Todd English's Olives - Venetian Village at the Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi
The Venetian Village at Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi offers a growing selection of stand-alone licensed restaurants, as diners seek alternatives to hotel restaurants where they can feel a greater sense of being relaxed. Todd English's Olives, according to Todd English himself, is about a casual dining experience in an elegant setting. It is certainly not new, especially nowadays in a city disenchanted with fine dining. This is not Dubai after all. It is a different market altogether.
The restaurant, despite a healthy size, is actually quite cosy, allowing no more than 100 guests inside. Of course, when the terrace area is fully completed, there will be seating for another 100, but the 'twain never meet', ensuring the intimacy factor remains. The cosiness is brought home by a lot of wood in the decor, plush seating and overall, clever use of space. Two distinct dining areas greet you, and I as I walk in, there is no better advertisement for each section - an Emirati couple in one section, engaged in quiet conversation as opposed to the other area which is more raucous, with a lot of after-work type people having dinner. However, both are connected conceptually and aesthetically by Todd English's desire for a laid back atmosphere - they both feature booth seating. There are no table cloths either.
With more restaurants opting for a bar-lounge-dining area concept, Olives also has a bar, in itself a destination; very elegantly laid out.
The evening kicks of with the Lobster bisque - smooth, light and creamy, almost foamy. Chunks of lobster add texture to the dish; these perfectly cooked by the way - nothing chewy. Fennel infuses the dish with a more intense flavour you would otherwise have had.
By way of something different, their Beef carpaccio is brought to my table. It is colourful and indeed intriguing - like I've never had before. Forget your standard carpaccio with parmesan, olive oil and arugula. Balsamic glazed onions and parmesan bring a delightful contrast of mildly sweet and salty. The real surprise lies in the centre of is a hearty portion of this starter - Gorgonzola rosti cake. The latter lends an even heartier quality to the dish. Again, in keeping with its American roots, the portion is huge, so be warned.
Finally, I have a taster of the Veal agnilotti al plin. Veal is cooked two ways, with the highlight being the braised veal inside that pasta, itself cooked al dente, offering an unmissable contrast between the tender, braised veal and the firmer texture of the pasta. I appreciate Chef's prudent use of truffle, ensuring it does not overpower the rest of the dish.
Executive Chef Jaime Mendoza, himself a veteran of about 17 years in the kitchens of Todd English. The care with which he approaches each catches my eye. He has input on every single dish that leaves the kitchen - I like that. However, more than this, it is the fact that Todd English chose to bring over one his very experienced chefs. This is a shift from what has happened in the last couple years where a chef already based in the UAE is usually trained. I am able to get a sense of how much this restaurant is valued by Todd himself.
For my main course, I have the Rib eye, served with potato gratin and a very smoky asparagus. This dish is sheer simplicity. Caramelised shiitake mushrooms bring additional flavour.
Dessert allows Chef to have a lot of fun as he creates a visual treat of sweets. Obviously it was about allowing me to try the various desserts, I can see this being served by request as a sharing concept.
It was really hard to find fault on this visit. Olives by Todd English brings deliciously cooked dishes at very good value for money and delivers on his promise of providing a casual experience that at the same time is matched by great cuisine. The pricing is what will surprise you. The highest priced dish comes in at 165AED, making it by far the cheapest dining option of all the so-called celebrity chef outlets in the city. A 3 course dinner for 2 excluding wine can be around 550AED. And for a city that is also more and more conscious of spending, Todd English's Olives genuinely offers a night out in an elegant setting that will not break the credit card.
Olives by Todd English,
Venetian Village at Ritz Carlton
00 971 2 4041941