Armani/Mediterraneo

Last week, I was introduced to the magical world of beige at Armani’s fine-dining Italian restaurant, Ristorante. As I entered the more casual, all-day-dining Mediterranean venue, I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu. The decor was nearly identical; the place shared the same colourless roman blinds and neutral furnishings plucked from the showroom of Armani/Casa. The only real difference in appearance was that the tables were without linens and were more closely crammed together; once seated, we had to listen to our (clearly Tory) neighbour’s excruciatingly loud take on the UK election. The menu, too, had some familiar notes. Home-made pastas and variations of classic Italian starters were all on hand. There was an impressive buffet that featured Mediterranean (and all-you-can-eat) standbys such as pizza, crêpes and the occasional Arabic mezze. To elevate the spread, the restaurant also offered a couple of haute items (such as coq au vin served in a mini cast-iron casserole dish). Though the cooking stations filled the place with a magnificent and tempting aroma, I have a rule: when there’s an option, order á la carte. As pleasant as our neighbour’s lamb chops looked, I felt smug that my astoundingly vibrant burrata starter was not available to him. The famously creamy mozzarella came draped over a not-overly-presentable mush that, regardless of its appearance, tasted as clean and homely as fresh milk. The chunky green purée was a fulcrum of flavour, balancing sweet elements such as sultanas and cherry tomatoes with the more earnest, savoury flavours of celery and pine nuts. What didn’t work in this dish was a bruschetta over-salted to the point of inedibility, a sloppy mistake for an Armani restaurant. My date’s octopus opener was a smoker; the combination of charred tentacles and slivers of roasted red peppers was reminiscent of a campfire. Though my companion was happy, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the too-tough texture. She did fare better than me with her main, though. Her home-made pappardelle – the second pasta dish I’ve now tasted at an Armani outlet – was undoubtedly the highlight of the meal, and proved that no matter which restaurant you sample at the hotel, you can’t go wrong with pasta. The seasoning was so simple, yet so precise. The large pasta rings rested on a simpering mound of ricotta, which absorbed the drippings from the accompanying sausage and wild mushrooms. Earthy and autumnal, the mixture could easily have come from a wood nymph’s cauldron. My main, alas, didn’t contain such magic. It was a pleasant, comforting seafood tagine, served in a provincial-seeming cast-iron dish. The problem wasn’t that it was bland: it was packed full of flavours fresh from the Moroccan souk. The assortment of fish – monstrously huge prawns, mussels , scallops and the like – was also excellent. There was just something generally underwhelming about it. It packed no punch; it simply satiated. Dessert was a buffet affair, crammed with the usual assortment of tiramisu, cheesecake, profiteroles and crêpes. Results were mixed. The main problem was that they were universally too rich. That a cup of tiramisu was absent of lady fingers and was 80 per cent whipped cream made it a somewhat queasy affair. Puff pastry wasn’t the airy sweet I was accustomed to. Instead, it was heavy, made from a slightly dense choux and filled with a thick, cement-like chocolate paste. That’s not to say Mediterraneo didn’t have its moments. There are some amazing dishes on offer, and for a casual, all-day-dining venture it’s pleasantly sophisticated (they say the dress code is smart-casual – maybe a homage to Mr Armani). Still, given the price and the prestige of the Armani name, the venue would do well to clean up the disappointments that mar an otherwise pleasant meal. The bill (for two) 1x Large bottle of water Dhs30 1x Octopus Dhs70 1x Burrata Dhs65 1x Pappardelle Dhs70 1x Seafood tagine Dhs160 1x Dessert buffet Dhs55 Total (including 10 per cent service) Dhs450

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