Restaurant review: Don't skip dessert at Saadiyat's Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar

If you have a sweet tooth and a love of pasta, this Abu Dhabi restaurant is a must-try

Tucked away in a corner of the grand Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas is Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar. The restaurant serves up a seriously extensive selection of Italian classics, and is gaining quite a reputation on Abu Dhabi’s foodie island.

Where to sit and what to expect

For such a vast restaurant, Si Ristorante has plenty of intimate spots. Along the back of the dining room, you’ll find a number of plush teal velvet circular booths, perfect for a catch-up with friends or family. For the foodies, we’d suggest one of the high tables overlooking the open kitchen, where you can watch the chefs in action as they load freshly made dough into the stone bread oven or intricately put the finishing touches to decadent desserts.

While Si Ristorante boasts an outdoor terrace, overlooking Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, we were seated inside, in what felt a bit like the restaurant’s main walk-through. On the Monday evening we visited, it is bustling, with quiet jazz music adding to the atmosphere.

The spacious restaurant has plenty if seating, including plush booths. Rotana Hotels
The spacious restaurant has plenty of seating, including plush booths. Rotana Hotels

The menu

Although the restaurant only opened its doors last summer, its menu had a makeover this April. The revised offerings were tweaked by executive sous chef Massimo Bucca, who wanted to bring a more authentic Sicilian flavour to the food. The result is dishes that focus on fresh, Mediterranean produce that better reflects the food Bucca grew up on. Among the new menu items are scorpion fish, tuna tartar and Mediterranean-style mussels.

We’d suggest devoting some time to studying the extensive menu. Alongside a selection of starters ranging from grilled octopus (a bestseller) and beef carpaccio to lamb meatballs and chicken liver pate, diners are also offered a selection of sharing platters from the cured meat and cheese section, and that’s before the 10 dishes on offer from its speciality mozzarella bar.

After some tough decision-making, we opt for the oven-baked eggplant involtini and fried mozzarella di bufala to start. The rolled eggplant is stuffed with creamy ricotta, baked until tender and topped with melted Parmesan and a sweet tomato sauce. It is tasty, light and extremely moreish. The fried mozzarella balls are coated in a light batter, and served on a bed of mushroom dip and truffle oil, which, although tasty, was a little too runny and could have packed more of a punch. Still, the mozzarella itself was fresh and piping hot.

For mains, I fight the temptation of the extensive pizza and seafood offerings, and stick with an Italian staple – fettuccine alla Bolognese, a solid marker for any good Italian restaurant. It comes with a chunky, meaty sauce that blends perfectly the richness of the beef with the sweetness of the tomatoes. It's Bolognese exactly how you’d want it; my only complaint is that my server could have been more generous with the Parmesan, even after I asked for more once she’d stopped grating the first time.

We also try the risotto ai funghi, one of the most popular vegetarian dishes on the menu, which didn’t defer too far from the tradition Italian recipe. It is rich, creamy, with a depth of flavour from the variety of mushroom used, topped with a nutty Parmesan.

Signature dish

Considering we don't exactly hold back on the first two courses, by the time dessert is discussed, we almost pass. But after a few minutes to let our food go down, we take our server's recommendation and go for the tiramisu and mini cannolis – and thank goodness we do.

Even for someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, the desserts are the star of Si Ristorante’s show. The tiramisu is huge – easily enough to share, although it would be tempting to finish off on your own, should you have the space. The sweetness of the cream is perfectly offset by the bitter coffee, while the sponge base is moist, rich and perfectly balanced.

The cannolis, crisp on the outside and sprinkled with icing sugar and pistachios, are stuffed with a mixture of sweetened ricotta, sharp maraschino cherries and chocolate chips, served with what might have been the best pistachio gelato I’ve ever tasted. Somehow, we find room to get through both desserts, agreeing they are hands-down the best part of the meal.

A chat with the chef

Born and raised in Taormina, Sicily, chef Bucca grew up surrounded by the flavours of the Mediterranean. He started his career there, before bringing his distinct Italian flavours to the UAE 10 years ago, working at a number of large hotels. Since starting at Si Ristorante Italino & Bar, Bucca has been striving to bring a more authentic taste of Sicily to the menu. “We have made some changes to things that were not really from Italy,” he says. “For example, our fritto misto had been tempura-style, which is more Asian, but now we are using only semolina.”

It’s important for Bucca that the seafood is fresh from the Mediterranean, with regular imports of Spanish octopus and scorpion fish. While the menu, Bucca admits, doesn’t have an extensive selection for vegans, being particularly cheese-heavy, the restaurant will always do its best to accommodate diners with any dietary requirements, if they let the chefs know ahead of time.

Price point and contact information

Your bill at Si Ristorante Italiano could vary greatly depending on your order. From the bottom end of the scale, home-made gnocchi with veal ragu will set you back Dh94, while those looking to push the boat out could opt for the grilled T-bone steak fiorentina (Dh218). The restaurant also offers complimentary bread and cheese squares to begin – a win in our book.

Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar is open daily from 1pm to 10.30pm Sunday to Wednesday, 1pm to 3.30pm for lunch on Thursday, reopening at 6.30pm for evening brunch, while on Fridays, it opens between 6pm and 10.30pm. Reservations can be made by contacting 02 697 0000.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: August 24, 2019 11:31 AM


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