Restaurant review: Roberto’s Abu Dhabi is simply one of the best in the capital

Roberto’s Abu Dhabi serves up a wonderful menu filled with inspired dishes and innovative flavour combinations that will leave you wanting more.

Roberto's at Al Maryah Island. Courtesy Roberto's
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Among all the new restaurants opening on Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Island, Roberto’s Abu Dhabi is the one I was most excited about. With an outlet already running successfully in Dubai, I had high hopes for this upscale Italian restaurant.

Roberto’s is a sizeable venue – the lounge alone is as big as many restaurants in the UAE. But the relaxing earthy tones, neutral decor and sporadic greenery ensure the vast space remains warm and intimate.

The well-designed terrace is a seamless extension of the main dining room, overlooking The Galleria’s promenade, the water and the city beyond. The space is chic and modern, but not stuffy. There are no linens on the tables, the dress code is smart-casual, and the waiters are friendly and chatty.

There are nine Italian chefs cooking in the kitchen. The team led by head chef ­Francesco Guarracino, the ­former executive chef of Bice Mare in Dubai’s Souk Al Bahar.

He has a reputation for being on the right side of crazy when it comes to food and I was hoping to see some of that innovative madness here.

I was not disappointed. The menu has a handful of dishes from the Dubai outlet and a few from Enrico Bartolini, the two-Michelin-starred Italian chef who is the chief culinary adviser to the Roberto’s group. But the Abu Dhabi menu is 70 per cent Guarracino’s creations.

We start with a drink in the lounge, where we are served complimentary bites. We get foie gras in a fried-onion parcel atop a delicate pile of onion powder; a salmon taco; and a ball of aubergine wrapped in tomato gel, made to look like a cherry ­tomato – all palate-­pleasing dishes to start the night right.

Our lobster appetiser is a plate of sliced lobster paired with red-onion triangles marinated in raspberry vinegar. The buttery lobster chunks are balanced ­effortlessly with the acidity from the sweet onions.

We also order the slow-roasted octopus with artichoke – a dish created in Abu Dhabi, we find out later, ­after multiple attempts by ­Guarracino to get it right. The thick, meaty tentacles have been cooked in the ­octopus’s own water (that is the secret to the intense, deep ­flavour). The exterior is charred and crispy, while the inside is tender. It comes with creamy cacio e pepe sauce (literally, cheese and pepper), which is also made with water from the octopus.

The burrata cheese ravioli is quite possibly the best ­pasta dish I have had in the capital. Seemingly simple and ­uncomplicated, the creamy, soft burrata packed inside the homemade ravioli brings this classic to another level.

It is brilliantly coupled with a sauce made from datterino tomatoes – small, date-shaped tomatoes that make for a sweet, rich sauce.

The beetroot and Gorgonzola risotto also delivers on taste. The deep, almost ­neon-purple colour is visually stunning.

The firm, perfectly chewy risotto has an earthy flavour from the ­beetroot without being overpowering, accented by sharp notes of ­Gorgonzola. This is Guarracino at his best – subtle, creative, ­surprising.

The desserts are less unusual, but still carry Guarracino’s trademark creativity. For ­example, the tiramisu makes use of mascarpone and coffee granita. It is a tasty balance of bitter and sweet, but borders on boring compared with the dishes that preceded it.

The panna cotta is kicked up a notch with dollops of mint gel, but it simply does not excite me as much as the rest of the meal. Another complaint, but one worth noting: the wait staff is knowledgeable and attentive but we are asked too many times by too many people – at least six – how our food is. It’s hard to keep the conversation flowing with that many interruptions.

Roberto’s Abu Dhabi has ­deservedly taken centre stage among the capital’s most ­notable restaurants in recent months.

It offers a healthy dose of Italian hospitality with an ­extensive list of inspired dishes made with ingredients that are nearly all sourced from Italy.

Trust me when I say you will walk away wanting more.

Our meal for two at Roberto’s Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island, cost Dh600. To book, call 02 627 9009. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito.