A journal, inspired by my love for my daughter, that embraces quality food, service and experiences which make life worth living. In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, " I cannot rest from travel. I will drink life to the lees." Seeking that incredible dining or hotel experience and writing about it. Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo Restaurant & Lounge at Sheraton Dubai Creek - Dubai
On my last visit to Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo, one of the key things I mentioned was how this seemingly fine restaurant with its gorgeous fixtures, floor to ceiling windows and sensitively arranged tables was surprisingly balanced by a homeliness created by the staff. When my daughter and I returned to the restaurant last week, that same warmth struck us immediately when the hostess greeted us and guided us to our table. There are still so many restaurants that do not quite maximise the power that a hostess has. She is the first person we see as we walk in - she can make or break the evening. She makes ours. On this visit, there were a few things things that really stood out for me.
Opulent but homely
The restaurant is spacious, with gorgeous floor to ceiling windows adding even more to that sense of openness. It is hard not to feel ensconced in luxury. The latter extends to the bar and lounge area. However, homeliness is a quality that I want most in an Italian dining experience. To get that homely feeling, start with one of the dishes from the bar menu, a simple dish of porchetta, rocket and bread, with a douse of 21 year old Balsamic reduction from Modena. Mama mia! I have to fight all my natural instinct not to finish it. After all, it is only my starter.
While my daughter follows this up with The Minestrone Estivo, a supremely homely rendering of this classic soup with chunky, textured vegetables, I have the Uovo profumato al basilico in salsa di pomodorino appassito e pecorino, or Eggs in basil fragrance with semi-dried tomatoes sauce with pecorino foam, another signature Alfredo dish - these two dishes allow me to continue the contrast of luxury meeting homeliness. This is a sensational dish of contrasts, with basil powder and tomato power sprinkled to allow the dish to loosely resemble the Italian flag, in colours at least. This intensely flavoured offering, which has a surprise element to it, contrasts beautifully with my daughter's dish. Get both on the table and you'll see what I mean.
Where the past is given a glimpse of tomorrow
Italian cuisine is one of those world cuisines where you risk the ire of people when you try to get too inventive and creative. The heartbeat of Vivaldi is that all ingredients are imported from Italy, something around which everything on the menu moves. When your ingredients are as good as you can get within the limitations you have, it lays the foundation for great dishes.
A few dishes that show that line between respecting tradition and adding a creative touch are, firstly, the Tortelli di spinaci al tovagiolo, or Spinach tortelli served in a cotton napkin. What looks like a napkin on a plate is placed in front of you. In typical Italian fashion, drama is allowed to unfold as the waitress opens the napkin to reveal tortelli. It is a real conversation piece and takes this dish back to its bare elements, with nowhere to hide; no sauce to mask a badly cooked pasta dish. An extra pleasure? 36 month aged parmesan cheese adds intensity. This is a must have on your visit.
Another dish for your bucket list is the Mantecato or Black cod, cooked two ways, although with issues of sustainability, this one is pretty much subject to availability. Nonetheless, it deserves a mention because it takes us beyond the traditional sea bass which is a staple in an Italian restaurant around here. However, it is much more than just the type of fish cooked. It is how it is cooked. Without giving too much away, expect a dish with three layers of texture, with the crispy skin, removed, balancing the two-way cooked cod.
Invest in people as they do here
This is undeniably the greatest strength of this restaurant. With the utmost respect to the balanced menu created by Chef Alfredo Russo, it is the people on the floor who make the experience. On my last visit talked about the value that restaurant manager Ippolita Di Bari brings to the restaurant. As a guest in an Italian restaurant, I crave stories. I want to hear anecdotes from the manager's hometown. I want warmth and sincerity. I desire to feel I am being transported to her home through her words and passion. This and so much more is exactly what happens to me.
Then there is their very young chef, Andrea Russo, who infuses the experience with verve and spunk. He brings a youthfulness to the menu created by Chef Alfredo. Finally, staff on the floor, from the hostess to the waiting team, have nothing pretentious about them. Service is sincere and timely.
Desserts, much more than tiramisu
Make sure you try the gelato, with all their offerings made in-house. Chef Andre treats us to his Peach and red wine sorbet - the Italian word is lost on me - and what I enjoy about this, other than the balance and texture, is how much this dish is a reflection of an aspect of his childhood. It is interesting how big a part ice cream or variations of it, connect all of us to our childhood. This is something he taps into. Then, there is Alfredo's signature dessert, Creama bruciata con ragout di lamponi, or Burnt creme anglais foam. To the uninitiated, it is take on a créme brûlée. I find it decadent and indulgent with the key word, light and airy. It is sweet and sour, the latter thanks to raspberries - my kind of dessert.
Dubai is awash with Italian restaurants and we are spoiled for choice. I think Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo Restaurant & Lounge manages to pull together so many reasons that makes this one of my favourites. Housed in a 40 year old hotel is something that not many restaurants in the city can claim. Dubai Creek is becoming more important to the city, as more and more land is reclaimed to create additonal glass and steel. The views from the restaurant really give one a glimpse of how life once was. Then, there is the menu created by Alfredo Russo, that nicely combines the past and tomorrow, without alienating those who enjoy tradition. Thirdly, value for money. In the context of Dubai, the prices are very reasonable. Finally, staff. They make you want to come back. Isn't that what hospitality is about?
The Essentials, Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers Baniyas Street, Vivaldi Menus +971 4 2071717