Sicilia

Our three-visit tour of Ibn Battuta Gate’s culinary offerings, which kicked off two weeks ago, concludes at Sicilia, the hotel’s Italian restaurant. The venue feels far more spacious than stablemates Chor Bazaar and Shanghai Chic – contemporary chandeliers hang from high, arched ceilings, while the cream walls are lined with a multitude of gold-framed photos depicting random snippets of iconic Italian imagery. The pleasant, though slightly sterile aesthetic (Sicilia will look great in a few years when it’s a bit shabbier) is let down slightly by the restaurant’s soundtrack – overbearing Italian pop songs and a few marching anthems played at a rather loud volume. It wouldn’t be so much of an issue if and when there are a few more customers to compete with the music, but Sicilia is in its infancy and only one other table was taken when we visited. The lack of customers explained the attention we received from the amicable maître d’, who talked us through the concept of the restaurant, as well as regaling us with tales of his travels and the temptations of Dubai – an interesting, amusing precursor to our meal, which was then described in great deal by the gravel-voiced Italian chef. While his word-for-word recital of the menu was impressive, it wasn’t entirely helpful – all we wanted was a couple of recommendations for a starter. When pressed, the chef obligingly suggested the octopus and the prosciutto, and we’re glad he did. My date’s caramelised octopus was a revelation – one long, juicy tentacle presented atop four slices of scalloped potatoes, accompanied by dots of ink caviar and a side of tomato confit. The tentacle tasted as good as it looked: sweet and meaty, and perfectly balanced by a dollop of pistachio di bronte pesto. My starter, the prosciutto San Daniele, was more conservative, but excellently executed nonetheless. The soft slivers of pork went well with the tart onion compote, which in turn was balanced by the rich and creamy cheese scamorza brulée. After the surprise of the starters, we were curious to see what the mains held in store. My date went for the grilled beef tenderloin with baby root vegetables, while I switched to seafood, ordering the home-made square spaghetti and lobster. It seemed I had the better fortune this time– the al-dente spaghetti and regal lobster were coated in a rich cherry tomato sauce, and given an extra edge by the fire-roasted bell peppers. It was excellent. My date’s steak and the fresh, crisp baby root vegetables combined to make a very good dish, though it was by no means awe inspiring. I’ve previously suggested that Sicilia’s neighbours don’t have what is needed to entice diners out to Ibn Battuta. While both Chor Bazaar and Shanghai Chic are good restaurants, they lack that extra edge. The dishes on the menu are all well crafted, though don’t offer anything that would linger on the palate or in the memory any longer than the time taken to leave the hotel and head back into town. However, Sicilia is one step ahead. It has managed to raise itself above its Chinese and Indian cousins thanks to its menu, which is punctuated with surprising flashes of excellence. The octopus and the lobster were enough to have us wondering whether there were any more gems hidden in the menu. Such speculation is enough to warrant a return visit, and it’s for this reason that Sicilia succeeds. The bill (for two) 1x Caramelised octopus Dhs72 1x Prosciutto San Daniele Dhs74 1x Beef tenderloin Dhs180 1x Spaghetti and lobster Dhs108 Total (including 10 per cent service) Dhs434

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