In the months since it opened its doors in September last year, Marmellata’s reputation for serving some of the best pizza in Abu Dhabi rippled through the emirate, making it something of a quiet institution.
Run by Raj Dagstani, alongside his teenage son and business partner, Sebastian, 13, Marmellata’s tiny hatch at Mina Zayed was rarely without a winding queue each Thursday night, as diners patiently waited for their slice of smoked duck breast and fig pizza, or Swiss chard with garlic sauce.
Despite only opening once a week, its power was such that Dagstani was processing 45 kilograms of dough for pizzas and nine kilograms of focaccia, baked with ingredients such as butternut squash and sage or grape and fennel seed, each week – almost always selling out.
In the wake of the pandemic, Dagstani and sons Sebastian, and older brother Emile, took to hand delivering their goods in carefully wrapped takeaway packages to cars arriving in pre-booked time slots, each five minutes apart.
However, a year after first setting up shop, Marmellata has announced its Mina Zayed shop is to close on Thursday, September 24 – its final hurrah.
“The universe has been pushing us towards a more commercial enterprise just as hard as she can and I’ve done my best to resist but I can see that a commitment one way or the other is needed,” a statement on Marmellata's website reads.
“Between the risks of food service during Covid-19, my children’s education moving online from home and our new landlord’s development plans for Mina Zayed, I feel the time is ripe for change and that my attention is needed elsewhere.
“We will close this version of Marmellata on September 24 with every intention of building something equally wonderful and infinitely more robust even if slightly more ‘underground’. When and where I don’t know but in the meanwhile I am eternally grateful for your embrace.
“Abu Dhabi is a beautiful tapestry of weird and wonderful, that we were a blip on your radar is enormously soul satisfying, thank you for that. Thank you also for enriching our family and for pushing us towards our best, inshallah our best is still ahead ... Deep appreciation for all of you, onwards the adventure!”
Speaking to The National in June, Raj said: "It's a balancing act. But I'm excited by the learning curve and determined to make something beautiful during this time."
He had also teased a second restaurant in the capital, saying Marmellata was only the start for them. Based on the success of Marmellata, that will be a father-son operation, too.
“We have this whole other dimension of each other’s lives that we would not get access to otherwise,” he said. “It just so happens that we work well together.”
Raj was also asked to co-mentor a group of food and drinks start-ups as part of NYU Abu Dhabi'sStartAD incubator programme, which is sponsored by Aldar and opening later this year at Mamsha Al Saadiyat.