Review: Alici Restaurant, Dubai: Dubai’s Best Italian Restaurant?
Alici: A New Dubai Favourite
Alici, Bluewaters, Dubai. 1 person, starter, main course, dessert, petit fours, coffee, large sparkling water: 400 Dhs ($108, €99, £90)
Beautiful views across the beaches and Dubai Marina
Sophisticated, bright sunny dining room
Attentive, careful, friendly service
Delicious restrained Italian seafood menu
Varied well-priced wine menu
Bill can quickly escalate pricing some patrons to special occasions only
Alici: Cruising to Southern Italy
I recently wrote about the importance of regionality in Italian food so I will spare you the history lesson again! My experience of travelling around Italy taught me that each trattoria, restaurant and wine bar told a distinct culinary story from the region next door. A two-hour train ride in Italy reveals a new country on each plate. Naples was a crushing disappointment. It was a dump to be polite. The only thing it has going for it was its accessibility to the other iconic areas of the Amalfi Coast and the (tourist trap) Pompeii. I stayed in Ravello within striking distance of Amalfi and Positano.
Amalfi was everything that you hear and see in photos – and way more.
What’s good to eat in Southern Italy?
Beachside restaurants under mature flowering pergolas overlooking middle-aged, muscular fishermen with dark, tanned, sun-damaged skin dragging in large nets through effervescent seawater dancing with fish. These fish would inevitably become my grilled lunch coupled with a chilled, crisp chaser of Pinot Gris blush – the antidote to soothe the low 30 something Celcius temperatures.
Alici Seafood Restaurant, where we lay our scene
Alici is one of the few (good) restaurants open with an enviously placed view overlooking the sandy Dubai Marina skyline and teal waters of the Arabian Sea alive with jet skis and yachts. There is very generous seating space inside but you want a seat upstairs. The floor-to-ceiling windows invite floods of sunshine into the dining room with uninterrupted views of the skyline. You will have a bright sunlit rich, beautiful view over lunch. At sunset, you can watch Dubai Marina transform from sand to pink to a fiery sunset. The outside terrace is replete with trees in cobalt pots making for excellent, shady al fresco dining in the more forgiving winter months.
The spacious floor is enhanced by the neutral colour scheme with pops of cobalt among the earth tones and smart grey blue and white stripe chairs. Olive trees and framed watercolours or sketches make Alici feel more homely. The cosy upstairs bar is adjacent to the open plan kitchen with a direct view of the chefs hard at work. Old Italian music gently piped through the restaurant.
It would take an individual incapable of love to not be effortlessly charmed and soothed by the dining room. You must get a seat upstairs in front of the windows or in the more private seating area on the left in its own room.
Let’s talk Alici’s menu, shall we?
The menu is primarily seafood (the clue was in the name) but there are a number of options available in case someone doesn’t want that (but query why you are here).
A raw, oyster and caviar selection kick off the menu followed by starters, followed by antipasti starters, soups, pizza, pasta, mains and side courses.
I order the grilled octopus with beluga lentils with a saffron red pepper romanesco sauce (85 dhs, €21, £18, $23) followed by the oven-baked Atlantic halibut with clams, razor clams, mussels and a seafood broth (135 dhs, €33, £28, $36).
The octopus arrives strikingly like a latticed weave of meaty, pale amethyst tentacles collapsed on a rubble of moss-coloured lentils; it looks like a scene where this octopus violently crashed upon a pebbled beach but decided to style it out.
The comparison does not end there. The octopus is perfectly cooked: firm but yielding with a soft, sweet and slightly charred flavour. The charred smokiness is supported by the inherently earthy lentils. It is a modern surf and turf interpretation save that the pulses supplements where meat would be. This is a very large starter both in portion size and price. It could easily be the main course. It demands a white wine bursting with gooseberries or a young, fruity red – unusually, I am not drinking this lunchtime. A mistake as Alici import its own wine from vineyards in Italy, of course.
The saffron red pepper romanesco is a beautiful apricot colour and brings a subtle fruitiness to temper these earthy lentils. I recommend the kitchen leans into the saffron or red pepper a little more as neither come through strongly.
Oven baked Atlantic halibut with clams, razor clams, mussels and a seafood broth
A steaky, thick wedge of halibut arrives in a rouge pool of its own sauce. Our protagonist is accompanied by candy-sweet tomatoes, black olives, razor clams, clams and mussels topped with thyme springs and basil. If you enjoy the traditional Sicilian fish stew of similar ingredients then you’re in for a treat.
The fish is firm but yielding. Every ingredient is very well cooked and the in umido cooking gives a harmonious continuity throughout bringing the dish together. It’s a casually plated dish which is more complicated than it appears. I quickly regret scarfing the breadbasket making a schoolboy error leaving no-carb sponges behind to steep in this sauce. The black olives are divisive perhaps but work when pulled together with the rest of the dish. It works better than another place I reviewed previously attempting to make a dish similar in spirit.
And then there was dessert: cannolis
Cannolis remind me of weekends in Venice weaving through its ages alleyways stumbling across small cake shops their windows glistened featuring hefty cannolis dipped in chocolate and jewelled in hazelnuts or pistachios. A handheld sugary “energy bar” on the go for touristy ramblings.
A trio of cannolis arrive: chocolate, orange and pistachio. They appear like long stuffed finger cuffs wrapped delicately around scented cream fillings. The crisp cannoli shatters when pried open like a clam. My favourite is the aromatic orange cannoli that leaves a soft clean citrus taste to cut through the darker chocolate and toasted nutty pistachio.
But wait, there is more
Petit fours arrive unexpectedly together with the double macchiato I ordered challenging even my resilient levels of greed. Naturally they are gobbled gratefully.
Would I return to Alici?
Frankly, I cannot stop talking about the place and neither can others like here and here. My only mistake was to drive here making it impossible to traverse the seriously good looking and reasonably priced wine menu. A mistake I shall only make once. Wine starts at 50 dhs (€12, £11, $14) by the glass and 230 dhs by the bottle (€56, £48, $62). This pales in comparison to some lesser restaurants where bottles start around 700 dhs like the land that shame forgot (€170, $190, £147).
Let’s talk about price. It’s a fine dining menu and, to that end, you should come with expectations fully managed. However, I found 400 dhs for this quality of cooking, ambience and service to be very competitive save that none of these dirhams included alcohol which would have been on top. Hmm…
Why should you come here?
You are celebrating a special occasion, business lunch or gathering among friends who know and enjoy food, especially seafood. There are some options here exclusively for groups which look very good.