Hidden away within the colossal structure of the Dubai World Trade Center, Donatello Restaurant and Lounge boasts lavish décor and an enticing Italian menu. Yet situated not far from DIFC, known for its abundance of high-end dining options, one immediately wonders at how the placement of this new Italian venue can compete with the nearby haven of renowned luxury eateries. With such musings in mind my guest and I ventured inside the restaurant and were pleasantly enraptured by the appealing ambiance furnished with gold tables and chairs and plush gold-toned tie-back drapes. Friendly staff welcomed us eagerly within the interior which we found was surprisingly – empty. While a bit dismayed by this realization, we were equally intrigued by the restaurant’s level of sophistication and knowledgeable staff. We were quickly seated and waited upon as the only guests in the house – a rare and uncommon treat when dining out in Dubai.
Subtle Italian rock music played in the background and I immediately recalled years of living in Rome where the sweet and passionate tunes of Vasco Rossi would often permeate through popular sidewalk trattorias. The music seemed a bit out-of-place within such a lavishly decorated venue and yet also provided a heartwarming ambiance in place of the evident lack of guests. It was Saturday, one of the restaurant’s least busy evenings affirmed Assistant Manager Richard Somelius. As we nodded, we couldn’t help but be a bit startled by just how large the restaurant was – its very size loomed even bigger by the multitude of empty tables. We equated the fact to the restaurant’s recent opening and a bit awkward location, which we ascertained would soon bring forth more guests in the coming months. We opened a large menu and feasted our eyes on eloquent cursive font explaining in detail a variety of Italian specialties. Fresh home-made bread was whisked to the table while we perused over our options.
With the help of our waiter, a lovely man from Tunisia who couldn’t have been more explicative when recommending such enticing Mediterranean cuisine, we eventually settled on starters of Parmigiana di Melanzane in cocotte, Burrata Pugliese con pomodorini, pesto ed olio al tartufo bianco and Carpaccio di manzo, rucola, insalatina di sedano, Parmigiano e salsa alla mostrada. The Burrata was an immediate hit – the creamy version of mozzarella was deliciously juxtaposed with the fresh tastes of tomato, basil and pesto and heightened with the more earthy flavor of white truffle oil. While the eggplant parmesan was satisfying, its demeanor seemed to be a bit overcooked and could be likened more towards the constitution of lasagna rather than what would usually be its ripe and supple state. The paper-thin slices of beef carpaccio were deliciously salty, rustic and accompanied by a zesty celery salad, shaved parmesan cheese and a light Dijon mustard dressing. Recommended to us as well was the Insalatina mista Donatello – a mixed salad made with buffalo mozzarella, tuna, corn and a poached egg which appeared smack in the center of the glistening tower of greens – a refreshingly simple and tasty concoction in comparison to the sumptuous surroundings.
Our plates were cleared and our waiter brought out a range of small bottles of olive oil. Each flask comprised of its own flavor suited for a particular dish. Our main courses of Linguine all’astice (Linguine with Canadian Lobster), Filetto di Halibut in guazetto con pomodorini, zafferano e patate novelle (Halibut fillet) and Filetto di merluzzo nero al cartoccio, olive taggiasche, capperi e pomodorini arrived and he recommended the lemon-infused olive oil to compliment the halibut. Fresh tomato and basil complimented the lobster linguine which was deliciously rich and savory. The halibut, seasoned with saffron, clams, mussels, potatoes and cherry tomatoes, was a disappointment. The taste was bland and weak in comparison to the fullness and succulent flavor of the linguine – a dish which was out of character when juxtaposed to the rest of our order, yet partially saved with a splash of lemon olive oil. The Black Cod was an immediate winner. An explosion of flavor to the taste buds, the dish was roasted with black olives, capers and cherry tomatoes and served “al cartoccio” – an Italian cooking method whereby fish is wrapped within a parchment paper and baked until cooked. The method requires very little oil and renders the fish moist, tender and bursting with flavor – exactly the sensation of the Black Cod which we eagerly consumed.
Delightfully filled from our main course, we were impressed by the artful dessert which made our way across the floor. A white chocolate and yogurt pannacotta served in an elegant pedestal bowl resembling that of a drinking chalice and laden with an array of colorful fruit – a sight which recalled that of a Renaissance still-life painting. Also arriving at our table was a rich chocolate delice – one had to break through the hard chocolate shell to uncover the sinfully creamy under layer. We were pleased.
While the opulent surroundings might seem to try a bit too hard, the food provides a genuine and fulfilling solution. Donatello certainly has promise. Give this restaurant a few more months and hopefully, its tables will begin to fill.
Dubai World Trade Center, +971 43863577 www.donatello-group.com