x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Family-style Italian dining at APi CAE Gourmet

APi CAE Gourmet is a buzzing place and great for pizzas, but it needs to work on its finished dishes and presentation.

APi CAE Gourmet in Khalidiyah Tower, Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
APi CAE Gourmet in Khalidiyah Tower, Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

APi CAE Gourmet has a lot going for it. By opening a relaxed, family-friendly, deli-style cafe in the Khalidiya area of Abu Dhabi, it’s added to the growing buzz about that part of town and the concept is a homegrown one, which is always good to see. The people behind APi CAE also seem to have plenty of energy and enthusiasm; in the months since opening, the restaurant has launched a “better bread campaign”, held several cooking classes and events and started a delivery service. It is also very active on both Twitter and Facebook.

The cafe is large and light. There’s a corner displaying good-quality produce – extra-virgin olive oils, speciality vinegars and the like – a centre section with high stools and a display counter which stretches along the length of the back wall.

While I can see the reasoning behind having a pick-and-choose salad bar, the next section along, which houses cold, pre-cooked items – blanched vegetables, chicken in a tomato sauce, chilled and therefore slightly sorry-looking potato wedges – baffles me a little. When consumers place so much emphasis on fresh food that is cooked to order, it seems odd to advertise the fact that some of the dishes are being made in advance and reheated when required.

That said, it also offers an a la carte menu, which we ordered from. My friend chose the “signature beef tenderloin with truffle cream and stir-fried veggies” and I opted for the bresaola with mushrooms and truffle oil. We also decided to share a couple of salads and were just making our way to the counter to choose them when our waitress told us that the tenderloin wasn’t available. My friend happily selected the lamb chops with baby rocket salad instead, only to be told that was off, too. We had to laugh when it emerged that her chosen drink – sparkling pomegranate and elderflower juice – was also out of stock. These things happen and it’s not a huge issue, but I do think it’s important to flag up items that aren’t available at the start of the meal, when the menu is first handed over.

The salad bar didn’t provide quite as many options as we’d hoped: there was a lot of lettuce, sliced tomatoes, a pasta salad with tuna and sweetcorn, a pot each of sun-dried tomatoes and raw, sliced mushrooms and the two we chose – a pre-mixed rocket, sun-dried tomato and mushroom option and a marinated apple and mixed pepper concoction. The latter salad proved disappointing: chunks of sweet, slightly woolly apple and raw red and green pepper bound in thick mayonnaise just tasted plain odd. The portion was very generous, though, and the rocket-based salad was perfectly acceptable, but could have done with a good dressing to liven it up.

From a short list of antipasti, my bresaola with mushrooms and truffle oil was again not great. I was surprised that the mushroom element of the dish consisted of plain, raw slices of the button variety, which felt a bit boring. There was plenty of bresaola, which tasted fine but had a slightly tacky texture. However, it was the pile of undressed rocket leaves underneath that disappointed me the most. I can’t quite get my head around a chef sending unseasoned salad leaves out of the kitchen; lettuce cries out to be pepped up with some sort of vinaigrette or dressing and when it’s not, the result is bland and the dish feels unfinished.

Thankfully, my friend’s third choice of main course, a medium-sized noci pizza, was very good. Featuring a thin, crispy, ever so slightly chewy base and a well-judged amount of pure, tangy goat’s cheese, a scattering of walnuts for crunch and a mere hint of honey, this was by far the best thing that we ate that day.

In the past, I’ve also had good sourdough bread from APi CAE and liked its pastries; its business lunch is reasonably priced, as is the salad and drink deal aimed at women. It isn’t the absolutely authentic Italian deli that it purports to be, but this place could still do very well. I think a bit more thought needs to go into the final execution of dishes and the way in which they are presented or displayed.

• A meal for two at APi CAE Gourmet, Block A Khalidiya Towers, Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi, costs Dh186. For reservations call 02 666 8909. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito