Toto Abu Dhabi review: Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal serve up a winner

Fine-dining Italian venue on Al Saadiyat beachfront is pretty much perfect, but the chef says best is still to come

The pizzetta, with tomato, Reggiano vacche rosse cheese and ventricina sausage, is a worthy main dish. Photo: Toto Abu Dhabi
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Sporting superstars don’t come much greater than Rafael Nadal and Cristiano Ronaldo, so the duo's new retro-style fine-dining Italian restaurant in the UAE capital was always going to be a winner. What I didn’t expect was to emerge from Toto Abu Dhabi with the impression that the best is still to come.

Incoming head chef Federico Bartoli tells me things are just warming up. Like a tennis player in the early rounds of a tournament or a footballer in preseason training, he is striving for improvement and expects to deliver better results week by week and dish by dish.

I forget to ask if they do season tickets, but will be intrigued to discover what has improved when I return. And return I must.

Where to sit and what to expect

Sky high is how I would describe my expectation levels when arriving at Toto Abu Dhabi. After all, athletes of Nadal and Ronaldo's calibre presumably do not associate themselves with mediocrity. They launched Toto Madrid in 2020 and it didn't take long to establish itself on the A-list of culinary venues in the Spanish capital. The concept has successfully branched out since then.

The latest dining destination to open on the flourishing Mamsha Al Saadiyat beachfront promenade, Toto Abu Dhabi is billed as a celebration of traditional flavours and craftsmanship that transports diners back in time to Italy of the 1950s and '60s.

The restaurant caters for 196 diners and has a chef’s table area indoors, but we arrive on a nice night for al fresco dining before the summer heat takes hold.

A later reservation means sunset has been and gone when we arrive. We’re told that’s when Toto Abu Dhabi is at its beautiful best (another reason to come back), but the night-sky setting is stunning nonetheless, so we choose to sit outside.

White sand on Soul Beach is visible in the silvery moonlight and waves can be heard gently rolling in as we are escorted to our table under a grand pagoda with a bamboo-style roof and matching chandeliers.

Brown and beige shades dominate and there’s a mixture of seating styles. As we settle into chunky cushioned chairs, water and freshly prepared Italian bread arrive promptly with the menus. The welcome from impeccably dressed waiting staff in bow ties is warm and courteous.

The menu

Business has been booming since Toto Abu Dhabi opened on April 1, but chef Bartoli says he has yet to put his own stamp on things.

He is looking forward to creating unique dishes of his own that tie in with the retro Italian theme in Abu Dhabi. But a menu loosely based on Toto Madrid is not a bad place to start.

It includes clay pot casseroles and stews, freshly made pasta and pizza, and meat and fish prepared in a wood-fired oven.

The antipasti menu has seven cold and five warm options, so we choose one of each. My sauteed prawns, served with black venere rice, diced vegetables, stracciatella and Taggiasche olives delivers lip-smacking flavours and a wonderful contrast of textures.

My wife’s burrata from Puglia is served with tomato carpaccio and basil pesto. The outside is a solid cheese casing made with mozzarella. When the gooey inside, consisting of stracciatella and cream, is revealed, I dive in for a taste and come back for more. It's too good not to share, I explain.

For mains, the menu is divided into pizza, pasta, fish and meat sections, with lots of options. Fregola is also offered to share between two.

By the time our dishes arrive, we already feel like we have been transported back in time to Tuscany. My wife’s pizzetta, with tomato, Reggiano vacche rosse cheese and ventricina sausage, more than satisfies the taste buds; and the ravioli pasta I select confirms that our waiter's recommendation of Toto's best-selling dish is spot on.

He reveals the kitchen is already shifting more than 100 portions a day. Freshly made, five pieces come with a spinach and ricotta filling and are served with contrasting tomato and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese sauces, which bring it to life on the plate. And it tastes better than it looks.

Classic Italian tiramisu is the standout option for dessert and we both choose it rather than set up a tiebreaker to determine who has made the best menu selections. Like everything we have ordered, it is premier league quality and comes with first-class service.

A chat with the chef

Chef Bartoli arrived at Toto Abu Dhabi after three years running a casual dining place in Dubai’s Jumeirah One neighbourhood, and officially takes over as executive chef in June.

He is well travelled and speaks about his work with the same fervour Nadal and Ronaldo have for their sports. “Food is my life,” he says. “It’s an obsession. It is on my mind every day.”

The obsession has its roots in his upbringing in the northern Italian city of Bergamo. At 14, he began delivering pizza by scooter for his local trattoria and has never looked back, progressing to a Michelin-starred restaurant near Milan and on to Australia, Tahiti, French Polynesia and Dubai.

“My background is traditional Italian cuisine, done really well with a modern touch,” he explains. “Fine-dining presentation is important and I like to be creative. I’m looking forward to coming up with some fantastic, unique dishes for Toto Abu Dhabi.”

We look forward to that too.

Price point and contact information

Appetisers start at Dh80, mains start at Dh85, and desserts start at Dh50.

Toto Abu Dhabi is open from noon to midnight from Sunday to Thursday, and from noon to 1am on Friday and Saturday. Reservations can be made by calling 054 582 5222 or visiting

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: May 28, 2024, 11:31 AM