x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Restaurant review: Cipriani at Yas Yacht Club

Cipriani at Yas Yacht Club is an elegant restaurant featuring a classic Italian menu.

Cipriani on Yas Island is styled much like a 1930s ocean liner.
Cipriani on Yas Island is styled much like a 1930s ocean liner.

It might have all begun in 1931, at Harry's Bar in Venice, but these days the Cipriani name is a global one. Regardless of where the restaurant is located - London, Hong Kong or New York - Cipriani establishments are known for their understated elegance, classic Italian menu and, of course, the sky-high prices.

It is safe to say that the restaurant at the Yas Yacht Club ticks all these boxes. This is not, I hasten to add, necessarily a compliment. When it comes to decor, the restaurant certainly delivers. Visually, it's all very 1930s ocean liner: waiters in dapper white jackets glide seamlessly about the room, the panelled wooden floorboards gleam, soft leather chairs are positioned just so and there are even a couple of portholes displaying computerised images of the sea.

Now, you don't visit a Cipriani restaurant with a view to being presented with complicated food or innovative dishes imbued with culinary daring. What you do expect, though, is quality and consistency: dishes that deliver flawlessly on flavour and are presented accordingly. On our visit, however, this wasn't the case.

My friend ordered the king crab salad to start and when it arrived, she was disappointed to see that the legs had already been cracked and shelled. While this comes down to personal preference and it's certainly easier (albeit less fun) to serve the shellfish already prepared, it did seem strange that the crabmeat was the only ingredient on the plate. Given the title of the dish, we'd expected a scattering of something leafy and green at the very least. The shredded crab was meaty and fresh, but unfortunately some of the flavour was drowned out by a slug of very average olive oil. A squeeze of lemon and a touch of salt would have been a far more effective way of highlighting the natural sweetness of the flesh.

My tuna tartare came presented as a round patty, and a large one at that. I'm all for generous portions, but there is something borderline intimidating about being presented with such a large amount of raw fish, particularly as a starter. The ruby-red tuna was nice and fresh, and the mache lettuce (lamb's lettuce) and a mustardy dressing added interest, but the portion was simply too large.

For her main course, my friend ordered the special of the day: roast veal breast with risotto al rosmarino. It wasn't good. Veal breast is an inexpensive cut of meat that benefits from being slowly braised. Now, there's no denying that the meat she was presented with was soft and tender, but it also looked and tasted extremely fatty. The rosemary risotto was leaden rather than loose, and oily as opposed to creamy. It was also served in a separate bowl, which made for awkward eating. Both dishes were very rich and needed an assertive, alternate flavour to help cut through the fattiness. As I surveyed the plates in front of us, I realised there wasn't a vegetable or piece of greenery in sight. I think in these situations, it falls to the waiter or waitress to point out that side orders are called for.

I fared better with my calves' liver alla veneziana, but there was still little to get excited about. The slow-cooked onions were soft and sweet and the finely sliced liver was strongly flavoured with a familiar iron tang. It was very dry, though, and desperately needed something to lift it. Two wobbly triangles of polenta were bland but for a burnt aftertaste and, worse still, they weren't vaguely warm.

In traditional Cipriani style, instead of presenting us with a dessert menu, two waiters arrived at our table, a whole cake in each hand. These were wafted ceremoniously in front of us before being whisked away.

Dessert is an opportunity for the kitchen to shine. It allows the chefs to demonstrate technical skill and leave a lasting impression. When the cakes are served without any further adornment, it's really rather underwhelming - particularly when you're being charged Dh60 per piece. My lemon meringue pie had a nice citrus tang and the meringue was firm, sweet and glossy; the strawberry cake, however, featured a sightly soggy biscuit base and mounds of cream that tasted artificial. The service at Cipriani was distinctly hit and miss. It was certainly well-meaning, but there seemed to be a lack of attention to detail right from the start. When we arrived, we were left alone in the waiting area for far too long and no one questioned why my friend had barely touched both her veal and risotto.

I had high hopes for Cipriani and genuinely expected to enjoy my meal there. Unfortunately, when the food is mediocre at best and the prices are steep, it is rather difficult to do so.

• A meal for two at Cipriani, Yas Yacht Club, Abu Dhabi costs Dh909, not including service. For reservations call 02 657 5400. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.