The Michelin Guide revealed its debut selection of restaurants in Dubai in June, with nine venues receiving one Michelin star and two honoured with two stars.
In this series, called Star-grazing, The National visits a few of the spots that won stars or were included in the Bib Gourmand category, which is “not quite a star, but most definitely not a consolation prize”, according to the guide.
Il Ristorante — Niko Romito, the fourth restaurant in our series, is located in the Bulgari Resort in Jumeirah Bay Island and received two Michelin stars.
The story behind Il Ristorante — Niko Romito
Il Ristorante — Niko Romito is a celebration of Italian culture in the heart of upscale Dubai.
Niko Romito, a chef already lauded by Michelin for his restaurant Reale in the southern Italian region of Abruzzo (it has three Michelin stars and is in 15th place in the World's 50 Best Restaurants 2022 list), merges the modern and classical, to create Italian dishes that are renowned for their simplicity, quality and consistency, with those latter two traits most favoured by Michelin inspectors.
“It’s a cuisine based on constant research, to find the purest expression of taste and the quintessence of flavour, with a particular attention to textures,” Romito tells The National.
“Apparently, simple dishes hide a multitude of complex transformation techniques that we originally developed in the kitchen of Reale, and that we adapt to Il Ristorante’s dishes.”
With the Dubai venue running strong for five years, Romito hails the two Michelin stars as testament to the team’s hard work as well as a challenge to raise the bar further.
“It is a very important acknowledgement of our work and the vision we’ve been carrying on in Dubai since 2017,” he says.
“It’s also a great responsibility. This means we will keep on in our direction, but enforce our efforts to constantly improve ourselves and do better.”
What's on the Michelin-starred menu?
Adjacent to the hotel lobby, Il Ristorante — Niko Romito is sleek, stylish and understated.
The all-Italian staff are well drilled in the menu's extensive offerings and the cultural context of each dish, yet display a welcome almost disarming casualness.
My dining partner and I take a seat on a U-shaped bench facing the Arabian Gulf. Staff recommend we try the seven-course set menu (Dh750 with water and coffee), which changes regularly to make good on seasonal stock.
This is immediately apparent with the amuse bouche, a refreshing and tangy liquid extraction of Piccadilly tomatoes infused with herbs, black pepper and olive oil, which is served alongside a loaf of house-baked bread.
Next comes a blue lobster salad with courgette, wild greens and pink pepper. With all the ingredients intricately placed together, each bite is impactful. The lobster, which the waiter says is sourced from the UK, is fresh and the accompanying pink pepper provides a welcome sweetness.
This is followed by a glazed aubergine with tomato, basil capers and olives. The painstaking presentation is exceptional. Each ingredient is perfectly layered: the smokiness of the aubergine makes way for the freshness of the tomato before the salty top notes of the capers and olives arrive.
“I particularly love to work with the vegetables; they require a lot of creativity and extreme precision at the same time,” Romito says. “It’s always challenging to transform a common vegetable into something really unique, with an unexpected complexity of flavours and textures.
“In order to obtain this complexity, I use different cooking techniques. I don’t have a preferred one, it’s the combination that creates something original, and I’m always curious to try new ones.”
Next up are two distinct seafood dishes. The home-made taglione comes with mussels, roasted tomatoes, marjoram and grapefruit. You can taste the sea with the saltiness and rich broth of the mussels, while the grapefruit gives it an acidic kick.
The dish is too salty for my partner, but I love it. The flavour profile is strong, pungent and proudly unapologetic.
The steamed cod is a more subdued affair and is flecked with earthy roasted pepper and baby spinach on the side.
The final main dish is a veal tenderloin served with sage, lemon, dill and milk sauce. The ingenious use of that last concoction renders the meat soft and tender.
“I love to study and test how different cooking techniques can get you to the purest essence of raw materials, making you discover unknown facets of taste,” says the chef.
Dessert is a rich ball of dark black chocolate encased in edible gold wrapping, an Insta-friendly dish if ever there were one — and a worthy end to a lovingly curated and expertly prepared menu.
Il Ristorante — Niko Romito is a first-class experience and provides insight into the exhaustive efforts needed to become a double Michelin-starred restaurant.
The menu is seasonal and layered, it embodies the chef's culinary principles. Meanwhile, staff provide a service both clinical in precision, yet with a light touch to make the experience delectable and memorable.
Look out for Michelin-starred restaurant Al Muntaha coming up next in The National's Star-grazing series