There's something about good service that elevates a meal from satisfactory to unforgettable, nudging it into the realm of folklore, categorising it as a memory that will be summoned upon to colour many a conversation in the future. The food might not have been out of this world, the atmosphere nothing to wax lyrical about, but when you're presented with exemplary service after you've trained yourself to never expect more than the mediocre, then the experience begs to be recorded.
A few days ago, 10 of us dined at the Italian restaurant in Abu Dhabi's new Rocco Forte hotel, Oro. It was our first visit to the chain, for all of us, and although sleek and modern, entering the hotel does not take one's breath away. The lobby area is narrow and lacking in frills. I did not feel like I was in the midst of grandeur and luxury. I was not overly impressed.
That changed, perhaps as soon as the thought materialised in my head. A blonde woman stepped away from the check-in area and walked purposefully towards us, welcoming us and guiding us straight to the restaurant's entrance. On the way, she asked whether or not we had a reservation, asked who the reservation was under, and conveyed the information to the restaurant's hostess.
Our waiter was pleasant and well spoken, never overbearing. Once our party was complete and we had been given ample time to say our hellos, catch up, allow the birthday girl to open her presents and all get settled with our large, gold menus, he reappeared and eloquently explained the menu for us, pointing out what fish was unfortunately not available (the sea bass), describing the chef's soup of the day (a delightful concoction of mozzarella and tomato gnocchi) and which items on the menu were lightest and free of fat.
At the end of our meal, the chef came out to greet us, apologising for not coming sooner, and genuinely asking for any suggestion we might have. One of our group suggested adding a warm dessert option to the menu, instead of all the cold ones currently available, and the chef's eyes lit up a little. He told us of the ricotta soufflé he can't wait to add to the new menu in 10 days, and begged us to return soon and try it out.
As for the food, it was a pleasure to behold on the plate; so beautifully presented, each plate a work of art. Every bite of my parmigiana melanzane felt like a little bite of heaven, the aubergine flavoursome and light, the cheese filling melting on the tongue, just a hint of tomato adding that tangy kick. However, three bites later, and that appetiser was but a distant memory. Don't share an appetiser at Oro - get your own.
The portions were a lot smaller than we expected. Either that or our appetites were too large for such an elegant environment. When my saffron risotto arrived - creamy and delicious - I knew that for once, I would be ready for dessert at the end of a meal. I honestly believe that if it wasn't for the exemplary service and the efforts of every one of the staff to make us feel welcome, I would have left grumpy and maybe a little hungry.
Instead, I can't stop recommending the restaurant.