The Amalfi Experience Part I - Le Royal Meridien Hotel, Abu Dhabi

How do you elevate a cuisine that, along with Chinese food, is probably the most adulterated cuisine, having been taken away from its roots by commercialisation, food courts and microwave dinners? How do you take palates to an authentic taste experience they may never have had? Not an easy task. I am reminded of a 10 000 Maniacs song "Candy, Everybody wants"- a song that deplores how television is nothing more than a reflection of what people want to see. In this context, mall restaurants driven by putting bums on seats, often give people what they want for what they are willing to pay. The cuisine becomes watered down as a result.  What is the cuisine I am referring to? 

Italian of course. I can imagine you are nodding your head right now. Italian restaurants are the go-to options of hoteliers because everyone likes pasta and pizza, isn't that right? Sadly, amidst the Eat as much you want culture we find ourselves in, a cuisine like Italian is reduced to Spaghetti Bolognese and a generic Pasta Arabiata, and not to mention the done to death white sauce and pasta. We have lost something, haven't we? 

But then Chef Pascal Sfara, Chef de Cuisine at Amalfi comes along and talks about Experiencing food again. He feels we should savour tastes once more, and treat the ingredients with the respect it once had, but has been lost. Dining is not functional, and nor should it be. It is an Experience. Biting into a piece of bread is an Experience. Tasting the subtle flavour variations in  the Minestrone soup is an Experience. Indulging in the aroma as the Veal Rossini is placed in front of you is an Experience. Marvelling at the seductive red colour of the Rosso di Mazzaro prawns from Sicily is an Experience. And the thing is it is not about a guest going out to dinner to have these Experiences - it is about teaching the guest to eat differently. Yes, we are caught up in our busy lives and sometimes food is functional - but why should it be? 

Chef Pascal wants to return us to a different time. I imagine it is a time feeling excited about a meal again. Sitting down and eagerly waiting to see how a chef has interpreted  a classic dish, or reinvented it, or even created a new one. He wants us to go back to a period in our lives  when we took time to enjoy dinner by focusing on the individual flavours of the ingredients, and then experiencing them collectively, immersing ourselves in the moment and being aware that we are  Experiencing something extraordinary. This is the Amalfi Experience. 

I love the concept - Consult with Chef a couple days ahead of your Experience. Talk about your likes and dislikes; what excites you on the plate, and leave it to him. He will create a unique Experience for you that will have the finest available ingredients sourced from Italy. The Amalfi Experience offers one  a different perspective to a chef who has worked in various Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and who usually brings a homeliness to his traditional menu. This exclusive Experience, created for up to a group of 10 people.

The Amalfi Experience illustrates again the leader that Le Royal Meridien has become as a Food & Beverage beacon in Abu Dhabi, and remember it has done so in a very short time since its relaunch. Amalfi pushes the boundaries with its latest offering and challenges people to embrace that which is authentic and soulful in Italian cuisine. It would not be fair to say there are no other restaurants offering a genuine Italian Experience in the city. In fact, I can think of one other  that I really enjoy, but I can say that no one is doing what Amalfi is setting out to do with its Experience. Not only is it privileging and respecting ingredients, but it is also putting the diner at the centre again. This is personalising a dining Experience on another level. So, open your eyes, the precursor to your olfactory senses awakening as you are about to be entranced by the aroma of a  dish, while readying your palate to taste, truly taste and Experience, like you once did as a child, many years ago.

The Essentials

Le Royal Meridien, Khalifa Street,
Abu Dhabi
02 674 2020

The Amalfi Experience will run throughout May and June. 

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I consult at restaurants and hotels in an attempt to look at the entire product to take service levels to where they should be. I visited  Amalfi  as  a guest of the hotel.