffle) and friendly staff but just too rushed to really enjoy my meal. My plate was whisked away and replaced with a dessert menu in less than a minute when I needed time to digest the food and finish my wine. Everything is in place to be good at Roberto’s, but if I cannot finish my main course then the FooDiva rating has to be 2.5 knives out of 5.

Should food be enjoyed at a leisurely pace when you dine out? How long do you like to wait between courses?

Until next time,

Matt Broderick

Who is Matt? A newly-married teacher with an obsession for French wine and fine dining, he loves nothing more than trying new restaurants and dishes with his wife and friends. Travel plans are always made around food and he can remember what he was doing on any given day by recalling the meal that he ate. His favourite chefs are Michel Roux Jr. and Nathan Outlaw.

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 2.5
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2 Responses to “Life in the fast lane at Roberto’s Abu Dhabi”

  1. JayEim December 9, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you for your review.

    1- Do you mean that Roberto is back? Or are they using the name?

    2- What was the lesson for White Truffles? And why would they give such a lesson?

    There seem to be an obsession with Truffles. I personally dislike the French/Italian/Chinese Truffles and much prefer the Sand Truffles. Subjective I suppose. The last time I had Truffles was in fact on a pasta Carbonara or was it Alfredo which I had at Bice when Roberto and Mustapha were manning the fort. They put so much white Truffles on my pasta (at no cost) that I had trouble digesting the stuff later!

    3- WoW, mains sitting on the pass, will they ever learn? I fail to understand who is manning the pass which should be the Chef. There is an inherent disregard to hire proper pro Maitre D’s. They are the ones that make sure the front house runs smoothly.

    4- No comments on the total bill. Money grows on Palm trees anyway!

    5- Back to Novikov, I suppose!

  2. Matt Broderick December 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    thank you for your comment.

    1- Do you mean that Roberto is back? Or are they using the name?
    They are just using the name but the whole concept is/should be the same as the original. FooDiva might be able to answer that better than I can as she knows the history far better than I do.

    2- What was the lesson for White Truffles? And why would they give such a lesson?
    Basically, we had a long description about white truffle, where it was from, how special it was etc. I think it was meant to be alluring as it was presented by the chef but it was just kind of intrusive when we were trying to eat our starters and have a conversation!

    There seem to be an obsession with Truffles. I personally dislike the French/Italian/Chinese Truffles and much prefer the Sand Truffles. Subjective I suppose. The last time I had Truffles was in fact on a pasta Carbonara or was it Alfredo which I had at Bice when Roberto and Mustapha were manning the fort. They put so much white Truffles on my pasta (at no cost) that I had trouble digesting the stuff later!

    I am a truffle-lover! But, like most people, just a hint is needed to elevate the dish. It didn’t really go with the carbonara but in all honesty, I was still full from my starter that I probably would have struggled no matter what they put in front of me.

    3- WoW, mains sitting on the pass, will they ever learn? I fail to understand who is manning the pass which should be the Chef. There is an inherent disregard to hire proper pro Maitre D’s. They are the ones that make sure the front house runs smoothly.

    I know! especially in an open kitchen where it is obvious! Which, in this case, it was we were really the only table on mains at that stage. As a former Maitre D myself (with experience at the Dorchester and Grosvenor House), it kills me, it really does. I was never even a ‘proper’ one but still have enough training to be able to run things smoothly. At the time, I thought they were trying to rush us to get the table back but I insisted on nearly an hour between main and dessert and the restaurant was almost empty so it cannot have been needed. The manager did tell me that he thought people preferred fast service, hence the final line of the review.

    4- No comments on the total bill. Money grows on Palm trees anyway!

    haha! seems to be the average price these days.

    5- Back to Novikov, I suppose!

    not been there yet – adding it to my list to try 🙂

I’d love to receive your feedback, so feel free to comment any time.