Is Il Borro a tasty Tuscan treat?
The new Il Borro Tuscan Bistro tucked away in Madinat Jumeirah’s Al Naseem hotel in Dubai has been imported from the Ferragamo family’s sprawling estate in Tuscany. Does it stay true to its roots serving regional Tuscan cuisine or does it offer broader Italian fare?
The restaurant is situated in a lovely setting adjacent to a mini turtle lagoon with an al fresco dining terrace that looked wonderful in the subtle glow from the matching table lamps. We chose an indoor table and on entering the main dining area, the lack of colour was noticeable. Light greys and beiges offset the white linen and tableware. The neutral colour scheme was not unpleasant, but hardly distinctive either. What was eye-catching though was the large glass partition between the dining area and kitchen that offered a line of sight into the preparation, cooking and plating operations. Augmenting this were subtle lighting and easy-on-the-ears classic pop music re-imagined in a light jazz style, complete with saxophones and brushed drums. All in all, the surroundings and ambience were comforting and serene in a way that served to highlight the food instead of distracting.
The service fitted the interior well; quiet and unobtrusive in the main, but also knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the menu. I like the personal feel of floor staff making recommendations based on their own tastes rather than what the restaurant may be trying to upsell.
The menu showcases traditional Tuscan flavours alongside more well-known Italian dishes to offer a variety of regional and non-regional choices. The obligatory pizzas, pasta and risottos were peppered throughout with Tuscan specialities, one of which, pappa al pomodoro, was recommended as a “must-have” starter. This quintessential Tuscan favourite was a deceptively simple dish of lightly-toasted bread accompanied by a ragu of organic tomatoes, garlic, onion and basil. The flavour punch of this gooey umami-tomato goodness had both of us singing its praises and raised our expectations of what was to come. It was simple, rustic and above all, fresh.
Equally impressive was the pizza Margherita. A sublime Roman crust of perfect texture topped with a tasty organic tomato sauce that was finely balanced between sweetness and sharpness. Complementing the sauce was a creamy fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) and organic basil. If the bar had been set high by the pappa al pomodoro, the follow-up was no slouch either.
Having eaten two great dishes, we eagerly awaited the tartara di manzo. Created from cured Tuscan Chianina beef, truffled quail egg, shallots, capers and mustard, this tartare contrived to be less than the sum of its ingredients. The dish felt over-seasoned with too much olive oil. If the intent was to highlight the subtle nuances of the beef, some restraint while seasoning might have helped prevent it from being overpowered – especially given the unnecessary inclusion of truffle shavings.
First up for mains was the pici all’aglione, an over-sized handmade Sienese spaghetti similar to Japanese udon in diameter. This was another regional dish served with an organic garlic tomato sauce but somehow, it managed to taste different to the other sauces we had eaten earlier, though still extremely good in its own right. Given the small number of ingredients (tomatoes, garlic, basil), the sauce packed a surprising depth of flavour. Cooked al dente, the size of the pici ensured every mouthful had a generous sauce to pasta ratio.
Our second main course, filetto di branzino, arrived with a lovely crispy skin on the grilled seabass – while thoroughly adequate, the dish was slightly forgettable. With simple presentation and no sauce to stamp Il Borro’s signature onto the plate, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other Italian restaurant. Good but not great.
Moving onto desserts, we were unsure what to expect given that throughout the course of the evening, we had been served some superb dishes, some adequate, and some plain mediocre ones too. Rather than a traditional tiramisu, we chose the biscotto gelato croccante. Billed as crunchy cocoa hazelnut biscuits with ice cream, what was served was akin to a fancy ice cream sandwich, albeit a tasty one, with a small fruit combination on the side. Recommended as a “unique” dessert, the wow factor was missing.
We finished with torta morbida alle mele, an apple and yoghurt cake, that was far from moist. Fortunately, the Tahiti vanilla sauce offset the dryness of the cake.
Most people know at least a little about Italian food, though perhaps not everyone is familiar with regional variations around the country. With dishes such as pappa al pomodoro, bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak), and cantucci (almond biscuits), Il Borro assimilates regional dishes and ingredients with more widely known Italian staples into a menu that encapsulates a true taste of Tuscany and beyond.
Overall, the food ranged from mediocre to decent to excellent and was served in a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing environment. Desserts in particular need improving. Although the music may not have made my usual playlist, it was befitting of the surroundings and blended well into the background. The staff were knowledgeable and helpful throughout and the outdoor terrace looked amazing. The bill per person for three courses without alcohol was AED300, making Il Borro a restaurant I would like to return to. Here’s to 3.5 out of 5 FooDiva knives.
Have you visited Tuscany? What’s your favourite Tuscan dish?
Until next time,
Who is FooDiva’s new anon guest reviewer? I.C.Y is a third culture kid from the UK who has lived and worked in several foodie cities before landing in Dubai, including London, Singapore and Hong Kong. He comes from a family of restaurant owners and when he stops eating long enough, he works off the calories by cycling, as well as playing squash and other racket sports. He also knows more useless facts than would be considered normal, though this often comes in handy at the pub quiz!
Is @ilborro a tasty Tuscan treat? ?Another new opening @jumeirahalnaseem this time an imported concept. Does it fare better than Rockfish? New anon guest reviewer ICY tucks into dinner. Review now live on www.foodiva.net (see link in profile). Do you have a favourite Tuscan dish????? #foodivareviews