Life in the fast lane at Roberto’s Abu Dhabi
A 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.
What 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,
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 (@FooDivaWorld) December 8, 2016