Roberto's restaurant in DIFC needs to improve in certain areas if its potential is to be fulfilled and its customer base is to grow, says Emily Shardlow.
Restaurant Review: Roberto's in Dubai is not quite right
With its stylish touches and contemporary feel, Roberto's fits perfectly into the glamorous, modern aesthetic that characterises much of DIFC these days.
While waiting for my friend, I sat in the restaurant's large garden terrace, admiring the dramatic views of the Dubai skyline, the unusual decision to plant strategically placed trees about the room and the flattering lighting. The only thing detracting from the sophisticated sense of calm was the fact that a group of 15 or so staff were being loudly briefed about the evening ahead in the corner. Not only did this rather shatter the ambience, but it also felt unprofessional; surely this should either be done behind the scenes or before 7.30pm, when there are already customers milling about.
Although the restaurant filled up over the course of the evening - by the time we left around 10pm, there was a real buzz about the place - the dining area was practically empty when we arrived. Why we were seated at the end of a banquette, right next to the only other diners, I really don't know. At the best of times, I think that the place settings along this strip would feel too close together. When the restaurant is far from busy, it is downright uncomfortable; we could hear every word our neighbours said, and they us.
These gripes aside, our starters and main courses brought some solid enough Italian-style cooking to the table. A large tureen of wild mushroom soup was earthy and rich, with a smooth, creamy finish. The two small chicken liver bruschettas that were served on the side were let down by a slightly stale bread base, but the pâté itself was flavoursome.
The restaurant's signature crab cake was fluffy in the centre, with a crisp outer crumb. It was, however, rather one dimensional in terms of flavour; the fishiness of the crab could've done with being taken down a notch or two or tempered by another ingredient. A pile of sea asparagus (samphire) tempura was light and crunchy but we did find it slightly strange, and a touch overwhelming, that the dish featured two deep-fried items and a mayonnaise-based dip.
My friend adored her main course of porcini mushroom and cream cheese ravioli, which came topped with veal ragout and slivers of black truffle. The portion size was well-judged, the pasta was delicate, the braised meat tender and the sauce pleasantly indulgent.
I wasn't quite so enamoured with my costoletta di vitello, but a good squeeze of lemon juice did help to bring the flavour of the very large (the size of a dinner plate) battered-out, breaded veal chop to life. A rocket and tomato salad was finished with a nice balsamic vinaigrette but the two pale wedges of potato that had been placed on top of the meat were pale and decidedly undercooked.
For dessert, I chose the curry madras marshmallow, primarily because I wanted to see if such a downright bizarre combination could actually work. The reward for my intrepid ordering? A very ill-conceived dish indeed. The dessert simply combined far too many incongruous flavours and ingredients - we're talking chocolate, curry, caramel, banana, coconut, raspberry, mint and a sour, citrusy powder that I couldn't identify. It looked and tasted very confused and I didn't like the marshmallow element at all.
In contrast, the tiramisu was a well-executed version of an Italian classic; dense and creamy but light at the same time, with an assertive, but not overwhelming, coffee kick.
As you can see, Roberto's certainly got some things right and the place has character. However, a few elements would need to be changed or tightened up before I'd be tempted to visit again.
A meal for two at Roberto's, Gate Village Building No 1, DIFC, Dubai costs Dh530, including service charge. For reservations, call 04 386 0066.