Marco Pierre White, whose London restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars, mixes passion and heritage to create classy comfort food classics at his Abu Dhabi eatery, which opened in September.
Where to sit and what to expect
Marco's New York Italian feels casual yet has an air of occasion about it. Chefs work away in the open pizza kitchen adding a sense of theatre, and a DJ keeps the vibe chilled. There's a spacious bar with pops of colour coming from the faux foliage wall and yellow chairs. Pictures of Pierre White hard at both work and play, as well as images of freshly farmed veggies, sum up the ethos – expertly prepared comfort food in a restaurant that doesn't take itself too seriously. There are plenty of tables, but also plenty of space in between them for a meal to feel intimate enough for couples – who opt for the comfy booths – and families, or as groups of friends – who pick seats by the pizza kitchen.
The one-page list is split into nine sections, including appetisers, salads, steaks, pasta and sourdough pizza. Italian dishes are given an American twist – the Americano spaghetti is served with meatballs and garden peas and there's an American hot pizza. For classic Italian, chef de cuisine Marco Arlotti recommends the basilico pizza. "It's the most simple one, but the most difficult because there are very few ingredients, so you can taste the freshness and the quality of the ingredients," he says.
It's topped only with torn chunks of mozzarella, ripe cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and basil oil. While simple, the flavours are vibrant and fresh. Mushroom fans will love the restaurant's al funghi pizza, topped with portobello and porcini varieties that give it a flavourful kick, along with spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella and fresh sage – unusual combinations that heighten the impact.
Of the pastas, the spicy shrimp and crab penne will not disappoint seafood fans – it's tomato-y and garlicky, with liberal helpings of the fresh crustaceans, as well as finely grated Parmesan and a hint of chilli, making the whole gooey mix feel like a warm hug of a dish. The chunky Boston chilli crab cake starter is also worth a mention. It's packed with a generous portion of lightly seasoned shreds of crab, red peppers and the most subtle-tasting anchovies.
The great American chopped salad, makes for a wonderfully textured, brightly coloured – and flavoured – side. It comprises cubed beetroot, avocado and cucumber, roughly cut radishes, spring onions and fresh herbs, all mixed up in a zingy, old-school salad cream dressing. It’s topped with a medium-hard-boiled egg and garnished with crisp Romaine lettuce leaves. And it’s is pure (healthy) comfort food joy.
Pierre White points to the American-style nachos, Boston chilli crab cake and great American beef burger as favourites. For dessert, he recommends the baked New York cheesecake and the classic 1930s New York knickerbocker glory – an indulgent treat and a feast for the eyes as much as for the mouth.
The strawberry sorbet tastes like freshly picked fruit, while the wickedly thick whipped cream tempers the sweetness beautifully. "I think these will go down well for those with a sweet tooth and really reflect what the restaurant is all about," Pierre White says. Arlotti's favorite dish, meanwhile, is the risotto funghi e tartufo. "It represents some of the best Italian ingredients and reminds me of my Sunday family meal that I used to have when I was a child, cooked perfectly by my mother," he says.
A chat with the chef
"The New York Italian," Pierre White says, "reflects the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple as well as my passion for classic, simple and authentic food. What's important is that people understand we're not just selling a meal. It's a night out with friends; a family lunch. The atmosphere, the environment in which we sit and service is just as important as the food.
"I've also been conscious we remain true to the New York-Italian principle of offering a fresh alternative, where uncomplicated food is served promptly. As long as service is attentive and not overbearing, the atmosphere is fun and relaxing, and the food is good, we've achieved what we set out to do."
Price point and contact information
Prices reflect upmarket casual dining. Starters range from Dh30 (padron peppers) to Dh90 (Boston chilli crab cake). There's also a New York platter for Dh125. Pastas go for Dh85 (pomodoro linguine) to Dh145 (spicy shrimp and crab penne), while pizzas range from Dh75 (margherita) to Dh95 (meat feast). Marco's New York Italian is at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Khor Al Maqta. Reservations can be made by calling 02 654 3238.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant