Since it opened last year, Olives – a Mediterranean restaurant in the Venetian Village at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal – has been quietly serving up dishes that deserve attention.
Todd English, the chef who brought it here, is a bit of a celebrity in the United States, but Olives is not a flashy “look at me” type of restaurant. You won’t find over-the-top, extravagant brunches or parties featuring international DJs here. It is modest, sophisticated and should be on your list of places to eat in the capital.
One is an elegant, neutral-tone dining area with plush seating near the bar. We choose the other dining room – a cosy orange-hued space with 11 tables – each with a view of the chefs at work in the open kitchen.
Throughout our meal, the staff was attentive without getting in the way. We never had to wait or ask for a refill. This is some of the best service I’ve had in the capital and the staff deserves high praise for it.
Mains include options such as pan-fried veal scallopini, duck two ways (inclusive of foie gras ravioli) and grilled lamb chops with za’atar-scented turnip purée.
We start with the restaurant’s signature beef carpaccio, set atop a pile of greens. It’s a generous mound of thinly sliced meat that simply melts in your mouth. The tender meat is drizzled with a tangy scallion aioli, while a handful of tasty balsamic-glazed onions add interest. Hidden underneath this feast of flavour is yet another layer – a Gorgonzola rösti cake, which we might have missed if I had not read the menu carefully. The pungent, hearty Gorgonzola fritter contrasts with the meat beautifully – a testament to English’s preoccupation with layering flavours.
Our favourite main of the night is the scallops vol-au-vent – five perfectly cooked scallops on a puff pastry shell.
The scallops are delicious, thoughtfully topped with a heap of crispy leeks that add depth of flavour. The cauliflower mash seems more of a garnish than a side and it has an odd, floral flavour that we didn’t love.
Desserts include the usual suspects: tiramisu, panna cotta, cheesecake, creme brûlée, ice cream and more. There’s an apple pie, too – no doubt a nod to Boston, where English opened his first Olives restaurant in 1989.
A handful of fresh berries on top and a side of homemade deep, rich chocolate ice cream round it out.
The chocolate tart also pleases the palate. As our spoon breaks the sponge, rich, dark chocolate oozes from the centre, complete with a little puff of steam.
The only real downfall is that it’s a bit out of the way for downtown dwellers.
That’s good news for the competition, though – if it was in the middle of the city, you might not go anywhere else.
• Our meal for two at Olives, at the Venetian Village within the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, cost Dh720. For more information, call 02 404 1941. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito