In researching Todd English’s Olives, it occurred to me I visited one of the other branches — the stunning Bellagio property in Las Vegas. I had one of the nicest lunches I can remember there when I was a tour director (circa 2007). So, the stakes were high as a friend and I went for dinner on Tuesday night. Located in the Venetian Village (adjacent to the Ritz Carlton Grand Canal), we were dropped off and easily sighted the red awning of the Mediterranean restaurant.
Additionally, for those who are unaware, Todd English is a well known American chef, with numerous restaurants, cookbooks and other culinary products in his empire. Per Mr. English’s website:
The rich flavors of the Mediterranean come to life at Todd English’s Olives where guests can dine on sumptuous pastas; unique, wood-fired flat breads and exceptional seafood dishes that are created with the use of only the freshest seasonal ingredients. Diners can also relish in the restaurants decadent dessert menu, award-winning wine list, and warm and inviting ambiance.
At the Abu Dhabi venue, we are warmly greeted (charming service was a theme throughout the night), we were given a quick tour of the premises. Unlike any other restaurant I’ve seen in the UAE, there are two main dining rooms. One closely connected to the wood-paneled bar, and the other directly adjacent to the open plan kitchen. Should you need it, there are also two private dining rooms (which looked quite posh) and a pasta station (!). At the time we arrived, there were no other patrons, so we had our choice and opted for the dining room closer to the kitchen. While the venue did not get truly busy, there was a steady stream of customers throughout the evening.
After placing cocktail orders (off an impressive selection — a cucumber and basil G&T for me, and a delightful martini for my dining partner), we got down to the business of reviewing the menu. While deceptively simple (it’s only one page long), there is a little something for everyone here. In our discussion with the wait staff, we asked for smaller portions of everything so that we could maximize our experience. First up was an excellent basket of freshly baked breads, accompanied with olives and tapenade.
Shortly after the bread arrived, the appetizers followed in succession. The selected starters included: beef carpaccio, sweet potato brava’s, and calamari fritti. Dominating the table was the impressively plated beef carpaccio. As my dining partner is a pescatarian, this was all for me! Mixed with gorgonzola rosti cake, mixed greens, balsamic glazed onions, scallion aioli, and parmesan, the plate is a unique presentation. I especially like how a portion of the carpaccio isn’t specific, but more or less ripped away (very rustic). Our favorite starter was the sweet potato brava’s (served with honey, jalapeno, crumbled feta and avocado aioli). With an absolute spot-on blend of sweetness and savory, this dish is best to split between two people (I don’t think you would want to share with anyone else). The calamari was…calamari. The portion was quite generous, and could be split among a table of four.
After our starters, we kind of mixed everything together, and while I will get to all the dishes, the absolute hero of the evening was the seafood risotto.
Having a bad day? Try this risotto.
Need something to cheer you up? Try this risotto.
Craving something that will give you instant comfort? Try this risotto.
Creamy, moreish, and with the perfect blend of seafood (scallops, shrimp, crab meat and lobster), this might be the best AED90 you can spend in Abu Dhabi.
Okay? We’re understood on this risotto, yes? Moving on…
I was not as impressed with the other pasta dish, the semi-hyped spaghetti polpottini. Faithfully, I tried the meatball, which I found to be a bit saltier than I preferred. The accompanying pasta was quite heavy and while I did appreciate the sweeter notes, I don’t think I would order it again. As residents of the UAE, we considered it a must to try the pan seared black cod filet. Unlike the Asian preparations (Toko, Barfly, Zuma, etc.), the fish came out on a citrus risotto, with a bouillabaisse broth and crispy artichokes. While the accompaniments were nice, the bright notes of citrus and deep flavors of the broth completely overwhelmed the (too breaded) protein. On higher notes, the mushroom flatbread was a carb lovers dream come true (and honestly, might make for a delightful starter). The endive and watercress salad was probably not the best accompaniment to our meal (while delicious, the blue cheese on top of all of the already considerable flavors we’d ordered didn’t specifically balance), but was tasty and, like everything else, beautifully presented.
And we had to end the night on a sweet note, right? Accompanied with a delicious Muscat, I chose the deconstructed cannoli. Although a bit awkward to eat, the dessert was not oversweet and I enjoyed the crispy disks. My dining partner is a bit of a cheesecake lover, and was quite happy with her choice of New York cheesecake. As a surprise, the kitchen sent us a delightful tiramisu (which, of all the sweets, I would be the most likely to order again).
Would I go back? Oh, most definitely. The ladies night appeared to have amazing deals, and even if you were not in the mood for a full meal, the bar would be a fun place to start an evening.
Hmm, maybe I should put together a progressive dinner at Venetian Village…
Before I go dear reader, help us solve this culinary conundrum. Without getting too much into how the conversation came up, what and how do you classify a restaurant as ‘fine dining?’ Is it the fit out and design of the venue? The cost of the menu? The variety of dishes? How you interact with the staff? Curious minds want to know…
A to Za’atar was a guest of Todd English’s Olives. Opinions are my own, just ask my husband.