Wine Dinner at Circo - Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Over the last few years, I have experienced some fantastic wine dinners. In that time, I have also seen how the wine dinner concept has settled into two basic approaches. Circo, Abu Dhabi's current top Italian restaurant according to a leading travel review website, played host to a wine dinner adopting  a more inclusive concept, as opposed to the other which is more exclusive, finer, and also expensive. 

I have often talked about wine dinners as a necessary evening for top restaurants because it allows the chef to step outside of the shackles of a menu and create, while also allowing the restaurant to showcase its wine. Wine dinners are not optional in F&B - they are integral. 

I like that the evening starts at the bar. Restaurants that are not maximising the potential of their bar are missing an effortless way to enhance the guest's overall experience. Also, guests mingle and start chatting. Connections and relationships are forged, long before we sit down to dinner. It is a terrific leveller. 

After being seated, we are served the amuse bouche. The grouper is nicely cooked, and the citrus quality makes it so delicious. Finally, the watermelon changes the character of the dish and imbues it with a Spring quality. Kudos to Chef.

Marinated Grouper and Watermelon, Coffee Powder, Martini Dry
Valdo, Edizione Oro, Veneto

The Valdo Prosecco is an uncomplicated way to get the evening started. Light, crispy and refreshing, and with the lime from the grouper, a very good match. 
Lamb Carpaccio, Marinated Peppers, Fried Capers, Baby Arugula and Pecorino Romano, Basil and Ricotta Crostino
Casa Lapostolle, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Rapel Valley
We are all excited when see that they have opted for a lamb carpaccio instead of the usual beef carpaccio. Admittedly it is the first time I have it. While the lamb does not have the rich aroma of beef, and does not excite eh palate much, it is the rest of the dish that works for me. The Basil and Ricotta Crostino is simple, tasty and textured of course.  And the pecorino brings that cheesy saltiness to the dish as well. 

Black Squid Ink Risotto with Calamari and Olive Oil Poached Cherry Tomatoes
Principessa Gavia, Banfi, Piemonte, Italy
For the pasta dish, Chef serves an ink squid risotto. I think it a bold and daring choice because it is one of those dishes that does not translate well in terms of presentation. The risotto is beautifully cooked, and the calamari rings reminds us what we are having - squid. A nice touch. I enjoy every morsel of that cherry tomato as it balances the dish quite nicely, but alas there is just the one. A couple more and that dish could be elevated from good to fabulous. T

The wine paired with the risotto is a good one. Traditionally perfect as an aperitif, I am really thrilled to try it with the risotto. Crisp, with a hint of apple, I end up having another glass. 

Veal Cheeks braised in Red Wine, Oven Roasted Tomato, Spinach, Roasted Marble Potatoes
Bourgogne La Vignée, Bouchard Père et Fils, Burgundy
The veal - wow! It is beautifully tender, but not to the point where it just breaks. You want it to have its structure - and it has kept it perfectly. This is as homely as it gets here. It is served on  a bed of spinach. How many vegetables say to you, welcome home? Pumpkin? Peas? Spinach? A superb dish. 
The wine pairing, a  Burgundy, is an excellent choice. Not as a full bodied as  a Bordeaux, so it does not overpower the veal, but yet it has enough character to bring a relative fullness to the veal. Very distinctive berries and plums.  

Valrhona Dark Chocolate Mousse with Italian Meringue and Tiramisu Truffles
Moscato Passito DOCG, Araldica Palazzina
Finally, dessert is a busy affair with a lot happening on the plate . The Italian meringue is pretty, puffy and smooth - in sharp contrast to the more ubiquitous French meringue that is so decadently crispy and crunchy. I think the consitency of teh meringue makes it  the right type of meringue for the mousse. Fresh raspberry and gooseberry both provide a fitting contrast to the chocolate mousse - the latter in itself with just the right level of sweetness as it is Valrhona. I like the accompanying dessert wine because it is not overly sweet. Another good pairing. 

The wine dinner showed me that these affairs do not have to be expensive and out of reach. I am pleased with this approach because Abu Dhabi is becoming more and more expensive, and residents are starting to watch their spending. At 349 AED net, for a 5 course dinner with wines to match, the value is obvious. I also like that African & Eastern opted for wines that are very accessible to the public. 

Finally, while I do believe there is a place for the more intimate dinner for 12 people in a place like Circo, this lower priced concept is the one I see working better, especially as diners are becoming more casual.  Wine dinners like this make me feel that Elegant casual is the new fine dining.

The Essentials
Intercontinental Hotel, 
Abu Dhabi 
+971 2 6666888
349 AED net
African & Eastern
Next Wine Dinner at Circo is 21 October 2015.


Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I was invited to the wine dinner courtesy of the hotel.