Wine Dinner At Circo - Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Recently there was a badly attended wine dinner in Abu Dhabi that was poorly attended. It was a failure partly because the restaurant failed to read the economic climate that Abu Dhabi finds itself in. The days of wine dinners costing over 450AED are something of the past. It was with this in mind that I approached  a wine dinner at Circo, a restaurant that has consistently been among the best Italian restaurants over the last year. Also, it was a chance to try the dishes of one of the most talented young chefs in Abu Dhabi, Matteo Fontana.  

It is a Wednesday night and the restaurant is quite busy. It is a most wonderful sound as voices rise above the background music and sound of cutlery on china. It is particularly gratifying, knowing how many restaurants are empty on weeknights. It creates a festive atmosphere - isn't that how Italian food should be enjoyed? It is not an austere occasion. Every Italian meal is a celebration of life, family and love, and it feels like that as I walk through the restaurant. 

I am excited about a new Prosecco that has been introduced - Amore di Amanti Prosecco, Veneto. It is easy to drink, uncomplicated and I must say as an entry level option, I prefer it to the Valdo. 

We start off with an amuse bouche of Burratini Mousse. It is a beautiful way to get the evening under way. Sun-dried tomato and fried basil, the latter especially, make me wish that the amuse bouche was actually a starter. More please!

Next up, we have the Seafood and fruit salad. It is fresh and has hints of dill dressing. I find it too sweet, though, and ask for some more lemon to balance out that sweetness of the fruit. In terms of texture, I like the crunch of the fruit and how that plays against the texture of the seafood. The wine it is paired with is the Gavi DOCG, Granee, Beni di Batasiolo.  It is light and floral, making it a good pairing in the end.

For the primo piatto, we have Home-made Mezzelune pasta with braised beef short rib filling. Very few chefs I have come across are as consistent with their pasta the way Chef Matteo is. I can swear by it. Garlic bread crumble adds extra texture to the dish while the rest of the dish is just what you would expect. However, I should mention the beef short rib - braised to perfection. 

For our secondo piatto, we are served the Sicilian stuffed tuna fillet.  Now, a tuna filet is something I would never order because it has happened too often in the past where it has simply been overdone and all I was left with was  a dry piece of fish! So, when I saw the menu I was somewhat disappointed. But let me tell you, and I have had the pleasure of having so many dishes prepared by Chef Matteo - this is the best dish I have tried by Chef. The key is the temperature. It is a bold way to cook it, especially in an Italian restaurant.  It is quite rare. Kudos to him. Capers, orange marmalade, black olive sauce and the mildly sweet Holland tomato bring so much taste to the dish, but they are all nicely balanced by the tuna - despite these flavours, Chef has ensured that the tuna gets the respect it deserves. Furthermore, he has added some lovely texture too! Beautiful. 

Interestingly, I prefer the Dolcetto d'Alba Madonna di Como DOC to the Nero d' Avola with the tuna. it is smooth with a long finish and very much reminds me, more than the Nero, of a pinot noir, hence my preference for it with the tuna. 

Finally, dessert goes back to basics, with a classic White chocolate  panna cotta. Passion fruit and fresh raspberry add some sourness, but it is the discovery of the dehydrated raspberry crumbs that really surprise. A small but fantastic part of the dessert. The panna cotta marks a very strong end to the wine dinner!

The Verdict

This is the future of wine dinners. People may miss the glory days of exclusive dinners priced at 600AED, but that is no longer viable. Circo has already had  a few of these wine dinners, and have seen how successful they can be. At 295AED for a 5-course menu of this quality you cannot but help to feel the value for money aspect. However, it is the feeling of being in a  busy restaurant on a Wednesday night that did it for me. This what happens when you become less exclusive and try, in true Italian spirit, to be inclusive!

The Essentials

Circo,Intercontinental Hotel, Abu DhabiCirco+971 666 6888295 AED per person
Wine dinners are held monthly, so check the hotel website. 
Disclaimer: I tried the wine dinner as a guest of the restaurant.