A change is as good as a rest
Since my last visit to this Italian restaurant some years back, it seems to have undergone a total transformation.
My main recollections were that the place, which was formerly known as Bice, was somewhat old-fashioned hence entirely befitting its place in one of the oldest hotels in the city (just check out the photos in the lobby, when the Hilton was surrounded by nothing but dunes and sea).
As well as being given a new name, the interior has been given a complete makeover, transforming it from dowdy has-been into a glitzy, chic eatery. Now the place is almost unrecognisable from before, with it being all about mood lighting, purple tiled walls and dark, wooden furniture.
You’ll also be struck by the sight of the open kitchen, which brings a whole new vibrancy to the place that was missing before.
What I do remember about my previous visit here (apart from the tediously inane conversation I had with my dining partner back then) was the excellence of the food.
So has the upgrade of surroundings come at the expense of the quality of the dishes? Thankfully not. The food remained as premium as it was before.
First up, be careful not to gorge on the warm Italian bread that arrives pre-meal on the table. Although I was tempted to devour the entire loaf, I would have never been able to finish my calamari antipasto.
As it was, this seafood treat came served with a generous ball of creamy burrata cheese and an aubergine salsa. While the squid chunks were deliciously chewy, they perhaps could have done with a dash more lemon to add a touch more zest to proceedings.
And to prove that the place can do the basics well, my friend chose an insalata caprese. The combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil was simple and delicious.
The spaghetti al astice I opted for was close to perfection in a dish. The pasta came with a generous portion of lobster, mixed in a herb-filled tomato sauce, that was rich and warming.
Across the table, my dining partner was busy demolishing a giant pucinella pizza. While the base was crisply thin and the anchovy, tomato and mozzarella toppings fresh, we’ve had better pizzas elsewhere in Abu Dhabi and, bite-for-bite, at better value.
We could barely finish our mains, but for review purposes we ordered dessert and chose the old standard: tiramisu. This was a fabulous concoction, coffee-infused cream and sponge. The dusting of cocoa powder in the form of a “B” was a nice touch.
If we have one quibble with the dining experience, and it is a minor one, it is the somewhat overattentive restaurant staff. Having the two on-duty waiters and the restaurant manager inquire if everything was to our satisfaction with each course was somewhat excessive.
But overall, we had a thoroughly pleasant evening out at Bocca. While the old-fashioned vibe may be gone, the quality of yesteryear lives on.
• A meal for two at Bocca, Hilton Abu Dhabi, costs Dh575 for three courses, excluding drinks. For reservations, call 02 681 1900. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and are conducted incognito
Updated: November 20, 2013 04:00 AM