I don’t really do Michelin stars any more. It was a phase and it was good while it lasted but it is all over now. No celebrity chefs either, thank you very much. I am happiest when dining out on the streets or comparing one shawarma to the other (thoughI do sneak in a cheeky brunch whenever I can!) So, when asked to review Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, I wasn’t really sure why!
As we walked into the restaurant, I began to understand why they may have asked me to review it. This was a far cry from the fancy, Michelin starred, award winning, celebrity chef restaurant I was expecting. It had a classy roadside diner feel; the kind of place that would take your jacket, ask you how you were doing and seat you at your preferred table while still serving breakfast, chicken wings and pizza. This was a wonderful world of contrasts and I was already very excited.
We ordered the Mushroom Fritti, Chilli Chicken wings, Chicken Ala Diavola Pizza and Lemon Herb Chicken. The Mushroom Fritti was basically a mushroom tempura (if there is such a thing) and was my least favourite dish of the day. Every other dish was good enough for me to go back to this place to have just that.
The free rangeChilliChickenWings were supposed to besticky afterbeing tossed in what was called a spicy freak sauce so I asked if I could have the sauce on the side and use it as a dip. I did not expect them to agree because that would essentially change the whole concept and they would have no control over the amount of sauce andflavourdoused on to the wings. To my surprise, they agreed. Such is the effect of a customer centric attitude that you are willing to take risks and bend the rules a little bit. It was a gamble that definitely paid off. One thought going through my mind as I dipped the little drumsticks into the spicy freak sauce was thattheonly way toexplain how unbelievably addictive itwas, is to bring my foodie friends back to this place.
I was intrigued, yet apprehensive of the Lemon Herbed Chicken. I don’t know why but for some reason I feared it may have been under cooked. I think it had something to do with a similar sounding dish which I had tried to eat a week prior to that day in Baku. To my relief, this chicken was neither under cooked and rubbery nor had it been cooked to oblivion and was succulent and tender with a lemonflavoured layer of skin on top. The first thing I did when I got back home was to google the recipe. No, I wasn’t trying to save myself a trip back to the restaurant. I was just curious on how a dish with such basic ingredients could taste so good.
It turns out, all you need to create the most awesome chicken dish were a few fresh basil leaves, a couple of rosemary sprigs, some garlic, your choice of veggies and a large lemon. It is what you do with these ingredientsthatmagically transforms this into a signature Jamie Oliver dish. Don’t google it yet. Go and try the real thing first; just so you know what it is supposed to taste like.
Chicken Ala Diavola at Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria
Last but not least, theChicken AlaDiavolaPizza because this was after all a pizzeria, right? I was pleased to be offered a choice between whole grain and sourdough. Jamie is the poster boy healthy eating in the UK so it had to be so. I opted for the whole grain option of course because it would help to ease my elevated guilt after consuming 300 grams of animal fat smothered onto a carbohydrate base. I did not expect it be as good as a normal pizza because let’s face it, who wants a whole wheat pizza, right? Me, that’s who. After this day, I am not sure if I want to go back to a normal pizza base. The whole wheat dough lent a unique, earthyflavourto the pizza while carrying half the calories of a sourdough base. It complimented thechilliand the mint and yoghurt sauce to create a wonderful fusion between East and West. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start copying this on the streets of Naples soon; or Lahore, depending on who gets a taste of it first.
The opportunity to explore Yas Island had presented itself recently. From teeing off at the crack of dawn at the Yas Links Golf club and splashing about at Yas Waterworld to a relaxing spa experience at the Crowne Plaza, my long weekend has been absolutely Yastastic!
I wanted to end it all on a high note before rejoining the rat race in Dubai. I wanted to dine at one of the best eating establishments in the capital. I wanted to have an experience that would transcend the boundaries of every fine dining experience of my life. I wanted to have a meal that would help us form memories that would last a lifetime.
There are many restaurants on the island and we did have the pleasure of dining at a couple of amazing places but unfortunately, none of the restaurants at Yas seemed to make the cut. We were after all, looking to have the best meal of our lives so we decided to go deeper into the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The choices were endless and we were just about to toss a coin when one name jumped at us from the search results. I remembered watching reruns of the show ‘cooking under fire’ where Todd English was a judge. I was also familiar with the ‘Olives’ restaurant at Union Square in New York City. I did not dare to venture inside at the time but I did hear later that the restaurant shut down in 2015. Not only was this a chance to join the table of one of the most famous chefs in the world but also an occasion to redeem missed opportunities.
So in a heartbeat, our reservations for the brunch at Todd English’s Olives at the Venetian Village were done. Not exactly ‘in the vicinity’ but the drive down to the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi from Yas Island was definitely worth taking.
We arrived at the venue after a 40-minute long drive from Yas. Just like the traditional sofas that were made modern by the size variation, the burnt orange seating and the dark mahogany ceiling set the tone for the meal. The entire brunch was a contemporary take on a classic Mediterranean menu. None of that stand in line with your plate in your hand business. This was a proper sit-down meal where the food came to you, just the way the best chefs in the world intended it to. We had arrived at the right place.
The charming staff explained the menu to us and ensured that all we needed to do to get their attention, was to look at them. They were discreet yet attentive. Never intrusive but always available. This was paradise for service junkies like me. They could have served instant noodles and I would have taken it down with a smile. I am not sure I remember the last time I experienced service like this in the UAE.
We were started off with cream of broccoli soup which was accompanied by herbed croutons and chili oil. If broccoli is your thing, you have got to try this soup to understand what it was all about. If however, broccoli is not your thing, you need to stop whatever you are doing right now and drive down to the Venetian Village at the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi. This was the kind of soup that could change your life and make you see broccoli in a completely different light. I don’t usually stuff my face with carbs at the start of a brunch. It makes me full and I have a hard time making it to the last round. The crusted softness of the bread drenched in chili oil was making my brain send only one message to my hands and eyes – EAT.
The appetizers consisted of grilled shrimp salad, beef pepperoni flat-bread, sweet potato bravas and beef carpaccio. I have had carpaccio about 3 times in my life prior to this occasion. Besides the fascination with the fact that somebody had spent a lot of effort in slicing the beef paper thin before pounding it some more to get the desired thickness/texture, I never really understood the whole point of it. I mean why undertake such a production when you could simply toss a steak on a grill and eat six times the amount of meat in half the time? OK sorry, I may have come across as a bit uncultured there maybe all I needed was to eat at a restaurant like this where I could really get sold on the idea. The beef, which was drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, was resting on a Gorgonzola rosti cake. For those of you, who like me couldn’t make head or tails of this, let me explain further. Rosti cakes consist of coarsely grated, parboiled potatoes. Gorgonzola is one of the world’s oldest blue-veined cheeses which has a soft texture and a nutty aroma. The sauce in question here is made by adding this cheese to Parmesan, salt, pepper and parsley. Now imagine a soft, grated potato cake drenched in this sauce before being veiled by a paper thin slice of beef covered in olive oil and lemon juice. There was also scallion aioli, more Parmesan, balsamic glazed onions and a bed of mix greens to divert your attention if all this awesomeness got too much for you to handle.
Patatas bravas, also called patatas a la brava or papas bravas, is a dish native to Spain. It is often served as a tapa and was one of my staples in Barcelona and Ibiza simply because it was always served halal! The sweet potatoes were a good twist on this dish and they were given the Todd English treatment with the honey jalapeno dressing, avocado aioli and feta cheese. By the time I was done with this dish, a warning bell went off in my head as my stomach was nearing capacity and was dangerously close to not having any space for the main course. I still did try all the appetisers but the two I have described above were my favourite.
For the mains, we ordered a pan seared sea bass filet and slow braised short rib. The fish had a gorgeous sear and was covered in a lemon butter sauce. It was sitting on a bed of orzo pasta which had an uncanny resemblance to risotto. This pasta was dotted with tangy sundried tomatoes and on top of the fish rested a crown made of green squash. The short rib was unlike anything I have ever seen before and I have seen a lot of ribs. For starters, the bones had been removed. Not much of a rib, I thought. I changed my mind as soon as some of the meat went into my mouth. Remember, the phrase ‘fall off the bone’? In this case, the meat was so tender that it literally had fallen of the bone at some point. You could tell that a lot of effort had gone into this. These ribs had been cooked on a very low heat, for a very long time. I remember closing my eyes and gradually working my way through each strand of meat as I savoured every single bite. That would go on for a while before I would be interrupted by a change of texture courtesy of the candied carrots or the creamy, spring onion whipped potato.
The drinks were bottomless and my personal favourite was the blackberry mojito, even though the passion fruit mojito was a tough contender. The assorted platter of desserts was really cute and should get full marks for presentation but let’s just say that the earlier courses had set the bar so high that it was hard to keep up.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. Everything from the service to the food was top notch but the best thing about this brunch was the price. For 290++ with house beverages, this seemed like an absolute bargain. For 190++ you could also opt for the soft drinks package or for 390++, you could go for the bubbly.