Cafe Milano for an Italian Iftar experience - Four Seasons Hotel, Abu Dhabi

It is a challenge for hotels during iftar in terms of what they offer guests. They have to weigh up demands of their own market with respect for this tradition. It helps when they have several restaurants because that frees them up to be more creative with an iftar. This is exactly what a restaurant like Cafe Milano wants to do. I have said this before - an iftar should fit into your restaurant's regular concept or else it betrays the restaurant. My recent iftar at Cafe Milano reinforced this idea. 

Having tried the restaurant during the day for brunch, I have to start by saying it is even more exquisite at night. The pristine tablecloths and immaculate silver lend a  fine but not intimidating touch to the restaurant. I do, however,  think they have not quite worked out the lighting though, but this can be easily solved.

The iftar set menu immediately reminds me of one of the key aspects of an iftar - abundance. Moreover, this is also a trademark of Italian dining anyway, so it works out for everyone. A Foie gras amuse bouche gets the evening underway, while I have a glass of Chablis. Because it is after 19h30, wine can be served. Depending on the restaurant, I enjoy a glass of wine with my iftar especially since more traditional iftars in Abu Dhabi offer a balance. 

I believe I set my weight loss program back when I try the bread and olive oil. It has to be the most beautiful olive oil I have had as a standard offering in the city. Smooth, aromatic and so easy on the palate. My waiter for the night, Riccardo Mennella, pays it the respect it deserves through his narrative and by a way he pouring it in a way that engenders respect. 

If you have tried the brunch at Cafe Milano, you will see the connection to this iftar concept. My guest and I are served a selection of sharing antipasti. Carpaccio di salmone or  Marinated salmon with orange fennel salad is fresh with a beautiful balance between the orange and fennel. It is just a perfect Summer dish. 

The Frittata di cipolle or Potato and onion omelette is memorable because of the Parmigiano cheese sauce - in no way does it overpower the rest of the dish. The portions are decidedly fine, but as I glance at the menu once more, I am reminded that there are a lot of dishes to come.  Next, the Melanzane alla Parmigiana or Eggplant Parmigiana is what you would expect. It is a classic and does not disappoint. 

Unwittingly, I have the Polpo arrosto or Roasted octopus and Cappesante or Roasted scallops last. Yes, you've anticipated a cliché - I have saved the best for last. The octopus is incredibly tender and I need to check it occasionally to make sure it is in fact octopus. Subtle flavours of peach and more profound mint make this a simply beautiful dish. When you try it, please close your eyes and tell yourself you are eating octopus because the brain will not believe you.  In the shadow of the octopus, I am afraid I do not afford the scallops the attention it deserves! 

The pasta service is done table side. We are served a pasta and risotto dish that are contrasting but both connected through a sense of homeliness. Strozzapreti allo Zafferano or Saffron Strozzapreti is flavoured with black pepper and cooked in a gorgeous pecorino romano cheese. It is deep and intense. On the other hand, the Risotto with shrimps and zucchini is fresh and light. Look out for those stunning cherry tomatoes. When one is served a dish as part of a set menu within a set budget, one appreciates an intelligent dish like this. 

I seldom talk about service when I visit a restaurant as the typical response is usually that restaurants ensure that I have the the captain or supervisor to cater to me. However, I feel compelled to talk about my waiter on this occasion. He is was neither the supervisor, nor the captain; Riccardo is just a  standard waiter. But he exemplifies the value of an Italian waiter in an Italian restaurant. Italians, I think, along with the French and probably the Japanese, have culture and food so closely connected that as a child grows up with one, he or she grows up with the other. Food is not about life and death - it is much more than that. As Riccardo talks me about the olive oil or the wine he is recommending, I do not hear a training manual. I see it as something as natural as the flowing Aegean sea. He has stories to tell, but he is able to read my body language and knows when to stop and when to continue. His service is faultless and he shows the value in bringing the right staff to the right restaurant. Anyone can do all day dining. But not anyone can deliver wait in a casual fine dining restaurant. 

Returning my thoughts to the menu, there is a choice of main courses. Unable to decide, my guest and I sample all three. Again, these are served table side. Galleto arrosto or Grilled cornish hen is served along with the Costolette d'agnello alla griglia or Grilled lamb rack. In addition, we also try the Filetto di orata or Roasted sea bream fillet (not pictured).

The sea bream is simple - delicate seasoning with sauteed vegetables and a spinach sauce. Next, the lamb is cooked just right, leaving it succulent with a mild pink.  These are two very good dishes. However, and this is not common with me, the chicken is superb. It is a dish of contrast with the delicate white meat contrasting with the crispness and fuller flavour of the skin. There is none of the dryness I often associate with chicken. 

To end the evening, we have the Cassata di ricotta or Sicilian ricotta cheese cassata. The cassata, a  type of sponge cake,  is topped with dates and orange jam, with pistachio ice cream on the side. The chocolate pieces in the cassata are a real delight. Perfect. 

The iftar at Cafe Milano is one iftar that you will remember. Chef Marco Lucentini has created an evening that balances people's need for an iftar that gives them a break from the more traditional ones, while also giving value for money balanced by fine dishes. That octopus and chicken dishes were simply outstanding and are burned into memory. At 200AED, the price comes below top end iftars but the feeling of added value is inescapable. Significantly, this iftar offers abundance, a key tenet in an iftar, while not being guilty of wasting. An essential iftar this year!


Cafe Milano at Four Seasons Hotel,
Al Maryah Island,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 3332600


Brandon Stoltenkamp
Disclaimer: I was invited to try Cafe Milano's Iftar courtesy of the hotel.