Italian restaurant Talea by Antonio Guida opened to much fanfare at Mandarin Oriental, Emirates Palace, in March.
The fine-dining restaurant is in good company at the Abu Dhabi hotel, with Hakkasan, which has two Michelin-starred outposts in London, and Martabaan by celebrity Indian chef Hemant Oberoi, as its neighbours. But it also means expectations are high for Talea.
Crisp white interiors with pops of bright blue and gold give the restaurant a contemporary feel, and the soft watercolours hanging on the walls help soften the space. It feels homely and inviting rather than starkly modern. It’s still upmarket, though, as you’d expect from a venue with a chef of such renown at this calibre of hotel.
What to expect and where to sit
Tables are set with good space between them and there are also little nooks that help keep the vibe intimate. Head for a table in the main space if it’s a cosy family-friendly feel you want, or by the bar for a livelier atmosphere. Weather-permitting, it’s the terrace that stands out, with its elegant water feature and sweeping sea views elevating the dining experience.
The comprehensive list features an array of classics including burrata with organic tomato, pesto and balsamic, and vitello tonnato ― sliced veal, tuna sauce and capers ― from the antipasti menu. There are pasta dishes such as strozzapreti with cherry tomatoes, basil and Stracciatella cheese, and home-made ravioli filled with ricotta cheese, lemon and mint.
An ossobuco alla Milanese and ricciola, a dish comprising amberjack tuna, courgettes and a mint vinegar sauce, make up part of the mains, while for dessert, there’s baba Napoletano ― sponge cake soaked in a sweet, citrusy syrup ― plus classic Italian tiramisu.
On our visit, my dining companion and I are served the vitello tonnato to start. The chilled sliced veal dish comes with a tuna sauce piped around it and capers, and it’s topped with shreds of fresh, crisp celery. It’s a light and refreshing start to the meal, with delicate yet distinct flavours. The saltiness and tartness of this appetiser is balanced beautifully by the thin slices of meat and peppery veg. The dish is a classic in Milan, often eaten during the religious Feast of the Assumption each summer and it’s a delight that should not be missed at Talea.
The baba Napoletano I expect to be a warming end to our meal, but it’s a cold dessert that leaves me disappointed. While it doesn’t taste bad ― it’s light and fluffy with a sauce that’s well balanced between sweet and tart ― it’s just not to my taste, being cold. The tiramisu, however, whipped up with a flourish for each guest by Guida in the dining room, more than makes up for it. It’s light and creamy, with a kick from that classic espresso-chocolate flavour.
There are two dishes worth special mention ― the ravioli and the ricciola amberjack tuna. The pasta is made to perfection in terms of texture and taste. It’s drenched in a buttery, lemony, refreshingly zingy and wonderfully flavoursome sauce, and it’s filled with ricotta at the perfect cheese-to-pasta-to-sauce ratio. It’s impeccable and unlike anything I’ve tasted. The portion is small, and while I know it would have been a shame to fill up on the pasta course at the expense of being able to enjoy the delightful dishes that followed, I could have eaten this by the bucketload.
Next comes the ricciola, our main. The amberjack tuna dish is a delight. A chunk of fish seared to a light blush comes placed on top of a green minty vinegar sauce. Demonstrating once again Guida’s remarkable skill for balancing flavours, the tart sauce adds a bit of a punch, lifting the familiar taste of tuna in a pleasantly surprising and vibrant way. It’s evened out by the addition courgettes with perfectly charged edges, which also add texture along with the wonderfully crisp fish skin.
A chat with the chef
Antonio Guida is from Puglia in southern Italy and has travelled extensively through the country, as well as through France and Asia. This has all contributed to his deep knowledge of the culinary arts.
Guida has worked alongside great masters in Michelin-starred restaurants such as Pierre Gagnaire in Paris and Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence. In 2002, he was appointed executive chef at the hotel Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole, Tuscany, where two years later, he received his first Michelin star. A second came in 2010.
In 2015, Guida was appointed executive chef at Seta, the fine-dining restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Milan. That year, he earned the restaurant its first Michelin star. He achieved a second star for the outlet in 2016.
Guida describes his cooking style as “cucina di famiglia”, traditional family-style sharing dishes made from recipes that have been passed down through generations. “With our concept of ‘Italy meets Abu Dhabi’, I am delighted to offer Talea’s patrons a culinary experience that presents a new interpretation of Italian favourites, along with some rare and unusual combinations.”
Guida describes his cooking style as “precise, elegant and harmonious”. His favourite ingredient to cook with is lemon, for its versatility. “Its juice is used to give a bitter taste to many main dishes, its skin to give flavour to desserts and so on,” he says.
“For vegetarians I would recommend the home-made ravioli with ricotta cheese, lemon and mint, while for meat lovers I would definitely suggest the Milanese cutlet,” Guida says. “And for a dessert lover, our reinvented version of the tiramisu is just perfect.”
Price point and contact information
Appetisers range from Dh75 to Dh130, while mains cost from Dh160 to Dh300. Pizzas go for Dh85 to Dh145. Reservations can be made by calling 02 690 7999 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant