An evening at Olives, a Mediterranean experience - Todd English's Olives, Venetian Village, Abu Dhabi

As I sit in the bar at Todd English's Olives, I reflect on the number of celebrity chefs who have entered the Abu Dhabi market in the last couple years to varying degrees of success. As I sip a glass of Olives' house champagne, Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee NV, I look at the menu and it dawns on me how Olives understood the market in terms of pricing - almost as if they saw the downturn that the economy would be in and adjusted prices and expectations accordingly. It has been richly rewarded in its first year with some high profile awards and nominations, including a nomination for BBC Good Food Restaurant of the Year Nomination for 2016 and of course, What's On's Favourite European Restaurant Award for 2016.

On my last visit, I dined alone. On this occasion, I have company, and my guest and I order the Beef carpaccio, but as a full portion. You may recall the last time I had a smaller size. It is huge. A year has passed since I tried it, but it remains a one of a kind beef carpaccio. Onions are glazed with balsamic and serve as the foil of the parmesan. The presence of gorgonzola, part of a rosti cake which sits as a lump underneath the beef, brings added intensity to the dish, thanks to its pronounced flavour. It is a starter worthy of a group of 4. It screams 'value for money!'
For my second starter, I have something exceptional - the Pan seared duck foie gras steak. There is so much balance in this dish with balsamic fig compote and cranberry jus coming together effortlessly to complement the foie gras. And for good measure, texture on the plate is courtesy of herbed blinis!  

I am excited about our intermediate dish. It represents an important aspect of Olives' identity. With a pasta room showcasing how they make their fresh pasta, I had to try something. In addition, their flatbread, or pizza to laypeople like myself also represents this fun but delicious side to Olives. 

Firstly, the Spicy Chicken flatbread, with homemade chicken sausage, like many of the other dishes I have had, is perfectly balanced, this time between herbed ricotta cheese and balsamic onions. I should mention that if you are traditional in your appreciation of pizza, don't have this. In fairness, that is why they do not call it a  pizza - it is a bit more sophisticated, but at 70AED, another great deal. Next, I try the Baked Ricotta Ravioli. The presentation is honest and resembles a dish that one could make at home. The garlic tomato sauce, generously served, makes me grab a piece of bread and lap it up! Many restaurants claim to offer an elegant interior balanced by homely dishes. Here it is actually realised! 

My dish of the night is, fittingly, reserved for my main course, the Duck two ways. Seared breast with ginger confit of leg is married to apricot chutney. The sweet sourness on that duck is a lovely combination. The duo is completed by foie gras ravioli;  latter is homemade and done al dente. Finally, cabbage is an ingredient that always grounds a dish, gives it that 'mum's kitchen' feel, and that is precisely what the braised red cabbage does. At 130AED for a main dish of this quality, this is precisely why I think they read the market really well - better than a number of restaurants that debuted in the last 18 months. In fact, the most expensive main dish is 155AED - exceptional really. 

It is hard to believe that the restaurant is a little over a year old. Through sensible pricing and without much fanfare, it has garnered several awards, and as more people discover its warmth and personalised charm, it will do even better. Chef Jaime Mendoza is the heart and soul of this restaurant, and for me who believes that restaurants are more than just ingredients, it is easy to see why it is becoming more successful. He brings to dishes something defies recipe books - it is all heart! I have  commented before that people in Abu Dhabi are increasingly looking for alternatives to hotel restaurants - and places like Todd English's Olives are part of  a handful of outlets leading people to discover some wonderful diningoptions.

I cannot wait to return to have  another  Todd English's Olives experience, but on the terraceerracee this time.  

The Essentials,
Olives by Todd English,
Venetian Village at Ritz Carlton
00 971 2 4041941

Dinner for 2 average price - 400-450AED incl a glass of wine

Brandon Stoltenkamp
Disclaimer: I was invited to try Olives by the restaurant