Bocca - Hilton, Abu Dhabi

 La cucina di un popolo è la sola esatta testimonianza della sua civiltà.

anonymous (The cuisine of a country is the only exact attestation of its civilization.)

This is no more true of the Italians. Food is as much a part of life as is breathing. Who will forget the scene just after the Don was shot in The Godfather where friends and tough guys of the family are together in the kitchen preparing chili? But living in Abu Dhabi means one has to find a place that is going to give you that authentic experience. That experience where you lift the fork to your mouth and you know you are in a great restaurant where the Italian food is exceptional.  That experience where when you walk in the door, you are warmly greeted and made to feel at home. That place has been found. It is Bocca.

Best Italian in Abu Dhabi Winner 2013 - Timeout Abu Dhabi.
Spacious, but cosy and intimate.
We arrived for dinner at Bocca at the Hilton in Abu Dhabi. My recent obsession with the classic Italian dish of garlic, fresh chili and pasta cooked in olive oil made me want to try Bocca. The first thing that strikes you as you enter the restaurant is that it is quite cosy, notwithstanding the large mirrors that create an impression of space. In fact, my daughter had to do a double take because she was convinced there was an adjoining dining area!

The menu is simple enough in terms of choices. They have the one page menu of specials and their regular menu, also a single page. But don't think that your choices are limited. In addition to pastas and pizzas, they also have land and sea options. It had to be pasta for me. If I want a steak, I will go to a steakhouse or a restaurant known for its beef.

For a starter we shared a caprese salad. The freshness of the mozzarella goes a long way to telling you about the restaurant you are in. For my main I seriously thought about the tortelini filled with sea bass in a red mullet and safron sauce. In the end though, I ordered the ravioli with veal, spinach and mascarpone in a porcini mushroom sauce. We also ordered the home made tagliolini in a creamy lemon and shrimp sauce. My daughter surprised me and forewent the kids favourite, the spaghetti bolognaise. Instead she asked for something off the menu, the tomato pasta.

Bocca boasts an impressive wine list, but again, emphasis seems to be on quality rather than quantity, making the wine list easy to navigate. I settled on the Valpolicella, described as a 'robust ruby red wine with a taste of juicy red berries'. Having tried this before, I was excited indeed.

Piping warm bread. 
Transforming bread into a meal on its own.  
Look at the beautiful colour of the olive oil. 

The first hint that evening that service would be very good was when our waiter, the excellent Rajeev,  brought our water. He gave Mitsuki (my 7 year old ) a thinner, easy to handle glass. I thought this bit of sensitivity on his part was commendable and indicative of good training. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched on anxiously as children tried to clasp the oversized glasses they were often given!

The caprese salad did not disappoint. While chef could have been a bit more generous with the basil, it was fantastic. The freshness of the mozzarella along with the tasty tomatoes made it an excellent choice. The tomatoes were absolutely beautiful. Also, the bread served with olive oil was delicious. How do you take something as simple as bread and make it taste so good? Ask the Italians.

Super fresh caprese salad ingredients.
The entrees were brought soon after, and when i saw it, I knew I made a mistake with mine. The problem was the porcini mushroom sauce which leaves any chef with the problem of creating colour on the dish. One of the joys of having pasta is that it always looks so light, even if it is creamy. This was not the case with my choice. The disappointment continued when I tried it. It was too salty. I guess the chef was in love. My mum always used to say that if there was too much salt in a dish it was because the chef could not concentrate because he/she was in love. I then tasted the others. The pasta in tomato sauce was perfect, but my favourite  was the tagliolini. The lemon did something special for the dish. Next time I will go with the Peperoncino (garlic,  chili and olive oil) !

The kids pasta was superb. 

The ravioli - disappointing. 
Finally, for dessert we had the tiramisu which was rich and creamy. Gorgeous. I had black coffee to accompany it but asked for an extra shot of espresso. I highly recommend the coffee, the Julius Meinl brand, which is dark, aromatic and rich in taste.

The classic Bocca tiramisu.
Gelati of course.
Amazing coffee.

During our dinner we had the pleasure of meeting the warm and vivacious restaurant manager, Simona Fianchini, a native of Italy. One of the ways I judge service in a restaurant is by the way staff  interact with children. In addition to making sure we enjoyed our meals, she really made Mitsuki feel like a welcome customer. She has a fabulous team who go about their service naturally and effortlessly.

The big endorsement from this little customer. 

Overall, Bocca is a fine restaurant. I refuse to judge it on the ravioli. There were just so many other pointers to tell me that this is a restaurant I want to visit again and again. It seems like Abu Dhabi just got even better with the discovery of this place. I can see why Italy is then in the upper echelons of the civilised world. The food. Oh the food! Oh the food!

The low down

3 courses excluding drinks 200-400Dhs

The Hilton,
Corniche Road,
Abu Dhabi.
02 681 1900