Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas

Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas joins a drove of Italian restaurants in the city, confirming the popularity of this cuisine. With so many Italian offerings in the city, the questions is always: What are doing that is different? How can you ensure that guests come back to you and not go somewhere else? What is your wow factor?

It is my first visit to the restaurant and indeed my first time at the hotel. It would be remiss to start talking about my restaurant experience without commenting on the lobby of the hotel. The designers have read the Saadiyat earthiness very well. The low ceiling is refreshing in a city where anything overtly opulent an decadent leaves an impression on most people. The word earthiness keeps floating through my mind as I make my way to the restaurant. Soothing, relaxing colours ensure a very pleasant moment of contemplation. Those familiar with the Rotana brand in this region will see this lobby as a departure from the usual city hotel lobbies, notwithstanding that this is a resort - it feels really luxurious, but tastefully so. However, tonight is about Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar, and my guest and I make our way downstairs. 

The restaurant, tucked away next to the all  day dining restaurant, Sim Sim, is warm. It is almost an effortless transition from the lobby to the restaurant in terms of feel, with wood a prominent element. Seating options abound and we opt for the booth. From the booth, I have a view of the open kitchen, pizza oven and something that also the word interactive written all over it. Curiosity is evoked. Having settled in, my guest and I backtrack somewhat and go to the bar for a drink - I think more people need to do this. Why have your aperitif at a table where you will spend at least 2-3 hours? Shakes it up. Start at the bar. Dining is about movement. Different experiences. 

We start off at the bar - a small spot that i imagine hotel guests using for a quick drink just after a busy day of sight seeing. We have a White Negroni, a change from the traditional Negroni, with grappa the highlight instead of Campari. The bartender, Joker, a bit shaky at first, warms up as the evening goes on and by the end of out 45 minute stay, breaks into laughter. I would like to see him owning the little bar and making it is his own. Bars are now little restaurants in their own right with a bar tender, waiter and manager all in one if you will, in this little kingdom.

The menu is quite expansive, with countless choices, but thankfully it does not go on for pages and pages, something important in an  Italian restaurant. Nonetheless, you will need time to navigate it. Something that caught my eye earlier is the Mozarella Bar, a first for an Italian restaurant in the city. Before looking further at the menu, I take a walk over to the Mozarella Bar and low and behold, there are a couple chefs behind it preparing dishes. Nice! All in all, 9 dishes are available from it. 

An early highlight is the bread. You know the moment in the film, Ratatouille, when Collete talks about being able to tell how good bread is without tasting it? It is the sound it makes when you touch the crust. She refers to it as a symphony of crackle. That is how I feel as I try the bread. Made right here in the pizza oven, it does not get fresher than this!

To start, we order a few dishes. Impressed by the concept of the Mozarella Bar, we order the Signature Mozza Tasting platter comprising 3 samples including burrata and smoked mozarella. At 132AED, this is a great idea for those who want to have the same ingredient done three ways but without paying full price and getting full portions! I also order the Messy prawns, mainly because the name sounds really intriguing and finally, the Beef tartare, prepared Piedmont style. My guest finds it odd and remarks that it is not a steakhouse, but I want to see how one of my favourite dishes is interpreted. 

So, how I rate the starters? The Moza tasting platter lives up to expectations. The three versions of this wonderful cheese provide variation in taste and texture. I am particularly pleased that the burrata is locally produced using milk imported from Italy. Nothing flown in can beat what is made here, especially since the craftsman is Italian and the milk is too. The Messy prawns turn out a bit disappointing. I search for flavour in the sauce of olive oil herbs and paprika, but I find it much too delicate for me. More garlic and chili please. 

On the other hand, the Beef tartare is a winner! No, the flavours are not as strong as you would expect. That is why it works so well; I can taste the beef. Moreover, I respect the restraint shown in the use of truffle oil in the relish. Highly recommended.

The wine list is your trademark Rotana wine list with about 30 by the glass options - no other chain of hotels can match Rotana when it comes to the choice it gives its diners. The menu, with its simple, 'If you will love' concept makes it easy for wine novices and if that does not help, restaurant manager Mario La Rosa is there to guide you. Again, the value of having an Italian restaurant manager cannot be overemphasised. 

The restaurants Head Chef, Executive Sous Chef Massimo Bucca, is constantly visible in the open kitchen. I have the chance to have a word with him. In response to my question regarding the positioning of the restaurant relative to other Italian restaurants, he talks about the casual and relaxed atmosphere he envisions for it, going on to say that the plating of dishes is very symbolic of that relaxed feel he wants for the restaurant - simple plating; nothing intimidating. 

Executive Sous Chef Massimo
After our starters, we opt for some pasta and pizza to share. Mario recommends the Spaghetti with Bottarga & clams. I know it is such a cliche to have pasta, but these two are the soul of an Italian restaurant and how many people judge a restaurant, but also, price-wise these are very accessible. While you can certainly spend just under 200AED on a tenderloin or sea bass, pizza and pasta to share offer immense value for money. For an affordable night out, a glass of wine and this pasta or even a pizza - nice. 

Restaurant  Manager Mario

A key element in the dining experience at Si Ristorante is the genuine interaction as your dish is prepared. With glass of wine in hand, I find myself standing at the pizza counter watching our pizza being made. Yes, open kitchens are quite common, but with three distinct open areas as opposed to one long open area, there is something unique about the way your food is prepared here. You have a chance to interact with chefs and gain insight into your dish. After all, isn't dining so much more than just ingredients? 

Finally, for dessert, I choose another typically Italian option - gelato. It could not be simpler right? I will remember this as the night I fell in love with gelato!

Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar offers a price pint that places it nicely between high end and very casual Italian restaurants. As the only Italian offering on Saadiyat Island, I anticipate it will do well. Those familiar with the menu at an Italian restaurant at a leading Rotana city hotel will see many similarities to the one at Si, but look closely and you will see innovations here and there. Significantly, however, it is the things outside the menu that make Si Risotrante a really lovely place. I am big on interaction between chefs and guests and I at least want to know that a restaurant affords me that option, and that is done here with the lay out of the restaurant. 

The drive away from the city to Saadiyat Island feels like a trip and now gives us more options in terms of a destination - value for money Italian fare in a stylish setting.

The Essentials,
Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar 
Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas
Saadiyat Rotana
+971 2 697 0000

Based on individual starters and shared pizza and pasta, average cost for 2 approximately 400-450AED Incl a glass of wine.
Brandon Stoltenkamp