By Jacobim Mugatu www.thenational.ae
My favourite thing about our meal at Armani Ristorante, the signature Italian restaurant at the Armani Hotel, was the breadsticks. I say that neither lightly, nor scathingly; they were rustic, crisp, handmade and rich with olive oil.
A stand-out piece in the Armani restaurants present collection and as they are served as pre-dinner canapés, one that everyone who visits will be able to try. I don’t mean to imply that the breadsticks were the single positive element of our meal, far from it, but they were noteworthy.
The decor and mood at the Armani Ristorante is a blend of conservatism and luxury; muted shades of beige and taupe are enlivened by tasteful flickers of glistening gold, from the stylish cutlery or the rim of a delicate china plate. There is a fine line, though, between understated elegance and the ever so slightly bland and, given the grandeur of the location, you can’t help but feel that the interior veers largely towards the latter.
My starter of giant king prawns perched on a bed of cannellini beans was disappointing. The prawns, although fresh and chubby, lacked the seasoning necessary to transform them from the ordinary to the sensational and the accompanying sauce was pleasant, but of indistinguishable flavour. The dish, much like the decor, felt just that little bit too restrained. My companion’s choice of ravioli, plump with braised beef cheeks and accessorised with a smattering of truffle, was quite the opposite. Delicate pillows of handmade pasta, meltingly flavoursome meat and a delicious, rib-sticking veal sauce, the last drops of which he unashamedly chased around the edges of his plate. This was a classic Italian dish with plenty of depth and flavour.
Main courses were something of a mixed bag. Served with a nicely textured pea purée, braised shallots and a slither of seared foie gras, my veal tenderloin was certainly not lacking in quality. The tender, well-cooked piece of meat yielded to the knife and practically dissolved on the tongue, but was again bereft of the most simple adornment; a mere sprinkling of salt would have taken it to the next level. While the fillet of sea bass and its accompaniments were certainly cooked well, they failed to delight or inspire and felt more like an off-the-peg dinner party supper rather than the haute couture dish you expect at a location such as this. Hankering after a light, palette-cleansing dessert, I chose the passion fruit soup with coconut foam. As a cleanser it certainly delivered, though the rather tart soup did prompt a sharp inhalation of breath and not a few goosebumps. Tiramisu was by far the better option; a stylish chocolate cylindrical affair, filled with airy mascarpone cream and offering a satisfying espresso kick.
Dining at the Armani Ristorante is a perfectly pleasant experience but at the moment it is by no means exceptional. I understand that it is a fine-dining restaurant, with the interior created by a designer renowned for his minimalism, but you cannot help but feel that the chef is being stifled by a need to adhere to this ethos in his cooking. If he can break free of this, inject a little more gutsy Italian flair and old-fashioned generosity into his food, then it will be all the better for it.
The Armani Ristorante at the Armani Hotel, Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 04 888 3888. Our reviewer’s meal for two cost Dh610 (excluding drinks and service). Restaurants are reviewed incognito and the meals are paid for by The National. Jacobim Mugatu is a nom de plume.