Osteria Funkcoolio review: A masterful fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisines

Chef Akmal Anuar, the man behind Michelin-starred 11 Woodfire, has opened the doors to his latest itameshi concept

Italian-Japanese fusion restaurant Osteria Funkcoolio is at the up-and-coming Port De La Mer in Dubai. Leslie Pableo for The National
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I must admit that stepping into Osteria Funkcoolio, the latest brainchild of chef Akmal Anuar of 3Fils and 11 Woodfire fame, evokes some feeling of apprehension.

After dining out in other restaurants that describe themselves as “fusion”, in this case Italian and Japanese or itameshi cuisine, I know the danger is that they often get lost in the ambition. Flavours clash, textures fight and you are left wondering what you just ate.

Then I had chef Anuar's arancini nigiri, and I was sold.

Where to sit and what to expect

The restaurant is tucked amid the quaint low-rise buildings of Port De La Mer, an upscale Dubai waterfront development inspired by the Mediterranean. You enter through a revolving door, as a host greets you from his wooden podium.

A vintage Italian postcard is how I'd describe the interiors – the exposed ceiling is velvet green, frosted wall mirrors blend well with the floral wallpaper, while random portraits deck the walls, while tables are covered with white cloth. Decorative chandeliers hang overhead, but the lights are dimmed low.

The restaurant opened last month. During my dinner, the intimate space, which seats 34, is filled to the brim. Indistinct chatter from other diners creates a comfortable chorus, and the clack of the tableware melds with songs from the 1980s.

For small groups, the regular table set-up works perfectly fine, while bigger groups can opt for the booths for more convenience. The intimacy of the place makes it ideal for a romantic dinner. Families can come for a relaxed dine-out, but maybe not those with small children.

The menu

Singaporean chef Anuar's past experiences certainly means expectations are high. Foodies regard him as an experimental chef, and although itameshi is not new, he says the UAE has yet to realise the cuisine's full potential.

As the first dish arrives at the table, I'm immediately introduced to the interesting contrast of the fusion. It could not be more Italian-Japanese than combining arancini (Italian rice balls) and nigiri (bite-sized rice pressed with raw fish).

There's nothing groundbreaking in the flavours, but the play on texture is most exciting. The deep-fried arancini are paired simplistically with sea bream and toro on top, with the fish providing a punch.

Next is burrata with plum tomatoes drizzled with pomegranate sauce. The fresh plate cleanses my palate from the arancini nigiri, while the simplicity of the dish makes the ingredients pop. Anuar also seems to have perfected the sourcing of premium ingredients to ensure the high quality of his food.

Then come the mains plate by plate. The Italian cuisine experience is taken up a notch with pici pasta flavoured with crab, pine nuts and chilli from Calabria, a region in southern Italy. The hand-rolled thick pasta, used predominantly in Tuscany, is a perfect base for the umami punch of the crab and chilli. It tastes like an Italian nonna prepared it from her rustic kitchen.

As I was being transported to Italy, the pizza came, unexpectedly pulling me back to Asia given Anuar's choice of toppings: spicy duck and sriracha. The subtle heat of the sriracha tantalises the taste buds with every bite. The star of the dish, though, is the bread itself – baked and blistered to achieve the perfect char.

The next plate is grilled octopus served on a bed of fried and breaded courgette strings and an aioli dip. The meat melts in the mouth, while the salty courgette is nothing short of addictive.

Standout dish

I generally don't care much about dessert. But then our server, who's been terrific throughout the meal, brings round a generous mound of home-made pistachio ice cream, freshly churned. The pistachio is from Italy, he says, adding the dessert is not yet on the menu.

It is an absolute delight being the first Osteria Funkcoolio guest to try the sweet, nutty goodness. There's not a single hint of it being icy or grainy, which can be a problem with ice creams made from scratch. Although it's essentially just pistachio, it's not one-dimensional in flavour, even elevated by shards of nuts.

Although the mains hit mark, the ice cream is the highlight of my meal.

Price point and contact information

The antipasti range from Dh70 to Dh150, while mains are in the Dh60 to Dh100 bracket.

Osteria Funkcoolio, at Port De La Mer, is open 5pm-midnight from Tuesday to Friday, and noon-midnight on Saturday and Sunday. For reservations, call 050 284 7173.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: June 09, 2024, 4:03 AM