‘And Then We Moved To’ is a blog written by Mariam Ottimofiore about expat life and of discovering the best bits in each new expat country and location that she lives in. 15 years, 3 continents and 7 countries (US, UK, Germany, Pakistan, Denmark, Singapore, UAE) later, the blog is currently based in Dubai and is committed to showing the best of what this city has to offer.
Keeping in line with CitiSpi’s theme, ‘And Then We Moved To’ knows that as an expat, the key to feeling at home in any new country is to take time to discover it, to explore its best spots and to do so, with friends at your side. This week, she was brave enough to visit Al Fresco Italian restaurant with her Italian husband, to discover the best of Italy on offer:
Taking my Italian husband with me to review an Italian restaurant: genius move or one that could totally backfire? Cooking Italian food is in our family blood – we even have a family restaurant “Trattoria Ottimofiore” in Milan run under our family name. So the pressure and expectations were intense yesterday night as guests of CitiSpi, when we put Al Fresco Italian Restaurant in Crowne Plaza Dubai to the test.
What we liked straight away was the rustic and cosy atmosphere of the place. It felt like a trattoria, with a family-run feel to it. It had this authentic, friendly tavern vibe which felt like a refreshing change after having sat in too many over-the-top Italian restaurants in Dubai. There was also an outdoor courtyard area for smoking which looked like a lovely spot to relax at night.
I was excited to learn about their ongoing promotion: the restaurant currently has a “Best of Italy” promotion on offer from October till December and has a specially made menu for its guests to enjoy, which takes them on a culinary journey through all of Italy. There was also an option to enjoy the menu with or without wine. There was no doubt in our minds that we wanted to try this ourselves! So when the friendly Head Chef Gabriele Pezzimenti made it to our table to say ciao, we found ourselves speaking Italian and nodding excitedly to trying his specially created menu and discovering what the best of Italy h ad to offer.
As a complimentary start to our meal, Gabrielle wowed us with mini pizzas with taleggio cheese, and funghi porcini, topped with fresh herbs. My husband especially loved these and managed to scoff down three of them while I was busy savouring my first bite.
When our appetizers arrived, we let out an appreciative sigh. Beautiful Bruschetta Carbonara with mushrooms and a quail egg on top of toasted rustic bread. Such a refreshing change from the typical Bruschetta, this was a delicious appetizer.
We found ourselves relaxing and enjoying this intimate dining experience. The tables around us were full, busy with families enjoying a meal out and couples on dates. Being on a date ourselves, we couldn’t help but try the bread basket that soon came our way with a delicious tangy dipping sauce and roasted garlic. Garlic on a date? Normally a big no-no for me, but this roasted garlic was so good and did not leave a strong after smell.
The highlight of the evening for me arrived with our primo piatto. Pappardelle alle castagne con salsa al tartufo e funghi was a big hit with both of us. The chestnut Pappardelle was creamy with a truffle sauce and the mushrooms added an intense flavour to it. A special touch was to see our lovely waiter arrive with a giant pepper grinder, offering to grind fresh black pepper on our pasta, which we loved.
It was at this point that my husband turned to me and said he could imagine bringing his parents over here, when they next visited us in Dubai. He was sure this dish would be a hit with his Italian father and I couldn’t help but agree. And we hadn’t even tried the main course yet!
The main course arrived soon after and we enjoyed the grilled Sea bass with fennel and beetroot and the red mullet with saffron risotto and fava beans. The combinations went very well together and the portions were a healthy amount, which meant we were struggling to finish them in the end.
The staff was friendly and attentive and I liked noticing how Chef Gabriele was happy to stop to talk at tables and answer questions from the diners. He stopped by at our table too and we thoroughly enjoyed our chats with him and his explanations of each course.
Too stuffed to possibly eat anymore but desert was on its way. A platter of assorted Italian cheese with delicious truffle honey sauce and a torta della nonna (grandmothers cake) with vanilla sauce and pine nuts which helped us to end our evening on a very sweet note.
I would highly recommend a visit here if you are in the mood for authentic Italian fare, and especially if you are a fan of mushrooms. The Taste of Italy offer was good value for money at around AED 300 for 4 generous courses (without wine) and a complete dining experience which is sure to leave you feeling satiated and planning your next trip to Italy.
Al Fresco Italian Restaurant is located on the 2nd Floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. Do visit their website for more details or give them a call to book a table. And don’t forget to download the CitiSpi app to find out about special offers at this venue!