Gorgeous Italian restaurant that brings sexy back - Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo, Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers

Dubai Creek, with all its history, brings something unique to a city that is changing every day. At night time, its charm rivals any gleaming skyscraper in the city. It is the location for Michelin-starred Alfredo Russo's Italian offering, Vivaldi, which is housed in the Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers. It is this location where the old meets the new, and the two combine effortlessly.  

The restaurant is spacious. I get the feeling they could easily pack in another 30 guests, but in going the conservative route, Vivaldi affords guests a bit of privacy. Needless to say, the floor to ceiling window seats are a premium. Who will turn down a chance to dine with a view of the creek? I have often commented on the effect that water has on the soul when one is dining, and I think this is even more profoundly felt at night. 

I believe that an Italian restaurant needs an Italian manager. You can get away with it in a  few restaurants but not Italian. But you also want a personality that becomes the restaurant. Vivaldi's manager embodies what foreigners like me imagine a manager should be - colourful, passionate and with stories to tell. Ippolita di Bari, still quite young, defies so many stereotypes in managing this Italian restaurant. Larger than life despite her youthfulness, the anecdotes start flowing after only 5 minutes. I follow her recommendation and I start off with an Aperol spritz - it seems appropriate as we reach the lees of Summer here in Dubai. 

I have become accustomed to the usual bread basket and accompaniments when I visit an Italian restaurant. They live up to their name and simply fill the time until the dishes start coming. But at Vivaldi I am surprised by the care and attention given to the antipasti tray.  The highlight, Tuna di Chianti , large chunky olives from various regions in Italy and home made bread start us off and it is with great discipline that I do not have too much. I feel immediately that respect is shown to all parts of the meal in this restaurant. There are no fillers. Every aspect is an occasion to be revered - a truly wonderful way to get the evening started. 

Still basking in the antipasti I am still picking on, I am served the Beef Tartaccio, a clever dish that brings together the best of a tartare and a carpaccio. The real delight  for me is that the parmesan is more a cream than a foam - delicious. The overall flavours though are still subtle. 

Next up I try the Radicchio salad, and I am so glad to be having this. This is a beautifully balanced dish that combines flavours and textures - a real chef's dish. Beetroot and gorgonzola - you may not be surprised by this combination, but the gorgonzola is served in the form of ice cream. Wow! Then, 15-year aged balsamic brings so much intensity to the dish - forget the usual balsamic. This is the Ferrari of balsamic vinegar compared to what is usually served at your table in this part of the world. Finally, walnuts add crunch and bite. A stunning dish. 

When you have a manager who knows her wine, there is no need for a sommelier. Ippolita is able to suggest wines for my courses, and because she loves wine herself, I can switch off the brain and just be guided by her. This is the value of a manager for whom a  restaurant is not a job - it is a vehicle to creating happiness for diners. Real passion here! The wine list, incidentally, is succinct and includes a fair number of 8 by-the-glass options at a good price. 

 For our pasta course, we try a tasting portion of  a few. The Pappardelle, freshly made, has all the homeliness you want in a pasta. It is stuffed with pecorino. Really creamy. In fairness though, Head Chef Fabio Genghini brings exactly that quality to Vivaldi. I have tried a number of restaurants in a  fine setting, claiming to be homely but the result is unconvincing. Based on the way Chef plates a number of dishes, I already have that sense of simplicity and the pasta dishes drive this home emphatically. However, over and above these, it is his manner which cannot but help you endear yourself to him. A Chef who, table side, opens his heart can, through his words, create that feeling of  home, no matter what china or silver is used on the table. 

The Ravioli Di magro , a spinach and ricotta dish, is simply amazing. Spinach mousse, parmesan foam and also thin strips of parmesan allow Chef to play around with textures, but again, and this I appreciate in the dishes, there are no overwhelming flavours. 

 The Merlot that accompanies our pasta course is a Danzante from Tuscany - easy to drink, nice and full and with just a  hint of fruitfulness. I have two glasses! 

In preparation for our main course, I go out on the terrace to see what else Vivaldi has to offer guests. Oh it is a perfect lounging area, with the view simply breathtaking. Moving back inside, the open kitchen catches my eye - another small but significant facet that makes this a special place to dine. However, as I chat to the waiting staff, I feel something is missing despite their knowledge and engagement. A greater Italian presence on the floor would go a long way to creating that authentic feeling. 

Soon after my musings, I join my guest and we have the main course - Chef has prepared two courses for us to share. The Dover Sole, decadently crumbled and covered in almonds,  resulting in a  lot of texture benefits from generous lemon squeezed to keep moist what could have been rather dry - In the end, it works for me. The sole is paired with a South African Chenin Blanc. Nice!

The second shared dish, the Roasted lamb shoulder, takes us back to the essence of this cuisine once more - simplicity. The lamb is covered in Roman sauce with mixed leaves. The artichokes lend a bit of sourness to the lamb. Comforting and homely again. And at 120AED, a real bargain. 

Vivaldi, surprisingly, offers great value for money. With a main course no more than 170AED, I think you will be hard pressed to find that value. I say 'surprisingly' because when you walk into the restaurant, you expect very high prices - the restaurant is aesthetically something to appreciate. 
Finally, to end our evening, I suggest we go to the bar. I am so glad we moved here. It is, like the rest of the restaurant, sexy. Try it, you will see what is meant. Sofa seating and a more formal high table and high chairs greets. The latter seems the obvious choice for an end to the evening with dessert and a Prosecco. It is such a cliche isn't it, but we order the Tiramisu and we also get the White chocolate and olive oil fondant tart. The Tiramisu does not disappoint and lovers of this traditional dessert will enjoy it. It is that one dessert that many a chef dare not touch with his or her creative spirit. 

It is, however, the oddly named White Chocolate fondant tart that gets my heart on the night. Expecting the chocolate to ooze out, I find it rather firm, but my attention then turns to what looks like ice cream around it. I try it. Olive oil. Yes, olive oil! Buono. Chef has created textures of olive oil and I have what is between a mousse and ice cream on the plate. Absolutely fabulous stuff. I seldom use the word pretty to describe a dessert, but visually, that is what I have. On the other hand, this dessert is more than appearances. The transformation of olive oil - respect. 

Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo shows that restaurants while having amazing views and an aesthetic element that could turn any drab meal into an occasion, can and should be so much more. Vivaldi does that. It would be easy to trade on the views and serve mediocre food because most diners will sacrifice a dish for a view, but it does not. Between the manager and the chef, Vivaldi has come up with a way to keep bringing diners back. The two of them also show that while ingredients are an essential part of a meal, it is ultimately the people who guide you through the meal experience that matter more. Isn't that at the heart and soul of Italian dining? 

The Essentials,

Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo
Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers
Baniyas Street,
Vivaldi Menus
+971 4 2071717

Price for 2  for a 3-course meal including 2 glasses of wine 600AED
Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer: I was invited to Vivaldi by the restaurant. All views are my own.