The Michelin Guide revealed its debut selection of restaurants in Abu Dhabi in November, with three venues receiving a star each.
The Abu Dhabi guide came a few months after the UAE received its first red city guide for Dubai.
In this series, called Star-grazing, The National visits the restaurants that won stars in the capital.
Located in the Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Talea by Antonio Guida is our third and final stop.
The story behind Talea by Antonio Guida
Talk about making an impression, Talea received its Michelin star a mere eight months after it opened its doors within the lavish Emirates Palace property.
That said, the newbie Mediterranean restaurant is guided by the steady hand of seasoned chef Antonio Guida.
The Italian boasts an illustrious culinary resume, having worked alongside renowned chefs and brands (Pierre Gagnaire in Paris and Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence) and in Michelin-starred restaurants (Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole, Tuscany, and Seta in Mandarin Oriental, Milan) for decades.
His Abu Dhabi outpost is run by protege Luigi Stinga, recipient of the inaugural Michelin Guide Abu Dhabi's Young Chef Award.
The Michelin inspectors praised Talea for its sophisticated takes on rustic Italian cuisine. As the guide notes: “Dishes may appear quite simple, but the flavours are exhilarating.”
The praise moved Stinga to tears during the ceremony last year. “I cried like a little kid because getting the Michelin star is something that many chefs dream of,” he tells The National. “It also gives us a great boost in the restaurant.
“Michelin means quality. So the people who come here now know what to expect, so it does motivate us all to raise our standards and to keep trying new things.”
What's on the Michelin-starred menu?
Talea by Antonio Guida is arguably the most relaxed of Abu Dhabi's Michelin-starred restaurants.
Where both the other starred outlets, Hakkasan Abu Dhabi and 99 Sushi, boast chic decor, Talea has a calming and contemporary feel with its crisp white interiors interspersed by lashings of blue and gold.
Square columns, adorned with paintings of Venetian gondolas, abound in the interior dining hall, which features well spaced-out tables to ensure privacy.
The terrace is worth checking out during the cooler months for a breezy al fresco dining experience overlooking the hotel's private beachfront.
Talea by Antonio Guida describes its culinary approach as “cucina di famiglia,” or family-style cuisine. This, according to Stinga, means a relentless focus on making the most of premium products.
“In most of our dishes, we rarely use no more than three to four ingredients,” he says. “It is all about cooking things properly and with the right technique."
My starter dish, poplo scottato (Dh140), roasted octopus with potato and pistachio, is a case in point.
The octopus is slow-cooked to maintain its firmness and succulence before being gently roasted for a winning char. Garnished with pistachio, it sits atop a velvety potato mash so smooth I had to ask Stinga for the recipe.
“That's why you have to pay,” he quips, before suggesting to add “no milk, no cream, just butter”.
Next up is one of the restaurant's bestsellers fettuccina alla nerano (Dh135). A traditional Italian pasta dish made with fried courgette, basil and Parmesan, this dish, Stinga recalls, had management initially suspicious at how simple it was.
“This is a dish I grew up with in my village near Sorrento and it is full of flavour and just makes you feel loved,” he says. “I knew that once people try it, they will enjoy it.”
It is indeed one I would return for. The Parmesan creates a sultry sauce that's still not too heavy, while the finely cut courgette slices are fried yet not oily at all.
Crispy and garnished with basil, the overall flavour is earthy without being overpowering.
My second main is the filetto, carciofi e bernese (Dh375), a beef tenderloin with artichoke cream and choron sauce.
While it doesn't exactly scream Italian, it’s a dish that allows the restaurant to flex its culinary muscles.
A classic of French haute cuisine, it is defined by its premium quality beef cut that boasts a buttery flavour and melt-in-the-mouth appeal. A slight variation on the classic Bearnaise dressing, choron is a rich and sweet sauce due to the addition of tomatoes.
A touch of the theatrical can be found in dessert. The tiramisu (Dh100) is made and served tableside, and sticks to the traditional ingredients of ladyfinger biscuits, a sauce of egg yolks, sugar and mascarpone cheese, and a drizzle of medium to dark roast coffee and cocoa powder.
It is all prepared expertly within minutes and, while relatively simple to assemble, Stinga says a tiramisu lives or dies by the freshness of its ingredients.
“There are certain dishes that it's best not to reinvent and, instead, focus on what makes it good,” he says.
“With the Tiramisu, the biscuits are baked in-house and the sauce is made from scratch.
“When these things are home-made, it feels softer and lighter and you don't walk away from dinner feeling heavy or guilty.”
Full of warmth and soul, Talea by Antonio Guida shows how a Michelin-starred restaurant can be both charming and confident.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant