Madeo review: Riyadh hot spot offers Italian signatures and celebrity sightings

Brazilian footballer Neymar was recently spotted at the Lionel Messi-backed Via Riyadh outpost

You can't go wrong with a classic penne with tomato sauce, basil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Photo: Madeo
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Madeo, an Italian fine-dining institution from West Hollywood, opened this year to a house full of VIPs and elite food connoisseurs. Football superstar Neymar has dined at the restaurant, which is ensconced in the luxurious venue Via Riyadh, itself home to more than 20 high-end restaurants, cafes, beauty and fashion shops as well as the kingdom's first St Regis Hotel.

At its heart, though, Madeo is a family-run restaurant that serves food influenced by the coastal cuisine of Tuscan seaside town Forte dei Marmi.

What to expect and where to sit

My dining companion and I visited the restaurant at 8pm on a Monday. As we made our way past practically empty cafes and down the escalator to Madeo, we came across a horde of paparazzi crowding the entrance.

“Football celebrities are coming,” a Saudi camerawomen told us. As I swelled with pride at the thought that just a few years ago it was impossible to have women working outdoors with men, let alone as camera personnel filming the international football celebrities who now call Riyadh home, two female hostesses greeted us and escorted us to our table.

The spacious venue is fitted with couches and plush chairs, where one can enjoy a private conversation even if the restaurant is packed. And fully packed it was, positively abuzz with chatter and laughter.

Soaking up the views of Via Riyadh through the see-through glass wall, we browsed through the menu and revelled in warm bread rolls served with fresh butter.

The menu

We started with zuppa di verdure (75 Saudi riyals; $20), a traditional Tuscan vegetable soup including three types of cabbage, a light yet warm and nourishing serving.

Next we tried the bresaola (125 riyals) – cured beef imported from Valtellina – and the carpaccio (145 riyals), with the latter scoring points for its crisp freshness, and served at Madeo with a rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano salad.

The salad of the day was spinach with goat's cheese (95 riyals), a robust mix of fresh flavours that served as a palate refresher.

Madeo's signature meatballs, polpette della nonna (95 riyals) cooked with simmering herbs and tomato sauce, are a must-have dish for children. More adult flavours came through in the penne Madeo (125 riyals), a classic with tomato sauce, basil and Parmigiano Reggiano; and the delicious risotto al porcini (170 riyals), which can easily be shared between two, maybe among three.

Perhaps the most talked-about dish is the sogliola alaa mugnaia (680 riyals), a whole Dover sole fillet meuniere-style, and a great option for seafood lovers.

The fish was tender and moist, with no overwhelming or unnecessary flavours (although servers brought around condiments for those interested). This can easily be shared between a party of four, and underscores Madeo's coastal town inspiration.

Another Saudi favourite from the Italian menu, the pan-fried veal escalope (195 riyals) is served hot here, with lemon sauce, capers and porcini mushroom. We found it satisfyingly crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked yet not at all oily within.

Dessert one of three was millefoglie (65 riyals) – a Madeo best-seller we are told – which is layers of puff pastry stuffed with cool custard cream and whipped cream. Light and tasty, it is an ode to authentic Italian desserts.

The tiramisu with chocolate (80 riyals), meanwhile, was perfect in texture and sweetness and paired well with an espresso.

Madeo is also one of few Italian restaurants in Saudi Arabia that serves sweet cannoli stuffed with hazelnut cream. It was delightful and one we would go back for.

A chat with the chef

Born in Italy, Gianni Vietina says he has worked in more than 10 countries around the world, yet his cooking style remains "a contemporary approach to classic Italian cuisine with a respect for ingredients", and risotto is still his favourite dish to prepare. “Aside from the risotto porcini in the a la carte menu, we will soon start to have a different risotto of the day for dinner,” he says.

Other than the dishes we tried, the chef recommends vegetarians sample the melanzane alla Parmigiana.

Price point and contact information

Starters range from 75 to 150 riyals ($20 to $40), mains cost from 125 to 700 riyals, while desserts are between 60 and 80 riyals a pop.

Madeo is open from 1pm to 12.30am from Sunday to Wednesday, from 1pm to 1.30am on Thursday and Saturday, and from 2pm to 1.30am on Friday. Reservations can be made by calling 00966 136 637 000 or via the Seven Rooms website.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 6:40 AM