Restaurant review: Eat, pay, love? One woman’s date with Cipriani

I admire the fact that Cipriani changes a few dishes on your menu daily – but, I don’t understand why the menu has Japanese food, since the storied history of the Cipriani family is so uniquely Italian.
The blue and white decor at Cipriani accentuates the nautical theme. Courtesy Cipriani Dubai
The blue and white decor at Cipriani accentuates the nautical theme. Courtesy Cipriani Dubai

Oh, Cipriani, I wanted to love you. I really did. But sometimes love comes at such a high price that it’s simply not worth it.

You’re parked in prime real estate in Dubai International Financial Centre, amid a slew of upscale restaurants. You have fierce competition, I know, and you’re trying hard to win us over.

On the surface, you’re everything a food-lover wants: your decor is sophisticated, shiny and new, yet you manage to make yourself approachable. I’m not intimidated walking through your doors. I like this about you.

The blue-and-white nautical theme is done well, with comfortable, sleek, brown-leather chairs at the round tables. Your staff is well-dressed, respectful and knowledgeable.

We sit perched on a raised platform overlooking your intimate – though too brightly lit – main dining room. There is only one other table with guests when we arrive. It is a Wednesday night. Why aren’t you busier, I wonder?

There is a long wall of books in the dining area that seems out of place – does anyone actually read here? The music is too low and I can hear the clanking of dishes in the kitchen, as well as the conversation of those two lonely patrons on the lower level.

I admire the fact that you change a few dishes on your menu daily – but, I don’t understand why some of your menu is Japanese food, since the storied history of the Cipriani family is so uniquely Italian. I bypass these dishes altogether and home in on your Italian side.

There is an impressively long list of 20 appetisers and salads. Our server suggests dishes for us and we comply. The carpaccio is a pile of thinly sliced meat, drizzled with a creamy, milky sauce – one of Cipriani’s signature sauces, developed in the 1930s. It’s tasty, but my instincts tell me it’s too simple for Dh95.

Cipriani prides itself on simple food done well, so we order the burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. When I find out it is flown in from Puglia twice a week, I am impressed. You are trying hard – I appreciate that. It is served with cherry tomatoes, basil and olives and this fresh, creamy burrata is everything I hoped it would be. This is as good as I’ve had in Dubai. But my inner voice whispers that Dh110 is too much, even for this cheese.

Your chefs serve a Wagyu beef fillet that is perfectly seasoned and cooked to our medium-rare request. It’s tender, juicy and rich – you get high marks for getting this steak right. As we all know, simple food is often the hardest to cook. Likewise, the Chilean sea bass is flaky and decadent. It comes topped with a flavourful mix of capers, tomatoes, lemon, butter and cornichons (you could do without the latter).

These mains are good. They’re classic, simple and done so well that I tell myself I’ll be back. But then I look closer at the prices and it is as if you’ve pulled the rug out from under me. That sea bass isn’t really Dh270, is it? And, while I know Wagyu beef is expensive, I’m not sure this straightforward presentation – tasty though it was – warrants the Dh370 asking price.

Since we’re just getting to know each other, I hate pointing out your flaws – but your side dishes leave much to be desired. The rice pilaf is laughably bland and the mess of rough greens we get are tough, bitter and inedible. I am losing hope.

Unfortunately, the desserts don’t save you. The three-layer vanilla meringue cake is beautiful, with ample layers of vanilla- cream custard. It’s soft and soothing – pillowy even. But it is at the upper echelons of what is considered acceptable for sweetness.

With a name like Cipriani, I really believe you should have aced the tiramisu. What happened? It looked like someone scooped it out of a pot and just dumped it in a bowl. You covered it with cream and chocolate shavings to hide the mess underneath, but this takes simple to new extremes. I’ve seen much better presentations of this dessert at a Friday brunch buffet. And, since we’re being honest, it is too bitter and the coffee flavour is overwhelming.

I walk out with a Dh1,125 bill (without drinks) feeling slightly taken advantage of. I know you meant well. You have so many good qualities – your mains are impressive and I want to come back for those.

But you are out of my league, I’m afraid, so we will have to settle for a casual friendship. This love was simply not meant to be.

• Our meal for two at Cipriani DIFC cost Dh1,125. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito. For more information, call 04 347 0003

sjohnson@thenational.ae

Published: September 10, 2016 04:00 AM

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