If you look at the website of Ronda Locatelli’s page on the Atlantis directory, you’ll see tons of families enjoying Italian food. And that was pretty much the case on Monday night. While I don’t, per se, have any issue with children, I don’t particularly enjoy a restaurant full of children. Especially when they are screaming and crying. It kind of distracts from the meal. So, even before our meal was started, I was having a difficult time understanding the overall branding of this venue, the association with a celebrity chef, and the audience it attracts.
The interior is done in a vaguely modern style with signage including both neon and a water feature, a large pizza oven, and a stage for musicians. At the rear of the restaurant is an al fresco dining space with a partially covered terrace. Guests are greeted by women in tailored dresses and men in black tie. Walking to our seats, we passed a quintet playing live music. I certainly don’t mind live music, but on this occasion, it made no sense and was certainly not appreciated by the audience (a disconnect that didn’t seem right). We were seated on one of the raised tables which overlooked the expansive restaurant (and included a set of strange acoustics).
Enough about the dilemma of what this restaurant is and more about the food, yes? After the relative disaster at Frankie’s, things at Chef Locatelli’s started so right! We were first given a Peroni cocktail (yup, it’s a tasty beverage, go figure!) to go with our beef carpaccio (served with rocket leaves, parmesan, and white truffle). To me, the beef carpaccio to beat in this country is in Abu Dhabi at Todd English’s Olives, but this dish was a contender and perfectly proportioned (a trend I appreciated throughout the evening). The white truffle shavings were, of course, an absolute pleasure.
After a bit (much like Frankie’s, there still a few issues with timing and when to serve courses), we received the risotto and then moments later the veal raviolini. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ A strange move, but one that was (?) intentional (?). I firmly believe pasta is best served warm, so there was always going to be a dish that would be eaten at a slightly less than ideal temperature (unless you plowed through your food, rather than savor it). Of the two dishes, the ravioli, with its Piedmont cheese fondue sauce (nom) won out for me, but I would happily order either dish again.
As opposed to my disastrous veal dish at Frankie’s, the pot roast veal tenderloin (served with pumpkin, mix wild mushroom, beer sauce, and white truffle) was equal parts savory and tender. The meat was perfectly cooked and lacked any of the strange texture and taste from the previous evening.
The meal finished not with complete triumph, but a bit underwhelming dessert. With a not too sweet (borderline bland) white chocolate and licorice truffle (served with cream and crunchy rice puffs), honestly, it was the crunch of the puffs saved the dish.
My notes are mainly around service — our server, perfectly polite and wanting to help, unfortunately, had no suggestions around wine pairings with the white truffle menu (leaving us to our own devices). I also sincerely cannot understand serving two courses at the same time (unless they were trying to turn the table, which did not seem to be the case). And as someone who is sensitive to sound, I simply didn’t appreciate the acoustics (seated close to the band, we had to shout a bit to hear each other).
As for pricing, our menus appeared without any listed, but after a mix up at the end of the meal, we had a glimpse what the meal would’ve cost (over AED1800 — !!!). The bill leaves me even more confused as to who this restaurant is meant for (for the record, we had two set menus, a bottle of wine, a bottle of water, and a few cocktails). Outside of the set truffle menu, prices appear to be about what you would expect at the resort (not cheap), including a few set family style menus which tip over AED1,000.
I’m sure parents will have something to say about this, but here it goes: had this been a meal I’d gone to with Hubs, and we’d paid full price, I would have felt completely negative about the experience. Why would I pay for a lovely truffle menu, only to be surrounded by children crawling on the floor and screaming around me? For the price point, I would expect a classy dinner with my spouse. My dining partner did remind me that Atlantis is a resort and this is what can be expected at such a destination. This leaves me to wonder why the restaurant bothered putting together a special menu. After all, as a resident of Dubai, based on my experience I would not only avoid the tourist crowd at this venue but everything at the Atlantis (except for Nobu). There are simply far better options for me to spend my money at.
Would I go back? Sorry, Chef Locatelli, even with your delicious dishes, I don’t think I will…but I don’t think that matters, because I’m not your intended demographic and you’ll do just fine without me.