'We are still here': How Abu Dhabi’s Cafe Milano has adapted to welcome back diners

The Mediterranean restaurant has introduced a number of safety measures as it reopens after a two-month hiatus

Those in the capital looking for a spot of authentic Italian fare know that Cafe Milano is one place where you can live la dolce vita.

And residents don’t have to wait any longer to sink their teeth into its famous handmade pasta and fresh seafood, with the restaurant reopening on Monday, June 1, after a two-month hiatus.

General manager Paolo Falchi says that customers can expect all the usual hallmarks of the restaurant – from the menu to the Italian music in the background – alongside new measures taken to keep customers safe.

For example, that means the restaurant will only be seating a maximum of 42 diners at a time, instead of its typical 120. Up to four people are allowed at a table, and tables will be further spaced apart to comply with social distancing. Waiters must wear face masks and that glass bottle of olive oil that guests are so accustomed to having on their tables won’t be there for now.

There are quite a few changes, but Falchi is looking on the bright side. “At least we will able to use glassware instead of plastic cutlery,” he says. “That’s good news.”

Cafe Milano may have only set up shop in Abu Dhabi in 2016, but it has already cultivated quite a following, thanks in part to the freshness of its ingredients (the restaurant is known to import items from Italy) and its Washington DC legacy.

We are doing our best to keep everything going with smaller operations

The restaurant was launched in the American capital in 1992 by Franco Nuschese, on the very same day that Bill Clinton was elected president. Clinton has since become a regular, along with other high-ranking members of government as well as celebrities and socialites.

Despite the eatery's storied history, both branches have felt the impact of the pandemic, like many restaurants around the world. In Washington DC, Cafe Milano had only recently opened its doors after the coronavirus, only to close again due to the curfew imposed in the state. It has since reopened with outdoor seating only.

Closer to home, while the Abu Dhabi branch is welcoming customers once more, Falchi says business has been slow. “We have some residents of the Four Seasons hotel coming to dine, mostly during the weekends and, of course, locals who are visiting the Galleria stop by. But it’s not like it used to be.”

Part of the problem, says Falchi, is that Cafe Milano has always been a popular location for professional events and businesses lunches – events on hold for the time being. Since the restaurant is so well-known worldwide, another major source of revenue came from tourism, which is also on hold at the moment.

However, Falchi is taking it all in his stride. “Everyone knows the restaurant and knows the kind of food we serve which is genuine, fresh Mediterranean cuisine. We are taking things slow for now until things go back to normal – which probably will only happen after summer. Until then, we are doing our best to keep everything going with smaller operations.

“We might have reduced capacity, but we are still here."