Change is in the air. The global economy, formerly a lithe and lucid athlete, has been transformed into a wasted and befuddled couch potato. There's a new president in the White House. And, perhaps most astonishingly of all, well-established Abu Dhabi restaurants are beginning to open branches in Dubai. Once upon a time in restaurantland, it was the other way around. Dubai favourites such as Sho Cho, The Meat Co and Left Bank have all opened up in the capital in recent months. But now Prego's - the highly rated contemporary Italian restaurant that made its name at Abu Dhabi's Beach Rotana hotel - has made the move in the opposite direction. Its secondary home at the shiny new Media Rotana setting is slightly more businesslike than its beachside big brother, but the food appears to have retained many of the favourable family traits.
Before I'd even picked up a menu, I was met with the welcome sight of a well-stocked salumeria or deli counter, which offered up an impressive spread of speciality Italian cured meats. And when I did pick up a menu, I was happy to note that Prego's II displayed the same attention to diverse, interesting and high-quality ingredients as the original. My guest chose the poached octopus carpaccio, which presented fresh-tasting slivers of tender seafood with shaved fennel, black olives and potatoes. However, the citrus and black pepper dressing had either been forgotten or it was hiding under a tentacle, so we had to request some fresh lemons to squeeze some life into it.
I was far happier with my light cream of porcini mushroom soup, which had a rich texture, a smoky flavour and a proliferation of crunchy courgette chips. I was careful not to overload on the fine Italian farmhouse bread, which arrived at the table in a whole, well-risen and warm loaf. Had I snaffled the entire thing, I'd never have managed the grigliata mista di pesce - and I'd never have forgiven myself for that. The plate was resplendent with tender hunks of grilled hammour, soft calamari, buttery sea scallops and two podgy Gulf prawns, all agreeably cooked and accompanied by a round of perky seasonal vegetables in lemon oil.
Across the table, my dining partner was too busy slicing into her ravioli to notice my less-than-elegant prawn shell removal technique. The pasta parcels stuffed with veal and young spinach were a little on the stodgy side, however, though the chanterelle mushrooms and natural veal jus added some welcome moisture to the dish. She was happier with the chocolate gelati, which was closer to the standard we'd come to expect from Prego's. Yet I was far less enamoured with my fresh ricotta cheesecake with amarena cherries. It didn't look or taste particularly fresh, for starters. It possessed the indefinable forlornness of a cheesecake that's been left in a fridge for too long. The base was soggy, and the ricotta was smothered in a curiously gelatinous substance that I'd rather not challenge my imagination with.
Perhaps it's too soon to start comparing Dubai's branch of Prego's to its Abu Dhabi counterpart. The restaurant is still young and teething troubles are to be expected. But it's refreshing to see one of the capital's preferred venues taking root in the neighbouring emirate. What that shows is the evolving maturity and upward mobility of Abu Dhabi's restaurant scene, which is certainly a change for the better.
Media Rotana, Al Barsha South, Dubai, 04 435 0000. Average price of a meal for two, Dh350-400. firstname.lastname@example.org