A friend’s 40th was an occasion I’d been looking forward to for some time. Even better? We’d be celebrating at the recently opened Bulgari Resort, a property I was insanely curious about. While I could go into many reasons why I love the hotel (it feels like NOTHING else in Dubai), unfortunately, Il Ristorante does not live up to the expectations of the brand or the chef, Niko Romito. While I’ve not dined at Chef Niko’s other venues, I feel that something got a bit lost in translation here — and what is delivered is not quite a fine dining experience, nor is it truly rustic.
The meal started with a cup of delicious vegetable consomme, served in a charming bowl, along with some uniquely made breadsticks and a freshly baked loaf of bread. After a quick review, I decided to opt for the tasting menu, because, well, that’s kind of what I do (AED450 without wine, AED750 with wine pairing). The antipasti took us off to an excellent start. Even if a few of the bites were a bit awkward to eat, they were all tasty, but I didn’t have a specific favorite. Our next course was pasta…which was nice, but not memorable (so forgettable, in fact, that I forgot about it when I sat down to write this the following day, my notes tell me it was basil mezzemaniche). I suppose this is the nature of Italian cuisine, but I have yet to have pasta that’s packed with a depth of flavor.
Am I doing it wrong? We were also given a small dish of gnocchi to share around the table, courtesy of the chef, which one friend called ‘like something you would eat on an airplane.’
For our mains, we had choices — I opted for the fish (a substitute of cod for monkfish) while the rest of those on the tasting menu chose chicken. None of us were particularly amazed by the plating, or the flavors, to the point that Hubs woke up the next day complaining about how hungry he was. The mains were accompanied by a small selection of sides, which, for the record, I did thoroughly enjoy the roasted potatoes. Fortunately, the meal ended with some fantastic Tiramisu, which I would put as perhaps my favorite element of the meal, delivering exactly as expected with creamy, mellow flavors. There were petit fours, which looked strangely of bark, but I only got a small nibble as they were consumed by the rest of the table.
Although not related to the food, there were some positives in the evening. Service was attentive and well paced. I also loved the feature of the private deck off our dining room. In cooler months it would be an amazing spot for sundowners, or, as we experienced, a place to sit outside until the wee hours.
Given the readers of Zomato seem to agree with my assessment, I would love to see the following changes:
- Better acoustics. There was almost no (?) music in the private dining room, which made for a strangely awkward start and did nothing to enhance the overall atmosphere. As someone who is, of course, more sensitive to sound than others, I still felt we were well above average volume levels and our conversations/hijinks were not so isolated as we thought (my apologies to the other diners).
- Improved menu. Perhaps I should’ve ordered a la carte, but there were similar opinions/disappointments from those who had ordered off the menu. From what I ate, with the exception of the tiramisu, I can’t say I would specifically order any of my dishes again.
- A hard look at pricing. If the number of antipasti we received was in line with the tasting menu (I think we ordered extra), then I can perhaps understand the pricing. However, if we paid extra for the antipasti, then AED450 feels overpriced for a few starters, basic pasta and average fish.
- The outside bathroom strikes again. I realize it is a strange design function of UAE venues, but just once, I would like to see the toilets somewhere in the restaurant. I know it can happen — Hakkasan’s private room at Emirates Palace has a lovely bathroom which is seamlessly integrated. Sure, this is a weird pet peeve of mine, but given how recent the property was opened, I would’ve loved to see either a private bathroom for the private dining room or at least easier access to the washrooms from the restaurant.
Would I go back? Sorry, fam, not at this time. While I’m infatuated with the design and layout of the rest of the property, I think the dishes have a long way to go. If you’re looking for a similar vibe, try 101 instead. All this being said, I can’t wait to check out the Il Cafe and the Yacht Club, both of which are on site.
Who is best for? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If you really want to visit this property, try the connected lounge instead for appertivo, or head over to the stunning Yacht Club instead.
Have you been to the Bulgari Resort?